From Plitvice to Krka: The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Croatia’s Breathtaking National Parks

Croatia, with its diverse landscapes and stunning natural beauty, is home to some of the most breathtaking national parks in the world. From cascading waterfalls and crystal clear lakes to dense forests and panoramic hiking trails, Croatia’s national parks offer a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Overview of Croatia’s National Parks

Croatia is blessed with eight stunning national parks, each offering a unique experience. In addition to Plitvice and Krka, the other six national parks in Croatia are Brijuni and Risnjak in the North of the country, Northern Velebit, Paklenica and Kornati in the middle, and Mljet in the south. Whether you’re a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or a photography enthusiast, Croatia’s national parks have something for everyone.

Benefits of Visiting Croatia’s National Parks

Krka National Park, Croatia
Krka National Park, Croatia

Visiting Croatia’s national parks not only allows you to immerse yourself in the country’s natural wonders but also offers a range of benefits. The parks provide a sanctuary for an abundance of wildlife, including rare and endangered species in Europe such as bears, wolves and lynx. By exploring these parks, you are contributing to their preservation and conservation efforts. Additionally, spending time in nature has numerous health benefits, such as reducing stress, improving mental well-being, and increasing physical activity.

Exploring Plitvice National Park

Plitvice waterfalls, Croatia
Plitvice waterfalls, Croatia

Plitvice National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is often considered one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, as well as the oldest and largest national park in Croatia. This park is renowned for its ninety-six cascading waterfalls, sixteen turquoise lakes, numerous tributaries, streams and caves, and lush greenery.

One of the highlights of Plitvice National Park is the stunning collection of sixteen interconnected lakes, which are divided into the Upper Lakes and the Lower Lakes. These lakes are famous for their vibrant colours, ranging from emerald green to sapphire blue, and are formed by the natural deposition of travertine, a type of limestone. The park offers boat rides and panoramic viewpoints, allowing visitors to fully appreciate the beauty of the lakes and waterfalls.

Plitvice National Park, Croatia
Plitvice National Park, Croatia

The park is home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna, including brown bears, wolves, and lynx, and is a haven for bird and butterfly conservation, making it a paradise for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers alike. Estimates suggest that the park is home to a whopping 168 species of bird (of which 37 are endangered) and 321 species of butterfly (of which 245 are nocturnal). Plitvice Lakes National Park is also home to a variety of unique species that have adapted to the cave environment, including the tiniest snail on Earth!

In addition to its natural beauty and wildlife, Plitvice National Park has a significant cultural and historical heritage. The area boasts numerous archaeological sites, fortresses, and churches that reflect its rich past, although the majority of these sites have not been extensively researched or presented for tourism purposes.

Unfortunately, many historical sites in the region have been destroyed by warfare, but the park stands as a testament to the resilience and beauty of nature. As you explore this enchanting national park you’ll also come across fascinating legends that surround it, such as the ‘Legend of the Black Queen’ who is said to have created the lakes in response to a drought across the region, while another involves a wise monk who lived in one of the caves within the park.

Visitors can explore the park through a series of wooden walkways and hiking trails of varying levels of difficulty, allowing for an up-close and personal experience with nature. From easy strolls to challenging treks, these trails take you through untouched forests, meadows, and hidden viewpoints. The park also allows other activities such as rowing and cycling during the summer as well as skiing and sleighing during the winter, and provides opportunities for wildlife spotting, photography, and picnicking.

For more information about Plitvice National Park, including its heritage, excursions and park rules, visit the park’s official website here.

Highlights of Krka National Park

Krka National Park, Croatia
Krka National Park, Croatia

Located in central Dalmatia, Krka National Park is renowned for its stunning waterfalls, emerald pools, and picturesque landscapes. The park is centred around the Krka River, which flows through a series of cascades and creates a mesmerising spectacle. The majestic Skradinski buk, often hailed as the most beautiful waterfall in Europe, spans over 45 meters in height and takes centre stage with its cascading beauty. But that’s not all; the park is also home to other mesmerising waterfalls such as Roski Slap, Manojlovacki, Rosnjak, and Miljacka. These stunning natural formations are a testament to the power and beauty of nature.

