With the highest point on the Dinaric Alps in the Prokletije mountain range and one of the few places in Europe still largely unexplored, Prokletije National Park is perfect for hikers, bikers, fly-fishers, and other adventurers. This intriguing national park in east Montenegro seems to come from another time, with history that goes back to the Paleolithic era. But the jagged terrain and fierce wildlife of this national park caused the locals to refer to the area as “Prokletije,” or the “accursed mountains.”
Geologist Ami Boué acutally described Prokletije National Park as “the most inexplicable, the most inaccessible and the wildest mountain range in the Balkans” and called the mountains in the park “the Southern Alps of Europe.” We believe that for the adventurous and well-prepared, the Prokletije National Park has some incredible views and experiences in store for those willing to brave its slopes.
Hiking and Biking in Prokletije National Park
Prokletije boasts opportunities for every type of adventure vacationer. With the robust size of the park and the geographic isolation of the area, hikers will be overwhelmed with opportunities to explore breathtaking natural scenery. One of the three starting points for famous Peaks of the Balkans or POB hike is in Plav, Montenegro, at the base of the national park. This “trail” spans three countries (Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania) and hovers among the clouds with elevations of up to 2300m. There are multiple routes that are in use for the POB. It is an adventure worth doing.
The POB has received a lot of attention from media outlets such as National Geographic and other big media outlets. Hikers who prefer a more solitary, rustic thru-hike experience can try hiking the Katun Road. This hike begins with a stay in the adjacent, beautifully rustic Čakor Katun, where hikers can experience true Montenegrin culture and delicious food. Additionally, opportunities for shorter day-long hikes and family-friendly expeditions exist at any katun or farm stay within Prokletije National Park.
There are a number of day hikes in Prokletije. These include launching from Bajrovica Katun to Hridsko or Hrid Lake. This is a great family hike as the inclines and distances are manageable even for shorter legs. The lake is beautiful and worth wading, unless you can withstand the cold waters for a swim. A more robust day hike is up the Volusnica Trail out of Grebaje Selo. This provides epic views. There are also day hikes launching from Vusanje Village as well as up Mount Visitor from Plav.
Besides hiking, MTB lovers will definitely find the adventure of a lifetime here. Miles of mountain bike trails and cross country riding wind through villages, farms, and mountains, with breathtaking scenery visible in every direction. Maps for the trails are found in the visitor information centre in Plav (while supplies last). The MTB here still has a way to develop with single-track trails being limited. The views make fire road riding worthwhile for now until a better trail system is developed.
Waters of Prokletije National Park
The unique arctic-alpine climate of Prokletije National Park creates the perfect environment for beautiful bodies of water within the national park’s boundaries. All of the waters in Prokletije are either snow or spring-fed, giving rise to crystal clear streams, rivers, and lakes perfect for fly-fishing.
The largest glacial lake is Hridsko Lake, a pristine pool of beauty 300 m long by 160 m wide, and up to 5 m deep in the summer time. Legend has it that this lake was originally created by the gods as a place for fairies to bathe, and in the process gave the waters supposed healing powers. While we do not claim any existing supernatural powers at the lake, we can say that the combination of clear mountain air and beautiful glacial waters definitely made us feel healthier and more in tune with nature. Other glacial lakes include the Visitorsko, Tatarijsko, Ropojansko, and Bjelajsko lakes. (When visiting these lakes, we encourage putting some insect repellant in your pack. Usually the mosquitoes are not a problem, but every few years there seems to be a bumper crop. )
The water system on the Montenegro side of Prokletije is a microcosm of amazement. In Gusinje, the Ali Pašin springs is the site where crystal clear water gushes out of the mountain and up from the ground to begin a calm, slow-moving body of water. This then forms the Vruja River. This is a low-flow crystalline river. During spawning season, a trained eye can see large trout coming up into this river to lay eggs. The Vruja swells into the Ljuca River. These waters wind their way into the River Ljuča. The Ljuca empties into Lake Plav, overall the largest lake within Prokletije National Park. The Lim River is the distributary out of Plav Lake.
The Lim River flows through much of northeastern Montenegro before crossing over into Serbia. A regatta takes place on the length of the Lim River in May. This water system played host to the 2019 European Fly Fishing Championship with fishing happening in the Ljuca and Lim Rivers and Lake Plav. Fly fishing in Prokletije is one of the most desirable locations in the Balkans with grayling, brown trout, huchen, and other fish species present. More fly fishing Montenegro info available here.
