Top jeeper’s camping spots of eastern Serbia

Written by: Aleksandar Veljković

One of the first thoughts we stumble upon when we look at our Jeep is that we’re looking at our tool for the perfect escape, our ticket to freedom, our chance to get away from it all – the toy we use to get wherever we want, whenever we want. To get away from all the rules, restrictions, control, the noise, the hassle, the ever ringing mobile phones and other gadgets. Hm, isn’t that a great idea? Finding places with no mobile reception, getting a chance to listen only to the birds, streams and the wind?  😉  Knowing that the holy silence cannot be interrupted as long as you don’t interrupt it yourself? But how do you find such places? 

Little JEEP secrets of eastern Serbia

In central and western Europe it gets harder every day, you get the impression that breathing will be the next thing under strict control that you’ll need to obtain a permit for. You’re desparately seeking for nature that is still wild, controlled only by natural rules, where you can roam around in your Jeep for days without meeting anyone who would tell you what not to do. That’s where Serbia comes to mind, especially it’s eastern part, with it’s four times lower population density than the western, and almost no tourist infrastructure – the perfect place to feel like you’re lost somewhere in central Asia, while actually being in the heart of Europe. Jeeping In the wilderness of eastern SerbiaI’ve spent a week there, mostly roaming around Kučaj mountains, the biggest continuous uninhabited area in Serbia, where you have more than 2500 square kilometres of wilderness without any human settlements. The perfect playground for a big Jeep kid, where you can explore the jungles, canyons and highland plateaus for days without hitting the pavement, remembering that you need something from the outside world only when you – run out of fuel. It’s an area full of places where you’d like to settle, and not move any further, just enjoying the tranquility and beauty of the environment. In this article I’d like to share with you some of those places that I’ve discovered, without being pretentious to list them all – that would require a, well, kind of encyclopedia. Let’s start from…

1) Demižlok valley

demizlokStream – yes
Lake – no
Drinking water source – no
Mobile coverage – no
Tables & benches – no
Firewood – plenty of
Altitude – 670 m

By the Demižlok stream With a group of friends on DemižlokIt’s situated right at the end of one of four Lazar’s canyon contributaries, 100 m from the majestic Demižlok pit (that is where the waters of Demižlok stream disappear into the depths of the Earth). Lazar’s canyon is the most impressive canyon in Serbia, being about 10 km long, and branching out in three directions from the mid part. There are many breathtaking scenic spots on all sides of the canyon, and it’s worth spending several days exploring them. Several levels By the campfireThis is a small, flat meadow by the Demižlok stream, about 100 m lower than the closest dirt road passing by it. It is charmingly hidden inside the growth, and not very well known, so if you need solitude you can camp here being absolutely certain that nobody would stumble upon you (except, maybe, me 😎 ), even if you decide to spend several months there. To reach the place, you need to turn off the dirt road and drive over a combination of grassy meadows and a short portion of forest (could be a bit tricky to find the right route if you don’t have the GPS track). Although quite steep in average, with few extremely steep details at the very end before reaching the Demižlok bank, it is routine access for any Jeep with low range in dry weather (Wranglers and XJs preferred). In heavy rain (especially after several days of rain when the soil gets soft) escaping can become quite tricky, and may require smart usage of the winch with extension rope (having at least 50 m is a safe bet), or an anchor. Place is unreachable in winter conditions (unless you’re ready to wait for springtime there 😛 ).

2) Kovej plateau

kovejStream – no Lake – no Drinking water source – yes (100 m) Mobile coverage – poor Tables & benches – no Firewood – plenty of Altitude – 780 m The Jewel of eastern Serbia - Lazar's Canyon At the Kovej scenic pointDefinitely one of the most impressive scenic views above the Lazar’s canyon, giving you a majestic overview of the main canyon junction and the lone rock called Kula (tower) on the other side. There’s a big meadow there with plenty of camping space, and rocks rising more than 300 m above the cany0n bed are right next to it. It is privately owned land and it’s an active pasture for sheep and cows, but the owners (Mustecic family from the village Zlot) are very friendly, and gladly accept visitors. There is a source of drinking water next to the Mustecic hut (water is transported by a hose from a spring 2 km away). The campground By the campfireKovej can be accessed by a moderately hard, 6-7 km long  forest road from the village of Zlot (very rocky at moments, requires good ground clearance). The place is a good starting point for hiking either to the Malinik mountain, of for descending into the canyon following the Kovej stream (beware of snakes). There are several small caves in the vicinity.