One of the highlights of Krka National Park is its rich biodiversity. The park is home to a wide range of plant species, including the fragrant lavender that paints the landscape with vibrant hues; Krka is actually host to the second highest concentration of lavender in Europe, so be careful to avoid the bees and wasps which congregate around the plants.

In addition to the flora, the park is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. With 18 species of fish and an impressive 222 species of birds, there’s no shortage of fascinating creatures to observe. The Krka River boasts low pollution levels, creating a thriving aquatic ecosystem that attracts avid anglers from near and far.

Visovac Monastery, Krka National Park, Croatia
Visovac Monastery, Krka National Park, Croatia

As well as the waterfalls and diverse plant and animal life, Krka National Park is home to several historical and cultural sites, the most notable being the Visovac Monastery, situated on a small island in the middle of the park’s largest lake. This picturesque monastery dates back to the 14th century and is a significant religious and cultural symbol in Croatia. Other notable attractions within the park include Bilušića Buk, Brljan, Manojlovac, Slap Rošnjak, Miljacka, Krka Monastery, and Burnum Amphitheatre.

Visitors to Krka National Park can explore the park by following the wooden walkways and bridges that wind through the lush vegetation, every corner teeming with beauty. This allows for an immersive experience, where you can witness the power and beauty of the waterfalls up close.

The park used to offer opportunities for swimming in designated areas, but authorities have recently banned swimming as part of conservation efforts. Visitors can still swim in nearby areas, where the crystal clear waters provide a refreshing escape on hot summer days.

For more information about Krka National Park, including its heritage, excursions and park rules, visit the park’s official website here.

Visiting Brijuni National Park

Brijuni National Park
Brijuni National Park

While Plitvice and Krka are the most famous national parks in Croatia, the country boasts several other natural gems that are worth exploring. Brijuni National Park, located on a group of islands in Istria, offers a unique and diverse experience compared to other well-known national parks in the country. With its blend of stunning natural beauty, wildlife, and historical sites, Brijuni National Park (also known as Brioni) is a must-visit for nature and animal lovers alike.

The park gained its national park status in 1983 and is conveniently located near main cities like Pula and Rovinj. It consists of two main islands, Veliki Brijun and Mali Brijun, which can be reached by boat or organised tour. Once there, visitors can enjoy various attractions and activities. One of the highlights is the Ulysses Theater, which hosts productions during the summer season and is a great opportunity to enjoy live performances in a beautiful outdoor setting.

History enthusiasts will also appreciate the chance to explore the islands’ past. The former residence of Yugoslavia’s president, Tito, is a notable attraction that offers insights into the country’s history. Additionally, the park features Roman villa remains from ancient civilisations, adding an archaeological touch to your visit.

Brijuni National Park zebras, Croatia
Zebras in Brijuni Safari Park, Croatia

For an unforgettable experience, make sure to join a guided tour that covers the main attractions. This way, you won’t miss out on visiting the safari park, where you can encounter wild animals up close- the park is home to species such as zebras, elephants, antelopes, camels, llamas and donkeys, and is a great day out if you’re travelling with children. The park’s diverse wildlife is one of its main draws, making it a paradise for animal lovers.

Overall, Brijuni National Park promises a memorable adventure for those seeking natural beauty, wildlife encounters, and a glimpse into Croatia’s history. Being the furthest North of all of Croatia’s eight national parks, this Park may be slightly more difficult to get to than others which can be easily reached from major cities like Split and Zadar with international connections. You can get to Brijuni by ferry from Pula or Rovinj, which can also be easily reached by bus from Slovenian port cities such as Koper or Piran, or from Trieste in Italy.

For more information about Brijuni National Park, including trails, cultural and historical attractions, and accommodation, visit the park’s official website here.

Traversing the Trails of Risnjak National Park

Risnjak National Park, Croatia
Risnjak National Park, Croatia

Located in the heart of the country in the Gorski Kotar region, Risnjak National Park is a hidden gem that offers a wide range of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. The least visited out of Croatia’s eight national parks, Risnjak is known for its dense forests, panoramic viewpoints, and a diverse range of plant and animal species. From easy walks to challenging mountain treks, Risnjak is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers and offers something for every level of outdoor enthusiast.

