Secret Croatia: A tour of North Dalmatia's national parks

Secret Croatia: A tour of North Dalmatia's national parks

Thought Croatia was all about the beaches and billionaires partying on yachts?

The national parks of North Dalmatia are still unspoiled by tourism. Here's why adventurous travellers should see this hidden part of Croatia.

Think again. Head instead to the mainland in North Dalmatia and you'll discover breathtaking scenery, spectacular natural wonders and an abundance of wildlife.

It's well worth taking the time to visit largest national park, the stunning Plitvice National Park with its turquoise-coloured lakes, waterfalls and even brown bears.

Then there's the Paklenica National Park, located south of the Velebit mountain range, which is a haven for rock climbers and hikers with its mixture of high peaks and breathtaking views.

And further south, at the Kornati National Park (which you have to explore by boat), there are 90 or so uninhabited islands with dramatic cliffs and rocky landscapes. The crystal-clear sea makes it a paradise for diving and snorkelling too.

Krka National Park, too, is a must-see. Home to picturesque waterfalls, cascades and the lovely Krka River. It's a serene setting and looks as Photoshopped as it sounds!

See the natural beauty of North Dalmatia's national parks in pictures before you choose which one to visit first...

North Dalmatia's national parks
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Secret Croatia: A tour of North Dalmatia's national parks

There are various sightseeing routes that you can follow. The F trail takes you from the boat ride to a walk through the limestone canyon of the lower lakes and the big waterfall where you can experience being sprayed by the water - an exhilarating experience you must try.

There are a few steep climbs where you'll find some great viewpoints with breathtaking views of the blue-green lakes backed by tall cliffs making for a perfect photo opportunity. Towards the end of the F route there is the Panoramic Train, a shuttle bus that takes you back to the start of the trail, where you can take a different route to explore another area of the park.

Around a two-hour drive south of the Plitvice Lakes and just 45 minutes from the city of Zadar, lies the Paklenica National Park, which is located at the southern slopes of the Velebit mountain range. The park is home to the impressive canyons of Velika Paklenica and Mala Paklenica, and is a haven for hikers and climbers.

As the most visited climbing centre in Croatia, Paklenica is the place to get active but if you're not brave enough to test out the rocks, you can watch in awe as climbers from Croatia and beyond show off their techniques.

If you really want to get to know the park with all its wildlife and natural beauty, hiking is the best way to get around, with 200km of trails and paths for you to explore. There are boards and mountaineering signs for you to follow and some of the top attractions to look out for include the Manita Pec cave and the Paklenica Mill. And if you get thirsty there are springs along the way with natural drinking water.

For a change of scenery and to experience one of Croatia's well-preserved spots by sea, hop on a boat and discover the Kornati National Park. Just 45 minutes by boat from Murter lies 89 of the 152 islands of the Kornati archipelago that make up the national park. The unique and uninhabited islands have an eerie charm, with karst limestone, cliffs and modest stone villages forming the landscapes.

The famous Kornati 'crowns' (cliffs that rise steeply from the sea reaching over 80 metres), the largest island Kornat where you can learn about the national park's diverse marine life and the Magazinova Skrila land-slide site are a few of the attractions to explore. There are diving visits arranged so you can see the underwater crowns and if you fancy experiencing Kornati life the Murter Tourist Office can arrange for you to go olive picking, sheep shearing and fish for your own meal with a Kornati family. Other activities include swimming, snorkelling, wildlife watching, sailing and walking, plus if you bring your own boat there are 20 bays where you can spend the night under the stars and around 20 restaurants on the islands serving fresh fish and local Kornati specialities, like lamb.

Head further south and back onto the mainland just a few kilometres north-east of the historic city of Sibenik where the lush Krka National Park is located. A place of plants, wildlife and wonderful waterfalls, the park is situated along the middle-lower part of the Krka River. The most beautiful attractions include the Skradinki Buk natural pool with its waterfalls and cascades, the Roski Slap cascades and Visovac Island.

The best way to view the cascades and waterfalls is by walking, where you can take a leisurely stroll along the trails and across the wooden bridges. There are various viewpoints around the park for you to see it at its best and old water mills and a souvenir shop you can visit. You can swim at the Krka National Park under the main waterfall too - an experience not to be missed in the summer. Don't forget to look out for wildlife at the park as golden eagles, peregrine falcons, griffon vultures, bats, brown trout and European otters are just some of the creatures you may spot.

As the oldest and largest national park in south-eastern Europe, the Plitvice Lakes National Park is considered one of Croatia's most beautiful. It's characterised by turquoise-coloured lakes arranged in cascades and displays some of the country's natural beauty at its best. Start your visit by hopping on the boat at the park's largest lake Kozjak, which runs every 15 or 30 minutes, depending on the season. Once it drops you off on the other side of the lake you can follow the trails to discover the 16 different lakes, caves and waterfalls.

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