Risnjak National Park
Nature lovers don’t always love the same things. Some like the beach more and others prefer climbing mountains. At Risnjak National Park, people who are naturally drawn to forests, trees, and mountains will find that they will be quite at home with its spectacular greenery and captivating cliffs.
The park is located in Gorski Kotar which is the most densely forested region in Croatia. A day in Risnjak National Park will leave you breathless before the day ends looking up at its soaring peaks, walking or running across its lush valleys, and discovering the diverse wildlife abounding in these lands.
There are so many interesting facts about this park that make it so rich and so many activities to fulfill a nature lover’s quest for outdoor adventures. An extraordinary type of lynx called the Risnjak Mastiff dominates the park which could be an explanation of the park’s name.
Ris means lynx in Croatian. But that is just one of the multitude of wildlife you will find in the park.
Various footpaths lead to many surprises and there are steeper trails to trek for the more experienced hikers. The forest is rich with fruits and along the way, you will see streams of fresh water where you could quench your thirst.
Location Of Risnjak
Risnjak National Park is in the northwest part of Gorski Kotar and northeast of Rijeka. It has a karstic terrain, made more interesting by naturally formed cracks, sinkholes, and caves. It is quite a magnificent sight to behold. The park offers so many activities of different kinds for people with varying interests in outdoor recreation.
Traveling by car from cities like Zadar to Risnjak National Park is already quite an experience because the views leading to it is amazingly breathtaking. It is recommended that you spend a full day at the park to make the most of your trip and to really appreciate its beauty but some find that half a day is already sufficient.
The park also features underground streams that are responsible for many physical changes that occur and still continue to occur in the park’s surroundings. If you want to disappear into a completely magical world, you can walk inside its ancient coniferous forests and explore the alpine flora.
Risnjak National Park’s main entrance is at Crni Lug which is in close proximity to the main motorway in Zagreb and Rijeka. It is 15 kilometers away from Rijeka and a 2-hour drive from Zagreb.
The Big Picture: Risnjak National Park
Risnjak is pronounced “Risniyak” for those who might be wondering. Risnjak National Park could have been named after the lynx that roams around the park that we’ve mentioned above.
It’s a great place to visit during the spring or summer, allowing you to walk along blossoming flowers and the overall scenery is just worthy of a postcard image. Like the Paklenica National Park, the park is also in a mountainous region though not as extreme. The highest peak in Risnjak National Park is Mount Risnjak which goes up to 1,538 meters above sea level.
We’ve mentioned that it was the lynx called Risnjak mastiff that gave the park its name as well as the Risnjak Mountain’s name. The park and Mount Risnjak serve as an important barrier between the country’s coastal and continental parts. It is what naturally links the alps with the Balkan mountains.
Risnjak National Park is home to three European carnivores which are the bear, the wolf, and the lynx. When it comes to the vegetation, there are at least about 1,148 species and subspecies in the park’s flora. Some of the flowers that bloom in these areas include Alpine snowbells, edelweiss, and black vanilla orchids.
The Gorski kotar mountains, where the park is situated, attracts all types of hikers, climbers, as well as the academics such as botanists who are captivated by the rich habitat. But even those who are not so physically active will have a great time at Risnjak National Park just to relax and enjoy the scenic views.
The lynx and the two other carnivores share the park’s 6,400 unspoiled hectares with other wildly stunning creatures such as chamois, eagles, and wild cats. And when you get to the peaks after a nice hike in the forests, you will get a phenomenal view of the slopes and streams down below.
The Kupa river at the foot of the mountains continuously provides fresh cool water to Croatia’s deepest springs. There is also a popular cave near these waters that is worth a visit. The Vrelo Cave is safe for visitors of all ages and sufficiently illuminated so it is suitable for kids and adults alike.
You will also get a chance to visit some of the nearby villages by walking on the many footpaths stemming out from the park, like the Crni Lug, a picturesque little town. Several of the paths are easy walks and there are sign posts on each of them to guide you through so don’t worry about getting lost. Both experienced hikers and beginners will enjoy these trails inside the Risnjak National Park.