One of the best things to do in Risnjak is to hike the Risnjak mountain itself. Home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, this majestic peak offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and is definitely a must-do activity for avid hikers. Another favourite trail amongst hiking enthusiasts is the 12.3 mile Bela Vodica, which also offers breathtaking views and allows hikers to truly immerse themselves in the beauty of nature.

There are numerous other hiking trails in Risnjak National Park that are worth exploring, and with interactive maps available, visitors can easily choose from the top 11 hiking trails and routes and embark on an adventure filled with stunning vistas and natural wonders.

Another popular activity in the park is visiting Platak ski resort. Whether you’re an avid skier or just looking to enjoy some winter fun, this resort has something for everyone. The park is also home to Snježnik mountain, Lokvarsko jezero, and Izvor Kupe – Razloge areas, each offering its own unique beauty and opportunities for exploration.

For more information about Risnjak National Park, including park characteristics, activities and accommodation, visit the park’s official website here.

Velebit Nature Park: Northern Velebit and Paklenica National Parks

Croatia is known for its incredible hiking trails, and one of the best hiking destinations in the country is the Velebit Nature Park, home to the incredible Velebit Mountain range. Containing both Northern Velebit National Park and Paklenica National Park, the Velebit Nature Park stretches over 2200 square kilometres and is the largest single area of protected land in Croatia.

Sjeverni Velebit National Park, Croatia
Velebit Botanical Garden, Northern Velebit National Park, Croatia

Northern Velebit National Park

One of the highlights of hiking in Velebit is the Sjeverni (North) Velebit National Park, which is the youngest and one of the least visited national parks (along with Risnjak) in Croatia. The park seamlessly merges the landscapes of the north and south of Croatia, creating a truly unique mountain landscape. From expansive forests and lush grasslands to deep caves and majestic pits, Northern Velebit National Park offers a mosaic of different landscapes to explore. Here, you can hike along the famous Premužić hiking trail, which provides access to the remote and untouched areas of the park.

One of the park’s main attractions is its incredible array of plant and animal species. It is home to many rare and endangered species, including Bosnian Mountain horses, bears, wolves, and lynx. The park’s deep cave systems (including the famous Luka’s Cave) are also a haven for mushrooms, adding to the park’s unique biodiversity.

Due to its ecological significance, Northern Velebit National Park is part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and the Natura 2000 ecological network. Additionally, it has been included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites for its stunning beech forest. Botany lovers will find their paradise in the park’s reserves, with the Velebit Botanical Garden being home to a wide variety of plant species.

The karst terrain of Velebit is also worth exploring, with its unique geological features like carst formations called “kuk” and sinkholes. And if you’re up for a challenge, you can even tackle a section of the Via Dinarica hiking trail, which traverses through the Velebit range. With its diverse habitats, stunning landscapes and rich biodiversity, hiking in Velebit is an experience you won’t want to miss.

For more information about Northern Velebit National Park, including its heritage, activities and accommodation, visit the park’s official website here.

Paklenica National Park, Croatia
Paklenica National Park, Croatia

Paklenica National Park

Paklenica National Park, located near the seaside village of Starigrad, offers a wide range of activities for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts. The park is dominated by the majestic Velebit mountain range and offers a network of trails that lead to breathtaking viewpoints and hidden caves, as well as being home to diverse flora and fauna, including the iconic griffon vulture. One of the best things to do in Paklenica National Park is to explore its famous rock climbing opportunities; with cliffs, peaks, canyons, karrens, rocks, and caves, this park is a rock climber’s paradise.

However, if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, there are plenty of hiking trails that offer stunning views of the alpine vistas and allow you to immerse yourself in the diverse flora and fauna of the park. For those seeking a more leisurely experience, there are hidden gems waiting to be discovered in Paklenica National Park, with highlights including a 175m long cave with guided tours and hikes through the beautiful natural landscape. There are also huts for overnight accommodation and various drinking water points along the way. Other attractions include Anića kuk mountain, a high peak with excellent views, and a shrine where visitors can leave personal belongings.

