There's no doubt about it – Croatia is a hiking mecca. The whole country is scored by the dramatic limestone ridges of the Dinaric Alps. Waterfalls crash through the peaks here, coastal trails weave by boat-bobbing fishing villages there. From the highest summit of Troglav to the pine-studded paths around Mljet's lovely lakes, there's oodles to get through when you pull on the boots in this part of Europe.
Cue this guide. It's a 101 to everything you need to know about hiking in Croatia. There's info on the bucket-list trails, the best national park routes, and the finest seasons to take to the backcountry. Let's get going…Table of contents
- The top hiking trails in Croatia
- The best national park hikes in Croatia
- The best multi-day hikes in Croatia
- The best island hikes in Croatia
- The best coastal hikes in Croatia
- Where to stay before or after your Croatia hike
- What to bring on your hike in Croatia
- When to go hiking in Croatia
- Hiking Croatia FAQ’s
The top hiking trails in Croatia
There are more hiking routes in Croatia than you could possibly hope to get through in a single vacation. That's why we usually recommend picking out the very best, which would surely include:
Cap off a trip to the walled city of Dubrovnik with a trek up Mount Srd. It looms some 412 meters above the town of Game of Thrones fame. A trailhead begins on Jadranska Cesta Street and then twists around ancient donkey paths to the very top. Cheaters can use the Dubrovnik Cable Car instead.
Vosac Peak Hike
If you can pull yourself away from the bath-warm waters of the Adriatic for a day, one of the most challenging day treks in the country is ready to reward with equally as superlative panoramas from the top of Mount Vosac. It's a hardcore altitude gain of over 1,000 meters after leaving the town of Makar, over exposed alpine terrain that culminates in a rustic rifugio surrounded by thistles and pines. The views are jaw dropping, sweeping right out to the Dalmatian isles across the strait.
Plitvice Lakes Trail C
This is a 5-mile (8km) loop that's perhaps the most comprehensive around the legendary Plitvice Lakes. It takes in the Lower Lakes, which are famed for their gnarled limestone geology and wispy waterfalls. Later, the path creeps skywards to the Upper Lakes, where you traverse banks clad in thick beech forests.
The best national park hikes in Croatia
There are eight national parks in Croatia in all. They run the gamut from wild highland reserves that drape over the tops of the coastal mountains to lush forests that have waterfalls, the likes of which you've never seen before. Most have marked trails to conquer, the best of which include:
Velika Paklenica, Paklenica National Park
Velika Paklenica is the widest of the two canyons that carve through the ridges of the Dinaric Alps in the Paklenica National Park of central-coastal Croatia. Ranging 8 miles (14km) from start to finish, it's an all-day adventure that offers panoramic lookouts on boulders that soar above the canyon rim, but also technical walking amid massive rocks at the base of the gorge. A harder hike is open to more experienced walkers in next-door Mala Paklenica – the narrower canyon.
Zavizan, Northern Velebit National Park
There's a symphony of summits to choose from within the UNESCO-tagged Northern Velebit National Park. If you've not got the time to hit the multi-day VPP (more on that later) or the Via Dinarica White Trail, you can pick out Veliki Zavizan as a good up-and-back option. It's the dominant summit in the reserve, topping out at 1,678 meters. A relatively easy ascent leaves from the mountain hut just below the main ridge, but there are also challenging, 5-mile traverses that take in Veliki Pivcevac and other surrounding peaks.
Skradinski Buk Trail, Krka National Park
It might be a mere 1.2 miles long but the Skradinski Buk Trail contains the impressive cataract of Skradinski Buk itself. That's the highest fall in the Krka National Park and a veritable natural wonder of Croatia. You'll start by walking through a traditional Slavic village and then move onto suspended boardwalks above steps of travertine with the water gushing below your feet. The highlight is the broadside view of the falls, which gurgle over terraces of moss-caked rock into pools of perfect emerald green.
The best multi-day hikes in Croatia
Croatia has emerged as a pretty fantastic place for multi-day trekking. The most dedicated ramblers out there will lick their lips at the prospect of a country that's over 1,000 miles long and totally covered by the Dinaric Alps chain. Today, the routes are very well maintained and always growing, with hiking societies adding evermore wondrous segments and loops to their network. Let's take a look at the bucket-list treks that are on the menu:
Velebit Hiking Trail (VPP)
There's surely no more iconic multi-day path in the country than the 9-section Velebit Hiking Trail. It strings through a dramatic section of the Dinaric Alps that bend along the shores north of Zagreb. It's kinda' where Croatia does its best impression of the Pacific Crest, what with spear-like pines rising against the trail and multiple summits – Vaganski Vrh, Gromovaca – that come one after the other. Most walk north to south, finishing near the wooded massifs of the Paklenica National Park.
