Durmitor National Park in northwest Montenegro covers this tiny Balkan country’s most eminent mountain massif. As one of the most epic parts of the Dinaric Alps, Durmitor is a hub of mountain tourism and a UNESCO World Heritage Site of outstanding natural beauty. With its surreal cliffs, vertigo-inducing canyons, serene forests and mirror-like glacial lakes, Durmitor is a perfect outdoor destination both for leisurely hikers and hardcore mountaineering enthusiasts alike. And thanks to the legendary Tara River Gorge and Nevidio Canyon, this Montenegrin national park happens to be one of Europe’s top rafting and canyoneering spots as well!
From a pleasant walk on the shores of the captivating Black Lake to an ambitious summit attempt on the mighty Bobotov Kuk, kashkaval tourist presents 7 outdoor activities in Durmitor, Montenegro’s prime national park!
1. Marvel at a geological wonder: Prutaš
Although its 2,393 vertical metres might not be enough to make it Durmitor’s highest peak, Prutaš can proudly claim the title of “most attractive”. Not only does its summit boast what might be the most spectacular panorama around (with incredible vistas of the Sedlo Pass, Škrčka Lakes and the champion Bobotov Kuk), but the peak itself impresses with its shape and morphology. The twig-like vertical layers of rock that form it are unlike anything else you’ve seen!
Prutaš is most easily ascended from Dobri Do (a scenic stop on the Sedlo Pass road) in about 2.5 hours of moderate uphill walking. From Škrcka Lakes hut in the interior of Durmitor, it’s a strenuous, but not particularly technical hike of around 2 hours with a steep gradient practically the entire time. The shortest way up is 1.5 hours via Todorov Do (further on the Sedlo Pass), but this route is also the most technical, steepest and most exposed. Even if you don’t hike this way though, Todorov Do is still worth a visit for the most rewarding views of Prutaš’s rock columns!
2. Gaze into the eyes of the mountain: the Black Lake
The Black Lake counts as Durmitor’s trademark and most recognizable natural sight – and with good reason, as nothing quite prepares you for the spectacular view when the shores of the lake open before you for the first time. In fact, to make the most of the moment, I recommend walking to the Black Lake on one of the marked forest trails from Žabljak rather than on the asphalt street. Whichever way you take, it’s an easy and light walk that would take not much longer than half an hour from central Žabljak.
The Black Lake (Crno jezero) is actually formed by two lakes connected by a strait that dries up in summer. It is surrounded by thick, mostly evergreen woods, with the imposing summits of Međed, Savin Kuk and Crvena Greda towering in the background. You can circle the lake and sample the views by following a delightful forest trail. Or you can just admire its colour from the lakeside restaurant.
If you’re looking tо do some more lake spotting, the hike further on the leisurely Mlinski Potok trail to the small Zminje Lake (Zminje jezero) o and marvel at its emerald waters. Barno Lake (Barno jezero) is another of Durmitor’s “mountain eyes” that you can visit in the surroundings – this one makes for an impressive sight from the peak of Savin Kuk.
3. Ski down the snowy Montenegrin slopes: Savin Kuk
Complete with a modern chairlift, Savin Kuk is Durmitor’s ski mountain and one Montenegro’s top winter sports locations. The small ski resort boasts 4.6 kilometres of slopes, with the highest point at 2,010 metres above sea level, and the ski pass prices are more than acceptable.
The lift is also operational in summer, though with reduced working hours. From the upper lift station, it’s a fifteen-minute walk to the summit of Savin Kuk – and those views of the Black Lake, Barno Lake and Žabljak from above are worth the brief effort!
4. Whitewater wonderland: go rafting in the Tara River Canyon
Around 1,300 metres deep, the canyon of the roaring Tara River is renowned as one of the world’s top whitewater rafting locations. You can face the epic rapids on a half-day rafting tour or exlore the Tara River’s winding course on a multi-day expedition. The Tara’s cascades are at their most impressive in spring, though quality rafting is possible all summer and well into autumn.
If extreme water sports are not your thing, the Tara River Canyon is nonetheless absolutely worth seeing. Have a Žabljak taxi drop you off at the Ćurevac trailhead and after a short walk, you’ll be standing in awe in front of the canyon in all its glory, with panoramic views in all directions.
The formidable Đurđevića Tara Bridge is another option for a short road trip – you can even hop on a bus from Žabljak to Pljevlja and ask the driver to get off there if you’re travelling on a shoestring.
5. Cycling madness: the Durmitor circular biking route
The roads and trails around Durmitor offer no shortage of cycling options either. Even a short ride to Barno Lake or the Black Lake will be a rewarding mountain biking experience. The real deal, though, is the circular route around the entire Durmitor massif that gives you the chance to see the mountain in all its glory. The nearly 90 kilometres of mostly paved road is well marked, but the real challenge will be the more than 2,000 metres of elevation gain – including the heart-stopping ascent and descent to the Sušica Canyon. Those hairpin turns and mesmerizing views will be all worth it though.
6. Scale the champion of Durmitor: Bobotov Kuk
As Durmitor’s highest peak and a symbol of Montenegro, Bovotov Kuk (2,523 m) is a natural target for all aspiring mountaineers. It is, unsurprisingly, one of the tougher hikes in Durmitor – not just because of the altitude, but because of the terrain too. The final part of the ascent requires some exposed scrambling, so think twice about attempting it in bad weather or if you’re struggling with a fear of heights.
If you’re well prepared and up for a challenge, though, Bobotov Kuk totally belongs on your Durmitor to-do list. There’s two approaches to the summit – the much shorter and lighter trail from Sedlo (3 hours one-way) and the longer route from Žabljak past the Black Lake (5 hours). And of course, you can summit via one of the routes and go down on the other for some added variety.
7. Hop onto the saddle: drive the P14 road over the Sedlo Pass
If scenic roads are your thing, it doesn’t get much better than Sedlo Pass, the single-lane P14 road connecting Plužine with Žabljak. Whether you’re an avid driver, a motorbike enthusiast who loves hairpin turns or just someone with an eye for mountain scenery, a drive over the Sedlo Pass at 1,907 metres is a guaranteed highlight of your time in Durmitor National Park.
The road also provides convenient access to many of Durmitor’s most popular hiking trails, saving you the “hassle” of starting your trek in Žabljak. And if you don’t have a car, hiring a taxi from Žabljak to Sedlo (15 euro) or Todorov Do (25 euro) and back is a great way to bring back some jaw-dropping photos of the Montenegrin mountains!
Where to stay in Durmitor: Žabljak
Though other travellers don’t rate Žabljak very highly, I found it to be a very comfortable basecamp for day hikes and indeed kind of charming. It’s one of those mountain towns that largely rely on tourism and there’s not much else going on, but it still doesn’t seem to be suffering from the horrors of mass tourism.
In Žabljak, there’s a reasonable selection of restaurants serving hearty Montenegrin mountain fare, a few bars and even a decent pizzeria (funnily named Pizzeria Balkan). The couple of big supermarkets were well stocked with everything necessary at uninflated prices and especially in the off-season (early October in this case), accommodation prices were more than agreeable. Dozens of homestays offer basic but acceptable rooms across Žabljak and the few bigger hotels cater to those with a slightly higher budget.