In addition to its outdoor activities, Paklenica National Park also offers opportunities to learn about Croatia’s cultural heritage. Designated as a UNESCO biosphere and a protected area, the park showcases the rich history of the gorge and provides interesting information about its past. Meanwhile, the food at the huts in the park comes highly recommended, giving visitors a chance to indulge in delicious local cuisine while taking in the stunning surroundings.

So, whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or simply looking to reconnect with nature, a visit to Paklenica National Park will not disappoint- with its range of activities and breathtaking scenery, it’s no wonder that this park is considered one of the best outdoor destinations in Croatia.

For more information about Paklenica National Park, including its cultural heritage, activities and accommodation, visit the park’s official website here.

Discovering Kornati National Park

Kornati National Park, Croatia
Kornati National Park, Croatia

Covering an area of about 220 km2, the picturesque Kornati Islands archipelago consists of 89 islands, islets, and reefs. Established in 1980 and managed by the Ministry of Culture and Protection of Nature of Croatia, it features numerous coves and bays with clear waters and endangered species of marine life.

The landscape is mostly barren and rocky making it a popular destination for those seeking a remote desert island feel, with small patches of vegetation adding a touch of green to the surroundings. The park is famous for its high cliffs and sparkling waters, with the cliffs offering breathtaking views of the untouched natural beauty and rugged landscapes that will leave you in awe.

Aside from its natural beauty, the Kornati National Park is also home to various species of birds such as peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and cormorants. Rare animals like bats and endemic lizards can also be found here, making it a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts. Moreover, the park boasts a rich historical heritage with archaeological sites dating back to the early Bronze Age, Roman times, and medieval periods.

To fully experience the wonders of the Kornati National Park, it is best to visit between April and October when the weather is warm and sunny and you can make the most of the hiking, swimming, or water sports like snorkelling. The park can be accessed by boat from mainland ports in Murter, Zadar, Sibenik, or Split. Accommodation options range from private holiday villas to apartments or campsites located nearby, with Zadar offering the widest range of options, including five star hotels at one end of the spectrum and backpacker’s hostels at the other.

For more information about Kornati National Park, including a list of islands, activities and accommodation, visit the park’s official website here.

Mljet National Park

Mljet, Croatia
Mljet, Croatia

Known as Croatia’s greenest and one of the largest islands, Mljet is a haven for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. The park covers the entire northwest portion of the island and is known for its lush green forests, pristine lakes, and tranquil atmosphere, and is perhaps most famous for its two saltwater lakes, Veliko Jezero and Malo Jazero, which offer a serene setting for swimming and relaxation. As you explore the park, you’ll be surrounded by a diverse range of Mediterranean vegetation and breathtaking Aleppo Pine forests, creating a truly enchanting atmosphere.

As you venture deeper into the park, you’ll discover hidden caves waiting to be explored; these natural wonders offer a sense of adventure and intrigue, allowing you to uncover the secrets of Mljet’s geological history. You should also take care not to miss the opportunity to visit the Benedictine monastery on Sveta Marija island, a historic site that offers a glimpse into the island’s rich cultural heritage.

One of the most highly recommended activities to make the most of your visit is to rent a bike and embark on an exciting journey through the park’s well-maintained footpaths. Cycling allows you to immerse yourself in the park’s natural beauty while enjoying the fresh air and scenic views.

If hiking is more your style, there are plenty of trails to choose from, each leading to different points of interest within the park. For outdoors enthusiasts who are interested in swimming, cycling and running competitively, the island hosts the Mljet Half Ironman triathlon every autumn, coupling an adrenaline rush like no other with truly breathtaking scenery.

For more information about Mljet National Park, including boat schedules, cultural heritage, suggested itineraries and accommodation, visit the park’s official website here.

Hiking Trails and Outdoor Activities in Croatia’s National Parks

Hiking in the Velebit Mountains, Croatia
Hiking in the Velebit Mountains, Croatia

Croatia’s national parks provide an extensive network of hiking trails, catering to both beginners and experienced hikers. These trails offer a chance to explore the parks’ natural wonders, from dense forests and panoramic viewpoints to hidden waterfalls and rugged coastlines. Some of the popular hiking trails include the Premužić Trail in Northern Velebit National Park, the Velika Paklenica Trail in Paklenica National Park, and the Great Lake Trail in Plitvice National Park.

