The Paklenica National Park is situated in the imposing Velebit massif, with its entrance in Starigrad Paklenica, off the Magistrala coastal road. It was opened in 1949 and covers an area of 36 sq km (14 sq miles) and is formed by two main gorges: Mala Paklenica and Velika Paklenica, literally ‘small’ and ‘big’ Paklenica, which cut into limestone mountains. The gorges were eroded by two rivers and parts of the canyon walls are more than 400m (1,321 ft) high.
Mala Paklenica has been preserved as much as possible in its original condition, with no amenities and loosely marked trails that deter day-trippers. If you wish to explore this part of the part, you must be well-prepared with food, good local advice and accurate maps. Velika Paklenica is more user-friendly with drinking fountains and a well-marked trail that snakes up in a two-hour walk from the car park to a mountain hostel, where more serious hikers and climbers spend the night before starting early ascents of the park’s lofty peaks.
Deep in the cliffs of Velika Paklenica Canyon there is an extensive system of underground tunnels built by the Yugoslav army. The tunnels are currently being renovated as the park administration intend to use them as galleries and meeting and exhibition areas.
The rock faces are pierced by numerous caves and you will usually see rock-climbers tackling the sheer rock walls. There is one cave – Manita – which can be visited, generally accompanied by a guide, which has fine examples of stalactites and stalagmites.
The main path has plenty of interest, with voluminous skyscrapers rising hundreds of metres above and a section running alongside a gurgling stream surrounded by alpine trees and vegetation.
High up, majestic birds of prey make their nests, in an ideal habitat for breeding Golden Eagles, Vultures, Hawks and especially Peregrine Falcons. In the forests there are bears, wild boar, foxes, roebucks and hares.
While rock-climbers are attracted to the park, hiking and mountain biking are other popular activities in the park and in summer visitors can stay in the Mountain Hut located on the banks of the Veilka Paklenica creek. Along the creek there are several disused water mills, still in good condition, which can also be visited.
Do not however, underestimate the weather: even on a bright day in summer, a violent thunderstorm can quickly whip up and crash over Velebit. Whether you are just dipping in for an afternoon walk or embarking on a week-long assault of the most challenging peaks, be well prepared.
So, if you are a keen rock-climber, put this park on your bucket-list, but if you just love spectacular scenery and getting out into natural beauty – this is the place for you.