8 Spectacular National Parks In Croatia
As you breathe in, you’ll draw in an abundance of fresh, crisp mountain air. You’ll hear the crunching of leaves underfoot, coupled with the sound of waterfalls in the distance. Birds will be chirping, and you’ll be relaxed and without a care in the world.
Welcome to Croatia.
This list of Croatia national parks is one you’ll be sure to add to your travel bucket list.
Photographers, hikers and nature lovers, will wander along in any one of the eight national parks in Croatia and be in awe. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, like an old broken record – Croatia is more than just beaches.
Here in Croatia, we are blessed with 8 national parks. Each offering something magical and beautiful.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Plitvice Lakes National Park is a magnificent gift from nature and one of greatest tourist attractions in Croatia, with lakes so still that you can see your reflection just as if it were a mirror. It is the largest and most popular national park in Croatia, situated between the mountains of Mala Kapela and Lješevica. Founded in 1949, it now attracts more than a million visitors every year.
The main drawcards of Plitvice Lakes National Park are the 16 interconnected lakes and, of course, the famous Plitvice waterfalls and cascades beginning at 25 meters all the way to a staggering 78 meters tall. The Plitvice Lakes are renowned for their distinctive colors, which range from azure-blue to green and are dependent on the quantity of organisms, minerals, the season, and amount of sunlight that is in the water at the time.
Plitvice is readily available as a day trip from Zagreb or Zadar. We recommend taking a private transfer to Plitvice from the city you are staying in for the easiest and quickest way to get there. As a super-popular day trip, Plitvice Lakes National Park can easily be visited and explored in a day. An average visit lasts between to two to eight hour, depending on the length of your hike.
You are, however, encouraged to arrive as early in the morning as possible, perhaps spending the night at a B&B nearby. The park gets extremely crowded around midday and when you get there early, you can enjoy the exceptional natural beauty in peace and quiet.
Mljet National Park
Mljet National Park is one of those Croatia national parks for people who like a little bit of adventure as well as stunning scenery. Situated on the Island of Mljet in the deep south of Croatia, Mljet National Park is bordered by two saltwater lakes. Offering superb kayaking, swimming, hiking and, of course, a place to relax and sunbathe, it’s truly a hidden gem.
As is so often the case with small Mediterranean islands, Mljet, too, is shrouded in myths, fables and stories. Some people claim that Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on the islands, while others say it was Malta. Another legend tells how the goddess Calypso kept Odysseus captive here. Is it true or not? No one really knows. What is a fact, though, is that Benedictine monks used to live on Mljet almost 1,000 years ago.
They lived on a rather unusual site. In the center of the island lies a lake, which in its turn has its own island, on which stands a former 12th-century Benedictine monastery now turned café. In addition to being a fascinating historic site, it also makes for a great place to kayak to and then enjoy a coffee.
There are daily ferries to Mljet from Dubrovnik and during the summer months, day trips can be arranged from Korcula, Dubrovnik, Makarska, and the Peljesac peninsula.
Krka National Park
If you’re looking for waterfalls in Croatia, a visit to the Krka waterfalls is a must. Yes, Plitvice Lakes gets way more attention, but Krka National Park actually has the larger waterfalls. It’s also easier to get to!
The huge Krka waterfalls are located in Krka National Park and can easily be visited as a day trip from the major coastal cities in Dalmatia. Additionally, unlike Plitvice Lakes, you can actually swim in the waterfalls here. The biggest and most famous waterfall is Skradinski Buk, a truly spectacular and not-to-be-missed waterfalls made up of no fewer than 17 cascades. This is as picture-perfect as any waterfall gets.
The park has a number of educational walking paths and trails, pointing out the area’s history and wildlife. Over 200 different bird species call Krka National Park home. Keep your eyes open and you might spot a golden eagle, griffon vulture or peregrine falcon. Very lucky visitors could even catch a glimpse of river otters frolicking in the Krka River.
