Every year, millions of tourists flock to Croatia chasing sunshine, otherworldly blue seas and Game of Thrones magic. It might not even cross your mind that this Adriatic paradise has something else to offer: in fact, hiking in Croatia is easily accessible, fun and most of all – gorgeous.
Here are the best trails to check out in Croatia.
Gorgeous day hikes
Odysseys’ Cave on Mljet island
Duration: 3 hours one-way
Out of all Croatian islands, Mljet might just be the most beautiful one. Compared to its sisters, Mljet is fresher, greener – and has fewer tourists.
While most visitors only drop by for a day to visit the famous Benedictine monastery – dubbed Croatia’s Bled because of its location on a lake on an island – I found it slightly underwhelming. Instead, book a room in one of the guest houses in Sobra on the other side of the island and spend a full day exploring the quieter part of the island on foot.
I hitchhiked to the trailhead to avoid an annoying (and potentially dangerous) walk up a winding asphalt road. The trail is mostly flat, pleasant and wide, and since it follows along the coast the whole way, it is impossible to get lost. Just imagine this: the Croatian sun on your back, no one else on the trail, snacking on wild blackberries that grow on the side of the trail as you slowly get closer to the bizarre blue of the Adriatic Sea.
The trail leads you to Odysseys’ Cave, a magical cliffside beach where Odysseys himself was rumoured to have shipwrecked. Buy a beer from the small concession stand and enjoy the sound of gentle guitar coming through the loudspeakers, or jump from 1, 7 or 21 meters to the sea before swimming into the cave itself. I don’t want to give too much away – just believe me when I say it’s magical, and a perfect way to cool off after a hike.
You can follow the same trail back or walk up to the road and hitchhike back.
Biokovo mountain, Makarska
Duration: 5-6 hours (around 3 hours one-way, return on the same trail)
The seaside town of Makarska, a Croatian holiday favourite, is the best place for adventures around the biggest mountains in Dalmatia. The Croatian tourism panel describes the Biokovo mountain as “a mountain with roots in the sea and head in the clouds” — it’s the best destination for hikers who want to climb up a mountain in the morning and relax on the beach in the afternoon.
With a multitude of trails to choose from, I’d recommend the one-day hike to Sveti Juri (St. George) which at 1,762 m is the second highest peak in Croatia. You can get to the trail straight from the city. The steep climb uphill might seem intimidating, but no mountaineering experience is needed – and once you get to the top, the breathtaking views over the mountain range and the Makarska Riviera will be worth it.
Make sure to bring enough water – you won’t find any services on the way!
After conquering the mountain top, reward yourself with a night of partying in one of the most unique clubs you’ll ever see. Disco Club Deep is half a beach, half a cave and fully a club – and since it’s one of the stopping points for those popular Croatian cruise week ships, you’ll surely make some new friends there.
Orebić to Sveti Ilja peak on Pelješak Peninsula
Duration: 3 hours one-way (take the same trail back)
Most travellers in Croatia might have never even heard of the Pelješak Peninsula despite its proximity to the popular destination of Korčula. Just a 20-minute ferry ride away from the island known as the birthplace of Marco Polo lies the sleepy town of Orebić, the launching pad for one of the most gorgeous sunset hikes on the coast.
Start the hike by walking up to Our Lady of the Angel monastery about twenty minutes away from the town centre. From there, follow the path behind some farm houses and up the hill, through small patches of short trees and dry shrubbery. The trail is marked with the familiar red-and-white symbols but make sure you don’t get lost in the criss-cross of intersecting paths.
When you arrive at the Sveti Ilja peak (961 m), breathe and relax. Take in the views. Hydrate. You made it!
Time your hike so that you’ll be on your way back for sunset. Later in the day, many other hikers are not likely to be around anymore, and you’ll have the islands below all to yourself. Watch as the sky turns purple and the last rays of sun colour the town of Korčula on the other side of the bay golden. Leave before it gets dark, though – the trail can be treacherous if you can’t see where you’re going.
It’s possible to do the hike as a day trip from Korčula, although there are also great accommodation option in Orebić.
Plješevica Mountain, Plitvice lakes
Duration: 8 hours
Most visitors to this area come for one thing and one thing only: the famous Plitvice lakes. However, take a few days to hike around the area to get away from the crowds and discover another side to this famed destination.
My favourite hike in the area is the uphill endeavour to an old military airbase on top of the Plješevica mountain. The trail starts in the town of Korenica, running past farm houses and golden fields of wheat and grass before turning into a small forest path. It’s all uphill from there so leave the town early in the morning – and pack a picnic with you since there aren’t any services on the way up!
The last stretch of the hill might take your breath away, but after you’ve survived the ascend, you can stop to take a breather on the ridge leading up to the airbase ruins. Here the trail straddles Croatia and its neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, and you’re granted fantastic views over the valleys below on both sides. (Do not try sneaking into Bosnia undetected, though – the forest on that side of the border is still riddled with unexploded land mines due to the Bosnian war twenty years ago. The trail itself is completely safe.)
The military complex on the top of the hill is incredibly interesting and incredibly creepy. You can explore old underground hallways – but if you’re a coward like me, bring a friend to hold your hand! If urban exploration is not your thing, you can just descend a short (but treacherously slippery) scree slope to a flat rock protruding from the hillside for a picturesque picnic spot or a backdrop for an Instagram photoshoot.