Make sure to pass by the educational path Leska which starts from the administration building and leads to cca. Here, you can read about some of most interesting things about the park and its ecosystem. The walk takes about an hour and 45 minutes to complete.
You can also rent a bike to explore the area on two wheels. This way, you have better mobility and you control your own pace. The rental includes the helmet for safety. During the winter, skiing is a popular activity in Risnjak National Park. And when you’ve spent much of your energy, you can just sit back and enjoy watching the animals in the middle of a beautiful natural scenery.
Recreational fishing is also allowed form late spring to early fall. Take note that the fishing permit fee is not included in the entrance fee to the park.
Most of the Risnjak National Park is actual virgin forests and there are very few people and establishments that have settled there. So, the focus of your visit will really be the outdoors. It would be a good idea to bring your own food because you would have to go to the nearby villages to shop and dine.
History of Risnjak National Park
Each of the 8 national parks in Croatia has its own interesting history that make them worthy of a visit. It’s good to know a bit of the park’s background for you to really appreciate the park that it is today.
Risnjak National Park first became of interest to the scientific community in 1825 when Budapest botanist Joseph Standler visited the Risnjak mountains. Other scientists then paid a visit after him. The most important of these visits is by botanist Josip Schlosser in the 19th century when he wrote publications about this mountainous region and its rich flora.
The park was first used for a mountaineering expedition by the Rijeka alpine club which prompted the construction of the mountain refuge in 1932. But it was in 1949 that a suggestion was made for the park to be protected by botanist Ivo Horvat. It was later declared a national park by the government of Croatia.
Risnjak National Park was enlarged to its current size today in 1997, with the Snjeznik and Kupa source areas being added to the park’s territories along with the nearby villages.
Exploring the Risnjak National Park
Here is a closer look at the many activities you can engage in when you visit Risnjak National Park.
The Gorski Kotar mountains where the park is situated are a spectacular landscape to behold. Its name literally translates to wooded district. The place is filled with green river valleys and hillsides thick with trees so it is quite a popular summer hiking destination.
Hiking paths start at the entrance which is a kilometer west of Crni Lug village. From here, you can choose from a wide range of walking opportunities. There is a whole series of paths and trails from easy to the more challenging ones.
What most hikers aim to see when hiking in Risnjak National Park is the peak of Veliki Risnjak. You would have to have some hiking experience to dare yourself to go up these trails because it is at least 1,528m high. It takes about 3 hours to walk to the peak from the Risnjak National Park’s entrance.
If you don’t have much experience or don’t think you have the energy required to go all the way up to the peak of Veliki Risnjak, you can just walk to the small mountain hut about 100m below the summit called the Schlosser’s mountain hut where you can rest after a good moderately challenging hike.
But aside from the Veliki Risnjak peak, there are other peaks that you can aim to reach like the Snjeznik, Gornji, Medveci, Jelenc, Lazacka glavica, Planina, and Obruc. All of these peaks are over 1,300m high.
Next to the Veiliki Risnjak, the second highest peak in the Risnjak mountain inside the Risnjak National Park is the Snjeznik. It goes up to 1,506 meters and it was named after the Croatian word for snow which is snijeg.
This is different from the mountain Snjeznik which can be found in northwest Slovenia. The peak gives you a view of the grassy lands and hikers can stop by at the mountain lodge Albaharijev dom. During winter, this place is a popular skiing spot.
Another peak in the Risnjak mountain is the Guslica which is about an hour walk from the Snjeznik peak. This peak has an altitude of 1,490 meters. In these heights, you will experience a captivating view of the valleys and meadows of Risnjak National Park.
The Yugoslav People’s Army complex can also be found on this site however, it has been abandoned for many years. It is still an interesting site to visit because of its history. In 1991, the army left the complex so now it can be seen as a ghost town. It might be of interest for thrill seekers who are visiting the park.
