Blessed with the crystal-clear turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea and a large swath of the Dinaric Alps, Croatia’s natural landscape is lush, dramatic and forever impressive – with eight national parks, Mother Nature is well preserved and protected here.
Whether you're a photographer looking to capture cascading waterfalls, a family in need of an easy-to-access green space or simply a traveler looking for a forest in which to get lost, these are Croatia’s best national parks.
Krka National Park is best park to visit from Split
One of the country's most beautiful destinations, Krka National Park takes its name from the Krka River, which winds through the Dalmatia region. The park covers 109 sq km (42 sq mile) and is home to 16 cascades, including Europe's largest travertine waterfall, but it's a fabled collection of seven that most come to see.
Visovac Monastery is iconic, situated on a small island in the center of the Krka River; another top site is the Serbian Orthodox Krka Monastery, founded in the Middle Ages and well known throughout Croatia. Boats to the latter depart from Roski Slap, and in summer and autumn, there are guided tours covering the building's long history and its intricate architecture.
Tours of the park as a whole are available from nearby Šibenik, albeit unnecessary if you have your own transportation; the entry fee includes a guided look at the grounds. There are also private tours that combine wine tasting in the Šibenik area with a trip to the falls, a popular option.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is the best park for seeing waterfalls
A magnificent lake system boasting both geological intricacy and otherworldly beauty, Plitvice features 16 interconnected, terraced lakes, created by tufa barriers (natural deposits of calcium carbonate) that formed natural dams and rivulets – plus more than 90 waterfalls and a swirling network of pools.
With its balance of crystal-clear waters, green meadows and dense forests, the park is also home to lynx, brown bears, grey wolves and a broad range of plant, flower and tree species. Guided tours of the park are available from Zagreb, Zadar and Split.
Mljet National Park is the best park to visit from Dubrovnik
This peaceful bit of protected land covers a third of car-free Mljet Island, 37km (23 miles) off the coast of Dubrovnik in the Adriatic Sea, where Ulysses was held captive for seven years in Homer’s Odyssey. It's flanked by two beautiful saltwater lakes, Veliko and Malo Jezero (Large and Small Lake); the former is home to a 12th-century Benedictine monastery that rises from the tiny islet of Sveta Melita.
The park is ribboned with cycle paths and walking routes, such as the Pomena Trail, a relaxing five-hour semi-circular hike along the northernmost edge of the park that passes Rogac, Zaklopatica and other lovely bays. Most people get around under their own steam by kayak, canoe and the odd scooter, making a stop for seafood – at excellent restaurants like Konoba Soleta and family-run inns such as Tkon Apartments Maestral – feel even more rewarding.
Brijuni National Park is the best park for island hopping
The best way to explore Brijuni National Park – a stunning, 744-hectare (1838-acre) archipelago comprising 14 Istrian islands – is by yacht or ferry. Among the attractions are 200-plus dinosaur footprints found at Cape Vrbanj and Cape Ploce on the island of Veliki Brijun, which also has rolling green meadows, ancient architecture and a safari park with zebras, elephants, peacocks and more.
Park tickets are available at the National Park office in Fažana, a small town on Istria’s southwestern coast. Admission includes a tour with a seasoned guide, a train ride around the island, the round-trip boat ride from Fazana to Veliki Brujin and visits to the safari park, Mediterranean garden and the park’s famous 1600-year-old olive tree.