The last wilderness, it's something many outdoor lovers cherish to find. But where do look for such a holy place A place where humans haven't interfered? If you are looking for such a place you can of course go to some parts of the Amazon rainforest, the Sahara dessert or the Australian outback. But what if you're looking for something closer to home? In densely populated Europe for example? Is it even possible to find such a place there? If you are from Europe and are looking for this ultimate place near home, go to the Velebit National Park in Croatia! The Sjeverni Velebit, Northern Velebit National Park, to be more precise. This place truly is the last wilderness, a place where you can walk for days without seeing anybody, at least if you have the guts to get of the main route.
Where to find the Velebit National Park
I here you asking, where is this place and how do I get there?
First let me tell you a bit about Croatia's touristic hotspots. If you have ever been to Croatia you're probably familiar with the Istra peninsula. Famous for it's good weather, beautiful scenery and cozy villages. These days Istria is also well known for its huge, and with huge we mean huge, campsites! But what about the rest of Croatia, are you familiar with that? Maybe you are familiar with the cities Split and Dubrovnik, and of course the world famous Plitvice Lakes. What if I told you, that if you've been to one of these places, you have probably just missed the Velebit National Park.
You can find the Velebit National Park on the mainland just South of Krk. The park is situated in the Lika-Senj county of Croatia, part of the historically and culturally important Croatia Proper region. And although this county is one of the poorest and least densely populated in Croatia, it is home to numerous popular tourist attractions. Including the Plitvice Lakes and the Northern Velebit National Park.
How to get there
There are quite a few ways to get to the Northern Velebit National Park. But all require good weather conditions. Since it is a mountain park, it is only open and accessible when the snow is gone. The regular opening season is somewhere between the beginning of may and end of November.
If you want to visit the park through the main entrance you can find it in Babić Siča. Here you can buy admission tickets, souvenirs and get information from the people at the office and park rangers. But you can also buy tickets at the Alan Mountain Hut or inside the park when you see a ranger. We recommend to get your ticket beforehand, just to avoid an uncomfy situation. They're pretty affordable if you spend more than one day there, more on that later.
Entrance through Babić Siča (Krasno)
The first, and probably most famous entrance, is the main entrance at Babić Siča. If you wish to enter the park here you will first go past the village of Krasno, where the parks headquarters is situated. For most people this is the main departure point for visiting the park. Krasno can be reached from the inland by the motorway (Zagreb-Split), after which you will exit at Otočac and follow the mountain road for about 20 km. You can also take the old road from Josipdol to Senj, using the Kapela mountain pass.
If you are coming from the coast you can follow the main coastal road and leave it at Sveti Juraj, just 10 km South of Senj. You will then have to drive 12 km up a mountain road, over the Oltari mountain pass. After which you can descent 10 km towards Krasno. After visiting the HQ at Krasno you can reach the entrance of the park (Babić Siča) by driving a 5 km macadam road, passing the small village of Vukelići.
If you don't want to visit the headquarters of the park, which offers a lot of information, you can turn right at Oltari when on the mountain pass. After a 10 km drive (with road signs) you will reach the entrance at Babić Siča.
We advise you to first visit the HQ to get the latest info, maps and talk to some of the rangers. After that it's easy to get to the entrance at 1300 m above sea level. This is the main entrance of the park, which is also the the ideal starting spot when visiting Zavižan and the Velebit Botanical Garden. From Babić Siča it's a 7 km macadam road to reach Zavižan.
Entrance through Alan Mountain Hut (Jablanac)
Another way to get to the park through the Alan Mountain Hut. This is an outpost of the park service and consists of multiple smaller buildings. Here you can buy tickets, sometimes fill up water, get information and stay for the night. Please make sure to check the latest news on the presence of a ranger if you want to buy tickets or spend the night.
To get to the mountain hut you follow the E65 coastal road (Adriatic Highway) till you get to Jablanac. There, near the intersection of the E65 and the 405, you can drive East up the mountain. This will be just North of the gas station. This is the road directly to the Alan Mountain Hut (and Štirovača). This 25 km road to the park is not always recommended due to the fact that the road is pretty narrow.
