Croatia is a small country but a very diverse one. From the Dalmatian coast and beautiful islands, all the way to Istria in the north. Visitors can find 8 National Parks.
1. Plitvice lakes
Plitvice lakes was founded in 1949 and became protected by UNESCO in 1979. This stunning park is one of the most visited places in Croatia. The park looks like its been drawn for a fairy tale. No matter which part of the year you visit, you can still enjoy the magic of 16 stunning lakes. These are all connected via cascading waterfalls.
The Turquoise water will leave you speechless, so its definitely worth seeing but only if you are staying in the North of Croatia. If your family active holiday is close to Split, then we suggest Krka National Park instead. If intent on seeing the Plitvice lakes, then head to carpark entry point 2.
A great top tip for a visit to Plitvice lakes
Explore the Upper lakes first and then go to the Lower Lakes and the biggest waterfall last. This is a great top tip for when visit Plitvice lakes. If you follow these tips, you will be avoiding the big tour groups that go from Entrance 1. If you want to see the entire park area around the lakes, it will take you about 5 hours. If you are staying in Split it will take you about 3 hours to drive.
Once finished with walking the park you can visit one of the farms nearby. This region of Lika is very famous for cheese and honey. Everything is very fresh and GMO-free. Not that far from the park near the city of Gospic, is the village of Smiljan. One of the brightest minds of humanity was born here, Nikola Tesla. You can visit the house where he was born and there is also a nice educational centre with his inventions and a museum.
2. Krka National Park
Just over an hour from Split is the Krka National Park. If you have enough time during your family active vacation, then take a visit. Krka park is famous for its travertine dams, which create gorgeous waterfalls.
Getting to Krka park is straight forward. From Split you will go on the highway and head towards the city of Skradin. Over there you can leave your car and start your family adventure in this national park. In Skradin you can buy your tickets and then hop on a boat that will take you upstream to the park.
Once you reach the park there is a nice circular path that you can take. The distance is relatively short only 2km. The two most famous waterfalls to find are called Skradinski buk and Roški slap. Skrandinski buk, the most famous waterfall in Croatia, pours into lake Prokljansko that flows all the way to the Adriatic sea.
A great top tip for a visit to Krka Park
In front of this waterfall in the summer season, you can also go for a swim. You can take some really cool pictures from the water or from the nearby bridges. I often take my Go-pro.
Also, if booking onto a public tour, choose the Krka Park & Šibenik tour. The beautiful Šibenik, is the oldest town in the country founded by Croatians, the city where Game of Thrones was filmed.
The National Park Brijuni is an archipelago of islands located off the west coast of Istria. This magical park consists of 2 islands and 12 islets. Brijuni was declared a National Park in 1983 but the history of this magical place goes back into the 18th century. A rich Austrian magnate Paul Kupelwieser bought the abandoned Austrian-Hungarian navy fortress and turned it into an exclusive beach resort. However before starting work on the resort they first had to solve the problem of ridding the islands of malaria. With the help of Robert Koch they succeeded and this magical place began luring its first holiday makers and nature lovers.
Brijuni national park is also famous for being a summer residence for the Yugoslav former dictator ‘Josip Tito’. Here he hosted many famous celebrities and world leaders. Now a days the residence is a museum which can be explored and enjoyed by all.
Brijuni National Park offers rich flora and fauna with numerous authentic species but it also has a famous safari park that you can visit. Many exotic animals were given to Tito by diplomats that visited him on the island (including elephants, zebras etc.).
Top tips for a visit to Brijuni Park
There are also several archaeological sites worth exploring. If you are on a family activity holiday in Croatia and want to see some gorgeous nature but also need to entertain the teenagers then this may work. We do believe that even the most guarded teenagers will be impressed with the 200 dinosaur footprints that were discovered here on the island of Veliki Brijun.
There is also the 13th century AD St. Mary’s Church which was built by the Knights Templar and there are also two ancient Roman villa remains that stands there as a testimony to the impressive history of this area. The oldest human remains is the Hill-fort which indicates a Bronze Age settlement on the island dating back to 14th century BC. This settlement can be connected with the ancient tribe called Histri and it is after this tribe that the Istria region received its name.