In addition to hiking, Croatia’s national parks offer a range of outdoor activities to suit every adventurer. From rock climbing and kayaking to cycling and wildlife spotting, there is no shortage of thrilling experiences. The Velebit Nature Park (encompassing Northern Velebit and Paklenica) has a reputation as one of the best climbing spots in Europe, with the best times to visit being spring and autumn. Paklenica offers over 500 routes, with the most popular rock, Anića kuk, offering routes for climbers of various skill levels.

Although wild camping is generally illegal in Croatia (particularly in protected areas such as national parks and nature reserves) most parks provide opportunities for camping in nearby areas. There are plenty of camping sites with various facilities located within an hour of Plitvice and Krka, some of which offer swimming facilities.

If you want to camp on your visit to Brijuni, there are sites across the region of Istria, including one in Pula from which you can see the islands of the park. The island of Mljet offers camping opportunities, as does the nearby island of Korčula and Dubrovnik on the mainland. Velebit and Paklenica have nearby campsites, while Gorski kotar offers brilliant camping for visitors of nearby Risnjak and Zadar is a great option for visitors to Kornati.

Swimming and Water Activities in Croatia’s National Parks

Mljet, Croatia
Mljet, Croatia

With its pristine lakes, crystal clear rivers, and stunning waterfalls, Croatia’s national parks offer abundant opportunities for swimming and water activities. While swimming used to be allowed in designated areas at Plitvice National Park and Krka National Park, local authorities have taken the decision in recent years to ban swimming in order to protect the environment. Brijuni allows swimming in designated areas, Kornati allows swimming across the whole park except for in areas of strict protection, and Mljet allows swimming across the whole island.

Apart from swimming, visitors can indulge in various water activities such as snorkelling, kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. These activities allow you to explore the parks from a different perspective and appreciate their beauty from the water. Many parks also offer boat tours, providing a leisurely way to navigate the lakes and rivers while enjoying the surrounding scenery. You can book these activities before your trip (advised during peak tourist season) or you can wait until you arrive to decide what you want to do.

Planning Your Trip to Croatia’s National Parks

Kornati Islands, Croatia
Kornati Islands, Croatia

When planning a trip to Croatia’s national parks, it’s essential to consider various factors to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. Firstly, decide on the parks you want to visit and allocate sufficient time for each. Plitvice and Krka national parks generally require a full day to explore, while others may require less time depending on their size and attractions, as well as your personal interests.

Next, consider the logistics of getting to the parks. Croatia has a well-connected transportation system, with buses and trains providing access to most national parks. However, renting a car can offer more flexibility and convenience, allowing you to explore the parks at your own pace. Check out Discover Cars and Qeeq for car rental options; you can arrange to pick up your car from whichever airport you land at, as well as other collection points. Alternatively, use Trainline for booking public transport, or GetTransfer to book your own private driver.

If you don’t drive or you want to add a wine tasting in a local town to your itinerary, it’s best to book an organised tour. You can use Get Your Guide to book tours to the parks from various cities, the most popular being Split and Zadar. Additionally, check the park’s official website for information on entry fees, opening hours, and any specific regulations or restrictions- links to the parks’ websites can be found previously throughout the article in their respective sections.

To make the most of your visit, research and plan your hiking trails or outdoor activities in advance. Familiarise yourself with the difficulty level, duration, and highlights of each trail to ensure it aligns with your interests and fitness level. It’s also advisable to pack appropriate clothing, footwear, and gear, especially if you plan to engage in outdoor activities.

Best Time to Visit Croatia’s National Parks

Krka waterfalls, Croatia
Krka waterfalls, Croatia

The best time to visit Croatia’s national parks depends on personal preferences and the activities you wish to engage in. The peak tourist season, from June to August, offers pleasant weather and longer daylight hours, making it ideal for hiking, swimming, and outdoor activities. However, parks can be crowded during this time, and accommodation prices may be higher.