Entrance through Štirovača
Another way to enter the park is through Štirovača, in the South of the park. You can reach this small village by a paved winding road from Krasno. This is a pretty easy way to reach the village in the South. Make sure to fill up any water bottles you have at the water well. This is one of only a few wells found in the entire region.
When on route to Štirovača you can also choose to visit the Alan Mountain Hut. To get there you turn West 3 km before the descent into the Štirovača valley starts. You will drive in the direction of Jablanac and the sea. From there it will be a 9 km dirt road with steep ascents. We recommend to dive this only by 4x4. But if you have the chance, make sure to check it out! Especially in the late afternoon or just before sunset, it will be amazing!
Finally Štirovača can be reached by a paved forest road from the direction of Gospić, passing the town of Pazarište.
Making your way in using dirt roads
We just told you it's beautiful to drive the dirt road between Štirovača and the Alan Mountain Hut. But we don't advise you to take any other dirt roads. Not only because you can end up in the park by accident and harm the precious nature, but also to prevent you from entering without a ticket. You will surely encounter rangers in the park, but having a ticket at hand prevents a uncomfortable situation.
But there definitely are other (more remote) roads into the park. You can for example take dirt roads from Mrkvište, Ledena Draga, Begovača or Štirovača.
An entrance ticket to the park will cost you about 45 kuna (HRK) for three days (January 2019). This is about € 6,-, for the three days in total!
What to see and to when you're in the park?
The Northern Velebit National Park is a mountain park, so you can expect a variety of landscapes. Whether you are looking for green grassy valleys, dark green coniferous forests, pastures that are perfect for bears, or white colored karst rocks, you will find it! The park is 109 km2 in size and covers a height of 518 to 1676 meters above sea level. The size and height difference create quite a few biotopes. So if you're someone that gets bored with the same surroundings easily, this park is definitely for you! You won't know where to look!
Main attractions in the park
The Northern Velebit National Park has a couple main attractions and activities. The most popular activity for example is hiking. In the park you'll find more than 30 marked paths and routes. Many of them will lead you to a summit from where you can enjoy the breathtaking view. Often you'll have the chance to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery and enjoy the view of the Adriatic Sea as well!
The park is very well adjusted to the tourists that visit it. That means you'll find info signs along the main routes and they have signs that update you on the distance and time to your next point. That is of course good to know when you're on a day trip!
One of the most popular paths in the entire national park is the Premužić path. It's a 57 km long trail that's readily accessible to everyone. It doesn't have many steep slopes and it gives you many beautiful sights of the sea, the islands and mountains. 16 km of the trail runs through the national park, the other 41 km runs through the nature reserve.
When hiking the trails many people visit the Zavižan weather station and the Velebit Botanical Garden, which has more than 500 plant species. If you're into plants make sure to put the Visibaba botanical reserve on your bucketlist as well.
Another very popular and beautiful place is the Veliki Lubenovac valley. This karst stone valley is at the edge of the Rožanski Kukovi and Hajdučki Kukovi nature reserve. It once was home to shepherds with their sheep. The evidence of this is still present in the form of drystone walls, summer huts and rainwater cisterns.
More adventure for the experienced outdoor expert
If you are looking for even more adventure we can recommend you to visit the Hajdučki and Rožanski Kukovi wilderness areas. Both of them are quite remote and offer you a real sense of adventure. You will likely have the feeling you're about to discover something new! And in some cases you're quite right about that, not many people have visited these areas.
The Rožanski Kukovi is a bit larger than the Hajdučki Kukovi and is better suited for the general outdoor lover. The Hajdučki Kukovi is even less accessible and is only recommended to the more experienced outdoor fanatic. And if you think we're exaggerating? We're not, a lot of the park still has to be discovered. In recent history, in 1993, a cave system was discovered. The cave, now knows as the Lukina Jama cave, is 1392 meters deep and is the deepest cave in South-East Europe. It is the 7th deepest cave in the world. So before you know it, you will become a famous explorer!
Keep us updated!
