What kind of Croatia Adventure Holiday can you do in Croatia's National parks? A holistic overview of things to do, times to visit and tips for your Croatia adventure holiday in a National Park.
Plitvice is a unique collection of 6 larger and tens of smaller lakes connected to each other through cascades and waterfalls. All is placed within 134 meters of height difference. Water flows through limestone and chalk have created barriers, natural dams, caves and waterfalls. The path that meanders and 'levitates' above the water is between 5 and 10m. It gives a great immersion to the area.
Also, the lakes are situated in the forests with trees rising over fifty meters high. These forests are a sanctuary for bears and wolves.
Plitvice is great hiking destination. Navigation through the park (beyond the waterfalls) is a simple and straightforward. Trails clearly marked and small paths are well trodden. The whole Park is situated in a mountainous area with thick and rich forest. You can easily find a number of hiking routes and explore the area with the waterfall sounds somewhere in the back.
You can find the list of hiking routes here. It is in Croatian, but you can figure out the distances, height/intensity and roughly names of the peaks.
Once you get to Plitvice, you can buy hiking route map (Croatian term: Izletnička karma Nacionalni Park Plitvička jezera). You will find the routes on the map.
The one I personally recommend is Mevjeđak-Oštri Medvjeđak it's Staza 1 on the link above.
May until September is the best time to visit. Primarily because the foliage on the trees goes from lush green to autumn-ish browns, red and yellows. I've been there a few times in winter and it is also mesmerising when all is covered in snow. If you have kids, the best way to describe it is that it looks like scenes from Frozen (before Elsa defrosts).
In short, to paraphrase the lecture of environmentalist Puškarić who was working on the park preservation, Mljet is special because it's the greenest island in the Mediterranean. It's the only place where secondary and tertiary vegetation developed in Adriatic. It consists of forests that date to the time of Romans and Illyrians. We are talking forests as in 'jungle forests'. In other words, it is what the whole coastline would look like if men have not interfered through centuries (Greek, Roman, Illyrian, Croatian cutting trees for boats, clearing forests for agriculture).
To experience the greenness of the island it is best to rent a bike and just cycle around the roads that take you off the beaten path. Even in summer months, the forests are cool enough to walk all day long.
Second, highly recommended activity, is kayaking in the park. Particularly the western side of the island. You can explore its salt lake and the monastery there and venture out to the open sea. Just note that the area around is exposed and mind the weather, particularly on the from the lake to Pomena area (which is unique for its cliff formations).
Kayaks and bikes can be rented on Mljet. There you can also get a map of the Park.
On the rest of the island check out the Odysey cave. It can be accessed from the mainland via a dirt road. You leave the car on the road and walk down to the coast where the cave is. Expect some traffic there.
Best time to visit: March – October
It is THE most exciting gorge in Croatia. Think of Morocco's Todgha but higher and steeper. On top of this, the area includes some of the highest peaks (Vaganjski 1757m) on Velebit mountain range. The name of the park comes from 'paklina' which is the local term for black pine sap. I am a bit subjective when it comes to steep rocks and rock climbing, but I must say – a unique and spectacular place.
Paklenica is a rock climbers mecca. Thousands of sports, trad and multi-pitch routes. All that on solid carbonate rock that nicely grips your shoes. For climbers, a must see. For an aspiring climber, it's a great place to start with the sport.
There are actually two gorges. Mala (small) Paklenica nad Velika (big) Paklenica. Both are the entry points to the higher ranges of Velebit. The later is shorter and easier (we see people doing the entry hike in flip flops – not that we recommend it in flip flops but it gives you a feel fo the difficulty). The former (Mala) you can only do in summer when the creek dries out and it is at least a 10h circuit.
You can buy the hiking map of the Paklenica section of Velebit in Starigrad's Iglu sports shop located right next to Twister bar, here.
For climbing, you can use the same shop for last minute purchases, including the climbing guide for Paklenica. Note that Paklenica is a separate climbing guide, and Croatia (all other places) is separate.
Here is a list of popular hikes in Paklenica with heights and time required to complete the hike. For intermediate distance and length but great views we recommend the second one on the list (Anića Kuk). If you are doing a multiple day hike check out Vaganjski Vrh via Struge. Very nice section.
If you are looking for someone to get you introduced to rock climbing in Paklenica, I recommend Frane from Avanturist.
