Paklenica – Croatian national park

On the first day of my visit to Paklenica, I met a tiny and cute French girl who was traveling around the world and climbing mountains. Her name was Jihanne. She said something that made me think during the days I spent in Paklenica, walking around the slopes of Velebit: “Paklenica is peculiar, different from other national parks. It seems to be here for nature lovers, not for tourists.”

Velebit panorama.

Whether you read about Paklenica or not, the real thing is bound to amaze you. As soon as you enter the park and see the canyon rocks, hear the rustle of life and trees in the silence of virginal nature, you feel at peace. The fragrances of pine woods and Mediterranean herbs spark your imagination while you plunge in this fantastic scenery. At night, after the people are gone, it is not unusual to see the real inhabitants of the park appearing out of nowhere. They all avoid man, but they take over Paklenica every night.

The Three Faces of Paklenica (First face)

Paklenica has three faces. One is calm and pleasant. The Paklenica Canyon can be reached easily. You can enter the park by car, the road leads up to the first rocks. You can find plenty of parking spaces, kindly indicated by the park staff. If you come by foot, you can catch the bus which goes back and forth all day long. You can reach the park by foot or bike.

Paklenica highway

Some trails in Paklenica are arranged and marked particularly well. They have been adapted to tourist visits, like the panoramic terrace with a telescope, standing above the park entrance. What is probably the most beautiful mountain trail in Croatia leads through the canyon to the lodge in the middle of the park. This trail was used for centuries by the ancient dwellers of Paklenica. It is wide and well-trodden, enabling the visitors to freely enjoy the miracles of nature around them. There are several sources of drinkable water along the way, so you will not need any water bottles before the lodge. Most of the trail follows the river of Velika Paklenica, which gave its name to the canyon. It is a magical experience. While you tread the path in the shade of trees in the summer heat, you are accompanied by a watercourse of wonderfully clear and drinkable water. Still, there is one special spot: next to the trail, near one of the characteristic wheat mills of Paklenica, there is a small lake. It is deep enough for you to jump into it from the rocks sheltering a small waterfall. What an incredible feeling! Right in the middle of a national park, you can refresh yourself in a pool of the cleanest and clearest water you can imagine. Velika Paklenica will flow along you until the mountain lodge.

A boy plays with the dog in front of mountain hut.

The lodge has one permanent resident who takes care of it. Vehicles are banned in Paklenica, so the only means of transportation are mules, donkeys and horses. The lodge stands above an old mill. It has been nicely furnished, and its terrace has several tables in the shade of large trees. You can sleep over, eat lunch, drink coffee or juice. There is plenty of drinkable water.

Second face of Paklenica (Mountaineering heaven)

One of the tourist attractions of Paklenica is the cave of Manita Peć. It is a magnificent natural structure in the belly of a mountain, 570 metres above sea level. The ascent to the cave is hard and long – it is on the sunny side of the mountain – but once you get inside, you will be rewarded for your effort. The lighted and tourist-friendly cave has stalactite and stalagmite cathedrals of stone rising all around you.

Inside in the cave Manita peć

Paklenica National Park covers 96 square kilometers in the vicinity of Zadar. It used to be an inhabited area. When you wander around Paklenica, you will occasionally see the ruined structures of its ancient inhabitants. The foundations of old shepherds’ shelters, stone borders, wells… Grandma and Grandpa Ramić, both older than 80, are the last people living here. They have spent their entire lives in a stone house in the heart of Velebit. They will invite any traveler, talk to her and wish her a pleasant trip.

Grandma and granpa – Ramići.

I understood the unusual remark of the French girl only when I started on the mountain trails. Paklenica has three kinds of trails: for tourists, for climbers and for experienced mountaineers. Tourist trails are relatively few, but they are the most popular and least demanding. Mountain trails weave across all the slopes and peaks. There are also paths left by shepherds, beekeepers and people familiar with Velebit.

Look through the treetops.

While I walked on the well-trodden path, I found Paklenica beautiful. But when I left the path, I was simply awed. The views from mountain inclines will leave you breathless. I often felt as if I was walking among the gigantic monuments of a world long forgotten, buried in nature. In such moments, overtired and exhausted, I felt overwhelming peace and joy of existence.

Mala and her puppies.

Mountain hut mascot is one little and cute bith called Mala, who live here together with people. I have spent some time in hut, enjoying in nature and in sound of the river. The game of five little doggies amused me, while their mom Mala was watching on them. When you watch that unusual simbiosis between dog and the man in such remote places, you can’t help your self. You simply fall in love with dogs.

Beautifull Paklenica (Third face)

When I climb a rock, slowly or quickly, or just watching it before I will climb, I seem to become a part of that stone. Then, as the mobile part of the rock, you move up and merge with pleasure at the top.

Climber on the rock.

Paklenica is famous for climbing, so many climbers come from all over the world with their ropes and equipment, and climb the rocks. I heard many ordinary tourists say that climbers are mad. Who knows, it may be true, but when you sit down with them, you will see laughing and open-minded people with a lively and warm spirit.

When you climb to the top of Velebit, it is like arriving into another world. No trace of humans, with millions of insects buzzing on golden fields of mountain flowers. I had the impression of walking into a watercolor, not of being on the actual mountain. Everything simply seemed made to be beautiful to the eye.

