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Northern Velebit National Park is Croatia's newest national park, designated a national park only in 1999. The park includes the most pristine areas of the northern part of the Velebit range which runs parallel to the Adriatic coast. The national park is within the Velebit Nature Reserve which also contains Paklenica National Park.
It's amazing how certain coastal towns can be wall-to-wall with tourists during the summer while other, equally enchanting Croatian destinations can be nearly empty. Northern Velebit National Park, in northern Dalmatia has never gotten the attention it deserved despite its status as a national park. That may change now that the European Commission has named the park as a European Destination of Excellence (EDEN). The purpose of these yearly awards is to highlight destinations that manifest a commitment to sustainable tourism with the aim of helping to "de-congest over-visited tourist destinations".
In awarding the prize the commission noted that "the park unites two different locales, the coastal region and the mountainous zone. Predatory animals such as wildcats, bears and wolves, roam the mountainsides, while deep sinkholes and caves give the park an unparalleled sense of multiplicity".
"Multiplicity" here might also refer to multiple activities. You can explore over 150 caves, hike, cycle, cross-country ski, and just enjoy waves of unparalleled scenery. There's also multiple plant species: around 1500! The park has something to offer each season from flowery hillsides in spring, verdant hiking trails in summer, migrating birds in fall and snowy peaks in winter.
The two main peaks of the range are the Rozanski and Hajducki kukovi peaks. The most remarkable feature of Hajducki kukovi is the extraordinary Lukina cave. With a depth of 1392 metres, it is the eighth deepest cave in the world and only 83m have been explored! Lukina made history when an entirely new variety of leech was found in it. The virgin forest of Stirovaca is another prime attraction of the park. It is the largest completely pristine forest in Croatia. Many of the flora endemic to the park are on display in the Velebit Botanical Garden, near Zavizan.
Hikers will want to take the Premuzic Path which runs west of the forest road and affords an open view of the sea. Although the section between Veliki Alan and Ostarije is in a state of neglect, the highlight is the section through Rozanski kukovi which has the most memorable views. It is also accessible to even the moderately fit.
The northern Velebit is the least accessible of Croatia's national parks. Road access is via Otocac, not far from Plitvice National Park. Most mountaineers meet just below Zavizan and take the Premuziceva staza road into the park. There is also a climbers' lodge just below Zavizan.
There are two mountain huts for overnight accommodation and a shelter for emergencies within the park. Otherwise, visitors can use the following towns as a base:
The Northern Velebit national park office (tel 053 851 227) is in Krasno.
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