Biodiversity of Prokletije National Park
Prokletije National Park contains 1611 distinct species of plant, which means that this national park is home to over 20% of the 8000 species of plants that can be found in the Balkans. This makes Prokletije one of the most biodiverse spots in the entire Balkan Peninsula. Of these plants, over 50 species are considered endemic to the park, and over 100 species can be used for medicinal purposes. Medicinal plants include wild thyme and yarrow, which locals use for steeping delicious, healthy teas.
Prokletije National Park is home to several different types of mammal, including deer, chamois, wolf, fox, bear, and lynx. The highly endangered Balkan lynx lives within the borders of the park, but only 20-50 members of the species are still believed to exist, making them a very rare subspecies to encounter. Aside from mammals, Prokletije contains very diverse insect fauna and herpetofauna. With over 130 species of butterflies, Prokletije National Park contains the highest butterfly diversity in all of Europe.
Animals to watch out for include the most venomous snake in Europe–the horned viper. Known in the local language as the “poskok,” or jumping snake, this particular viper can jump up to 50 cm vertically. Thankfully, the poskok is a mostly laid-back snake that only bites when threatened. Another interesting reptile is the Prokletije rock lizard (Dinarolacerta montenegrina), a shy gray-green lizard that makes its home in and around tall pine trees.
Navigating Prokletije National Park
Driving can be difficult here. Hiking or MTB are the best ways to navigate Prokletije National Park. There are several roads that are a combination of asphalt and fire roads that provide access deeper into the park. These include:
- East of Plav toward Babino Polje – a park entry fee is assessed on this road at a station. This road can be hiked, biked, or driven with a high-clearance vehicle or 4×4. At Babino Polje, the fire road makes a big loop.
- Southwest of the town of Gusinje toward Grebaje – a park entry fee is assessed on this road at a station or with a mobile park ranger. This road can be hiked, biked, or driven with any vehicle. Adventurers must continue on foot after Grebaje with beginner to intermediate hiking to the right of the horseshoe on the Volusnica Trail. Expert level hiking/scrambles are to the left side of the horseshoe.
- South of the town of Gusinje toward Vusanje – a view of undulating peaks. This is also an area for the Grlja Waterfall which gushes during the snow melt. This is an ideal launch point for horseback riding in the area or into the peaks on the Albanian side of the Prokletije massif.
- Peaks of the Balkans routes – the POB hikes are the best way to get the most remote, epic views of the tri-country Prokletije peaks.
Food and Lodging in and around Prokletije
Due to the fact that Prokletije National Park remains one of the few spots in Europe still largely unexplored, finding hotels and traditional accommodation can prove difficult. However, there are several beautiful rustic katuns, or traditional Montenegrin shepherd huts, that provide farm-fresh food, wonderful hospitality, and easy access for hiking, MTB, and fly-fishing. Here are our top 4 spots in for staying in Prokletije National park:
- Dedushi Guest House – excellent for groups of thru-hikers or family adventurers. Great opportunities for biking, hiking, horseback riding, and fly-fishing. This is an ideal launch point for horseback riders to have half or whole day adventures.
- Merak Country House Near Gusinje – ideally located for fly-fishing in the Plav and Gusinje waterways as well as the Ali-Pašin springs. This higher end accomodations has an apartment for up to 4 people and an adjacent cottage for up to 6 people.
- Bungalows and Samel’s Cottage – the Bajrovića katun is a traditional working katun on a small scale. It has a simple two-story cottage great for groups of hikers or families as well as rustic bungalows for one or two guests. Breakfast is included with an overnight stay, with additional lunches, dinners, and sack lunches available for an additional charge.
- Čakor Katun – a beautifully rustic katun near Prokletije NP with 3 separate structures housing up to 6 people. Camping space also available for larger groups or hikers who prefer sleeping under the stars. Čakor is a full-functioning traditional katun. This is an ideal location for a family to spend a couple nights and is also an ideal starting point for the Katun Road thru-hike.
*Many thanks to so many of our friends and partners who continue to show us the beauty and wonder of Prokletije National Park.
Srečan put! (Have a nice trip!)