Some citizens have suggested to renovate the military complex and transform it into a mountain refuge but it has not been done. Perhaps, its appearance and past are just too chilling.
Not all the paths in Risnjak National Park lead to mountain peaks. There is one path that is more relaxed called the educational path Leska, where you will learn much about the park’s wildlife, history, and flora and fauna. This path is near the entrance at Crni Lug and stretches to 4.4km.
What’s unique about this path is that it is a circular walkway so you will start and finish at the same place. No need to walk back. In this educational path, you will see writings and sign posts that describe the park’s popular attractions and the animals found roaming around.
The Leska educational path is one of the first that has been opened to the public in Croatia. It was built in June 1993 and has been renovated twice since then. The path was designed in such a way that each visitor passing through would get the same view and experience as they walk so you don’t have to worry about crowds even in the peak seasons.
There are about 23 informative tables all curated in this 4.2 kilometer footpath. It’s a great opportunity for you to learn about the natural and cultural heritage of Risnjak National Park.
Kupa River Valley
Another relatively relax path you can follow is that one that leads to the Kupa River Valley. A lot of visitors consider it to be the most beautiful are of Risnjak National Park. The walk is comfortable and not too long, and once you get to the spot, you will be welcomed by a picturesque valley.
This area was also declared as a protected area in December of 1963. In here, you will find the Kupa River source which is one of the most perplexing riddles in Croatia’s karst landscapes. It is a powerful stream, a long and deep Croatian wellspring. This place is about 321 meters above sea level.
After a treacherous hikes in the peaks inside the Risnjak National Park, you can sit by the shores and relax at the sight of the refreshing turquoise green waters. The blue lakes in the area are enchanting, too and is a great romantic spots for lovers if you are traveling with your spouse or significant other.
The Kupa River is surrounded by mesmerizing flora and fauna and in its upper flow is the Enchanted Butterfly Valley. How many butterflies have you seen in your life? Perhaps you’ve visited a garden with lots of butterflies but this place takes it to a different level. It is like walking into a fantasy forest world.
Cycling and Mountain Biking
Mountain bikes can be rented from the Risnjak National Park’s administration. It is an additional fee to your entrance ticket and already includes the safety gears like helmets. It is one of the best ways to explore the park because it will give you a unique perspective of the different breathtaking sights around.
The heights you will reach while cycling on the park’s cycling paths are completely up to you. Take note that biking is at your own risk so take precaution and make sure to wear your helmet and other safety gear you may have while you bike.
Rental fees are 30kn per bike which is good for 3 hours. This already includes rental of a helmet as well. A 6-hour rental of a bike and helmet would cost a little higher which is 60kn and 90kn for a whole day rental.
If you are really a serious cycling enthusiast, you may even bring your own bike or join one of the country’s cycling tours. You will be in groups and you will be guided by a professional.
Animal watching is another interesting and more relaxed activity in the Risnjak National Park. This is a great activity for families traveling with kids and generally, for animal lovers of all ages.
The fauna in Risnjak National Park is quite diverse as its flora. It is home to many mammals. As you walk along its various paths, you may spot some brown bears and red deers. They are not kept captive so it would be a great experience just watching them doing their normal activities freely.
Chamois and wild boars have also been seen roaming the park along with wolves, pine marten, and badgers. You don’t have to worry about being attacked because these animals are mostly shy and would not approach unless expressly provoked so please respect that.
As you sit quietly on the grass, you may chance on a squirrel passing through or a dormouse. Of course, the most notable of these animals is the lynx from which the park and the mountain were named. The Risnjak mountain lynx was once exterminated in the 19th century but thankfully, eventually returned to the mountain about 3 decades ago, thanks to the efforts of reintroduction by Slovenia.
Bird lovers will not be disappointed in Risnjak National Park either. Several bird species can be spotted like the capercaillie and the hazel grouse. Some months, you may be lucky to see one of the goshawks and the magnificent eagle owl. Other interesting birds are the woodpeckers and many more.
