If you came to Croatia to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park, but then found that you couldn’t go swimming there, Krka National Park is your answer. Krka has waterfalls aplenty, flowing from the Krka River, and unlike at Plitvice, they are free for a dip. The park is also home to a wide array of flora and fauna, as well as some unique cultural sights, all with fewer tourists than the now-renowned Plitvice. Read on for information on how to make the most of your trip to Krka.

Discovering Krka

About 50 miles south of Zadar and 6 miles inland from Šibenik on the north Dalmatian coast, Krka is this region’s answer to Plitvice Lakes National Park. If Krka’s many waterfalls aren’t quite on the average visitors’ radar yet, they soon will be. They include Sradinski Buk, beloved among Croatians for its 17 cascades of different heights emptying into an emerald pool perfect for swimming, and the smaller, more tranquil Roški Slap waterfall.
 
The protected area is home to plenty of wildlife, including 20 species of fish, and endangered European mammals like otters, wolves, and wildcats. The olm, a strange aquatic animal that resembles a pale, glow-in-the-dark lizard, lives in the dark, cold, subterranean waters of four caves within the park. The park is laced with biking and hiking trails, and educational centers throughout help give visitors a bigger picture.
 
But Krka National Park isn’t just a place for marveling at nature: it also has some preserved cultural sites that are unique to Croatia, including Visovac, a petite island at the center of the Krka River with an 18th-century Franciscan Monastery, and the centuries-old Krka Monastery, in a forested setting by the Krka River. A series of 19th-century watermills represent the main driver of the area’s industrial economy over a century ago, while Burnum is the site of preserved Roman military remains at the northern end of the park.

Planning Your Trip

A reconstructed mill on one of Krka's many waterfalls

Thanks to Krka’s relatively small size, you can buy a one-day pass to the park and see its main highlights in just a single visit, bookended by two overnights, so you can maximize your time and don’t have to worry about getting to your next destination directly afterwards. But if you wish to see everything the park has to offer, plan to buy a multiple entrance ticket, which allows you to access the park from three different entrances over seven days.

The park’s official brochure outlines ten different itineraries that incorporate hiking, biking, boating, and driving, based on your interests and the amount of time you have. These can include cultural tours that focus on Krka Monastery, Visovac, and Burnum, or excursions to see the main waterfalls as well as the prehistoric Oziđana pećina cave. A separate cycling map - available at visitors centers and the Eco Campus housing archaeological finds from Burnum - outlines hundreds of miles of trails both in the park and nearby.

When to go

Since this part of Croatia has mild temperatures even in winter, there really isn’t a bad time to visit Krka National Park. If you’re looking for convenience without the crowds, however, you’d do best to visit in the mild, in-between months of either April/May or September/October. Many park tours, including all boat excursions, are offered within these periods, and buses from major cities like Zadar and Split will operate more regularly, but you won’t have to contend with quite as many visitors as you would in July and August.
 
On the other hand, if the idea of cooling off with a swim when the weather is truly hot strikes your fancy, it may be worth it to go in the height of summer. Discounted tickets are offered in the late afternoon (after 4pm) in July and August (200 kuna regular, 145 kuna discounted). For more, see Best Time of Year to Visit Croatia

Getting there

The best way to access the park is with a private car. Most visitors choose to spend one or two nights in the nearby coastal town of Šibenik (more below), as it is only about a ten-minute drive from the park’s entrance, although the park can also be reached in longer drives from Zadar or Split, both of which also run regular bus transfers.

Highlights & Activities

Krka National Park is a collection of towns, waterfalls, and historic sites on the Krka River

If you plan on hitting the big favorites like Sradinski Buk, you may want to do so earlier in the day, before the largest number of visitors arrive. Conversely, if you want to swim, it may make sense to do that later, after you’ve visited Visovac island or Krka Monastery, so you don’t have to walk around in a wet bathing suit for hours.
 
If you have kids in tow, boat rides, hikes, and swims may be your preference over visiting indoor spaces like the monasteries and the Eco Campus, especially in hot summer weather when the crystal clear waters below the falls beckon to swimmers. The best way to ensure uninterrupted fun is to pack snacks and a picnic, so you don’t have to leave your spot by the water to find lunch.

Waterfalls

Unlike at Plitvice Lakes National Park, Krka has plenty of areas for swimming

Krka’s waterfalls number seven in all, although each one is made up of several cascades that gives them that characteristic lush, “paradise valley” feel. Whereas Plitvice’s falls are spread out over a series of lakes, Krka’s are all part of the river of the same name, which breaks into multiple levels as it flows down from the foothills of the Dinara mountain range.
 
