Aerial view of a bend of Drin river at Shkoder in Albania.

Drin River

Situated in Albania, the Drin River System is a massive body of water and the country’s largest river. With multiple sources bolstering a strong water flow, this river flows through 3 countries with a length of more than 200 miles (320 km). Moreover, it boasts an immense basin size and effect on the local economy, wildlife, and culture. Due to this, the Drin is a vital water body in the country and, combined with its unique route covering various lakes, is a unique river in the region. So, with so many interesting features impacting the region, there is much to discover and learn about the stunning Drin River.

Source Of The Drin River

The Black Drin River near Lake Ohrid.

Unlike many other rivers, the Drin River is unique as its source is made up of two primary headwaters; Black Drin and White Drin. The Black Drin originates from Lake Ohrid (139 mi2 or 358 km2), which is located along the southern end of the Albania-North Macedonia border. From this lake, the river begins moving north through the tourist town of Struga.

On the other hand, the White Drin is completely different in its source as it is produced from the Zhleb Mountains in Kosovo. Here, multiple streams running down from the river merge to form the White Drin, which begins a southeastern path from the city of Peja. After this, the White Drin moves southeast into Kosovo and then southwest into Albania, while the Black Drin follows a northern route along North Macedonia into Albania. The two rivers meet near the city of Kukës in Albania, which is the source of the primary Drin River.

Course And Basin Of The Drin River

A woman admiring the beauty of the Drin River and surrounding landscape.

From the confluence of the Black Drin and White Drin at Kukës in Albania, the Drin River begins moving northwest into Albania. At this point, the Drin has a strong water flow which causes many outward-flowing streams to form from it. The river continues until the Nikaj-Mertur Regional Nature Park, where it is met with the Valbona River and shifts in a southwestern direction. Throughout this section, the Drin River has quite an erratic path crossing through many lakes and reservoirs, such as the Koman Lake. Moreover, it passes through the Albanian Alps, giving this section of the river a scenic and meandering route. After about 26 miles (42 km), the Drin River reaches the settlement of Stajkë, where it splits into two separate rivers, the Large Drin and the Small Drin. The Large Drin moves northwest along Shkodër and reaches its mouth at the Bojana River. On the other hand, the Small Drin moves south for nearly 20 miles and empties into the Gulf of Drin in Lezhë County, Albania. Thus, throughout its journey, the Drin covers most of mainland Albania traveling an impressive distance of 208 miles (335km).

Drin River flowing through the beautiful Komani Lake.
Koman Lake, a reservoir on the Drin River.

Thanks to its multiple tributaries, sources, and meandering route, the Drin has a large basin that spans Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia. In total, the river has a basin size of 7,600 mi2 (19,685 km2), which is nearly 70% of Albania’s total area. Moreover, with mountainous routes and more than a dozen tributaries, the river also reaches a peak discharge (flow of water) of 64,000 cu. feet/s (1,800 cu. m/s)! With a strong flow and large basin, some of the river’s primary tributaries are: Black Drin, Mirusha, Prizren, Toplluha, White Drin, Sateska, Radika, Perro, Bushtrica, and Mertur.

Climate Of The Drin River Basin

Spanning multiple countries across Southern Europe, the climate conditions change noticeably throughout the Drin River. For example, the source regions passing through the Albanian Alps have a differing climate when compared to the source and mouth. That being said, as a large majority of civilization can be found near the Bojana River mouth of the Drin, it is ideal to use this region for climate conditions. To this end, the Drin River lies within a Csa (Hot-summer Mediterranean) climate zone according to the Koppen Climate Classification. This climate zone is characterized by hot, dry summers while winters are cool and wet. At the mouth of the Drin, summers last for less than three months from June to September, although temperatures get quite hot, reaching average highs of up to 90 °F (32 °C). On the other hand, the winter season lasts for nearly four months, from November to March. During this time, January is the coldest month and sees median temperatures ranging from 35 °F (1 °C) to 50 °F (10 °C). When it comes to precipitation, the above-zero temperatures mean there is minimal to no snowfall, and the region mainly sees rainfall year-round. On average, the Drin River gets 70 inches (1787 mm) of rain per year, with November being the wettest month.

Flora And Fauna In The Drin River

The Anguilla anguilla (European Eel) is a threatened species found in the Drin River.

Due to its varying climate and geographical conditions, the Drin River is a vital life source for a wide range of flora and fauna. Passing through regions such as mountains, lakes, lowlands, etc., allows many species from varying biomes and conditions to survive along the Drin. Speaking of plant life, the Drin is home to many endemic species such as Quercus robur, Petteria ramentacea, Trapa natans, etc. Moreover, you can find unique species such as Urticalaria vulgaris, the region’s only carnivorous plant! Things are similar regarding animal life, as many animals can be found in and around the river. Some of the most common aquatic species are Salmo ohridanus, Salmo letnica, and Chondrostoma prespense. Apart from this, the river also provides a habitat for threatened species such as Anguilla anguilla (European Eel), which is at a high risk of extinction. While recent projects and pollution have led to issues for the local wildlife, the Drin is still an ecologically diverse body of water.

Economic Importance Of The Drin River

A dam on the Drin River.
A dam on the Drin River.

Along with being vital for plant and animal life in Southern Europe, the Drin River also has a major economic link to the Albanian economy. This is because the river is a vital source of energy production for Albania. With four hydropower plants set up throughout the Drin, which produce more than 1200MW, it sustains most of Albania’s energy requirements. Moreover, with many lakes and reservoirs under dispute and created by these dams, the Drin is highly essential for many major cities throughout the country. Although, these plants have also led to notable damage to the region’s ecology, which is visible in the depleting numbers of endemic species.

Ranging from its beautiful journey through the Albanian Alps to the Drin’s unique feature of having two sources and mouths, it is a unique body of water. Not only does the river’s basin most of Albania’s area, but it also provides a large portion of the country’s electricity and wildlife. Moreover, with its staggering length of more than 200 miles, the Drin River truly is an amazing river in Albania!


More in Bodies of Water