There are also a few amphibians and reptiles, some rare insects, and the snail taxa.
Fishing is allowed inside the Risnjak National Park with a fishing permit. Make sure that you don’t violate any of the park’s recreational fishing regulations.
Spend a few hours just sitting by the lakes and the rivers as you wait for a catch. It’s a great activity for families or individuals who are trying to escape their daily lives. There are several types of fish that you can catch including some rare ones.
Fishing permits are not included in the park’s entrance fee so make sure to acquire your permit when you enter Risnjak National Park before engaging in any fishing activity.
There is always something fun to see and do at Risnjak National Park no matter the season. Though you will much of the action and majority of the flora and fauna during the spring and summer, winter is also an interesting time to visit the park.
During the cold season, the Snjeznik peak turns into a wonderful skiing spot with thousands of visitors and skiing enthusiasts partaking in events or just freely skiing. You can rent skiing equipment and safety gear from the park which is not included in the entrance fee.
This peak in the Risnjak mountain turns into a photographic winter scene in the winter season. So, if your Croatia trip happens to fall in the colder seasons, you don’t have to worry about missing out on the fun.
Risnjak National Park is a beauty to behold no matter the time of year.
Visiting Risnjak National Park: How to Prepare
Unlike Plitvice National Park which features mostly waterfalls or Paklenica National Park which is more for serious mountain climbers, the features of Risnjak National Park are slightly different but some preparations need to be done just the same.
The peaks at Risnjak National Park may be moderate to some but they can be challenging especially when under extreme heat of the sun during the summer or the biting cold during the winter. So, it’s best to keep these factors in mind.
If you plan to hike to the peaks of the Risnjak mountain, make sure that you wear appropriate clothing. To really maximize your trip, you should ensure that you are well-equipped, well-dressed so that you are comfortable and enjoy this natural wonder without hassle.
Wear lightweight clothing and fabric that does not absorb moisture to keep your sweat away from your body. Travel light so don’t bring a lot of heavy stuff in your backpack but carry sufficient amounts of drinking water. You need to keep hydrated all throughout your walk no matter the weather or the season.
You also need good walking shoes. If possible, wear a pair that is water-resistant just in case of rain. Hiking or trekking shoes are preferable.
You will be walking up to the peaks so don’t even think about sporting your designer shoes in there. Flip flops are also not advisable because they tend to hurt your feet as you walk along the trails.
Sunscreen is also advisable since you will be exposed to a lot of sun majority of the time. Lastly, a bottle, maybe two of cold water to keep you hydrated throughout your walk.
How to Get to Risnjak National Park
Risnjak is located northeast of Rijeka and in the northwest part of Gorski Kotar. It is quite convenient to reach coming from some of the major cities like Zadar.
The easiest way to get to Risnjak National Park is by car. If you are already in Rijeka, you would just have to drive on highway A6 that leads from Rijeka to Zagreb and then going to Crni Lug where the main entrance is.
There are four entrances to Risnjak National Park for those who are arriving by car. The main entrance is at Crni Lug which is close to the motorway from Zagreb which also goes to Rijeka.
The southern entrance can be reached by a narrow asphalt road. You would have to take the forest road leading to the north then to the four entrances west of the park coming from the pass in Gornje Jelenje. Then drive to Zelin Canoluski to Prezdana Jama, crossing Pjetlicev vrh to either Jama or Risnjik.
The northern entrance to Risnjak National Park can be reached by Lazac from Gerovo. From Vrsicko Krizanje, cross toward Zauharova bajta in the northeast then head to Segina to Lazac.
The western route is via Platak to Snjeznik. And the eastern route is from Delnice to Crni Lug which is about 12 kilometers of driving.
To get to the River Kupa source, you can choose to walk to three different entrances. You can reach it from Razloge, Kupari, of Hrvatsko.
