Did you know more than 10% of the country is given over to nature and national parks of Croatia? Where they are, how to get there and what you need to know.

Croatia’s National Parks

Sometimes an article deserves to be dominated by photos and videos, rather than words. This is one of those articles.

Croatia is a spectacularly beautiful country, and the National Parks of Croatia are the crown jewels of that beauty. There are 8 national parks of Croatia in all, as well as 12 nature parks. Together, they make up more than 10% of the surface area of the country.

Croatia’s most famous national park is Plitvice Lake, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1979. Interest in this natural wonder is year-round, and more than one million people visit the park each year.

Not far behind – and a very simple day trip from Split – is Krka National Park. Krka is perhaps the most diverse of all the national parks of Croatia. There are six others to enjoy as well – meet them all below.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Located halfway between Split and Zagreb on the old road (and if you are looking to visit on a day trip, here is how), Plitvice Lakes is one of the most outstanding natural treasures in Europe.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, Plitvice Lakes was one of the first two national parks in Croatia, way back in 1949.

Plitvice Lakes is magical all year round, and its four distinct seasons offer something different. But perhaps my favourite video of all is the one above. One man and his dog enjoying the virgin snow of one of the world’s most divine places. Learn more about Plitvice Lakes on the official website.

Paklenica National Park

The other original national park back in 1949 was Paklenica National Park. Located close to Zadar, Paklenica is home to some outstanding forest, as well as an adventure tourism playground for climbers and mountaineers. Learn more about Paklenica National Park as it celebrates its 70th birthday in 2019.

Risnjak National Park

Risnjak became the third national park of Croatia four years later in 1953. Located just north of Rijeka, Risnjak is in Gorski Kotar and is the most mountainous and densely forested part of the country.

Risnjak is the wettest place in Croatia, with some 3600mm average rainfall a year. It is also home to more than 1,000 types of flora and sub-species. Risnjak also provides a natural habitat for bears, lynxes, and wolves, while dormouse is a local delicacy. It is one of only three places in Croatia where dormouse is served, and it is traditionally served in a stew. Learn more about Risnjak National Park.

Mljet National Park

Legend has it that both St Paul and Odysseus were shipwrecked off the island of Mljet, close to Dubrovnik. While it is never nice to be shipwrecked, they could hardly have chosen a more gorgeous place. Mljet is gorgeous! And with half of the island given over to the national park, there are few more stunning places in all Croatia. Learn more about Mljet, a national park since 1960.

Kornati National Park

Living on lush Hvar for so many years, I must confess that I did not quite understand the fascination with the Kornati islands. They seemed so barren, and with so little civilisation.

And then I went to visit.

Kornati is gorgeous! A sailing paradise, its rugged and barren terrain is only half the story. Do not miss the lamb!

A national park since 1980, check out what is on offer at the Kornati National Park.

Brijuni National Park

Nothing surprised me more in Croatia than my first visit to Brijuni a few years ago. Here were some islands which had been visited by no less than 60 heads of state had visited. Not only that, but they brought with them exotic and indigenous animals from their native lands.

On Brijuni, you can find an elephant from Indira Ghandi, zebras from Africa and Shetland ponies from Queen Elizabeth herself. For Brijuni was the preferred base of President Tito.

He certainly chose a slice of Paradise, one that you too can visit. Learn more about Brijuni National Park, which became a national park three years after his death.

Krka National Park

Krka became the 7th national park in Croatia in 1985. It is arguably the most diverse and offers the widest and most well-organised tourism facilities. Located just off the A1 motorway very close to Šibenik, Krka is extremely accessible, and here is the article on how to access all the parts of the park you don’t want to miss.Find out more about Krka National Park.

North Velebit National Park

The final national park to be added was North Velebit back in 1999. Park of Croatia’s most forbidding mountain range, North Velebit is a mountaineering paradise. Learn more on the official website.

The Nature Parks of Croatia

Is all that beauty from the national parks of Croatia enough for you? No? Then you have come to the right country. For in addition to the 8 national parks of Croatia, there are also 11 nature parks.

Here you will find some fabulous flora and fauna, as well as the chance to truly discover some of the lesser known parts of this amazing country.

Kopački Rit Nature Park

It is more than 50 years since Kopački Rit was named the first nature park in Croatia. Also called the European Amazon, Kopački Rit lies in eastern Croatia, between the two major Drava and Danube rivers.

In 2012, the Park was declared as part of the Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO. Find out more about Kopački Rit from the official website.

Papuk Nature Park

The Papuk Nature Park and UNESCO geopark include its northern slopes which cover the Jankovac forest park. This is one of the most beautiful mountain valleys, surrounded by a centuries-old beech forest, and also one of the most popular mountain excursion sites with educational trails, mountain streams, and lakes, caves, waterfalls and around 1200 types of flora and fauna. The mountain lodge offers a restaurant and 80 beds and is located near the unique waterfall Skakavac. Learn more about Papuk.

Lonjsko Polje Nature Park

I was stunned during my first visit to Lonjsko Polje. Not just by the beauty of these unspoiled wetlands just a short drive from Zagreb, but also by the fact that so few people visited them.

According to official statistics, there were just 5,000 visitors in 2017. That works out at only 15 visitors a day! Given the ease of entry without buying tickets, that number must be higher. But one thing is for sure – this is one of Croatia’s least visited natural gems. Find out what you are missing.

