The Dinaric Alps (Via Dinarica)
Section 3 of the Trans-European Alpine Route
We're back on a trail! This entire section is just the Via Dinarica White Trail, one of three recent mega-routes across the Dinaric Alps. The White Trail is the mountain route, and incorporates the highest peak from each country it passes through. The trail was only officially opened in 2016 and still includes many stretches of road walking in order to connect sections of hiking trails together. This is similar to other relatively young long distance trails such as New Zealand's Te Araroa and will undoubtedly improve with time as interest in the region grows and trail infrastructure is developed. The Via Dinarica offers a grand tour of several oft-overlooked countries whose landscapes have remained a mystery to many western travellers (spoiler alert: they're beautiful).
From the official Via Dinarica site:
"The Via Dinarica trail encompasses the largest karst field on earth. Plate tectonics have created a vertebrae-like limestone chain that has aligned itself over 1,000 kilometers through the heart of the western Balkans. Its head, veering far into the skyline, is a conglomerate of jagged peaks that dominates northern Albania, northwestern Kosovo, and the Plav and Gusinje area of northeast Montenegro. The torso and heart of the Dinaric Alps cuts through northern Montenegro and most of Bosnia and Herzegovina before reaching its legs in Croatia at Dinara Mountain. The limbs reach as far west as the Montenegrin and Croatian coastlines of the Adriatic Sea and as far east as Tara National Park in Serbia. The trails tail tithers off in Slovenia at two of Europe’s greatest limestone caves at Postojnske and Skocjanske."
The 'nuts and bolts' of the section are provided in the map above, which can be exported for use in offline GPS apps. Information is divided into subfolders for easier viewing and additional details/context are given below.
The track used here is almost identical to the official GPX track, except for the recent changes in the route through Slovenia. The new route takes a more direct path from the Croatian border to Sneznik, while the older route keeps a more direct line towards Predjama via Postojna, a good resupply stop. I've included the new official route as an alternate so you can combine them as you like.
Trails are usually blazed white and red, although this includes trails that are not part of the Via Dinarica route so you'll have to check your map at intersections. Trail marking is not complete in all countries.
I've added several short alternates which bypass old trails that have been officially incorporated into the Via Dinarica but as of 2019 had not been cleared for actual use. User comments on each stage of the official Via Dinarica Outdoor Active platform as well as facebook group discussions are the best way to find out which sections are still to be avoided.
The most important alternate is right at the beginning and simplifies the first border crossing issues which are outlined further down.
The only resupply issue is when leaving Gracac, Croatia. There are no resupply options for the next ~266km, but you have the option to hitch or hike down to the coastal towns of Karlobag and Senj which makes the food carries more reasonable. See the resupply spreadsheet for details.
Picking up a threaded fuel canister will require a bus or train to either Split (Croatia), or Ljubjana (Slovenia), and both cities are nice places for a rest day. The sidetrip to Split is about halfway along the Via Dinarica and Ljubjana is shortly before the end.
The karst rock of the Dinaric Alps is very porous and surface water isn't common. Drawing water from a well with a bucket will become a common task. In addition to my own water source waypoints I've also included the public Via Dinarica waypoints regarding water sources, although I removed the ones which I found to be locked (private wells that shouldn't be relied on) or bone dry. In general the water caries aren't too bad (in comparison with the SoCal PCT or the CDT's southern New Mexico and Great Divide Basin), but keep any eye on your next source. Due to the timing of a TEAR hike this will likely be the hottest section.
Huts / Shelters
Plenty! Lots of fantastic free shelters scattered throughout the trail, although not enough for every night.
Borders / Transportation / Other
Border crossings are the main issue here. After beginning in northern Albania, the designers of the Via Dinarica decided for it to follow unguarded trail into Montenegro (so it could summit the highest peak in Albania). Shortly after, the trail passes back into Albania at an official crossing point, and then crosses again into Montenegro through the mountains. The first and last crossings are not legal for most international travellers and require advanced permission from the relevant authorities. The guiding company Zdrulo will take care of the paperwork for a reasonable fee, but the process requires weeks of advanced notice and an exact date and time for each crossing. There seems to be a bit of leeway here if the exact schedule can't be kept due to injury or weather, but it's still a bit of a logistical headache.
As another option, I've provided an alternative route that remains in Montenegro until the official crossing point and then remains in Montenegro to join back up with the official Via Dinarica. The two routes are very close in length but the alternate involves more vertical gain, and also bypasses the first resupply (puts it 4km off-trail). You also won't have the option of summit Maja Jezerci, Albania's highest peak, but if you're here in late May or early June you likely won't be summiting anyway without mountaineering gear. I think the trade-off is worth it.
After entering Montenegro the fun with borders continues! The crossing into Bosnia & Herzegovina is also through the mountains and there's no paperwork that can be done to make it a legal crossing. Some hikers hikers have crossed regardless and no further complications have been reported. Others have hiked the trail to the border and backtracked to the nearest road, hitched/roadwalked/bused through the proper border station, then rejoined the trail and hiked to the trail crossing in order to connect their steps and have their entry properly documented. Others have road walked to the proper crossing immediately and rejoined the trail afterwards, bypassing a nice section of trail. Your call.
The remaining border crossings at proper crossings or near enough for a simple road walk alternate. Once you cross into Slovenia you can breathe a sigh of relief, you're in the Schengen Area! No more patrolled border crossings for the rest of the trail. On to the Alps!
Next Section: The Alps