When you see people climbing (be careful) onto a big rock to get a view, please follow them! It's really worth it and you'll maybe find this mountain log. Please don't forget to write down your name and check out our signature! If you find it, we would love to receive a photo!
The value of the National Park
The Northern Velebit National Park has been in the making for quite some time. In 1978 the Velebit mountain was added to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Three years later the entire area was designated a nature park. The entire nature park consists of the Paklenica National Park (in the South, established in 1949) and the Northern Velebit National Park (in the North, established in 1999).
The Northern Velebit National Park, where this blog is about, is a patchwork of very diverse habitats. The park is home to countless plants, animal species and fungus. The diversity in landscapes, partially created by man, is the reason the area is designated a nature park. Due to its exceptional worth in biodiversity and landscape diversity it has been included in the National Ecological Network (NEN) and will probably be added to the Natura 2000 network.
The Northern Velebit National Park is also a member of de European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN), promoting sustainable tourism. The EDEN project is about economic and touristic growth in a sustainable way. It emphasizes the value of diversity and sustainability in a unique competition. In 2009 the Nacionalni park Sjeverni Velebit won the price in the category 'Tourism and protected areas'.
Beware of the wildlife and the remoteness
Okay, since you made it this far into the blog I assume you are interested in visiting the national park. That's just GREAT! Really, whether you're from The Netherlands or Croatia itself, this park is worth your time and effort. But be prepared, you are now entering the last wilderness.
To be fair, it is definitely remote, but you're not going to the middle of the Sahara desert. Although it is true you can get lost and walk for days without seeing anybody. If you get of the main road you have to make sure you know what you're doing, it can be a maze. So be prepared and make sure you're well stocked with food and water and have a decent map of the area. You can get these maps and other info at the HQ or the Alan Mountain Hut.
This is a mountain region, so the sun will most likely set fast. Make sure you're back in a safe area before the darkness sets in. Also you will notice there is barely any cell reception. Only near Krasno and on the borders of the park you will sometimes get a signal. We were only able to get a few bars (of signal strength) on the way down to the coast from the Alan Mountain Hut.
Water and food in the Northern Velebit National Park
There are a few things you need to know before entering the park. One is that there's no supermarket. The only one you'll find is in Krasno, so make sure you've stocked your campervan or backpack well.
Also there are barely any water sources in the park. We were told the bears and wolves survive the summer by finding snow in the deep holes in the karst rock formation. And it is true, you will most likely have a hard time finding any surface water. After two days of hiking in the remote area we found a deep snow pit in the karst formation, even in mid-summer. Pretty sure that such a spot would be pretty popular among the thirsty wildlife.
If you're running out of water make sure to find yourself a mountain hut that has a well. You can find some water at the Alan and Zavižan mountain huts, but it's not always suitable for drinking. We advise you to take a water filter with you (with virus filter capabilities). Another way to find water is at the village of Štirovača. There is a very nice well over there, with water that is drinkable.
The amazing wildlife
This huge park is home to many wildlife. The diversity in landscapes creates many habitats, perfect for a huge amount of animal and plant species. In the park have a chance to encounter wolfs, bears, lynxes, black widow spiders and the Nose Horned Viper (one of the most dangerous in Europe).
Although it isn't likely you'll encounter the wolfs and bears, it is good to know they are there. If you find yourself in a remote area when darkness sets in make sure you create some noise. This will alarm the bigger wildlife that you are approaching. That way you won't surprise them with your presence, something that can be deadly.
The more dangerous animals in the park are the black widow spider and the viper. These fairly small animals can have their home under the rock you choose to sit on. We saw numerous vipers during our walks through the park. If you encounter one, just back of, it will mostly likely just crawl away. Our advise is to always check under and behind the rock if you want to sit on it. Don't use your hands to turn it, use your walking stick or a branch.
Finally we would definitely encourage you to visit the park, it is beautiful. Perfect for the outdoor adventurist and wildlife lover. Have fun and make sure to bring your camera with you! See you on the road.
For the most up-to-date info please visit the official site of the Velebit National Park.