Besides the hugely popular Skradinski Buk waterfall, you can visit a 14th-century medieval fortress, located on the Krka River. Alternatively, take a boat ride to the Krka Monastery on Visovac Island, which is somewhat reminiscent of Slovenia’s Lake Bled. The old mills on the Krka River have now been turned into a museum and thanks to Emperor Franc Josef II, who erected a viewing post for his wife, you can easily admire the upper section of the waterfalls from there.
Getting to Krka National Park is easy from the old city of Sibenik, Splil, or arriving by boat from Zadar or Skradin. Private transfers are also available from Zadar, Split and all the major centers and a really affordable. Krka National Park has a walking path which takes approximately 2 hours to navigate – including time for photos.
Risnjak National Park
If you’re looking to get away from it all and rekindle your connection with nature, head to Risnjak National Park, one of the least known national parks in Croatia. You’ll find the limestone formed valleys and rolling mountain ranges of Risnjak just 15 kilometers from the sea in the most mountainous part of Croatia. Yet, as wild as it may be, it’s still surprisingly accessible, situated off the main road that connects Rijeka and Zagreb.
Want to hear the howl of a wild wolf? Have you ever seen a deer or lynx, which is the park’s most famous resident and namesake, or perhaps a brown bear? Risnjak National Park has an observatory that can be booked in the summer, and a log cabin during winter, where you and your camera can become one with these wild animals.
There are far too many activities to list for Risnjak National Park, although one that you won’t find in any of the other national parks in Croatia is fly fishing. You can grab a fishing ticket and spend all day angling in the rich Kupa River waters, so do pack your waders. There are some restrictions on the tackle, however, and some fish species can only be taken when in-season. Remember to check with the local authorities.
Other popular things to do in Risnjak are hiking and rock climbing. Various trails traverse these rugged landscapes in the Dinaric Alps. Because the ridges are typically barren and rocky, the views are absolutely epic, stretching toward the horizon and taking in forested valleys, mountain summits and imposing cliffs. You can, for instance, hike to the 1,528-meter-high summit of Mount Risnjak, the highest point and namesake of the park. Needless to say, you’ll be blown away by the panorama.
Risnjak National Park sits between the Adriatic climate and the continental climate. This means that on a summer’s day, you can wander the park in a comfortable 20°C. Winters, on the other hand, are often snowy and freezing cold.
Paklenica National Park
Located near the Velebit Mountains and Zadar, Paklenica National Park consists of two torrent gorges, Velika (big) Paklenica and Mala (small) Paklenica, which run parallel to one another. This wilderness of barren mountains, pine forests and deep-cut canyons lies within easy reach for most tourists in Croatia. The park is a great day trip from many of the coastal towns of the Adriatic, and it also makes for a perfect place to spend a few days away from the busy coastline.
Do pack on your comfortable shoes if you plan to visit this national park, though. With 150 kilometers of trails and paths to explore, you’ll need them. The various trails are suitable to pretty much everyone, from those who like a slow, easy walk to avid and experienced trekkers.
Paklenica National Park is not just for hikers; it also attracts rock climbers, mountaineers and spelunkers. There are a number of challenging ascents as well as caves to be explored. If you’re up to walking two hours along a mountain trail, you’ll be able to take a guided tour of the Manita Peć Cave. This cave is 175-meters-long and is divided into two halls filled with gorgeous stalagmites and stalactites.
All that natural variety does not only attract people, but many different animals, too. Besides more than 1,000 plant species, the park is home to countless birds, including eagles and falcons, and even brown bears (which, it must be said, are a very rare sight).
Sjeverni Velebit National Park
If you want an active holiday, then you should head to Sjeverni Velebit National Park, also known in English as Northern Velebit National Park. The Velebit Mountains are what divides the Adriatic coast from the continental part of Croatia. The Velebit makes for a gorgeous backdrop for photos, often looking like a fake Hollywood movie backdrop. These mountains are home to two national parks: Sjeverni Velebit and above-mentioned Paklenica.