The Kapela Trail (KPP)
The Kapela Trail, or the KPP for short, conquers the less-visited highlands of northern Croatia. It links the ski station at Mrkopalj with the salt-washed sea coves of Klenovica, covering 132 miles of terrain as the crow flies. You don't walk the KPP in a straight line, though – you'll summit Matić Poljana, walk through the bucolic Duliba valley, and gain your first site of the Adriatic from the pass high on Cerni Vrh along the way. You'll need at least 5 days to complete this one.
Via Dinarica Green Trail
There's hardly a more comprehensive inland hiking route in the whole of Croatia than the epic Via Dinarica Green Trail. Just one segment of the even-larger Via Dinarica, which runs from Slovakia all the way to Albania, it clocks up 143 miles as it crosses the heart of the eastern mountains. It's so named because it swaps out the rugged peaks and rocky summits of the coastal ranges for lush valleys filled with conifer forests and wildflower meadows. It's also set up for two-wheeled adventurers if you're bringing the bike, but lots of pre-planning will be needed.
The best island hikes in Croatia
Anyone who's ever hiked Croatia will tell you that the walking doesn't stop at the coast. This nation boasts a whopping 700+ isles, many of which are actually geological extensions of the Dinaric Alps that poke high above the glistening waters of the Adriatic. We even have a dedicated Hike Croatia Cruise that's all about hiking the Croatian islands. Here are some of the best routes that pop up along the way…
Vidova Gora, Brac
A 3-mile up and back that lofts trekkers more than 700 meters above sea level to survey the cobalt Adriatic Sea around Brac Island, the Vidova Gora Trail is a hefty challenge. Bring stacks of water because there's hardly any shade. The reward is a continuous montage of dancing wildflower meadows and a sighting of the iconic Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn Beach) from above.
The Mljet Lakes, Mljet
The whole western end of the island of Mljet is dominated by a national reserve that's filled with forests of aromatic Aleppo pines. It's also where you'll find the lovely Mljet lakes. There are two of them, both brackish since they were connected to the open Adriatic by local monks back in the Middle Ages. A walking-cycling combo path encircles the lot, taking around two or three hours to finish depending on how many times you decide to stop for a cooling dip.
Blaca Hermitage, Brac
One of the main alternatives to the much-trodden trail up Vidova Gora on the island of Brac is the route to the Blaca Hermitage, a gravity-defying monastery that was built literally on the cliff face way back in the 15th century. It's a 2.5-mile (4km) up-and-back route that's steeped in religious history. You'll also get to wonder at twisted limestone bluffs and walk through ancient olive groves. We complete this on the Split Return South route of our Hike Croatia Cruise.
The best coastal hikes in Croatia
You don't have to scramble up to the rock-ribbed tops of the Biokovo Mountain or the Dinaric Alps to experience the crème-de-la-crème of hiking in Croatia. Here are some coastal routes that come with swimming coves and pretty marina villages aplenty…
Hvar-Milna Coast Walk, Hvar
We'd put Hvar up there among the top three Croatian islands for hiking. It's home to oodles of routes (not least of all the path through the ancient farm plots around Stari Grad). However, it's this 8.6-mile romp along the south coast that steals the show. It runs from the champagne-swilling bars of Hvar Town to the sleepy marina of Milna, through a patchwork of pine woods, vineyards, and rosy garlic flowers that bloom in spring. In shoulder seasons, you might even get the trail to yourself!
The Cape Kamenjak, Istria
The Cape Kamenjak caps off the southern end of the olive tree-dotted Istrian Peninsula. It's a place where the hills fragment into countless headlands and fingers of rock, with secluded coves and occasional sand beaches like Plovanije interspersed in between. You can hike the whole thing from top to bottom in a single day, provided you don't get distracted with the sunbathing and snorkeling!
Baska-Vela Luka Bay, Krk
The island of Krk has a bit of everything – sun-kissed beaches with sunbeds, bustling harbor towns with beer bars, and high cliffs that brave locals often fling themselves off. But the untamed southeastern corner of the rock is a lunar-like landscape of dusty hills and broad inlets. That's where you'll find Vela Luka Bay, a snorkel mecca that's basically never got crowds. Reach it on this 4-hour hike over the headlands from the port town of Baska.
Where to stay before or after your Croatia hike
Those doing day hikes and coastal hikes in Croatia are in luck – many of the top trailheads in the country are easy to access by car from the main coastal resorts and highways. That means you can usually bed down in one of the umpteen resort hotels that string up the sides of the Dubrovnik coast or the Makarska Riviera and detour into the hills when the time comes.
