For some crazy reason Mrtvica Canyon didn’t even warrant a mention in our guidebook, but after discovering this spectacular valley of forests, turquoise water and soaring white cliffs, we’re convinced it’s one of the best places to go hiking in Montenegro and should be firmly placed on every nature lover’s itinerary.
We first became interested in Mrtvica Canyon after seeing photographs of the old Yugoslav military trail blown into the rocky cliff of the canyon wall. After further investigation we knew we had to go here.
We just couldn’t quite figure out how.
The tourist office in Kolašin offered tours at exorbitant prices and were reluctant to give any information about hiking the trail independently. The woman in charge, who admitted she had never actually done the walk, even went as far as to say it could be ‘dangerous’ if we went without a guide.
After pulling off the hike without a hitch, sans guide, and seeing several other people on the trail, none of which were with an escort, we are here to tell you it is entirely possible, and not at all dangerous.
This is our guide on how to get to the hiking Mrtvica Canyon and tips to help you plan your trip.
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Ok, so it might seem like Montenegro has a lot of canyons. The growing fame of the Tara Canyon in the north – the second deepest in the world after the Grand Canyon – means any others often get overlooked.
Mrtvica is one that you should definitely spare a second thought for.
Firstly, there’s the amazingly clear turquoise water we have come to expect from this region, collecting in mesmerisingly blue pools and bubbling along rapids and waterfalls. Couple that with scarred granite cliffs and craggy peaks that seem to sway above the narrowing canyon and a dense forest that feels like it may swallow you with every passing bend, and you’ve got yourself some pretty spectacular scenery for a hike.
It’s like stepping deeper and deeper into another world.
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We started at Medjurecje and walked toward the iconic Gate of Wishes and the blasted military trail before returning to our starting point along the opposite side of the river. This circuit is about 15 km and took us six hours including photo stops and a lengthy break at the Gate of Wishes.
There is also the option to continue from the military tunnel to the ‘beach’ and the tiny village of Velje Duboko a few kilometres further along the trail. We chose not to do this extra section as it was already late in the day and we knew we would have to walk the same way back.
In the absence of any useful area maps, we turned to our phones and recommend you do the same.
The Maps.Me App is free and shows the network of trails in the area. Simply download the App and zoom into Montenegro and it will ask you to download the country map. Then zoom in or search for Medurijecje on the main road between Kolasin and Podgorica. You’ll see the river going off to the left which is the one that runs up the canyon and if you zoom in further you’ll see the dark grey dotted line which is the trail.
In general, the path is very well maintained and marked with the bullseye emblem at regular intervals. But, at the beginning section, there are a few misleading signs and one overgrown path turning off the road that we completely missed and had to backtrack to.
Once you’re on the main path though, you can’t really go wrong and the map can just be used as a guide.
From Medjurecje take the small paved road right off the main road and follow it downhill and across the metal bridge. Turn left and continue past the camping area to the next bridge. This is where the Mrtvica and Morača rivers join.
Across the bridge follow the road for about 3 km from where you will need to keep a steely eye out for the seriously inconspicuous and overgrown path we managed to stroll right by. There is a rock in front of it marked with the bullseye but we were obviously too distracted by the beauty of the canyon and managed to miss it.
This path will take you all the way down to the river and into the canyon from where the path is easy to follow.
Follow the path across an old wooden bridge and up a rise where you will reach an intersection. Here you turn left to go to the Gate of Wishes and the military path and on your return you will follow the path to the right which will take you back to Medjurecje along the opposite bank of the river to which you came.
**UPDATE 2020 | A reader who recently completed this hike has informed me that this wooden bridge has since been washed away and it’s no longer possible to cross here. Instead, you’ll need to stick to the path on on the opposite side of the river (not the road) from the beginning of the hike and walk into the canyon on the same trail you would have followed for the return journey. I’d recommend using Maps.Me to ensure you’re heading in the right direction.
From here it is about 1.5 km to the Gate of Wishes where there is another intersection. Take the left path and you will find the Gate about 100 m further along. Climb down the rocks to sit beneath the arch – the temperature is about 10 degrees cooler down there. Swim if you dare – the water is pretty icy.
Return to the main path and in about 3 km you will come to the military trail. Much of this section is in open sunlight so it can get incredibly hot.
When you reach the military trail you can return via the same route until you get the first intersection across the river. The trail goes all the way back to where you began.
Or if you are still feeling energetic you can continue along the canyon to Velje Duboko.
From Kolašin take the bus in the direction of Podgorica and ask to be let off at Medjurecje costing €2.50. Morning buses leave at 6, 8, 8:30, 9:40, 10:30, 11 and 11:45 and take 40 to 50 minutes. You will be let out at a small old hotel on the right hand side of the road and the turn off to begin the walk is about 50 m further along.
Getting back to Kolašin was, for us, the most challenging part of the trip. Return buses are relatively infrequent, particularly in the late afternoon, only passing once every hour, if that. If you walk about 300 m up the road in the direction of Kolašin there is a pull in bay for buses.
In the end, we hitchhiked back instead of waiting 90 minutes for the next bus. This is a viable option if you are comfortable with the risks it presents. Bear in mind though that drivers in Montenegro are a little more wild than what we have encountered almost anywhere else in the world.
If you have your own car there is also ample parking space around the camping area and the first bridge near the main road.
Set about half way between Kolašin and Podgorica, you can just as easily stay at either to reach Mrtvica Canyon, though we chose the former. These are a few accommodation options to help you plan your stay.
As a more rural part of Montenegro, Kolašin is all about small family-run guesthouses and friendly hosts.
Guest Accommodation Bakic. Set beside a leafy garden with spacious rooms, this friendly guesthouse is a great budget option. All rooms come with an ensuite and a communal kitchen is available for guests. There is also ample parking for those travelling by car. Check prices and availability here.
Mrdja Apartments. These spacious apartments are fully self-contained, featuring a kitchen, fireplace and ensuite. A charming garden is also available and guests rave about the welcoming hosts. Check prices and availability here.
Chalet Kolašin. For something a bit nicer, you can’t go past Chalet Kolašin, one of the top-rated options in town, boasting beautiful and spacious apartments with a kitchen and ensuite. Check prices and availability here.
As Montenegro’s capital city, there are a number of options available in Podgorica. If you’ll be travelling by bus, we’d recommend staying near enough to the bus station to allow you to get an early start.