Croatia has eight national parks – Kornati, Krka, Mljet, Brijuni, Paklenica, North Velebit, Risnjak, and Plitvice. Of these, all but Plitvice lie on the coast, so you can visit them as part of your sailing holiday. Here we take a closer look at each of Croatia’s national parks.
Kornati National Park, North Dalmatia
Above all, Kornati National Park is visited by sailing crews – some people plan their entire itinerary around it. You might sail here from Zadar, Šibenik, or Split. An archipelago of 89 uninhabited arid rocky islets and reefs, it offers a true back-to-nature escape. While exploring these sage-scented islets, look out for peregrine falcons and eagle owls, and migrating cranes and herons. These turquoise waters are protected, but sailing boats can overnight in some 20 designated bays and coves. In several, you’ll find rustic seasonal eateries, serving fresh Adriatic seafood.
Krka National Park, North Dalmatia
If you’re sailing to the Kornati from Šibenik or Split, you should certainly make a detour to Krka National Park. Firstly, you’ll sail up the winding channel to Skradin, home to a well-equipped marina. From here, catch the national park shuttle boat to Skradinski Buk. Within the park, the Krka River runs through a deep canyon, tumbling over a series of seven spectacular waterfalls. Follow signed footpaths through dense woodland of oak, ash, and pine. Then catch another national park boat, to visit the 15th-century Franciscan Monastery on the Visovac islet.
Mljet National Park, South Dalmatia
From Dubrovnik, you can easily sail to the island of Mljet, one-third of which is Mljet National Park. Most yachters moor up or drop anchor in Pomena or Polače. The park centers on two interconnected turquoise salt-water lakes, set amid dense pinewoods. Hire bikes and cycle the 12-kilometer (8-mile) perimeter of the larger lake, Veliko Jezero. Stop to catch a national park boat to St Mary’s islet, capped by a disused 12th-century Benedictine Monastery. Alternatively, hire kayaks and paddle across the lake.
Brijuni National Park, Istria
Lying off Istria’s west coast, the Brijuni National Park is an archipelago of 14 islands and islets. In the days of Yugoslavia, the largest island, Veli Brijuni, was President Tito’s summer retreat. It is an oasis of lush green parkland, with oaks and pine trees, populated by deer and peacocks. It has two hotels and an 18-hole golf course. You can moor in Veli Brijuni’s small port, complete with services (water and electricity). Alternatively, drop anchor in St Nicholas Bay off neighboring Mali Brijuni.
Paklenica National Park, North Dalmatia
On the mainland coast, northeast of Zadar, opposite the island of Pag, lies Paklenica National Park. Its dramatic mountains, gorges and limestone cliffs are especially loved for rock climbing. There are some 600 climbing routes – the towering crag of Anica kuk offers the most challenging. For hikers, marked trails lead to the cave of Manita peč, and Paklenica’s highest peak, Vaganski vrh (1757 m/5764 ft).
North Velebit National Park, Kvarner
Between Zadar and Rijeka, on the mainland coast, opposite the island of Rab, you’ll find North Velebit National Park. It encompasses spectacular mountains of white rock, green meadows, and forests of oak, beech and pine. In addition, there’s a botanical garden, devoted to indigenous rock plants. Come here to explore over 30 marked trails, either on foot or by mountain bike.
Risnjak National Park, Kvarner
Risnjak National Park rises behind the port city of Rijeka, high above the Kvarner Gulf. This is a region of limestone mountains, highland pastures, and forests of fir and beech, inhabited by owls and woodpeckers. Risnjak is named after native lynx (ris in Croatia). Visitors come here for hiking, mountain biking, and fishing for trout in the Kupa River.
Plitvice National Park, Lika
Unesco-listed Plitvice National Park is Croatia’s most visited inland destination. It centers on 16 turquoise lakes, connected by a series of waterfalls, rimmed by paths, and traversed by wooden walkways. Immersed in the dense woodland of beech, fir, and spruce, the colors here are prettiest in spring and autumn. Plitvice lies far from the coast, so you can’t combine it with sailing. But if you’re flying into Zagreb, you might visit it from there.