Brijuni National Park is a truly excellent place to visit and explore. Do catch the boat from the little town of Fažana and enjoy this precious park.
Best advice for this Croatian national park is to explore it by cycling. You can rent bikes while you are there and explore the easy trails.
The National Park Risnjak is one of the lesser known parks in Croatia but is indeed another one to add to your families adventure hit list. Risnjak is located in the mountain area of Croatia called Gorski Kotar and it is a natural barrier between the continental part and the coastal part of Croatia. Risnjak is a perfect destination for families who like to hike since there are plenty of high peaks to climb such as Veliki Risnjak (1528 m)and Snježnik (1506 m).
Risnjak National Park got the name after the highest mountain peak in the park (Veliki Risnjak). The peak got its name in turn from the Croatian animal called RIS, which in English is the name for LYNX [the animal… not the deodorant]. This park is one of the last remaining natural habitats for this endangered species but also for two other big European predators: brown bears and wolves oowwwuuuuu.
Risnjak is located perfectly between Rijeka and Zagreb and it is a great place to escape no matter what time of year you visit. This amazing park offers many different activities especially if you are keen on hiking andclimbing. During the summertime it is possible to fly fish and you can also rent a cabin observatory if you would like to try to photograph a Lynx, Bear or Wolf. Trust us this is a truly humbling and magical experience!
5. Sjeverni Velebit
Northern Velebit is one of two national parks located on this impressive mountain. It is a wild and beautiful place and perfect for trail hiking. It is remote and secluded; so if you want to truly get away from it for a few days there is no better Croatian national park. Although it is officially the youngest park in Croatia [founded in 1999] it has already gained many global memberships including: the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and the European Destinations of Excellence. Both organisations are commiteed to protecting and preserving natural habitats and all its inhabitants.
Top tip for Sjeverni Velebit National Park
Northern Velebit has many different access points but the main one is in a little village called Krasno from where you can access many different trails. It also hosts the oldest high-altitude weather station on Zavižan. On the same location you also have a mountain hut that is the starting point for conquering the surrounding high peaks of Velebit mountain such as Veliki Zavižan 1676m, Balinovac 1601m, Zavižanska Kosa 1620mand Vučjak 1644m. All of these mountains offer breathtaking views of Lika county and also of the Dalmatian islands. If you are on an active family vacation in Croatia this really is a special place. Enchanting and naturally immersive.
Another impressive area to visit is only 15 minutes on foot from the mountain hut on Zavižan and that is the Velebit Botanical Garden established in 1967. This garden is the home to numerous plant species and several endemic indigenous species like Velebit degenia and Velebit pink.
One of the most famous mountain trails in Croatia is the Premužić trail. The trail was named after Ante Premužić, a passionate mountaineer that built this masterpiece. Thanks to him now we can enjoy one of the most inaccessible mountain sections in Croatia, Hajdučki and Rožanski Kukovi . It stretches over 56 km in total and about 16 km of the route is on the territory of the National Park Sjeverni Velebit. For hiking enthusiasts this is a must do trail. Our advice is to visit Northern Velebit in June or July, not just because it will be summer but also because most flowers will be in blossom so visiting the Velebit Botanical Garden will be a magical experience.
Paklenica is the second national park located on the Velebit mountain and the area of Mala and Velika Paklenica was proclaimed a national park in 1949. This park is located from the south side of Velebit mountain in the region of Dalmatia and it is the best-preserved forrest complex in this southernmost region of the country. This national park has extraordinary geomorphological structures as well as diverse flora and fauna, many caves and intact nature.
There are two entrances in the park, Velika and Mala Paklenica (note Mala only works in the high season) and if you want to explore the park area a bit better there is also a camp site as well as numerous renovated stone houses for rent.