Up there in the mountain, the weather is merciless, wild nature is all around you. You are an uninvited guest, so when the sun goes down, you should go too. The third face of Paklenica is the horror of realizing how tiny and insignificant you are when surrounded by great, powerful and unforgiving nature.

I got lost. An awful fear gripped my body, together with the creeping sensation that I was in the wild, where I did not belong. While crossing a plateau, I came across a wild deer. It was hard to say who was more afraid. The animal looked at me with bewildered eyes and ran by me.

Velebit platou.

When the sun is setting, everything is golden – fields, horizon and rocks. Everything around me looked completely unreal, but a lone man is anxious to get away from those golden fields.

I returned to the lodge in the middle of the Velebit night, exhausted and calm. The fear which I felt in the living forest and the sharp black shadows on the trail, cast by the lamp and jumping towards me, gradually dispelled. Then I started to appreciate the calm, silence and nature around me. It did not fear me, either. I became a part of it, Velebit let me be.

Sunset from the top of the Velebit (Vaganski peak).

The mountain part of the trail I used on my way back is mostly a steep landslide, here and there marked by climbers. In a pause to catch my breath – one breathes and tires fast on such altitudes – I lay on a rock and watched the sky. And what a sky it was! Sprinkled with a twinkling multitude, so deep, with our Milky Way clear and bright like a silk blanket. Between the light of stars and the lights of our islands and cities, shining in the darkness, I felt like I was floating in space.


My Paklenica Odyssey would not have been possible without the people from Iglu Šport, Iglu Športa –, who helped me with equipment and good advice. A big thank you to the nature lovers working in the national park management and in Paklenica itself ( and to my friends who made my stay so pleasant. The panorama of Velebit in this article has been made with PTgui, Hvala ti Joost!

Jolly climbers.

I also like to thank my sister Ivana for some constructive criticizm!


All photographs in this article are shot with Olympus E-500 digital SLR camera and Zuiko Digital lenses 14-45mm i 40-150mm. Information about exposition, F-stop number etc. are located in EXIF of every jpeg file.

Only few of the photographs I have made in National park Paklenica are included in article. You can view selection of others below in photo gallery. If you want to publish some of these photographs, contact me.

Velebit panorama Back to photograph

This panorama of the Velebit is one special photograph. It is made form six other photographs with PTgui program for making panoramas. Original is one huge picture, about 100Mb. Panorama for this web page is shortened, but enlarged view of this photograph is in correct proportions. Of all pictures I have taken on my visit to Velebit, this one shows best how up there really is.

Paklenica highway Back to photograph

Mountain path – “Paklenica highway” goes all through Paklenica to mountainers hut. It is wide, beautifull, and it isn’t difficult to walk. Ordinary visitor vill have to walk about two and a half hours to get to the end of the path (where mountain hut is). Only harder part of this path is in its sole beggining in the canyon, where you have to climb elevaton of about two hudred meters.

A boy and the dog Back to photograph

Everybody visiting Paklenica mountan hut stopped to play with the puppies. Who can resist to that little furry balls? Whole place is magical, especially in the evening and in the morning. If you will have the chance to stay there overnight – do ti.

Manita peć (cave) Back to photograph

Manita peć, cave in Paklenica national park is one fantastic place to visit. Since I was up there photographing all that stallactites and stallagmites, I have had a privilledge to stay in the cave for about ten minutes completely alone. It is really nice in there.

Grandma and grandpa Ramići Back to photograph

While you walk on the sides of Velebit, you don’t reall expect to meet anybody up there, and especiall not someone living there. Old Ramići alvays invite mountaineers to rest a bit. To talk with them is a real pleasure.

Look through the treetops Back to photograph

Whole Paklenica is vacation fot the mind. There are a lot views like this, and some of them are really fantastic.

Mala and her puppies Back to photograph

Mala is one nice dog. She is to everyone around, especially children. When I have came back to mountain hut, I have laid down on the bench to rest a bit. Mala camed, laid beside and guarded me.

Climber on the rock Back to photograph

– merge –

Velebit platou Back to photograph

Plains of Velebit are the most beautiful landcape I have ever seen. They simple tek your brath. When I have shot this photo, I was lost, and was looking for a mountain path marking for a good hour or so. I was thinking about all that in the next few days, and I don’t think that I would like to change anything. I were indeed in not so nice situation, but with my own eyes I have seen unbolievable things. People say that memories fade with time. I don’t think that will ever happen to these ones.

Sunset from the top of the Velebit Back to photograph

This is the last photograph that I have shot from the Velebit. Photo is taken from the highest peak of the Velebit (1757 m) in 9:31 h – exactly when the sun falls down. When night take over the day, cold winds start blowing on the Velebit and everything changes. Valebit is not calm and shy mountain. Velebit is like a giant wno sleeps over the day. The feeling one could get is like the nature itself started to move and change beneath. While I way laying on that rock, on a steep and rocky descent betven the stars of a sky and Croatian towns, I have had a chance to make one more photograph. The one of the deep sky I was talking about. But I didn’t. I have decided to keep that one only for myself.