National Park Guides

Beyond the Horizon: A Guide to National Parks in Croatia

POSTED ON June 29, 2022 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Croatia is a country with stunning coastlines, crystal-clear waters, and idyllic Croatian islands. But what may surprise many travelers is that beyond the picture-perfect beaches lie hidden gems – eight national parks waiting to be explored.

The national parks in Croatia are spread throughout the country and showcase some of the most diverse landscapes in Europe. From dense forests and forested valleys to rugged rock formations and some of the most stunning waterfalls in the world, these parks offer a glimpse into the country’s diverse natural beauty.

In this guide, we will take you on a journey through Croatia’s national parks and nature reserves, including Plitvice Lakes National Park, Mljet National Park, Paklenica National Park, Kornati National Park, Krka National Park, Risnjak National Park, Sjeverni Velebit National Park, and Brijuni National Park. Each park offers something unique and promises an unforgettable experience for nature lovers.

From rare bird species and dinosaur footprints to the summer residence of former presidents and ancient monasteries, there is something for everyone in these protected areas.

Whether you’re an avid hiker, a thrill-seeking rock climber, or simply seeking refuge from bustling cities, Croatia’s national parks offer the perfect day trip for any traveler.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

A grand view of Plitviče Lakes National Park--Croatia

Size: 114.6 sq mi (296.85 sq km)

Number of visitors: 1.2 million (2022)

Established: 1949; bestowed National Park status in 1979

Number of hiking trails: N/A

Total length of hiking trails: N/A

Lowest point: Plješevica River at 1,204 feet (367 meters)

Highest point: Seliški Vrh Peak at 4,196 feet (1,279 meters)

Plitvice Lakes National Park (location) is the largest and most popular national park in Croatia. Located in the Dinaric Alps, it is among the most popular parks in Croatia. What makes Plitvice National Park stand out among other parks in Croatia is its numerous waterfalls and crystal-clear lakes.

The park is divided into two sections, the Upper Lakes and Lower Lakes, each offering a unique experience. The Upper Lakes are characterized by numerous waterfalls and cascades, while the Lower Lakes feature tranquil lakes surrounded by dense forests.

From a different perspective, visitors can take a boat trip across the Great Lake. Aside from its natural beauty and many plant species, Plitvice Lakes National Park is also home to diverse plant and animal species. It is one of the few places in Europe where visitors can spot the elusive brown bear in its natural habitat.

Whether for a day trip or an extended stay, this park promises an unforgettable experience for all who visit.

Mljet National Park

Mljet National Park

Size: 37.84 sq mi (98.01 sq km)

Number of visitors: approximately 100,000 annually

Established: November 11, 1960; bestowed National Park status in 1962

Total number of hiking trails: 3 main hiking trails and several smaller ones

Total length of hiking trails: over 24 miles (40 kilometers)

Lowest point: Sea level at the lakes’ surface

Highest point: Veliki Grad at 1,686 feet (514 meters) above sea level

Mljet National Park, located on the island of Mljet (location), is one of Croatia’s smallest national parks. However, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in natural beauty and unique features.

The park is home to two saltwater lakes, Veliko Jezero (Big Lake) and Malo Jezero (Small Lake), connected by a narrow channel. The island itself is also home to a small population of brown bears, making it one of the few places in Croatia where these elusive creatures can be spotted.

Visitors can explore the park’s diverse landscapes and flora by taking one of the three main hiking trails or a boat ride on the tranquil lakes. The highlight of any visit is the former Benedictine monastery located on a small island in the center of Veliko Jezero, now turned into a charming restaurant with breathtaking views.

For those seeking day trips from one of the nearby Croatian islands or a longer stay, Mljet National Park offers an experience like no other. With about a third of its area being protected, it is one of the most well-preserved parks in Croatia.