The same goes on the islands, although you might not even need a car. For example, you can make use of all the five-star boutique hotels that Hvar Town has to offer and then simply stroll to the south end of the marina to join the path to Milna. The same goes for Mljet, where the port of Pomena is the main gateway to the national park routes. In Brac, the town of Bol offers oodles of charming B&Bs under the famous Vidova Gora.
There is another option here, too: a Yacht Charter. Croatia is almost unique in Europe in that it can offer hiking by day and boating by night. It's a great way to experience a whole medley of different walks, from pine-fringed coast paths in Dalmatia to soaring mountaintops on the mainland, sleeping in a luxury boat as you move from trailhead to trailhead.
Those on long-distance trails like the VPP will likely need to book mountain rifugios ahead of time.
What to bring on your hike in Croatia
What to pack for hiking in Croatia depends a whole load on what sort of hikes you're planning on doing and when you're planning on doing them. The highland terrain of the Biokovo Mountain and the Dinaric Alps is pretty tough stuff. It requires much the same gear as you'd take hiking in the more central Alps – sturdy boots or trail runners, sweat-licking outer layers, and specialized equipment if you're taking on the more technical routes.
What can set hiking in Croatia apart is the heat. The peak seasons of spring to autumn can see thermometers soar to over 30 C in the daytime without problem. What's more, many of the top trails lack thick vegetation and water outlets, meaning you'll often be exposed to the sun for large portions of the day. So, always bring along plenty of H2O, strong sun cream, sunglasses, and a hat. In the winter, conditions can flip to subzero very fast on the higher climbs, so thermals, thick socks, and even spikes for the boots might be necessary.
When to go hiking in Croatia
Croatia is a year-round hiking destination. Seriously – there's never really a bad time to hit the paths here. However, we think that there are three seasons that really stand out from the crowd as the finest for walkers:
Temperatures begin creeping past the 15 C mark in southern Croatia by the start of April. Rainfall also slows down, leaving almost 50% of days filled with sun. That balance of relative coolness and dryness makes spring just about perfect for exploring the island hiking paths in places like Hvar and Mljet, with May probably being the peak of the lot. There's a trump card here, too: Wildflowers. The Dalmatian islands and the lower slopes of the Dinaric Alps are a symphony of blooming garlic, rose, and daisies when spring swings around. Lovely.
Summer is the peak hiking season in Croatia, there's no doubt about that. It's definitely the best time to embark on multi-day treks like the VPP or the KPP, largely because you can rest assured that any lingering snowfall in the higher Velebit and Dinaric ranges will be gone by June. Lower down on the coastal hikes and in the non-mountainous national parks (Krka, Plitvice), the weather is likely to be at its Balkan summer best – think regular days when thermometers read 30+ and minimal rainfall bar the odd thunderstorm crossing the peaks. Actually, the heat is likely to be the biggest enemy of hikers in the summer. Take plenty of water and try to leave early and finish early, before the afternoon scorchers set in. Expect the most famous trails to be crowded at this time of the year.
Hit the Croatian hiking trails in autumn and you'll be rewarded with temperatures that linger nicely in the high 20s, backed up by around 23-25 days of sunshine per month (decreasing from September through to October). Hiking crowds have dispersed a lot by the start of September, too, so trails should be all but empty. What's more, the colors of the forests can look downright beautiful, as the hemlocks and oaks turn auburn and ochre amid the blush-green Aleppo pines. You might need to pack a touch more thermal gear towards the end of the season.
Hiking Croatia FAQ’s
The late spring or the early autumn are the best times to go hiking in Croatia. These seasons are a touch cooler than the peak summer and have less chance of strong thunderstorms. They are also less busy with other hikers, plus they showcase natural processes like the blooming of the wildflower meadows in Hvar (spring) or the changing of the forest colors in Krka (autumn).
Yes – Croatia is pretty darn amazing for hiking! Long and thin, the country scores the western edge of the Balkan Peninsula with a nigh-on 1,000-mile run of the Dinaric Alps, the mountain chain at the end of the European Alps. It's also got islands with their own smaller peaks, plus coastal walks that will take the breath away. Add on all-new long-distance routes and you start to see how Croatia is a veritable hiking mecca.
The best hikes in Croatia are spread between the coast and the highlands, the islands and the mainland. You'll find some of them crisscrossing the barren lands and pine woods that cover the Velebit ranges in the heart of the Dinaric Alps. You'll find others stringing along the sun-splashed shores of islands like Hvar and Mljet.
Overall, we'd say that the island of Hvar is the best for hiking. It might be famous for its wild summer parties, but those who venture beyond the towns get a backcountry scented with wafts of lavender, where ancient vineyards roll into forests of Aleppo pines. It's especially fantastic for coastal hikes. Also worthy of note are the islands of Brac (for the summit trek to Vidova Gora) and Mljet (for its western end, which is entirely encompassed by a national park).