Visiting the Krka Waterfalls
With a few exceptions, most of our Croatia time had been spent exploring cities and focusing on the more culinary aspects of the country. After our time in Zadar and Pag, we decided to change that. On our way to Split, we did the national park thing, visiting the Krka Waterfalls.
Krka National Park and Travertine Waterfalls
Most people visiting Croatia - particularly the hot spots along its Dalmatian Coast - have heard of the country’s famous, UNESCO-listed Plitvice Lakes National Park. With stunningly turquoise waters tumbling over miles of cascades, the place seems to be made for postcards.
But, another incredible, though lesser known, river environment exists midway between Zadar and Split - Krka National Park. As we were en route to the latter city, we decided to stop off for a day exploring the park.
The Krka River meanders 72.5 kilometers from the foothills of the Dinara Mountains through the Croatian countryside, eventually dumping into the Adriatic near Sibenik. During this stretch, the river tumbles down a series of seven waterfalls, dropping 242 meters in elevation.
While the river and its surroundings are certainly beautiful, it’s the waterfalls that make Krka unique. These cascades have grown over millions of years by the slow accumulation of travertine, a type of rock formed by a chemical reaction of calcium carbonate minerals in fresh water. This combination of fresh water and soft, sedimentary rock lets plants flourish, with foliage seeming to sprout directly from the falls themselves.
People who’ve visited Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs will recognize this travertine, as it’s the same material creating the beautiful terraces there. However, whereas Mammoth’s scalding waters prevent plant growth, the Krka River’s cool, fresh waters allow greenery to thrive.
Recognizing the beauty, tourism potential, and fragile nature of this ecosystem, Croatia’s then-Yugoslav government declared a broad swath of the Krka River and its surrounding areas a national park in 1985. Great decision protecting such an amazing region.
A Lozovac Descent
With miles of river winding through the park, Krka has five different entrances, giving visitors flexibility on where to start. We left Zadar mid-morning and knew we’d only have a few hours to explore before continuing to Split to meet our AirBnB host. So, doing a little research, we settled on the Lozovac Entrance, the main gateway to the park and ideal start for a hike to some of the most beautiful views in the Krka area.
The landscape on the approach to Lozovac can be quite deceiving. Winding through dry, rolling hills, we struggled to link these surroundings with Krka’s jungle-like foliage and tumbling waters we’d seen in pictures. This impression would change shortly.
We parked outside the Lozovac visitors entrance, bought day passes, and got our bearings. From the entrance in the high ground, you have one of two options. Hop on a shuttle bus down a series of switchbacks, or hike down a gravel path. We chose the latter, hoping it would give us a better opportunity to take in the views. It did.
As you begin the descent to the Krka River, this dry, highland terrain quickly changes. Looking down into the deep gorge, you can see the sporadic shrubs and pines transition to seemingly impenetrable green canopies, with only turquoise rivers, lakes, and waterfalls cutting through this dense vegetation.
A Footpath through the Krka Waterfalls
National parks face a tough balance. On one hand, you have the mandate of protecting the environment. On the other hand, parks exist to showcase nature’s beauty to visitors. Going back to the Yellowstone reference, picture miles-long traffic jams as carbound tourists take pictures of bison. This isn’t good for anyone’s mental health, and all those cars can’t be a net positive to the park ecosystem.
Fortunately, Krka has found an outstanding balance between these dual mandates. Excluding the shuttle ferrying people up and down from the visitors center, no cars are allowed within the park. Instead, to see the Krka Waterfalls, people stroll along an elevated wooden footpath criss-crossing under these towering trees, over the river and its smaller cascades, and around Skradinski Buk, the park’s largest waterfall.
Walking along these wooden planks, with the water rolling beneath your feet, you feel absolutely immersed in the Krka environment.
And, continuing the idea of preservation, the park has embraced its human history, as well. Rather than build new restaurants and shops - economically critical to any park’s success - Krka renovated the old mill village created hundreds of years ago. Now, you can grab a beer or coffee in a beautifully refurbished stone house, head out to a terrace overlooking an old mill shoot, and absorb the unbelievable surroundings.
A Frigid Krka Dip
After wrapping up the lower loop, Chipp was dead-set on a swim. To protect the delicate travertine, visitors aren’t allowed to swim in most of Krka. But, miles upstream from the Lozovac entrance, the river widens just under the Roški Slap, or waterfall. There’s a little beach beneath those falls where you can relax in the shade and, if so inclined, take a dip.
Of note, with more time, we would’ve taken the four-hour, electric ferry trip upriver from Skradinski Buk (where we’d hiked) to Roški Slap (our swimming destination). But, on a tight timeline, we had to drive. And, to start the drive, we had to actually get back to our car. Being at the bottom of a gorge, this meant a steep ascent and a sharp reminder of our (or at least Chipp’s) poor fitness!
With a sweat worked up, we headed out. As the crow flies, Lazovac is maybe 15 kilometers from Roški Slap. Driving, the terrain forces you on a more circuitous, 30ish-kilometer ride down the gorge, across the river, up out of the gorge, then back down and across the river one more time. Worth it for the scenic views, but we stand by our plan to try the ferry option on our next visit.
By the time we reached Roški Slap, any lingering sweat from our hike had been replaced by an AC-induced chill - not exactly ideal for a swim. Chipp’s pride being what it is, he went full “dad mode,” insisting on a dip with a we-drove-all-the-way-here-and-will-damn-well-enjoy-it attitude.
While Jenna enjoyed the fresh air and a cool spot in the shade, Chipp jumped in, convincing himself that the frigid Krka waters were just what we wanted!