From Zadar, one must-have day trip for nature lovers is Krka National Park. While Plitvice Lakes is Croatia’s largest and most popular national park, I was told by many who did both that Krka was actually the more beautiful, albeit smaller, of the two. Plus, you can swim in Krka, which isn’t possible in Plitvice Lakes. Personally, I was deeply enchanted.
My homebase was the historic seaside city of Zadar, where I stayed at the highly-recommended Boutique Hostel Forum in the city center. From here, I was able to take a city bus for 10 Kunas (~$1.40 USD) to the main bus terminal and get a bus to Šibenik (~$6) — also worth exploring — which took about 60-90 minutes. Once in Šibenik, you can choose between taking a 20-minute bus to Lozovac (~$2) or Skradin (~$3.30). While I personally went with option one because from Skradin you need to take a boat to get to the park which at the time sounded complicated to me, I’ve seen a few online reviewers note that this is the more scenic of the two options, as you pass Roski Slap, a beautiful waterfall in the park. That being said, when hiking through the park from Lozovac I saw waterfalls at almost every turn — including the uber amazing Skradinski Buk — so missing one wouldn’t have been a big deal to me personally.
Note: You can also drive or take a tour, but as a backpacker I will be focusing on public transportation options. Also note if you’re heading from Zadar to Split — a popular route — you can stop at Krka National Park on the way. I didn’t do this because I was carrying a rolling carry-on suitcase instead of a backpack.
As I’m traveling off-season I’m a little limited on buses to and from Šibenik — the only buses returning to Šibenik from Krka are at 12:45pm and 5pm — I start early. I realize the only practical way to make the most of my time is to catch the 7am bus from Zadar to Šibenik, and to catch the 9am bus from Šibenik to Lozovac, as the next one isn’t until 11am. Otherwise I wouldn’t be getting back to Zadar until 7pm the latest. No thanks.
I set my alarm for 5:45am — luckily off-season means I have the hostel dorm to myself — shove some leftovers down my gullet and run to catch a bus to a bus to a bus. Fun! Luckily, buses from old town Zadar to the main bus station run every 15 minutes, and take about 10 minutes to get from old town to the main terminal, so my anxiety levels aren’t too high.
Once at the bus station, a Japanese girl whom I later learn is named Chi asks if I’m going to Krka National Park and where I’m from. Apparently I do not blend in as a Croatian.
We become fast friends and explore the park together after paying our 90 Kunas (~$12) each admission — 70 Kunas (~$9.60) if you have a student ID. Chi had gotten to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park, and agreed with my hostel that Krka is more beautiful, although she mentions that because it’s winter many of the trails and the lakes themselves were frozen, and that it’s probably gorgeous in summer.
Just a reason to come back, I guess.
Krka National Park has an interesting landscape and history. In 1985, 26,935 acres (109 square kilometers) of the Krka River was granted national park status due to its abundance of fauna and flora (1022 plant species!), heritage sites and seven unusual waterfalls. You see, these aren’t just any waterfalls, they’re travertine waterfalls, created by barriers made from limestone that has settled out of the water and onto organisms like moss and algae to create amazing geomorphological formations.
In terms of history, humans have inhabited the land since pre-historic times, and there a number of historic remnants found from throughout history: aqueduct pieces from the Roman settlement of Scardona, evidence of a Roman military camp at Burnum and a number of 14th century Croatian fortresses. Remains of Krka Hydropower Plant (in operation until WWI) and numerous 19th century watermills are visible, important artifacts showcasing rural architecture and the past economy. Many of these watermills have been turned into souvenir shops, restaurants and exhibition spaces, and inside one you can see old fashioned demonstrations on how wheat was milled, garments woven and washed, and horseshoes smithed.
It truly is serene, myriad waterfalls visible as you walk a flat network of boardwalks and wooden bridges with numerous viewpoints, sweet scents of pine filling your nostrils. Just note that later in the day when the hoards of tourist groups come — yes, even in off-season — this serenity can be marred. There’s no physical fitness needed to walk the paths. If you have a car, you’ll be able to drive down and park at the beginning of the trail. Or, if it’s the tourist season, a complimentary shuttle can take you to and from the trailhead.
If you don’t have a car and it’s outside peak tourist season (April-October), get ready to sweat.
The walk down to the trail head isn’t bad, a leisurely woodland stroll. By the time you’re down with the waterfall trail you’ve forgotten all about it. Until it’s time to head back to the park entrance, and you start ascending its uber steep path that seems to never end. It took me about 15-20 minutes and Chi about 20-25 minutes — every second pure agony, especially with my heavy Timberland boots on. They instantly became bricks for this section.
To be honest, the three hours I had to explore the park was more than enough. There are a few boat trips you can take that are 2-3.5 hours and visit other waterfalls, islands, fortress ruins and monasteries, so if this was of interest you would of course need more time. I didn’t opt for this. My focus was the hour-long Skradinski Buk Trail, named after the park’s most impressive waterfall. To me the waterfall looked like an enormous glistening bundt cake, with it’s bulbous and layered texture due to its 17 steps and cascades stretching to 400 meters (1,312 feet) wide, the outcome of the passionate meeting of the Krka and Čikola Rivers.
Mother Nature is quite the matchmaker.
Have you visited Krka National Park in Croatia? What were your thoughts? Please share in the comments below.