3) Malinik ridge

malinikStream – no Lake – no Drinking water source – yes (100 m) Mobile coverage – fair (slow data transfer) Tables & benches – no Firewood – plenty of Altitude – 1070 m Sunset on Malinik Being on the ridge on the very top of Malinik mountain is a great way to have an overview of Lazar’s canyon as if you’re looking at it on a sattelite map. It’s the only place from which you can see the entire canyon, from the start to each of the three ends. Malinik is famous for it’s beech and larch forests, with many impressive beech trunks up to several hundred years old. Camping in the forest Jeep on the edgeThere are several places suitable for camping on the ridge. The first one is on a junction clearing in the middle of the forest, closest to the Larg water spring. It is the best place to be in case of bad weather or strong winds. If you want more scenic views from your tent, you can find nice spots further down the ridge to the northeast, including a possibility to camp on the most exposed scenic points. Wherever you decide to camp, you’ll have firewood in abundance, so you’ll gather it easily (but do take precautions and don’t light campfire close to trees or dry branches and leaves – take into consideration that lighting fires in the forest is officially not allowed, even in Serbia). Near the scenic point Malinik is also a solitary place – since there are marked hiking paths you may meet hikers from time to time, but not every day. So it’s also a great place if you want to enjoy the silence of nature. View at the entire canyon The easiest way to access Malinik is from the village of Podgorac, by a wide dirt road climbing towards the Mali Malinik (Little Malinik) peak. It is a good idea to have a GPS track, since there are many turnoffs where you can easily miss the road going around Big Malinik towards the north-east ridge.

4) Vinatovača river valley

vinatovacaStream – yes Lake – no Drinking water source – yes Mobile coverage – no Tables & benches – yes Firewood – limited quantities Altitude – 630 m Vinatovača river campground Sheltered by the dense forestThis is an exceptionally peaceful place at the beginning of the Vinatovača river valley, at the very entrance to the old Vinatovača forest (a natural reservation). Traditionally popular by campers for decades, it is easily reached by a good dirt road from the west (13 km to the closest pavement), so it’s not uncommon to meet other campers here, but it’s no problem since there’s plenty of space along the river for everyone. There is a big stone cross built there, and a brick porch with a roof under which you have several rows of tables and benches, so you don’t have to use your own when camping there (and also no problem if the weather is rainy). There are several prepared fireplaces, and visitors often build temporary benches from the available wooden material. Due to the frequent visitors, firewood is sometimes not so easy to gather, but if you enter deeper into the forest you can find it. A lot of place for your solitude There is a small water spring (drinking water) on the side of the stream, but we’ve also been drinking the water from the stream without consequences (there’s nothing upstream to polute it). Vinatovača The improvised bench at VinatovačaSince it’s deep inside the valley, this camping spot is well sheltered from the winds, but it also gets sun a bit later in the morning. The weather is never too hot, even in mid-summer, and at night you’ll need warm sleeping bags – don’t be mislead by the relatively low altitude, because Kučaj mountains have a very specific microclimate, with cool summers and especially harsh (and very snowy) winters. There is a rangers cabin nearby (200 m), so if you need any kind of help, you can get it there (if the rangers are there, which you never know). The valley is well away from any mobile coverage, and it also doesn’t have any wired phone lines. So it’s the perfect easily accessible place (even by passanger cars, so Compasses/Patriots are also welcome) to get completely isolated.

5) Valkaluci plateau

valkaluciStream – yes Lake – no Drinking water source – yes Mobile coverage – no Tables & benches – yes Firewood – plenty of Altitude – 920 m On Valkaluci DSC_4223p The cosy shelterNo matter if you climb or descend to the Valkaluci forest, either from the east, west, north or south, you cannot escape the feeling that you’ve entered the enchanted, fairy-tale land. Three winding streams, a forest that is an enchanting combination of fir and beech trees, with one big, almost 1 km wide meadow at it’s western end, this highland depression surrounded by peaks that are about 200 m higher than the plateau really look like a perfectly sheltered safehaven for nature lovers. Geographically it’s situated in the very middle of Kučaj mountains, so no matter which direction you’re headed, it takes you a good 25 km of picturesque drive on forest roads to reach the closest sign of civlization. It’s no wonder the national forestry service decided to build a hunting cabin there decades ago, which used to be an exclusive hunting ground for the political elite during the communist times. It is still a very popular hunting ground for contemporary hunters, but outside of the hunting season and on workdays you usually don’t meet anyone in this very neatly arranged place. They don’t like to see campers around when hunters are present, but it’s worth to drop by and check if everything is clear, because of the enchanting beauty of the place. We’ve been there many times, and still enjoy camping there tremendously. By the Valkaluci hunting cabin On the Valkaci crossroad There are good quality forest roads to reach Valkaluci from the west, north and south, usable for any Jeep (including Compass/Patriot), and the road from the west, along the Nekudovo river valley, can even be used by passenger cars. A forest road directly to the south-east is only accessible for Jeeps with higher clearance and low range.