Among them, Sradinski Buk is the most famous, with 17 cascades that reach heights of up to 45 meters, with a walking loop that includes informational panels, wooden footbridges, and several viewpoints perfect for taking pictures.  A wide open lake-like water platform dotted with several small islands makes this a beautiful scene
 
Roški slap has fewer separate cascades, but its main one is impressive, at a towering 22 meters, and its waters resolve into a string of smaller falls affectionately known as “the necklace.” It’s also close to Oziđana pećina cave so you can save time by visiting them together. This cave, just a small subsection of Krka’s extensive system of underground caverns and passageways, is easy to access access by wooden steps over the rocks from Roški slap. It’s worth a visit not just to marvel at its geology, but also to take a look at the artifacts on display there: archaeological findings from thousands of years ago, still exhibited right where they were found.
 
Another impressive series of cascades located farther north in the park, the Manojlovac falls strike a memorable pose as they cut through a jungle-like canyon. Since they’re only a few hundred meters from the Roman ruins at Burnum, consider visiting the two together.

Holy sites

The island of Visovac, with its monastery, is one of the highlights of Krka

If ever there was a fairytale image associated with Krka, tiny Visovac island is it. At the center of a wide point in the Krka River, it’s home to the 15th-century Our Lady of Mercy Franciscan Monastery, and the Church of Our Lady of Visovac. Enclosed within is an intriguing archaeological collection of everyday objects used by the church, including textiles and dishware, plus a library with age-old manuscripts.
 
A boat trip from Sradinski Buk as well as several other main access points to the park will include a tour of the island and everything on it. Just don’t be surprised if you’re sharing the ride not just with other visitors, but also with those making the journey to worship: this tranquil, magical island has been sacred to generations of pilgrims, and once you set foot on it you’ll see why.
 
Farther north near Kistanje is Krka Monastery, a Serbian Orthodox place of worship built centuries ago on the foundations of an Eremite monastery. The accompanying Byzantine church next door was built on top of ancient Roman catacombs, part of an extensive cave system that includes Early Christian graffiti. Guided tours are offered from April to October, but since this one is accessible by road, you can also drive there yourself and take a look around.

Roman remains, fortresses, and watermills

Remains of the Roman military camp at Burnum

You don’t have to go to Split or the Istrian peninsula to find some impressive Roman ruins; the Roman military camp of Burnum is right here, constructed in the 1st century AD in a strategic position that allowed an overview and control of the Krka River.
 
The remains include Croatia’s only military amphitheater, as well as the camp’s command building with an imposing set of arches, and walls enclosing an area where the XI legion of Claudiae Piae Fidelis and Flaviae Felix’s IV legion carried out military exercises. Even better, the site yielded plenty of well-preserved archaeological artifacts, including military weapons, tools, and daily objects, all of which are now on display at the Puljane Eco Campus, a museum constructed nearby in 2010.

Beyond these top sights, Krka National Park is full of old fortresses and watermills: testaments to its strategic importance as well as its industrial past. The Nečven and Trošenj fortresses were built privately by noble families who owned part of the land that now includes the park, and wanted to be able to oversee it from a great distance.

They can be spotted and photographed on boat rides along the Krka River, although their interiors are not yet ready for visitors. The best preserved of them all, perhaps, is Ključica, which overlooks the Čikola River, a tributary of the Krka, close to where the two meet. Owned by a family of princes, legend has it that this fortress was destroyed and rebuilt three times.

In addition, a series of rebuilt watermills along the water, including at Roški Slap and Sradinski Buk, are a testament to the age-old industrial trade that ran on the rushing waters of the Krka River, dating back to Roman times. The structures you see today are replicas of 19th-century mills, and include exhibitions and demonstrations of the miller trade, perfect for younger children who may be fascinated by old machinery, stone grinding, and waterwheels.

Where to Stay

The nearby city of Šibenik is an ideal base for visiting Krka National Park

The closest city to Krka National Park is Šibenik, situated on the Adriatic right at the mouth of the Krka River. Known for its four fortresses, Renaissance town hall, and the UNESCO-listed Sveti Jakov (St. James) Cathedral, it’s well worth a day of wandering in its own right. Another popular nearby town, Skradin, is known for its Baroque church, charming narrow streets, and a folk music festival that brings the town to life every August. Farther inlsand on the other side of the park is Drniš, a hilltown at the foot of Mt. Promina with views out to see, especially from Gradina fortress, an imposing not-quite-ruin on the outskirts of town.
 
Each of these towns has several large hotels and smaller guesthouses, although if you go outside of their borders you can also find charming, privately owned properties, including agroturizams where beds come with meals of locally grown produce. Among a few outstanding choices, D-Resort Šibenik is a luxury boutique hotel on a promontory just south of Šibenik’s town center, with a contemporary glass and scrubbed concrete design, and two restaurants overlooking the yacht-filled marina. The Hotel Skradinski Buk is a cozy property in historic Skradin building, with views out to its church and the hills beyond, and a restaurant serving Dalmatian cuisine, including plenty of grilled fish and seafood.