Top tip visiting Paklencia
Paklenica is the most famous park in Croatia especially for people and families that enjoy rock climbing. No matter if you are a beginner or an experienced climber you will find the perfect route to climb (routes are from 3a to 8c). In case you are coming specifically to climb you can buy a 3-day or 5-day pass or if you are an active family who just wants to give it a go for a day that’s also possible.
Paklenica is also very popular among hikers and there are some special places to hike too. For example the Manita Peć cave. Over here you will be taken into the cave by a professional guide that will tell you more about speleothems that are hidden in this natural masterpiece.
The visitor centre; which is called the ˝Underground Secrets of Paklenica˝ is also one of many interesting places to visit. For families with teenagers I do believe this national park will excite, impress and inspire. The visitor centre is located in a former bunker build by the Yugoslav army & has been transformed imaginatelyinto an exciting space with a variety of different things to do (we especially love the artificial climbing wall).
Paklenica National Park is definitely one of the lesser known Croatian national parks but it is certainly a true gem worth exploring.
Consisting out of 89 islands, islets and reefs along 238 km of coastline the National Park Kornati is a heaven on Earth. This magical park is great for a day trip but for those who enjoy sailing this is the best way to explore this incredible area.
There are many places in Dalmatia from where you can visit Kornati but the main town for the departures is from the town of Muter on the island of Murter. This small town is home for most of the island and islets residents. Lots of locals and fishermen in the past bought the small islands from the landlords and started to cultivate the land, especially on the island of Kornat. As a result these islands are now covered with stone walls that divide the land among the owners and prevent the sheep from going from property to property. There are 330 km of these walls and they look very pretty. All of this is evidence of how people were driven in the past to put bread on the table and worked hard to etch an existence. As a result the landscape has been transformed. It now looks very rocky and it is hard to imagine that anything could grow here. In fact there are many plant species here; 650 to be precise. But the most common is of course the olive tree and the most interesting is of course the orchid. There are 9 species of orchid which is hard to believe when your eyes only see rocks.
Tips for visiting Kornati
Kornati is a place that is perfect for island hopping, diving and enjoying many excellent restaurants in different bays. Our warm advice is to visit this national park and enjoy its irresistible charm. Hiring a boat with an experience skipper is a great way to explore this national park. Also make sure to check out the beautiful Telašćica Nature park that isn’t too far away. Combining a weeks sailing with a week of multi-active family fun in Croatia is a winning formula.
The gorgeous island of Mljet is the home of the southernmost national park in Croatia. This national park is one of our personal favourites and trust us when we say that once you come here it will stay with you in your heart.
Mljet is an island that is also known as the green island dues it lovely forests; however it is the two beautiful lakes on the island called Veliko i Malo Jezero; which make this park such a wonder. These two lakes are saltwater lakes which look stunning from above but equally captivating from ground level. Here you can hike, cycle and paddle around these crystal clear waters. This national park is also the home of many endemic plants such as the Dubrovnik cornflower(Centaurea ragusina) and tree spurge (Euphorbia dendroides) and 90% of the island is covered in a enchanting dense forest. Flora and fauna in the park are very rich but still not fully researched as there are many caves and pits on the island with sea around it; making them difficult to access.
A great top tip for a visit to Mljet
The best way for an active family to explore the island is definitely by hiking, cycling or kayaking. These methods are a great way to immerse yourself in this gorgeous national park and enjoy all the pristine nature it has in store for you. You can also explore the dense forest on many different hiking trails and climb the highest point on the island (Veliki Grad 514m) that rises above Babino Polje in the centre of the island. It’s a view point you and your family will surely treasure.
One of the many highlights when visiting Mljet is a trip to the Church of St. Mary built in the 12th century; located on the Isle of St. Mary.
Mljet is an island that always fascinated people and it has many legends. One legend says that this is the island where Paul the apostle was shipwrecked and another legend says that this is the place where the goddesses Calypso kept Odysseus stranded.Mljet island stretches parallel with the Pelješac peninsula and our advice is to stay in Orebić and explore the National Park Mljet, as well as the peninsula and island of Korčula from here. For families doing a Croatia activity holiday with us; visiting Korcula before or after a week with us is definitely something to consider. It is a magical place.