6) Prskalo waterfall

prskalo Stream – yes Lake – no Drinking water source – yes Mobile coverage – no Tables & benches – no Firewood – plenty of Altitude – 780 m By the Prskalo waterfall This waterfall is definitely one of it’s kind – situated on the side of the Nekudovo river valley on the way to the Valkaluci plateau, it’s striking shape draws attention the moment you spot it. As if it was some man-made sculpture, the water flows to the top of the tuff rock formation and falls in a narrow stream from the very top. In summer months it becomes very poor with water, but can look very impressive right after the snow melted and during the rainy season. Below the waterfall Prskalo waterfall in mid summerThe small plateau next to the waterfall, which can be easily reached with a Jeep, is a great place to camp, since you have everything you need there – an extraordinary scenic site, enough flat ground for your tents, tables and chairs (there used to be a wooden table with benches there several years ago, but it was removed), and you can enjoy the silence, the surrounding nature, and, of course, the inaccessibility. You can drink the water from the waterfall, since it’s spring is only about 30 m away from it’s top. We’ve also placed a geocache here, for the guys who like this game (look in the opencaching.com database). Prskalo is easily accessible from the road leading from the little town of Resavica eastwards toward Valkaluci. The road can be occasionally closed when there is activity in a nearby military base – the risk is only theoretical, so you could say it’s only a precaution in case a grenade missfires. Prskalo waterfall is far enough from the military base, so you can be relaxed there – the most you can hear are faraway detonations (but the activities take place only several days every month).

7) Grza lakes

GrzaStream – yes Lake – yes Drinking water source – yes Mobile coverage – no Tables & benches – yes Firewood – limited quantities Altitude – 420 m The upper Grza lake In the lakeGrza river is situated at the south end of Kučaj mountains, and it’s spring and two lakes downstream have been a popular picnic area for decades. Recently the local tourist organization has made tables, benches, wooden bridges and stairs, so it has been turned into a very nice tourist destination, but still wild and beautiful enough to be considered a desirable camping spot for Jeepers. It is especially impressive in springtime, when the spring is very strong, with huge amounts of water. Camping by the lake You just have everything there – drinking water, river, lakes, fireplaces, benches, beautiful surrounding beach and oak forests, and from this place you can enter the overwhelming wilderness of Kučaj mountains in several directions (to the northwest over the bridge before the lower lake, and on a dirt road after the mountaineering motel). As a Jeeper you have the additional privilege to reach some majestic spots overlooking the lakes, so you’d have perfect view from your rooftop tents. By the Grza spring The Grza is only 5 km away from the main road between the towns of Paraćin and Zaječar, and it’s a paved road, so tourists are present in large numbers (but they usually only visit, rarely camp there). Approach to the Grza spring

8) Rečke on Mount Beljanica

reckeStream – yes Lake – no Drinking water source – yes Mobile coverage – poor Tables & benches – no Firewood – plenty of Altitude – 1000 m The Rečke valley Beljanica is the highest ridge among the Kučaj mountains, the northernmost part of them, reaching a height of 1339 m. Most of it is a huge highland plateau, situated above the altitude of 1000 m. Except for the plain grasslands surrounding the highest peak, it has two very interesting intermittary river depressions – Rečke and Busovata. Rečke is a real beautiful plain, consisting of two streams dissapearing in dip pits at the end of the little valley (one of them, Ivkov ponor, about 130 m deep is one of the deeper pits in Serbia). In the midst of Rečke The green grassland with fir trees is still used as a pasture for grazing sheep, goats and cows, and it’s rich in mushrooms during springtime and autumn. There is firewood in abundance, and it’s flat ground configuration makes it easy to chose a perfect camping spot even for bigger groups of campers. Several water springs surround Rečke (one is by the road leading from Rečke towards the highest peak of Beljanica, about 50 m when you start upwards from Rečke). Grazing sheep on Rečke Beautiful, but due to the ground configuration and quite big open space, it can be quite cold at night, especially of the skies are clear. So get ready to button up your sleeping bags, or build a large campfire, to keep you warm most of the night! Rečke can be reached from three directions – on good quality forest roads (Compass/Patriot compatible) from the direction of the village of Sladaja on the west, or from the east, on a road coming from Žagubica, branching off towards the highest peak about 3 km from Rečke.

