Skopje to Matka Canyon: A hikers guide

a bloat floating through matka canyon

Hiking to Matka Canyon from Skopje’s Vodno Mountain is a great way to escape North Macedonia’s bustling capital city.

Located only 10 miles from Skopje’s city centre, Matka Canyon is a popular day trip destination for locals and tourists. While many visitors opt to take a taxi to reach Matka, hiking to the gorge is the best way to explore a slice of Skopje’s wilderness.

How to hike to Matka Canyon from Skopje

a woman hiking on a mountain trail

The hiking trail begins at Vodno’s Millennium Cross, a 66-foot metal cross perched at the top of Vodno Mountain. The cross is visible from nearly all over the city, particularly at night when illuminated.

There are two ways to reach the cross: an easy way (taking a cable car) and a more challenging way (hiking). With a 6-mile hike ahead of us, we chose the easier route and jumped on the cable car with a one-way ticket.

Tip: It’s worth noting, that if you take the cable car to the Millennium Cross, it runs at different times throughout the year and does not run on Mondays or the last Tuesday of the month.

At the top of Vodno mountain, you can enjoy the sweeping views across the city, and get up close to the cross.

Being one of the tallest crosses in the world, it’s worth a visit in itself. It was built in 2002 by the Orthodox church and with donations from Macedonians from across the world.

It ‘s located at the highest point of Vodno, known as Krstovar (translated to Place of the Cross), and serves as a memorial to 2,000 years of Christianity in Macedonia.

The hiking trail route

The start of the hiking trail is easy to find, but if you want some extra guidance we managed to build the route into Strava before we left home.

However, one thing we discovered about hiking in Macedonia is that most of the popular trails are well-marked. If using a GPS tracker is not an option, there are red and white markers dotted along the route.

The walking trail takes you through beautiful woodland that leads out to an opening that offers incredible views. All you can see in the distance are miles of rolling hills and lush green forests.

The tranquility and natural beauty of the area make you forget how close you are to Macedonia’s capital city.

The descent into Matka Canyon

After a couple of hours walking, you’ll reach the top of the canyon. This is probably the trickiest part of the hike as the descent is quite steep with loose rock underfoot.

Before you reach the water, halfway down the mountain you’ll reach St. Nikola Monastery, an Orthodox church thought to date back to the 14th century. The church can only be reached on foot, which makes it a place not many tourists stumble upon.

From the monastery there there are two ways to finish the hike.

If you take the path which leads you to the right of the monastery, you will arrive at the bridge which gets you to the other side of the gorge.

If, on the other hand, you take the other path, as we did, it will lead you down to the water’s edge. Initially, you might think there is no way to cross. However, if you wait a few minutes, one of the friendly boatmen who keep a watchful eye out for stranded hikers will make the 30-second trip to come and rescue you.

There’s plenty to do once you arrive at Matka. You can continue hiking around the edge of the jagged reserve, take a boat ride, hire kayaks, or get up high and rock climb.

The perfect day trip from Skopje

Visiting Matka Canyon is a must when in Skopje. Its rugged peaks and emerald-green waters provide a serene retreat from urban life. And if you love the outdoors and off-the-beaten-path adventures, this hike is a fantastic way to explore a slice of North Macedonia’s wilderness.

Even if you’re not a hiker, you can skip the trail and hop on a bus to reach the canyon. However you choose to get there, you’ll not be disappointed by Matka’s rugged beauty.

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