Paklenica National Park

Paklenica National Park

Size: 36.7 sq mi (95 sq km)

Number of visitors: Over 140,000 annually

Established: 1949, but it became a National Park in 1998

Total number of hiking trails: about 9 marked climbing routes and several hiking trails. Tourists are required to use the NP Paklenica Tourist and Trekking Map (published by the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service) for hiking in Paklenica National Park.

Total length of hiking trails: approximately 93 -124 miles (150 – 200 km)

Lowest point: Velika Paklenica canyon entrance at 360 meters

Highest point: Vaganski Vrh peak at 1,757 meters

Located in the Velebit mountain range, Paklenica National Park (location) is one of Croatia’s two national parks situated in the renowned Velebit Mountains. With its diverse landscapes, rich flora and fauna, and numerous trails, Paklenica National Park is a must-visit for nature lovers.

The park’s main attraction is its two impressive canyons, Velika (Big) Paklenica and Mala (Small) Paklenica. These canyons offer breathtaking views of steep cliffs, lush forests, and the crystal-clear waters of the Paklenica River. Rock climbers can explore these canyons by following one of the many marked trails or testing their rock climbing skills on over 150 climbing routes.

Aside from its natural beauty, Paklenica National Park is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including wild boar and rare birds. For those looking for more adventure, the park offers opportunities for day trips to nearby islands, where visitors can spot bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat. Avid hikers can summit the highest peak in the Velebit Mountains, Vaganski Vrh, and get jaw-dropping views of the Adriatic Sea.

Kornati National Park

Kornati National Park

Size: 84 sq mi (218 sq km)

Number of visitors: approximately 140,000 (2019)

Established: 1980

Total number of hiking trails: N/A

Total length of hiking trails: N/A

Lowest point: Islet of Purara at 410 feet (125 meters) above sea level

Highest point: Metlina peak at 778 feet (237 meters) above sea level

Located in the Adriatic Sea, Kornati National Park (location) is a breathtaking archipelago of over 100 islands and islets. The park’s stunning scenery consists of crystal-clear turquoise waters, rugged cliffs, and untouched coves. The best way to explore this paradise is by sailing along the Dalmatian coast or with your own boat.

As you sail along the Adriatic Coast, you’ll come across picture-perfect views of the Kornati Islands. The park is home to diverse marine life, including bottlenose dolphins that can often be spotted playing in the water. On land, visitors can take a leisurely walk or hike up to it for panoramic views of the islands and sea.

Krka National Park

Krka National Park

Size: 42 sq mi (109 sq km)

Number of visitors: about 1.1 million (2022)

Established: 1985

Total number of hiking trails: about 22 hiking trails and boardwalks

Total length of hiking trails: over 45 miles (73 kilometers)

Lowest point: Sea level at the mouth of the Krka River

Highest point: Kosa Mountain at 800 feet (244 meters) above sea level

Krka National Park, located in central Dalmatia (location) is one of Croatia’s most popular national parks. It is named after the Krka River, which runs through it and forms a series of breathtaking waterfalls. Visitors can easily access the park by taking a day trip from nearby towns or cities or even with their own boat along the Krka River. The Skradin Park entrance is the starting point for most visitors and can be reached by boat from the town of Skradin.

The main attraction at Krka National Park is the Skradinski Buk waterfall, which is not only the largest but also the most famous waterfall in Croatia. The park also includes the island of Visovac Island, home to a Franciscan monastery and church that dates back to the 15th century.

Another must-see is the Roski Slap waterfall (location), where visitors can take a boat excursion to see the series of cascades and enjoy a traditional Dalmatian meal at a nearby restaurant.

Risnjak National Park

Risnjak National Park

Size: 24.5 sq mi (63.5 sq km)

Number of visitors: Over 20,000 annually

Established: 1953

Total number of hiking trails: Over 100 marked hiking and mountaineering trails

Total length of hiking trails: approximately 49 miles (80 kilometers)

Lowest point: Kupa Valley, at approximately 951 feet (290 meters) above sea level

Highest point: Veliki Risnjak peak at approximately 5,013 feet (1,528 meters) above sea level

Located in the Gorski Kotar region of Croatia, Risnjak National Park (location) is a hidden gem among the other Croatia national parks. The park is a beauty for hikers and photographers alike, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding hills, forests, and peaks.