9) Vrelce on Mount Bukovik

bukovikStream – yes Lake – no Drinking water source – yes Mobile coverage – poor Tables & benches – yes Firewood – plenty of Altitude – 680 m The water spring at Vrelce Deep in the forest by VrelceSouth of the Kučaj area moutainous terrain covered by dense forests continues – Bukovik is a mountain about 20 km long with a ridge oriented from the southwest to the northeast, almost completely covered in forests. Along the ridge runs a perfect gravel forest road, and it’s the best way to traverse this mountain quickly and easily, exploring left and right from it (take care, most other forest roads on Bukovik are covered in heavy growth, in some cases even impassable due to fallen trees or landslides). And in the eastern half of this road there is a secret forest oasis called Vrelce, where you have everything you need for a pleasent and quiet night in the forest – a strong spring of drinking water that stays strong even in the driest summer months, a very nice covered platform with tables, benches and a barbeque spot, and deep shade of old beech trees to protect you from the heat. A place to relax and make barbeque Vrelce is easy to find – it’s just next to the main road on it’s north side, and there is a sign, but also a few trailer homes of the forest workers, and in most cases horses grazing beside. Just turn off the road and in about 100 m you will reach the spring and platform. The very vicinity of the spring isn’t really the ideal place to place your tents (either classic or rooftop), because there is very little flat ground. It might be a good idea to camp a little above, around the forest worker’s trailers.

10) Lake Vrmdža on Rtanj

vrmdzaStream – no Lake – yes Drinking water source – no Mobile coverage – poor Tables & benches – yes Firewood – limited quantity Altitude – 640 m By the lake Vrmdža Rtanj is the “magic mountain” of eastern Serbia, surrounded by fantastic stories and legends because of the perfect pyramidal shape of it’s highest peak, Šiljak. It stands out from the surrounding mountains not only because it’s the highest one in a wide area, but also because the surrounding terrain is quite low, so it look like an island protruding into the sky. Some call it the “Serbian Fuji”, because it also resembles the symbol of Japan. Another view of the lake Among mountaineers and hikers Rtanj is known as the dry mountain, because water is impossible to find above 800 m of altitude, and even that in only one place. So having an entire lake on the southwestern slopes of Rtanj is almost sensational, and many people who’ve climbed Rtanj are completely unaware of this lake’s existence. This relatively small lake is, as you can see, a great camping spot. There are even benches and tables built there. but you’ll be inclined to use your own camping gear, since there’s more flat ground to put up your campsite on the western and southern side of the lake. Reflection in the lake The water from the lake isn’t drinkable, but there is a strong spring with first class drinking water about 1 km down the road towards village Vrmdža (you will easily spot it, there is a bench and table across the way from it), so I suggest that you stop by and fill your drinking water tanks on your way to the campsite by the lake. Although relatively low (just a little above 600 m), nights on the lake tend to be cold, and it can be quite windy, so button up and pull down your ventilation on the tent! There’s not much firewood lying around to be found, so you might be forced to explore a wider area to gather enough firewood for the night. Beware – it is quite a dry area, and since the wind can be strong, choose your fireplace carefully! Mount Rtanj - the Serbian Fuji You can access the lake from two sides – the road approaching from the south, from the direction of village Vrmdža, is good enough even for passanger cars. There is also a north approach reaching the lake from the higher trails on the Mount Rtanj plateau, which you can connect to either from the village of Lukovo or following the ridge, but it’s advised to have guidance, or a dependable GPS track if you take that approach, since there is a network of bad, rocky dirt roads which isn’t easy to navigate.