The route is very well marked and the single trail is easy to follow. If you’re worried about finding your way, though, consider staying at Falling Lakes Hostel; they arrange free hikes up daily, and it’s a great way to meet other hike-happy backpackers.
Marvellous multi-day hikes
Bijele and Samarske stijene
Duration: 1-3 days
Level: Hard / Very hard
Up for some mountaineering?
Bijele and Samarski Stijene serve as an introduction to the famous Velebit national park – like a snack before the actual dinner. These bone-like karst formations sprinkled in the middle of coniferous Croatian Alpine forest are located in Northwestern Croatia and make for a nice, less well-known day trip or a multi-day weekend hike.
If you’re only staying in the area for one day, it’s possible to climb both Bijele and Samarski Stjene in one day. Samarski Stijene is the easier one of the two to conquer and only requires a little bit of climbing to get to the top, while most of the trail is moderate – well, considering the fact that you will be clutching your burning calves during the steep uphill struggle.
Samarski Stijene is the starting point for two loops, imaginatively just named the Southern way and the Northern way, which take you to other limestone peaks in the area. It’s almost impossible to hike both in one day so pick one!
From Samarski Stijene, descend for 45 minutes through the forest to the legendary Ratkovo hut built in stone. It’s a great stop to overnight if you want to adventure around the area for two days.
From Ratkovo, you have two options to continue: either return to the Begova Staza forest road and walk to the foot of Bijele Stijene, or continue along the Vihoraški put pass.
Vihoraski might only be about a kilometre long but trekking through it takes 4-6 hours and requires mountaineering experience. So make sure you have enough daylight hours left! I was carrying a big backpack and opted for the forest road option – although that meant that to get to my destination, I needed to ascend a very steep hill and still do some slight maneuvering to get over and across some tricky bits.
Getting to the top of Bijele Stijene similarly requires a bit of climbing but the stone has been equipped with metal handles and unless you’re carrying a big backpack, isn’t impossible for people with normal mobility and a regular level of fitness.
If you want to overnight around Bijele Stijene, there are two huts named after two hikers who originally discovered and established many of the trails in the area. Pay 70 kuna (~9.5 e / 10.5 USD) for Dragutin Hirc hut or stay for free in the Miroslav hut next to it.
Duration: 2-4 days (or more!)
The Velebit is without a doubt the most famous hiking trail in Croatia, and unfortunately the busiest as well. The biggest mountain range in Croatia is well known for its impressive karst mountains, some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country and varied wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a bear.
(No worries, though – Balkan bears are usually shy and will run away from you as long as you don’t sneak up on them!)
Velebit’s popularity makes it one of the best places to hike in Croatia if you’re not a true wilderness expert: the trails are well worn and mostly easy to follow – no bushwhacking needed! – and generally well signed. There are also many huts to choose from.
While it’s easy to find nice day hikes around the area, the abundance of mountain huts makes planning whole weekend trips effortless. You could start from the information point in Babić Sića and ascend to the Zavizan hut. Only taking a few hours, you’d then have time to explore the network of surrounding peaks. The next day you can continue onwards to Alan hut.
My favourite part of the Velebit was the Southern part of the Northern trails before the trail gets very popular. The Dobri and Dabarski area is home to impressive limestone monuments, jutting out sharply from green landscape and framing beautiful valleys below.
Note that the entry fee to the Velebit national park is 45 kuna (~ 6 e, 7 USD; 2019 pricing). You can buy the ticket from the ranger at the entrance to the park.
Via Dinarica White trail
Duration: 24+ days
Via Dinarica is a newly-established long-distance hiking trail running from the south of Slovenia to the north of Albania. If you’re most comfortable in your hiking boots, consider spending your holiday walking a part of this trail – or even the whole thing. The route connects all the best parts of the Dinaric Alps in the country, including some of the spots I’ve already mentioned in this article.
In addition to the White Trail which connects all the best mountain regions in Croatia, you could look into walking the Green Trail (forest trail) or the Blue Trail (coastal trail).
Since the trail is very new, some of the sections are badly maintained and barely marked. I got along well using a handheld GPS, Maps.me offline maps and comments from previous hikers on the Outdooractive app.
Tips for hiking in Croatia
A little list of notes on what to take into account if you’re hiking in Croatia:
- Weather. Don’t underestimate the effect of Mediterranean weather. In the summer, the temperatures can rise up to 35+ Celsius / 95 Fahrenheit so always carry enough water. In the north, the Bura wind can occasionally cause intense rainstorms and strong winds that will have you freezing if you forget to pack layers.
- Maps. I never used paper maps since they can be hard to come by; instead, I had a handheld hiking GPS device, and I was using Maps.me and occasionally Outdooractive app to track my movement. However, most of the day hikes listed here are so easy to follow you might not even need maps. Most trails are marked – although occasionally badly – with red-and-white circles.
- Gear. You’ll survive day hikes with a comfortable pair of sneakers and a day pack; if you’re planning on overnight hiking and you’re not staying in a guest house, you’ll need a sleeping bag, a portable cooker and enough food to last you until you get to the next town.
- Accommodation. Wild camping in Croatia is illegal but finding accommodation en route is not hard: mountain huts, most of which are free to stay in, dot the wilderness trails. There are also guest houses, hotels and hostels, depending where you are hiking.