Established in 1953, Risnjak National Park is one of the oldest national parks in the country, offering visitors a unique opportunity to explore the diverse flora and fauna of the Alps.

The park is home to over 50 mammal species, including bears, lynxes, and wild boar. It also boasts a rich variety of bird species, making it a popular destination for birdwatchers. The crystal-clear waters of the Kupa River are home to a variety of fish species, making it a prime spot for fishing.

The park’s highest peak, Veliki Risnjak, offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Visitors can also take day trips to nearby towns and villages, where they can experience the traditional culture and cuisine of Croatia.

The park is open year-round, but the recommended time is during late spring and early autumn, when the color play is spectacular.

Sjeverni Velebit National Park

Sjeverni Velebit National Park

Size: 42.1 sq mi (109 sq km)

Number of visitors: 21,000 (2019)

Established: 17 June, 1999

Total number of hiking trails: Over 30

Total length of hiking trails: Over 62 miles (100 kilometers) 

Lowest point: Sea level

Highest point: Veliki Zavižan peak at 5,764 feet (1,757 meters)

Nestled in the majestic Velebit mountain range lies Sjeverni Velebit National Park (location). With its diverse landscapes and incredible natural wonders, this park is a must-visit for all nature lovers. The park boasts over 30 hiking trails offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the Adriatic Sea. The Rab and Pag Islands can also be seen from certain vantage points, adding to the park’s stunning scenery.

The park is home to diverse flora and fauna, including bears, wolves, and rare bird species. Visitors can explore the unique rock formations that have been shaped by thousands of years of natural processes. For a more leisurely stroll, take the walking path that leads to the North Velebit peak, which provides stunning views of the park’s diverse landscapes. With its untouched beauty and rich wildlife, Sjeverni Velebit National Park is one of the most captivating parks in Croatia.

Brijuni National Park

Brijuni National Park

Size: 13.1 sq mi (33.9 sq km)

Number of visitors: 160,000 (2019)

Established: 1983

Total number of hiking trails: N/A

Total length of hiking trails: N/A

Lowest point: Sea level

Highest point: There is no clear highest point as it is a group of flat islands

Brijuni National Park (location) is an island paradise situated off the west coast of the Istrian peninsula and made up of 14 small islands. Among them is Veliki Brijun, which served as the former summer residence of President Tito. The island’s history dates back to ancient times, as evident in the dinosaur footprints found on Veliki Brijun.

But it’s not just the history and natural beauty that make the Brijuni Islands a must-visit destination. The park also boasts a unique safari park filled with exotic animals such as zebras, llamas, and elephants. Visitors can take a guided tour through the park to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures.

With its stunning landscapes, rich history, and one-of-a-kind safari park, Brijuni Islands is a must-see on any list of parks in Croatia.

Conclusion

Croatia is a country with stunning national and nature parks. With eight national parks and numerous nature parks dotted throughout the country, Croatia offers a diverse array of landscapes and natural wonders to explore. If you’re going to visit any of these national parks, having a pair of Silverlight shorts will be a great addition to your hiking wardrobe:

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From the rugged cliffs of Kornati National Park to the tranquil rivers of Krka National Park, each park offers a unique experience for nature lovers and adventurers. While the high season may bring in larger crowds, it’s also the best time to visit these parks and witness their full beauty.

So if you’re planning a trip to Croatia, make sure to include at least one of these national parks in your itinerary. You won’t be disappointed by the stunning views, diverse wildlife, and rich history that these parks have to offer. Make sure to check out our National Park Guides to parks all around the world.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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