Best time to visit: March – October
The Kornati are the densest archipelago in the whole of Mediterranean. It is a collection of 150 islands, islets and rocks on an area of 320 sq km. Islands are rock conglomerates in white and yellow with an odd sheep or goat dotted around the islands. Olive or pine trees are happily grouped around the fisherman settlements. On top of that, add a surreal network of kilometre long dry walls. Then zoom out towards the most distant islands and see how they turn into cliffs up to 80m above the deep blue sea.
If you have any appetite for adventure, the best way to see this national park is sea kayaking. It maximises the feel for the maze of rocks and island and gives you access to areas where few other boats can go.
For experienced climbers, Kornati is THE destination for DWS in Croatia. You access the islands by kayak, climbing the grades from 4 (French grading) upwards and then move on to the next island.
Hiking is a great way to get a new perspective of the islands. Most smaller islands can be reached with a short hike of up to an hour. For main island Kornat, there the hike is at least 4hour return. Note there are only a few walking paths, so most hiking is on sharp rocks.
Visiting the Kornati is possible as a day trip or a multiday trip from village Sali on Dugi Otok. Your day trip includes cycling to the kayaking base and then paddling to the Kornati.
Your multi-day kayaking trip includes staying in refurbished fisherman houses on island Kornat.
Best time to visit: May to September
Krka is the river that forms stufa cascades before it enters the Mediterranean sea. It is remarkable because, in the middle of the Dalmatian cars (which absorbs any water in this subterranean limestone structure), you have this area where 500 thousand litres of water rumble per second – thick green meditation in the middle of the surrounding dry terrain.
Not unlike Plitvice, the route through this national park 'flies' over the water, cascades and waterfalls. Normally boat from Skradin takes you up to the National Park. You can also use the old dirt road to walk up.
Alternative is to rent a bike and choose one of the marked cycling trails on dirt roads or forest paths.
You buy your tickets in Skradin, where you can also rent a bike. We recommend our colleagues at Raftrek in Skradin.
Best time to visit: May to September
Risnjak is a mountain massif located in the middle of Croatian mountain region, Gorski Kotar. Expect mountain climate with think unless greatness as you hike to its peak Northern Little Risnjak at 1.434m. Unlike most other National Parks that are easily accessible for bus tours, this will be the place where you earn your view. The name comes from cat Lynx (biggest European), known to live in the area.
Unlike most other National Parks that are easily accessible for bus tours, Risnjak will be the place where you earn your view. There is a number of great hiking trips in the area with stunning views of Gorski Kotar, Kvarner Bay area (islands in front of Rijeka), and the Slovenian Alps.
Exploring the area is best by car and it is very much self-guided. You can buy the hiking map in the park office. Here is a link with two ascend routes so you can plan your trip.
If you decide to stay in the area we recommend staying in Fužine – cosy little village with traditional houses of Gorski Kotar sitting next to a lake. For some mountain delicacies and wild game check out Restaurant (and now a hotel) Bitoraj. To be honest I get hungry just writing about it.
Best time to visit is May to October
Velebit is Croatia's most renowned mountain. Geographically it is the spine that connects North and South Croatia. Mythologically it was the source for Croatian tales of fairies and beauty. Wilderness dotted with leftovers of human traces: ruins, roads combining the Mediterranean and Continental climates. Its uniqueness is the speleological localities. Some caves and pit systems are deeper than 1.400m.
Hiking and cycling are the only ways to see the park. Very much like Risnjak, it's beauty is best seen once you earn your view with a half-day or a full day hike.
All information about the hikes is easily accessible through the Park facilities. Once you have the map of the area, for inspiration on routes see the hiking route list here with photos.
For cycling, here is a list of cycling trails.
Best time to visit is May to October.
Brijuni is a group of island unique as a place of nature entirely cultivated by man. They are synonymous with the joy of leisure. The islands were the residence of President of former Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito from 1949. Here he hosted actresses, dukes, duchesses, politicians. Expect holm oak and twenty meter wide trees with villas and a zoo.
This place would be more about relaxing and chilling than adventure activities.
Take a look at National parks on the map of Croatia.
For more inspiration take a look at our list of top 6 outdoor adventures in Croatia. We have looked at what outdoor adventures are unique for Croatia and most connected to local culture. Then we've put together links and tips to help you start planning those active holidays.