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Paklenica National Park
Paklenica National Park Review
For mountain scenery at its most spectacular and mountain tourism at its most advanced, you need go no further from Zadar than Paklenica National Park. The Velebit mountain range stretches along the Croatian coast for more than 100 km (62 mi), but nowhere does it pack in as much to see and do as in this relatively small, 96-square-km (37-square-mi) park at the southern terminus of the range. Here, less than an hour from Zadar, is a wealth of extraordinary karst features from fissures, crooks, and cliffs to pits and caves. The park comprises two limestone gorges, Velika Paklenica (which ends, near the sea, at the park entrance in Starigrad) and Mala Paklenica, a few kilometers to the south; trails through the former gorge are better marked (and more tourist-trodden).
All that dry rockiness visible from the seaward side of the range turns resplendently green as you cross over the mountains to the landward side. Named after the sap of the black pine, paklina, which was used long ago to prime boats, the park is in fact two-thirds forest, with beech and the indigenous black pine a key part of this picture; the remaining vegetation includes cliff-bound habitats featuring several types of bluebells, and rocky areas abounding in sage and heather. The park is also home to 4,000 different species of fauna, including butterflies that have long vanished elsewhere in Europe. It is also the only mainland nesting ground in Croatia for the stately griffin vulture.
The park has more than 150 km (94 mi) of trails, from relatively easy ones leading from the Velike Paklenica Canyon (from the entrance in Starigrad) to the 1,640-foot-long complex of caverns called Manita Pec cave, to mountain huts situated strategically along the way to the Velebit's highest peaks, Vaganski Vrh (5,768 feet) and Sveto brdo (5,751 feet). The most prominent of the park's large and spectacular caves, Manita Pec is accessible on foot from the park entrance in Starigrad; you can enter for a modest additional fee, but buy your ticket at the park entrance. Rock climbing is also a popular activity in the park. Meanwhile, mills and mountain villages scattered throughout Paklenica evoke the life of mountain folk from the not too distant past.
About a half mile down the park access road in Starigrad, you pass through the mostly abandoned hamlet of Marasovici, from which it's a few hundreds yards more downhill to the small building where you buy your tickets and enter the park (from this point on, only on foot). From here it's 45 minutes uphill to a side path to Anica kuk, a craggy peak, and from there it's not far to Manita Pec. However, if you don't have time or inclination for a substantial hike into the mountains, you will be happy to know that even the 45-minute walk to the entrance gate and back from the main road affords spectacular, close-up views of the Velebit range's craggy ridgeline and the gorge entrance. Also, be forewarned that if you are looking to escape the crowds, you will be hard-pressed to do so here in midsummer unless you head well into the mountains or, perhaps, opt for the park's less-frequented entrance at Mala Paklenica; more likely than not, you will be sharing the sublimities of nature with thousands of other seaside revelers taking a brief respite from the coast.
Although the park headquarters is on the main coastal road in the middle of Starigrad, fees are payable where you actually enter the park on the access road. Beyond the basic park admission and the supplemental fee to enter Manita Pec cave, the park offers every imaginable service and presentation that might encourage you to part with your kunas, from half-day group tours (350 Kn) and full-day tours (700 Kn) to presentations every half hour from 11 to noon and 4 to 7 on the park's birds of prey and on falconry.
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