Mrtvica Canyon is a little-known gem for hikers just 40 kilometers north of Podgorica, Montenegro. It is breathtakingly gorgeous and accessible with a bit of effort. When hiking this canyon trail you can expect to see bridges, clear waters with trout, rushing white water that is part rapids and part waterfalls. Also, there are several quaint, rustic houses and farms in the valley with rocky cliffs towering high overhead. While Mrtvica Canyon offers a unique hiking adventure in nature for so many reasons, it also has a 75% enclosed tunnel that has been carved into the face of the cliff about 5 km into the hike. This open-air tunnel is the iconic image that locals associate with this spot of wild beauty.
This stone bridge was finished in 1858 by Duke Danilo Petrović Njegoš. He constructed the bridge in honor of his mother. Under the bridge you can see through the still water to observe the rocks and trout. The water is potable and used by the locals and hikers. It is also deep enough for a swim close to the bridge.
Mrtvica Canyon and the Locals
Along the path are several rustic cottages and kind locals who are usually happy to share stories, coffee, or a shot of the local brew and point the way. Some locals sell juices that they have made from local fruits or leaves as well as honey that they have harvested. While it is helpful to know some of the local language to communicate, we found that several were ready to try other languages as well. We were greeted along the way with a touch of German, French, and English.
Due to very little economic activity in the area, several landowners have put signage on their property to indicate that it is private and that you need to pay to park. This is generally about 3 euros for the day–definitely worth the price of “admission.” These parking areas are at the beginning of the hike near Medjuriječje Selo or village and a couple kilometers into the trail making it more accessible for those with less stamina.
There are powerful rapids and waterfalls along the way. The water is cold. Really cold. Some report that Mrtvica Canyon has the coldest water in the country. While we can’t scientifically confirm that, we can share that it is great for drinking and for cooling off when you are hot and tired.
The Beam Tunnel of Mrtvica Canyon
About 5 kilometers into the hike (if you start from the beginning), you come to a massive rock cliff that has a tunnel carved into the face halfway up. From a short distance away it looks more like a line or a thin ribbon in the rock instead of a tunnel for passage. This passage is called the Mrtvičke Grede or the Mrtvica Beams. These “beams” convey the idea of horizontal iron beams used to build a tall building. Above and below the passageway, you can imagine beams that suspend this visible tunnel in the rock and secure it for hikers.
Carved by the Yugoslav army during the days of the Republic, the passageway allows for a six-foot tall person to easily pass with no chance of hitting their head on the rock overhead. The width of the passageway would allow for 4 or 5 people to stand side by side. As there are no safety railings or netting, we suggest you keep some distance from the edge. Do plan a picnic inside the tunnel or at least a good rest to recover before you head back on your hike. There are still another couple kilometers further to hike before heading back if you want more exploration, but most of the high points of the journey lie along this first major stretch of the trail.
Planning to Hike Mrtvica Canyon
The signage to the canyon is not very good at present so you need to look carefully for the sign or landmarks. To find the starting point of the canyon hike go to Medjuriječje Selo on the road between Podgorica and Kolašin. If you are driving from Podgorica, you’ll need to turn around when you reach the village and head back to the first bridge where there is a small sign with an arrow pointing toward the canyon. Turn west on the road just before the bridge to go down by the water and park in an open field. The owner, Vesko, will magically find you for his 3 euro parking fee. If you want to shorten the trek, you’ll need to drive along a few kilometers and make similar arrangements with a local to park on their land.
The markings at the start of the trail are also sparse. Walk along the water’s edge until you come to the stone bridge. Before crossing the bridge you’ll see a small trail going up into the trees with tufts of grass on both sides. It doesn’t look like a very substantial trail, but once you begin your journey, the trail becomes more established with hiking signs showing you are in the right place. If you can’t find the trail, ask Vesko for help. He is happy to show you the way.
Unlike many of the canyons in Montenegro, Mrtvica may be explored without ropes and wetsuits. The trail has good rise and fall as you meander your way from the valley higher up to different elevation points of the surrounding mountains. Walking sticks are definitely worthwhile as you pick your way along, but there are no required scrambles or climbs. There are, however, LOTS of opportunities for alpinists to veer off the trail in places to have world-class climbing challenges.
As with any hike, be sure to take water and some food. You will burn a bunch of calories along the way. We promise.
Wild Camping in Mrtvica Canyon
Some people camp at the village. You can ask a local about putting up a tent on their land there or at any of the homesteads along the way. There are also wild camping possibilities on the canyon trek. At the far side of the stone bridge, there is a trail down to the bank. The stony bank has enough room for a small tent or two on the bank on top of smooth rocks. This puts you next to calm water for the beauty, fishing, and/or swimming. Also, these waters turn into rapids just around the bend providing great rushing water white noise. Another good wild camping location is just past the Mrtvičke Grede on the Plaža (beach). There is not a lot of water here and the rocks are large but smooth. There is a lot of space here and it will have even fewer passers-by than the stone bridge area. If you camp in this area, be aware of rising water levels if there are sustained heavy rains.
Farm Stay Camping and Lodging Options Nearby Mrtvica
While we always enjoy a wild camping adventure, we also like community and organic foods. These are key ways to experience the culture which can be as beautiful as the nature. A couple of super camping options near Mrtvica are at the Gradina Campsite in Lipovo Village 35 km to the north or Mareza village on the outskirts of Podgorica. We also have great farm stay options in Lipovo and Mareza for anybody who is ready for a bed.
Contact us if you want to plan a guided hiking adventure through Mrtvica or have some local help planning your Montenegro getaway.
Have fun while you enjoy the amazing beauty of nature!