Mrtvica Canyon and the Gate of Wishes

Vines with golden leaves entwine the fallen logs that bridge the peak of the gate, like a spell cast over the doorway to another world…

Hidden deep in a forested trail that snakes near the base of the Mrtvica Canyon is a gem of nature. The Gate of Wishes is not large and impressive like the peak of Bobotov Kuk, nor is it powerful like the Tara. Its magnificence comes from its otherworldly beauty. Standing in the middle of the clearing among the moss covered trees, I could only wonder at how nature created this refuge simply by chance.

The gate of wishes along the trek through Mrtvica Canyon, Montenegro
The Gate of Wishes opens up to a view of the turquoise water of the river

Above the forest canopy, we heard the soft fall of rain drops hitting the thick deciduous cover, but we felt perfectly ensconced in the little clearing that lead to the Gate of Wishes, surrounded by trees covered thickly with moss that dripped water like fairy dust. This was among the most magical of places, even more so than Sintra and the Convent dos Capuchos in Portugal. Here, the hand of man had not played a part, this was all the work of chance.

Twisted trees covered in green moss around a fairy grove opening up to the gate of wishes in Mrtvica Canyon, Montenegro
The twisted trees around the Gate of Wishes are carpeted in emerald green moss

The tilted walls of the gate frame the sapphire waters of the Mrtvica river. The name itself means “the little death”, conjuring ideas that the canyon and river were enchanted by a sorceress long ago. Vines with golden leaves entwine the fallen logs that bridge the peak of the gate, like a spell cast over the doorway to another world.

Sign reading Kapija želja, Montenegrin for the Gate of Wishes in the forest around Mrtvica canyon
The sign reads Kapija želja – The Gate of Wishes

We made our wishes, throwing one pebble per wish into the jeweled river below. I was not sure if the rocky slope which lead from the clearing into the water below was there by nature or if it was built by the wishes of all the hikers that had been here before us. For sure there were no pebbles to be found in the clearing, they had all been thrown into the river a long time ago. We had found ours on the way here and brought them with us.

A quiet forest grove surrounded by twisted fairytale trees at Kapija želja, Mrtvica Canyon, Montenegro
Enjoying the silence and beauty that blankets the fairy groves leading to the Gate of Wishes

I could have stayed for hours more in this place, bewitched by its natural beauty. I had truly never seen anything quite like it before, and I hope I will see it once again.

Wooden bridge built on Roman stone pylons crossing the Mrtvica river
A wooden bridge built across stone pylons that had been originally placed by the Romans

The hike to the Gate of Wishes was an easy walk from the start of the canyon, which is only 8 km long. It’s mostly soft earth, and flat, with occasional scrambling. At points, we got out onto a dirt road which led to a few houses that were in the vicinity. Along the way, the trail was covered with ripe brambles that were delicious to eat, but dangerous to pick. Many wild apple trees were also fruiting on the side of the path, covering the trail with colourful red fruit, like party tinsel laid out, celebrating us as we passed. A portion of the path cuts through private lands, so we had to be careful. Our guide, Vanja, redirected us to a trail that cut through the forest, so we would not have to confront the person who lived there. Along the way, we saw a grave. One solitary, unmarked grave on a large patch of well manicured grass.

“They do that sometimes,” Vanja told us. “The old people here… they request to be buried in their land so their decedents can’t sell it.”

Derelict old wooden bridge across the a canyon and over a rushing river - Mrtvica Canyon, Montenegro
The wooden bridge was falling apart at the edges and slippery, but people still use it to get across

Along the way, there are two bridges of note. One is a wooden bridge, a rickety, slippery structure that looked like it might fall through given enough weight and movement. Crossing it felt like a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. It was built on old stone columns in place since Roman times, for this was once a fairly well used trading route. It was funny thinking about how we in the modern age, with all our technology and skill with materials still sometimes depend on structures built thousands of years ago.

Clear blue river in a canyon with green forest reflected in its waters and the river bed visible
The green-blue waters were so clear you could see many metres into the rocks that lay below the river

The second bridge was a stone bridge, built by Danilo I, the prince of Montenegro in the nineteenth century. It was built in dedication to his mother, who was from this wild and beautiful place. Some say he had built it for her soul. I find it fascinating, knowing the meaning of the name of the Mrtvica river.

Stone bridge cutting across the Mrtvica river, bridging the canyon in Montenegro
Stone bridge built by Danilo I, in dedication of his mother

The rain which fell lightly soon turned into large droplets that began to soak us thoroughly. It was nevertheless a long walk back to the car, although we took the dirt road this time and skipped scrambling in the forest. Despite getting wet, we still found the time to gorge on figs along the way, with fruit that had been perfectly ripened under the sun. Some would say the weather was a let down, but I relished every moment of it and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Clear turquoise river running through a canyon, the riverbed visible - Mrtvica Canyon, Montenegro
The Mrtvica river’s clear blue-green waters running through the lush green canyon