There have been whisperings in the air. You’ve heard tell of a secret adventure playground in a far and distant land. Montenegro: the Tara Canyon. Like an adventurer of old, you strike out to find out more about this mystical place off the edge of the known map. Here be dragons. Or, in modern terms, you think “That sounds cool” and hit the internet.
The Tara Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Montenegro, featuring rocky terraces, sandy beaches and high cliffs. This is a pretty darn big canyon. Plus it has more than 80 large caves – yes, you read that right. Imagine what you could do in 80 caves! The main feature is, of course, the river and all things water. You can go white water rafting, canyoning and otherwise splashing about to your heart’s delight. Let’s dive in.
Overview of the Tara Canyon
The Tara Canyon is a canyon in the Tara River… Okay, you could have probably guessed that. The Tara River flows through Montenegro to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The river is some 140km long, with most of it essentially marking out the border of Montenegro. But, the crowning feature of this river is the Tara River Canyon (or just Tara Canyon for short). The canyon is 82km long making it not only the longest canyon in Europe, but the second longest canyon in the world. It was pipped to the post by that mother of all canyons, the Grand Canyon in the USA.
As if that wasn’t enough of an accolade, the Tara Canyon is also an impressive 1300m deep on average. In some places it’s even deeper than the Grand Canyon (take that!). This makes the famous Tara Canyon Bridge even more impressive. This picture-perfect bridge stands hundreds of metres above the river below. And yes, you can bungee jump from it… We knew you were wondering.
Tara Canyon Rafting
Despite the thrill of throwing yourself off a bridge attached only to a glorified elastic band, rafting is by far the best adventure experience in the Tara Canyon. Swap an espresso shot of adrenaline for hours of excitement as you take on the Tara’s many rapids… and get fairly soaked.
There are lots of options for white water rafting outings, depending on your skill level… and your taste-for-thrill level! You can raft the upper part of the Tara River too, but the bit in the canyon is the most exciting. There are plenty of rapids all year round, but the time of year can affect how difficult they are to navigate. For example, at the beginning of April (the start of the rafting season) there are many class five rapids. As the water level decreases through the summer, the rapids lower into the realms of more manageable class four, class three and so on. The season ends in October.
The Tara River has hosted the World Rafting Championships and the water is apparently so pure that you can drink it straight out the boat. Not that you really want to have your face in the water as your crew try to navigate rapids. “What are you doing, Alex? Come on! Focus!”
For a look at what a multi-day rafting expedition on the Tara River might look like, here’s a sample itinerary. If you want to hear and see first hand what your rafting experience might be like, check out Much Better Adventurer Callum’s story: Tearing Down the Tara Canyon: A Photo Story.
Hiking the Tara Canyon Area
If you like the solid earth about as much as water – if not more – you’re in luck. The Tara Canyon is part of Durmitor National Park in Montenegro, itself a part of the Dinaric Alps. The National Park has almost 50 limestone peaks for the bagging, reaching 2523m on Bobotov Kuk. The limestone geology of the area also means there are caves and canyons galore.
If you’re looking for a long distance hike, the Via Dinarica Trail passes alongside the Tara. On the scale of long distance hiking paths, this one is enormous. The Via Dinarica stretches from Albania, through Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. Yes, that’s seven countries and 1200 miles of hiking. Go wild. It’s a fairly new route, only completely connected in 2016.
You can view an example itinerary for hiking and rafting the Tara river here.
Now this is a little bit cheeky, but you can go canyoning in another canyon very close to the Tara River Canyon. For some reason when people talk about canyoning here, they’re often not actually in the Tara River. Well, if you go down the river long enough, eventually you’ll reach the Tara Canyon. You’re canyoning in a tributary of the Tara. Just technically speaking you’re not in it… yet.
This, to be honest, is not a bad thing. The Tara Canyon itself if a very wide gorge, whereas nearby canyons Nevidio and Hrčavka are narrow and intricate. Instead of scrambling along cliff edges worrying about getting hit by rafts, you can explore where no boat will take you. It’s kind of like hiking in a wetsuit and helmet, with waterfalls, pools, abseiling and jumping thrown in for good measure.
Adventure is only limited to your imagination. Although we’ve covered the main sights for someone with an adventurous eye, there’s always more to do. For example, in 2013, someone had the bright idea to put in a zip line by the Tara Bridge. It starts at 800 m above ground on the left side of the canyon. You’ll drop 50m and can hit up to 50 km/h as you zip through the sky (somewhat literally). Plus you can ride side-by-side with a mate.
There are also loads of caves (thanks krast limestone) in the area to explore. Plus more hiking and rock climbing that we can begin to cover. And there’s even a ski resort close by in winter. You’re spoilt for choice.