11) Ledenica pit on Mount Tupižnica

tupiznicaStream – no Lake – no Drinking water source – no Mobile coverage – yes Tables & benches – no Firewood – plenty of Altitude – 1050 m The highest peak of Mount Tupižnica, close to the Ledenica pit This is a place where you’ll have to take care to bring all the water you need with you, and to be careful about setting up the campfire (dry fir tree needles catch fire in an instant), but the remoteness of the area and a chance to quickly hike to some extraordinary scenic spots (or to explore the Ledenica pit if you have proper climbing gear) justify the effort. Entrance to the Ledenica pit The spot where the 4x4 trail gets to the edge of the cliffsTupižnica mountain is nowadays almost uncrossable by anything except on foot. The long forgotten forest trails are from most directions completely grown in, and only thanks to the paved road (but in very bad condition) leading to two telecommunication antennas on one of the two peaks reaching 1160 m it is still possible to reach the area by the Ledenica pit. Just follow the road to the top, take the dirt road turning right just a little before the gate towards the second antenna, and then before reaching that antenna there is a forest path barely wide enough to push through with your JEEP (scratching against bushes for about 100 m, you might want to get out with a saw to cut off a branch or two if it gets in your way), and then slowly descent to the meadow by the pit (about 1300 m from the paved road, and about 800 m from the second junction). Just like Rtanj, Tupižnica is a very dry mountain. There used to be a water tap right next to the pit, which was precious to wanderers in the old times, but unfortunately it has been dry for at least 20 years now. There are several water springs that you can reach if you descend the rocky trails down the western rocky mountain wall, but it takes a good 200 m descent to reach them (so you’ll probably rather bring the water with you in the Jeep). Another view of Tupižnica cliffs It’s a short, but fantastic hike on the marked footpath along the rocky mountain ridge, and the sights are extraordinary (you see Mount Rtanj and a lot more), so I warmly recommend that you stretch out your legs a little before getting on your way.

12) Lake on Borski Stol

stolStream – yes Lake – yes Drinking water source – yes Mobile coverage – very poor Tables & benches – yes Firewood – plenty of Altitude – 850 m The lake on Borski Stol Borski Stol is another small, but very striking mountain of eastern Serbia, that you simply have to climb if in the area. It doesn’t cover a large area, but the little hidden grassy plateau harboring a stream, a little lake and the mountaineering hut about 300 m below the highest peak is one of those places that makes you want to enjoy them much longer than would be rational. It’s not far from paved roads, but you do need a full-grown Jeep in order to reach it safely. With taking great care, a Compass/Patriot might also reach the lake. Approach to Stol from the east The meadows by the lake under the main peak’s rocks are just perfect for camping, and you even have two sources of drinking water nearby – one spring in the small forest right from the dam, and one water tap by the mountaineering hut. Firewood can be found laying around, if not in plain sight in the meadow, then as soon as you step into the forest. Approach from the west Stol is a popular hiker’s destination, so expect always to find someone in the mountaineering hut, or maybe camping around it, just like you. The cliffs above the lake are also popular among rock climbers, so if you practice that sport, you might give it a try. Stol is best to visit in springtime - then the trail to the top looks like this Basically, there are three accesses to the Stol plateau – the shortest is from the pass Cepe, parting from the paved road Bor – Gornjane. It takes only 2 km from the pavement to reach the lake from that direction, and although quite rocky, it may be the easiest approach from the technical point of view. There is another approach from the other side, from Luke field on the road Donji Milanovac – Bor, east from Stol. It is about 3x longer, but very attractive, since it gives you some very exciting scenic views while on your way. Finally, there is a third approad from the ridge connecting the village Gornjane and Stol, but it’s not easy to find your way, since it goes through dense forest in the final parts, and then accross meadows where the trail can be hardly visible (a GPS track or a guide is strongly advised for this approach).

Diary of a lone Jeeper

Night on lake VrmdžaAfter several days without pavement, traffic signs, cars, people, I really didn’t feel like returning. The sight of pavement and regular, clean cars gives me creeps, I suddenly start feeling insecure as if entering some danger zone, like any other wild animal. My instincts prevail, and I turn off on the first dirt road, disappearing full throttle in a cloud of dust, into security. On trails that are only mine, where nobody can follow. I don’t think when I decide my way on junctions. I use my intuition, rely on my jeeper’s instincts, follow the road that takes me further away into the unknown. Or at least the one that feels like it. There’s nothing more beautiful than being free to choose your way, to explore, to discover extraordinary places every day. Tomorrow is a new day full of possibilities and new discoveries, and you never know where it will take you…

Lazar's canyon from Malinik This is by no means a complete list of beautiful hideouts in the wilderness of eastern Serbia, those are just the places I visited during my wilderness week, or those that first spring to mind in the vicinity of the area where me and my XJ roamed. There are many more enchanting places in Homolje mountains, the Iron Gate national park, on the Old mountain and elsewhere. And it’s hard not to think about the beauty that connects them. So, this is just a beginning of revealing them to the European 4×4 world! 

How far is Serbia?

It is, in fact, closer than you can imagine! The E-75 highway will get you to the area where all these places are in no time – only 750 km from Vienna or 1200 km from Munich, it even makes sense to travel to Serbia for the weekend when you can get a few more working days off, and you can really get lost in this Jeeper’s heaven if you choose to spend your hollidays there. Enter into your GPS navigator the town names like “Paracin” or “Jagodina” and you can check the distance to this exciting offroad playground yourself!

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us  😎

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