Žumberak-Samoborsko Gorje Nature Park

The area of Žumberak and Samobor’s surrounding hills became a nature park back in 1999. Covering an area of 333 km2, its aim is to protect and promote the cultural and environmental treasures of the area. The park is very accessible from Zagreb, and you can find out what is on offer.

Medvednica Nature Park

If you are looking for nature starting in Zagreb, however, the Medvednica Nature Park is very close. Spectacular flora and fauna, castles and manor houses, ethnic heritage and legends. And fabulous mountain views of Zagreb are included for free. Learn more about this popular day trip attraction from the capital.

Učka Nature Park

Majestic Uska guards both Istria and Kvarner, and its imposing presence separates the two. It is possible to drive over the top of Učka (and it is truly is one of the most spectacular rides in this beautiful country), but most motorists opt for the much quicker Učka tunnel. The divine views of the Adriatic from the top of Učka are just some of the highlights. Find out more of the others.

Velebit Nature Park

North Velebit is already one of the 8 national parks of Croatia, but the rest of the imposing Velebit mountain range became a nature park back in 1981.

If you want to truly escape the crowds and experience Croatian nature at its finest, then Velebit is for you.

Its formidable rocky mountain terrain is accompanied by a surrounding diversity of flora and fauna. Add to that sacral heritage, caves, coves, historic roads and plenty fo adventure tourism. Then understand why there is much more to Velebit than mere mountains.

Vrana Lake Nature Park

Birdwatchers should head to Zadar County and Vrana Lake Nature Park. For here one will find an ornithological paradise, with no less than 110 species of bird nesting, as well as 230 species visiting. More than 100,000 birds spend the winter there.

Telašćica Nature Park

It looks so spectacular from the air that Telsašćica National Park has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. A stunning lake within an island, now that was something I simply had to see.

And if I am perfectly honest with you, it was one of the biggest disappointments in Croatia when my wishes came true. The lake looks MUCH better from above than close up, and any thoughts of swimming soon evaporated when I got up close.

Having said that, the lake is just a small part of the nature park, which lies next to Kornati Nature Park. And it is idyllic.

Biokovo Nature Park

Majestic Biokovo, the mountain which dominates the Dalmatian coast, and which shields the continental snow from the palm-kissed beaches. On a clear day, you can see as far as Italy from Biokovo.

I have watched this mountain for many years from Jelsa. Looking through the palm trees on Europe’s sunniest island to see the snow-capped mountain in the far distance was one of my favourite images of this lovely country.

And so it was that I finally got to experience the view from the mountain towards the Adriatic. And what a tour it was! Learn more about the fascinating diversity of Biokovo Nature Park.

Lastovo Islands Nature Park

I have still not yet visited the island of Lastovo properly. A short stop on a seaplane a few years ago more than whetted my appetite, however. This gorgeous remote island in southern Dalmatia has a rich culture of its own, including one of Croatia’s premier carnival traditions.

But it is its natural beauty which sets it apart, and the numerous islets around Lastovo became a nature park back in 2006. Find out why.

Dinara Nature Park

Dinara mountain in Dinara Nature Park © Knin Tourist Board
Dinara mountain in Dinara Nature Park © Knin Tourist Board

1831 metres loom above you. Indeed, as the highest peak in Croatia, Dinara mountain dominates the skyline of this Nature Park. Together with Ivanščica, as of 2020, Dinara was the latest area to apply for Nature Park status. Subsequently, it officially received the title in early 2021.

However, Dinara mountain is far from all there is to the Nature park. In fact, the new Dinara Nature Park includes the Croatian side of Troglav and Kamešnica mountains. Moreover, it holds the source and upper course of the Cetina River and the Hrvatačko, Paško and Vrličko fields which run along it. It covers almost 63,000 hectares of land running through Šibenik-Knin and Split-Dalmatia counties.

Perfect for walkers and hikers, wide panoramas in Dinara Nature Park can often leave you gasping at their beauty. In contrast, focusing on smaller details can similarly impress. Over 1000 plants live here, a fifth of Croatia’s flora. 75 of them are uniquely indigenous to Croatia. Similarly, over 20 indigenous animals live here. Snakes, wolves, bears and lynx tread the same paths as you and birds of prey fly overhead. 

Ivanščica – the next Croatian Nature Park in waiting?

Ivanscica © Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad
Ivanscica © Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad

Richly ringed by castles and fortresses that draw investigating hikers, could Ivanščica become Northern Croatia’s first-ever Nature Park? Well, it’s application is in process. Set within the beautiful landscape of Zagorje, Ivanščica is the highest mountain in northern Croatia. But, it is not only tall – it is long.

Ivanščica is 30 kilometres long and nine kilometres wide, rising to 1060 metres at its highest point. Situated less than 30 kilometres south-west of the city of Varaždin, it runs along the border between Krapina-Zagorje and Varaždin counties in a long stretch of mountainous ground that starts near the westerly-lying Strahinjčica (near Krapina). These mountains hug the horizon within photographs taken at many of northern Croatia’s most famous landmarks. Also, they are rich in geodiversity and biodiversity.

Moreover, an impressively large number of ancient defensive structures ring the mountain. In particular, the castles and fortresses Belecgrad, Milengrad, Pokojec, Oštrcgrad, Loborgrad, Židovina (a Jewish fortification), Gradišče, Ivanec, Bela, Gotalovec, Cukovec, Lepoglava and Grebengrad draw curiosity. Some of these (Grebengrad, Bela and Cukovec) were rebuilt on the site of forts that extend further back than the 12th century. Existing in various degrees of ruin, they are perfect for picnics and investigating while walking or hiking