A Guide to National Parks in Montenegro
With a name that literally means “Black Mountain,” it’s not hard to see why Montenegro is an excellent destination for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers and photographers alike. From the sapphire coasts of the Adriatic Sea to Europe’s deepest canyons, from lakes and wetlands to barren mountains, the landscapes of Montenegro invoke a sense of remoteness and solitude that isn’t too often associated with the Balkans.
Let’s face it. When many people think of the Balkan, things such as beaches, historic coastal towns and, possibly, the war come to mind. Hardly ever do people realize what fantastic landscapes await them when visiting this gorgeous southeastern European region. And Montenegro is the epitome of those landscapes and the adventures that they offer in the Balkans.
The country, two-thirds the size of Wales, is home to five national parks. Protecting everything from gorges and summits to rivers and lakes, Montenegro’s national parks are where you need to be for outdoor adventures (hiking, whitewater rafting, camping, canoeing, rock climbing,…) and wildlife watching (wild boar, wolves, bears,…). Much quieter than the Montenegro’s Adriatic coast, these parks offer solitude and a back-to-nature experience.
Below, you’ll find an overview of the five national parks in Montenegro, including their highlights and how to get there. Pick one (or more) you like and make sure to add one of Montenegro’s national parks to your Balkan itinerary. It’s more worth it than you realize.
Durmitor National Park
Arguably the most well-known of the national parks in Montenegro, Durmitor National Park lies in the north of the country and is bordered by three river canyons, including the deepest one in Europe. Characterized by rugged mountain ranges, shimmering lakes, and those awe-inspiring gorges, this is the place to go if you’re looking for an epic adventure. Hiking trails crisscross the mountains while the rivers offer excellent whitewater rafting. Because of its historic, geological and natural importance, Durmitor National Park has been designated World Heritage by UNESCO.
Highlights: Tara River Canyon, eighteen glacial lakes (known locally as “the eyes of the mountains”) and 48 mountains higher than 2,000 meters (6,561 feet).
Directions: From the coast, the quickest way to get to Žabljak, the park’s main gateway, is on the P5 highway through Nikšić and Šavnik. There are also daily buses to Žabljak from the capital, Podgorica.
Biogradska Gora National Park
Also bordered by rivers is Biogradska Gora National Park. Flanked by the Tara and Lim Rivers, this unique park lies in the Bjelasica mountain massif. It’s exceptional because it protects one of only three remaining rainforests in Europe. Its landscapes made up of temperate forests, mountain ranges, and glacial lakes; this park is home to a huge diversity of fauna and flora. There are more than 2,000 different plants, 150 bird species, more than 80 tree and shrub species and ten species of mammals. The most remarkable feature, however, is the park’s 500-year-old trees in its virgin forests.
Highlights: Six glacial lakes and unspoiled rainforests.
Directions: The main entrance to Biogradska Gora National Park lies on the E65 highway, which runs between Podgorica and Belgrade.
Prokletije National Park
Prokletije National Park is the youngest of Montenegro’s national parks, established in 2009. Situated on the border with Albania in the far eastern corner of the country, this park protects a part of the extremely rugged Albanian Alps, also known as the Accursed Mountains. It is home to the highest mountain in Montenegro, Zla Kolata, at 2,534 meters (8,314 feet). Until quite recently, the ruggedness of these mountains made them virtually inaccessible. If you’re looking for a real mountain adventure, this is arguably the greatest place to do it.
Highlights: Plav Lake, Grlja Waterfall, Grebaja Valley, Ali-Pasha Springs and Mount Prokletije.
Directions: This is a rather remote park, so getting there might take a while. From Podgorica and the coast, the fastest route is the E80 highway to the north followed by the M9 motorway to the east, which involves a number of switchbacks in the mountains.
Lake Skadar National Park
The largest lake in the Balkans, Lake Skadar is protected as a national park—the only of Montenegro’s national parks that is characterized by aquatic and wetland habitats. This park is a hugely important area for birds and is included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Home to more than 250 species of birds, including the endangered Dalmatian Pelican, this is a dream destination for birdwatchers. Additionally, the historic villages surrounding the lake are fun to explore as well, as are the barren karst mountains in the region.
Highlights: Unique birdlife, local cuisine, Virpazar, Rijeka Crnojevica, and historic churches, monasteries, and fortresses.
Directions: Lake Skadar National Park is easily accessible from both Podgorica and Budva. The fastest way from both towns is the E80 highway. The most scenic one, however, is the M2.3 motorway followed by a winding road toward the lake.
Lovcen National Park
Perhaps the most easily accessible national park in Montenegro, Lovcen National Park lies centered between the popular tourist destinations in Montenegro—the Bay of Kotor, Budva, Sveti Stefan and Lake Skadar. This national park is Montenegro in a nutshell. It offers great hiking in spectacular mountain landscape, but also an insight into the country’s rich history through its many monuments, including the imposing Mjegos Mausoleum. Additionally, this is the location of Mount Lovcen, the “black mountain” that gives the country its very name.
Highlights: Mjegos Mausoleum, Mount Lovcen, Njeguši, and Cetinje.
Directions: Easily reached from Kotor on the E80 highway and the P1 road. From Budva, you can choose to choose either take the E80 highway north or the M2.3 motorway north. The park’s main gateway is the town of Cetinje, located just off of the M2.3, which also connects to Podgorica.
Which National Park in Montenegro will you be checking out?
Main Photo Credit: Eelody M