Entrance Fees to Risnjak
Tickets to enter Risnjak National Park cost 45kn for adults. Entrance fee for children aged 7 to 18 years old is 25kn and kids below 7 years old are free to enter. Mountaineers with paid membership get a discounted rate of 25kn. There is currently no discounts for students.
Best Time to Visit Risnjak National Park
Risnjak National Park is a beautiful place and visiting it at any time of the year would be a thrilling experience all the same. The best time to visit would really depend on your personality and the type of activities that you want to do.
Summer and spring seem to be the most popular time to visit for visitors form all over the world. During these times, you will enjoy all types of activities being offered in the park except of course, the ski activities.
The great thing about visiting during spring or summer is that you will really experience the lush greenery of the park. More animals will also be up and about and you have better chances of spotting the rarer species. Walking and hiking up the trails going to the peak will be pleasant and there is less chance of a downpour.
Just be aware that temperatures can get really high in the summer so that is one thing to consider when you’re planning your Croatia trip and planning to hike in Risnjak National Park as part of your itinerary.
Another thing to consider is the crowd. Risnjak National Park can be crowded during the summer so if that is something that you want to avoid, you may want to schedule your visit in the less busier seasons.
Winter is also a popular time to visit because of the skiing activities up in the Snjeznik peak. The place transforms into a winter wonderland and it will be a perfect spot for winter sports enthusiasts of all levels.
In general, the safest place to visit is during the spring when it’s not too hot and no longer bitingly cold. You will enjoy the same summer activities and the best part is the flowers will be abloom all over the park.
Take note that it is forbidden to hike on unmarked paths for safety reasons so try to stick to the specified routes. Do not pick or damage plants that you see along the paths. Guests are also not allowed to pick fruits from the plants or trees even if there are no enclosures.
Most of all, you are not allowed to disturb, hunt, catch, or kill birds and other animals. The park’s authorities and the people of Croatia are proud of their natural parks and the people responsible for caring for the park are committed to preserving their natural beauty. So, visitors are expected to respect that and act accordingly.
Other National Park Recommendations
If you are looking for other national parks to visit, these are some of the parks that you can visit based on the activities you are interested in. Croatia has 8 major national parks and each of them has different features. Beach lovers will find one park more preferable than others, the same way that extreme outdoor enthusiasts would prefer the more mountainous regions.
If you want to see majestic waterfalls and crystalline lakes, you can go to Plitvice National Park. It has so many breathtaking waterfalls that you will lose track of them all. It is also a great place to walk and hike. Plitvice National Park features an excellently laid-out system of wooden walkways that let you pass through the lakes and sometimes, underneath the waterfalls.
Another great place to see waterfalls is Krka National Park. Though Krka National Park is one of the less famous counterparts of Plitvice, you will not be disappointed by its majestic views, the breathtaking hills and cascading waterfalls, and naturally colorful pools. Its main difference from the top natural attraction in Croatia, Plitvice National Park, is that you can swim in its lakes and pools.
For animal lovers, the Brijuni National Park would be the winner. Aside from the breathtaking sceneries, this is where you will find the Safari Park where you can get up close with wild animals.
The tour of the Safari Park in Brijuni National Park will be a railway trip around the fields where wild animals move freely as in their natural habitat. This is a refreshing sight to see especially if you’ve been to several zoos before because here, you would not feel the guilt of being a part of keeping wild animals captive.
It is also a great place for underwater activities. The Brijuni islands is home to some magnificent underwater archeological sites along the coastline. You can go swimming freely on your own or you can take a swimming and diving tour if you are up for it. You do not have to be an experienced diver because you will be guided by a professional.
Another unique attraction is the Mljet National Park which is famous for the two saltwater lakes surrounding it. You can enjoy the waters in these saltwater lakes as much as you want in many different ways. You can rent a kayak or a canoe at Mali Most which is where the big lake and the small lake meet, joined by a narrow channel.
Kayaking will also allow you to fish for fun around the lakes.
Those are just some of your other options if you are interested in seeing Croatia’s other national parks.