All about Croatia's National Parks
Croatia is probably most known for its beautiful coast and over 1200 islands along the Adriatic sea. But what should receive more attention, are Croatia's National parks. Their distinct landscape, rich biodiversity, and unique plant and animal life offer endless recreational activities unlike anywhere else in the world.
In this article, you can learn about the natural diversity of Croatia's National Parks, their history, what you can see and do during your visit, and top Croatia's National Parks that you cannot miss.
The diversity of Croatia's national parks
Some of the National parks are located on the open Adriatic sea, and two of them are spread along its coast. The vegetation on each is quite different from the other and varies from the typical Mediterranean to almost tropical. Even though the parks are located near the sea, some of them are a continuation of the Northern Dalmatia Velebit Mountains. Here, the landscape and the vegetation are quite different, as you can imagine. The Krka National Park is located along the Krka river, which starts in the foothills of the Dinaric mountains and ends in the Adriatic sea. The unique combination of limestone, rapids, and waterfalls makes this area a true natural gem.
The Kornati National park, with its countless islands and islets spreading on the crystal clear Adriatic sea, is a natural wonderland for boaters. One of the most exceptional National parks in Croatia is Plitvička jezera. Mostly covered in forest vegetation, with smaller areas of grass and its best part, 16 lakes. An accumulation of limestone or tufa formation caused the creation of the lakes, turning this Natural park into a true natural phenomenon.
The unique flora and fauna of Croatia's National Parks
With such distinct landscapes across Croatia's National Parks, we can only imagine the unique animals and plants inhibiting them. Even though millions of tourists visit them yearly, there is still a lot of wildlife roaming around. Lynx, wild cats, brown bears, deer, skunks, martens, weasels, and wolves reign in the woods. The algae, moss, and bacteria in the Plitvice lakes contribute to creating the natural barrier between them.
Thanks to this process, the Plitvice National Park made it to the UNESCO Heritage list in 1979. Nearly 300 varieties of nesting birds, including white-tailed eagles, black storks, swans, and green woodpeckers also contribute to the rich biodiversity of Croatia's National Parks. Whether you opt for a National Park on the sea or in the mountains, you will have a chance to witness some of the most unique and rare animal and plant species.
The ancient history and cultural significance of Croatia's National Parks
Croatia's National parks are not only rich with natural wonders, their history dates back to the Neolithic era. Today, you can see still see the Roman ruins, basilicas, and monasteries, and bathe in the natural baths from that time. Because of their rich history and culture, the National Parks were proclaimed such in the mid-20th century. Protecting them gave the opportunity to millions of visitors the to witness and appreciate the beautiful remains that date thousands of years ago.
The recreational opportunities available within Croatia's National Parks
Besides admiring the beautiful landscapes and the vast animal kingdom, Croatia's National Parks offer many recreational opportunities.
Hiking and biking
As we mentioned above, some of the National Parks are a part of an archipelago, others are spread along the coast and some are more inland. While you hike or bike across the Brijuni National Park, you can see the ancient Roman remains, Tito's safari park, and even dinosaur (yes, dinosaur) footprints. After you are done with your tour on dry land, end your day with a swim at the beach in Saluga Bay.
If you love snorkeling, you cannot miss Kornati. The archipelago of 140 islands and islets is home to protected rare marine life, coral, and sponges. You can hop on a fisherman's boat for a day-long tour and witness the most breathtaking landscapes, snorkel in a quiet cove and enjoy a fish barbeque.
With so many different bird species living across Croatia's National Parks, birdwatching became one of the favorite activities among visitors. National Park Plitvice alone has 29 birdwatching trails, where you can see owls, woodpeckers, storks, eagles, and many other beautiful animals. To get a more proper insight into the magical world of the birds, join one of many bird-watching tours available across the National Parks.
Biking / cycling
Cycling or biking through Croatia's Natural Parks is another great way of discovering their beauty. Easy, safe trails and pleasant weather will make your scenic ride joyful and definitely memorable. Some of the National Parks offer guided cycling tours, with carefully planned stops, so you don't miss any of the views. If you want to see most of the National Parks and enjoy bike riding, this is a great way to do so.
Since most of Croatia's National parks are located on or near the water, there are so many picturesque wild beaches and coves that you just have to visit. Swimming in the turquoise Adriatic sea is one of those experiences that you will never forget. You can also take a dip in the Krka river (Krka National Park), and swim under its mesmerizing waterfalls. Since swimming is allowed in most of the parks, you should still be aware of the rich protected flora and fauna and don't use sunscreen while in the water.
Top National Parks to visit in Croatia
Now that you learned about the unique beauty, history, and activities to do in Croatia's National Parks, let's see which ones are the best ones to visit. Even though they are all worth exploring, we narrowed down the list to three.
Croatia's most popular and largest National park, Plitvice Lakes attracts millions of visitors each year. The ever-changing colors of the lakes (16 in total), from sky-blue to green to gray, depending on the elements in the water. This unique natural phenomenon is the main reason why tourists love Plitvice so much. The lakes cover just 1% of the National Park, the rest is grassland and forests, which you can walk through on one of many trails.
The unusual geology of the park is the result of thousands of years of water flowing over the limestone and chalk, creating natural travertine dams, waterfalls, and caves. Thanks to this natural wonder, Plitvice National Park was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
Risnjak National Park
In the most mountainous and forested area in Croatia, Gorski Kotar lays Risnjak National Park. Its rich biodiversity and landscape are loved by nature enthusiasts, hikers, and climbers from all over the world. While visiting, you should hike to the highest peak (1528m), where you can see the Adriatic sea and the surrounding mountains. Now, this is not a view you get in many places.
Risnjak is also home to many wild animals and a perfect location for birdwatching. If hiking to the top is not your thing, you can go on Leska's Educational path or walk to the source of Kupa river – a true gem of the park. The upper flow of the river is also known as the Enchanted butterfly valley, where you can see more than 70 different species of butterflies flying around.
Mljet National Park
Another beautiful Natural Park in Croatia is Mljet. Situated on one of the biggest islands in southern Dalmatia, the park includes two lakes (Veliko in Malo jezero), the Soline Bay, and a sea belt of 500 meters. You can reach the park only by boat or a ferry and since it lies on the island, you can swim or scuba dive during the summer.
The Odyssey's cave is one of the main attractions, but do not miss the opportunity to visit some of the many other beautiful caves on this island. Besides witnessing the natural beauty of Mljet National Park, you can also visit the historical villages, such as Goveđari and Polače. The latest has a small port with several restaurants, souvenir shops, and apartments available for rent.
With such abundant natural beauty and rich history, you should definitely plan to visit at least one of Croatia's National Parks. Whether you are a leisure lover, a history enthusiast, or an adventure seeker, the National Parks in Croatia offer something for every type.