In Sjeverni Velebit National Park, you can do all of the things you would normally want to in a national park, including cycling and hiking. Arguably the star attraction in this Croatia national park, however, is the Velebit Botanical Garden.
Established in 1967, this botanical reserve lies near the Zavižan Mountain Hut, which is Croatia’s oldest high-altitude weather station. Almost 1,500 meters above sea level, the garden has around 300 different plant species, showcasing the biodiversity of these mountains. The garden is also the starting point of many hiking trails, leading up to three nearby mountain summits, Velika Kosa, Balinovac and Veliki Zavižan.
Additionally, for a truly unique holiday experience, the park offers an evening stargazing program. The program is called Stars above Zavižan, and for less than 20 euros you’ll be driven to the Zavižan area, and be taken on a night walk for a full hour of stargazing with a guide.
Kornati Islands National Park
Possibly the most extraordinary of Croatia’s national parks, Kornati National Park is an archipelago of the most densely grouped islands in the Mediterranean. Consisting of 89 islands, islets and reefs along 238 kilometers of coastline, it’s a marine heaven. You’ll definitely want to make sure you find time in your itinerary while on holidays in Croatia to sail along the nautical paradise that is Kornati National Park. It’ll be a trip you won’t soon forget. We promise!
If you plan to sail through the national park yourself, you will need to purchase a permit, the proceeds of which go to the protection, maintenance and promotion of the park. Alternatively, day tours of Kornati National Park can be arranged in many places including from Zadar with us! Note that, unless you have your very own boat, the only way to visit the park is by arranged boat excursion. (Additionally, some areas are so vulnerable that visitors aren’t allowed to go there.)
Pack your snorkel and mask, as no visit to the national park would be complete without peering into the sea and marveling at what’s below the water’s surface. If you are a diver, you might like to arrange a diving tour in one of the nine designated scuba diving areas within Kornati National Park.
If you’re all about eco-tourism, few places are better destinations for you to visit than the Kornati Islands. Virtually all tours are operated by locals, often fishermen who return to their main profession after the busy tourist season, and the landscapes are as pristine as you’ll find them anywhere in Europe.
Brijuni National Park
An archipelago of 14 islands, Brijuni National Park lies off the west coast of Istria. Most islands are off limits to tourists, yet there’s one main one that does welcome and caters to visitors: Veliki Brijun. It was on Veliki Brijun Island that over 200 dinosaur footprints were discovered. Another claim to fame is that the island was the home of Tito, Yugoslavia’s leader after World War II, for a while. He had his very own zoo here, which is now a safari park, one of the island’s main attractions.
Other areas of interest in Brijuni National Park include archaeological sites of two ancient Roman villas, and the 5th-century St. Mary’s Church, which is said to have been used by the Knights Templar in the 13th century. Also in the national park is a Byzantine Palace and museum.
Once you’ve had your dose of history, there is still plenty left to do in the national park, by way of sports. You can play a few rounds of golf, or perhaps a game of tennis, practice your archery skills or explore by bike. A 13-kilometer bike route begins (and ends) at the Veliki Brijun harbor and runs past all the main sights, a wonderful way to get around on a sunny day. If you’d like to spend the night in the national park, you can book a room at places like Hotel Karmen, Hotel Istra-Neptun and a few villas near the harbor.
These Croatian national parks provide an abundance of choice for activities and photo opportunities. You can find out about entrance fees and hours of operation, here at each national park website.
Alternatively, the Croatian Ministry of Environment and Nature has set up this web portal, which details everything you need to know about all the Croatian national and nature parks. Be sure to take the virtual walk, it’s amazing!
We also should mention Papuk Nature Park – the only UNESCO Geopark in Croatia – which just may be Croatia’s most underrated park, and is most certainly worth a visit!
Have you been to any one of these national parks in Croatia? Which was your favorite?
Main Photo Credit Tomislav Kovacevic
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