For a more peaceful experience, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of spring (April to June) and autumn (September to October). During these months, the weather is mild, the landscapes are vibrant, and the parks are less crowded. It’s important to note that some facilities and services may have reduced operating hours during the shoulder seasons, so plan accordingly.

Day Trips from Popular Cities

Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia

If you’re short on time or prefer to base yourself in a major city, you can still experience the beauty of Croatia’s national parks through day trips.


Dubrovnik, known for its medieval city walls and stunning coastline, offers easy access to the nearby Mljet National Park. This park features pristine saltwater lakes, ancient monasteries, and lush forests, making it a perfect escape from the bustling city. Organised tours offer opportunities for swimming, snorkelling, kayaking and paddle boarding, and some tours include lunch and complimentary drinks.


Split, with its ancient Roman ruins and vibrant waterfront promenade, is an ideal gateway to Krka National Park, which can be reached within an hour’s drive. Multiple tour providers offer full or half day trips which include transport and park entry tickets, and some tours include cruises inside the parks and lunch or wine tastings in nearby towns.

You can also book an organised tour to Plitvice from Split, although it will usually be more expensive than an organised tour from Zadar, with a longer journey time and shorter time in the actual park.


Zadar, known for its unique sea organ and historic old town, provides access to Northern Velebit and Paklenica National Park, where you can embark on thrilling hikes or explore hidden caves. The city is located around equal distance between Plitvice and Krka, with the journey usually being between 60 to 90 minutes each way.

Zadar is also the best location from which to reach the Kornati Islands, with full day tours offering opportunities for water sports and shore excursions, as well as varying levels of refreshments.

Croatia’s Tourism Industry and Attractions

Pula Arena, Istria, Croatia
Pula Arena, Istria, Croatia

Croatia’s tourism industry has experienced significant growth in recent years, with millions of visitors flocking to its shores. Besides its national parks, the country offers a wealth of attractions and activities that showcase its rich cultural heritage and natural wonders. From the historic cities of Dubrovnik and Split to the stunning Adriatic coastline and the charming villages of Istria, Croatia offers a diverse range of experiences.

Apart from its natural beauty, Croatia is renowned for its vibrant festivals, delicious cuisine, and warm hospitality. Whether you’re exploring ancient Roman ruins, indulging in local delicacies, or simply soaking up the sun on a pristine beach, Croatia promises a memorable and enriching experience.

Given that Croatia has a well developed tourism infrastructure and excellent amenities for visitors, there’s no need to worry if you forget to pack anything or if your plans change. You can rent equipment such as kayaks, paddle boards and life jackets, and things like hiking boots, swimwear, beach towels and picnic blankets are available in shops across the country.

For more information about Croatia, check out our article Unlocking Croatia’s Treasures: Discover the Top Reasons to Visit.

Safety and Travel Tips for Visiting Croatia

Croatia is generally a safe destination for travellers, with a low crime rate and a well-developed tourism infrastructure. However, it’s essential to take necessary precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Keep your belongings secure and avoid displaying valuable items openly, especially in crowded areas and tourist hotspots where pickpockets may be operating.

When visiting national parks, follow park regulations and guidelines to protect the environment and wildlife. Stay on designated trails, avoid littering, and refrain from feeding or approaching wild animals. It’s also advisable to carry essential items such as sunscreen, insect repellent, a map or guidebook, and sufficient water and snacks.

If you require emergency assistance in Croatia, dial 112 to contact emergency services.

Conclusion: Discover the Beauty of Croatia’s National Parks

Croatia’s national parks provide a gateway to a world of unparalleled natural beauty and adventure. From the enchanting waterfalls and emerald pools of Plitvice and Krka, to the ravines, mountains and meadows of Velebit, these parks offer a chance to reconnect with nature and create lasting memories. Whether you’re hiking through lush forests, swimming in crystal clear lakes, or exploring hidden caves, Croatia’s national parks are a treasure trove waiting to be explored.

CTA: Start planning your adventure today and book your trip to Croatia’s national parks. Let us know in the comments which park you’d most like to visit!

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