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Croatia’s Best National Parks

Croatia may be renowned for its charming historic towns and villages with centuries-old buildings lined along meandering cobbled streets, but this country also boasts plenty of breathtaking nature. It’s home to eight spectacular national parks making it easy to plan a Croatia vacation that includes at least one. Plitvice National Park is the most famous with numerous lakes in brilliant hues of greens and blues while nearly 100 waterfalls are laced between. But Krka National Park also boasts impressive cascades and a stunning turquoise river. From dramatic mountains with miles of scenic hiking trails to coastlines where you can watch bottlenose dolphins and forests home to wildlife like bears, there’s no shortage of opportunities for exploring in Croatia’s best national parks.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in Croatia, but to get the most out of your visit, arrive early to avoid the crowds and walk in cooler temperatures.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park Blog Section Image

Plitvice Lakes National Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Plitvice Lakes National Park is Croatia’s most popular, largest, and oldest national park. It’s home to 16 lakes in hues ranging from brilliant blue to deep emerald with nearly 100 waterfalls in between, all surrounded by vibrant greenery. Scenic paths, boardwalks, an electric boat, and a panoramic “train” will bring you to discover it all, keeping an eye out for the abundant flora and fauna along the way. Watch for all sorts of bird life, including the Eurasian Eagle Owl, lynx, grey wolves, and bears. There are eight designated walking routes that explore the park’s two sections, the Upper Lakes with a dozen lakes, and the Lower Lakes, featuring Croatia’s tallest waterfall, plunging for nearly 256 feet.

Krka National Park Blog Section Image

Krka National Park

Krka isn’t as well known as Plitvice but the scenery here is also incredibly lush. The park’s series of cascades is crowned by one of Europe’s largest, Skradinski buk, with a width of nearly 2,600 feet and a height of 145 feet. It can be viewed by taking a boat tour that showcases multiple falls and the 16th-century Visovac monastery. You can also visit on your own or as part of a Croatia private tour with a guide for more insight into what the park has to offer. More than 200 different types of birds inhabit the area, from peregrine falcons to golden eagles, and there are nearly 50 kinds of mammals including endangered otters, wild cats, wolves, and greater horseshoe bats.

Mljet National Park Blog Section Image

Mljet National Park

If your vacation includes a Croatia small-ship cruise, you’ll be most likely to visit Mljet Island. The top draw here is Mljet National Park which covers nearly a third. One of the greenest islands in Dalmatia, it boasts unspoiled nature with a wealth of opportunities for outdoor adventure. The park offers scenic trails for walking and biking, with rentals available, and it also boasts two saltwater lakes in dazzling shades of turquoise and emerald. Idyllic beaches line their shores popular for sunbathing and swimming during the warmer months while an island in the middle of Veliko, or Great Lake, is topped by a 12th-century Benedictine abbey. A short boat ride can bring you there to explore. A cafe and gift shop are on-site too.

Kornati Archipelago Blog Section Image

Kornati National Park

Kornati National Park includes 89 of the 140 islands in the Kornati archipelago, renowned for their unrivaled natural beauty. Located in Northern Dalmatia, it’s a sailing paradise where one can wind through the karst limestone isles with towering cliffs rising as high as 262 feet and sea caves. It’s possible to visit on a tour from the mainland with departures from Zadar, Split, Sibenik, and other points. Some come as part of a yacht charter or a small-ship cruise with opportunities to swim and snorkel in the strikingly clear turquoise water. There are hiking trails for exploring the islands as well, including the easy one-mile loop called Litnjui vrh that leads to a lookout point on Vela Smokvica.

Brijuni National Park Blog Section Image

Brijuni National Park

The Brijuni Islands were designated a national park in 1980 following the death of former Yugoslav president Tito who spent his summers here. There are no permanent inhabitants on this string of 14 island gems lying off the Istrian coast north of Pula. Only one is open to the public, Veli Brijuni, the largest. Just a 20-minute ferry ride from the Croatian mainland town of Fazana, it offers stunning natural beauty, including picturesque beaches like Sveti Jerolim, the most popular for sunbathing and swimming. There are also walking trails for exploring the abundant flora and fauna, including over 150 different bird species. One can also discover Roman ruins, stroll through a botanical park, and even visit a safari park with exotic animals.

Risnjak National Park Blog Section Image

Risnjak National Park

Less than an hour’s drive from Rijeka in Croatia’s mountainous north, Risnjak National Park is one of Europe’s few places home to lynx (along with Plitvice Lakes). In fact, it was named after the animal, with ris the word for lynx in Croatian. Most come here to hike so you’ll want to keep an eye out for the animal although it is rare to see as they’re endangered, with less than 60 in the entire country. Even if you don’t catch a glimpse it’s well worth visiting with breathtaking scenery that includes nearly a dozen named mountains, with the highest, Veliki Risjjak, over 5,000 feet. One of the most popular treks will bring you to a panoramic view from the summit.

North Velebit National Park Blog Section Image

North Velebit National Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, North Velebit National Park is home to the Velebit Mountains, one of Croatia’s large mountain ranges as well as being part of the Ancient & Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe. The trees are unique for their age, vast size, and characteristics that provide critical habitat for endangered animals and plants, including red deer, roe deer, bear, lynx, forest orchids, and holly. Many are drawn here for the 60-mile trek that cuts across Velebit Mountain, winding through forests and plateaus while bringing views of karst formations. It typically takes nine days to complete from Zavizan Mountain, but visitors can also hike shorter, easy trails that travel through diverse landscapes to peaks nearby.

Paklenica National Park Blog Section Image

Paklenica National Park

Paklenica National Park is a hiker’s paradise, the perfect destination for anyone who loves nature and the outdoors. It’s just a 45-minute drive from Zadar in the Dinaric Alps providing magnificent scenery that includes dramatic peaks, deep gorges, and colorful wildflowers. It’s also home to Manita Pec cave, with stalactites and stalagmites. With over 100 miles of trails, there’s something for every hiker here with maps available at the park entrance that include details on every route, their lengths, difficulty, and completion time. One of the favorites starts at Entrance 1 and will bring you to the Paklenica Mountain hut for an approximately 3.5- to 4-hour round-trip journey. Traveling through Velika Paklenica Canyon and soaring cliffs, the views are impressive.

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