Catch a wave, walk in the woods, climb a cliff. Shoot the rapids, explore a cave, bike, and hike, then bike some more. With hundreds of miles of Adriatic coastline, eight national parks, lush islands, soaring mountains, abundant wildlife and more, Croatia is the Promised Land for active travelers who love the outdoors.
Best place to bike: Istria, northwest Croatia
Biking is popular across Croatia as a sport and as a means of transportation, but cycling rises to a higher plane in Istria. The 60 bike routes that fan out across 1,600 miles of Istria’s dirt roads, winding mountain paths, dense forests and along the Coast are never boring. They vary in distance, scenery, difficulty, and type and cover the length and breadth of the tiny peninsula.
Whether you itch to cycle to the top of a mountain on rocky terrain, cruise around historic town squares, or join a leisurely vineyard tour with frequent tasting stops, Istria is the ideal setting.
Runner-up: Korcula Island
Best Place to scale a rock wall: Paklenica National Park, Northern Dalmatia
Even if the only rock wall you’ve ever climbed was inside a gym, you will be able to make it to the top at some level at Paklenica, less than 30 miles northwest of Zadar in the southeastern Velebit range. With 400 climbing routes over a variety of karst formations, there is an experience for just about every level of climber at Paklenica. The most challenging: the formidable Anića Kuk, a rock face that soars more than 1,100 feet from its base.
Runner-up: Biokovo Nature Park
Best place to windsurf: Off Bol, Brac Island
Bol is a tiny harbor town with a big reputation. This is the home of the oft-photographed Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape), a pebble beach that from the air looks like a thin, curling tendril of golden sand. Zlatni Rat’s claim to fame is that it shifts shape as the wind blows. The same wind that molds the beach makes Bol the ideal location for windsurfing: Morning breezes are gentle and just right for beginners; afternoon winds pick up and challenge more experienced surfers.
Runner-up: Baška, Krk Island
Best place to hike: Velebit Trail, Northern Dalmatia
The Velebit hiking trail snakes through Croatia’s Dinaric Alps for 62 miles. The route covers almost the entire length of the coast, from Senj in the north to Zadar in the south. The views are spectacular and the terrain sometimes gentle, sometimes challenging.
Summer is the best time to tackle this well-marked trail, which winds through two national parks, Velebit and Paklenica. The path is dotted with majestic rock formations, expansive green meadows, lush forests and the Velebit Botanic Garden, which showcases indigenous mountain flora. There are basic hiking huts along the way, but hikers need to bring their own food, water, and sleeping bags. Camping and off-trail trekking are not allowed.
Runner-up: Kopački Rit Nature Park
Best place for spelunking: Gorski Kotar, Kvarner
Croatia’s subterranean landscape is honeycombed with almost 7,000 caves, some of which have been made accessible for tourists, while others remain unexplored and open only to experienced spelunkers. Whether you are an avid caver or have never been inside anything scarier than a man cave, the beauty and variety of Croatia’s underground world will surprise.
There are caves in every part of Croatia, but Gorski Kotar has the biggest variety. It is home to Lokvarka, one of the country’s largest caves open to the public; Bukovac Cave, which holds evidence of prehistoric man, and Vrelo Cave, 4 million years old with an underground spring running through it.
Runner-up: Blue Grotto, Biševo Island (near Vis)
Best place for rafting: Cetina River, Omiš, Central Dalmatia
Rafting the last seven miles of the Cetina River on its way to the Adriatic at Omiš is a fun stop on the way to or from Split and the islands. In fact, shooting the rapids through the green banks and karstic canyons along the route is one of Central Dalmatia’s most popular and scenic adventures.
The rafting route alternates stretches of calm, crystal water and grade 2 and 3 rapids on its way to the sea. This isn’t a wild and wooly ride, but one that has enough whitewater to keep rafting enthusiasts engaged and gentle enough to allow first-timers to have fun without fear. Guided trips in 8-man inflatable rafts run from April 1 through November.
Runner-up: Mreznica River, near Zagreb