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Paklenica National Park is one of the eight national parks in Croatia, located 45 km away from the city of Zadar, in the historical region of Dalmatia. Lying to the south of the Velebit Mountain ―the largest mountain range in the country― and only a few steps away from the Adriatic Sea, Paklenica is often hailed as ‘the last European wilderness’.
But this region not only allures natural-scientists attracted by its rare and endemic flora and fauna; Paklenica is also one of the finest rock climbing areas in the world and has been generating some serious buzz in the last years among those seeking less-traveled climbing destinations in the Old Continent.
With more than 500 climbing routes, Paklenica caters for all types of climbers, from beginners enjoying their first experience to the most seasoned climbers in multi-pitch or trad-climbing routes.
Danijela, a certified guide from the Croatian Mountain Guide Association (CMGA) and International Mountain Leader (UIMLA), is our local expert to tour us around this amazing rock climbing playground. She grew up at the base of Velebit and likes to call Paklenica her home: ‘this mountain represents a lot of things to me, it’s my way of life, my main driver for everything I do’. One of her favorite things is being able to enjoy the mountains and the sea at the same place.
‘This is a mythical mountain, because it’s at the edge, at the border between Continental Croatia and Mediterranean Croatia. It has its own microclimate, that’s why you have really rich wilderness’, she explains.
Inside Paklenica, the most important sites are two imposing gorges: Velika Paklenica and Mala Paklenica. Only the first one allows rock climbing.
‘The very entrance to the park, where harsh mountains cliff almost menacingly over the visitors, makes it immediately clear that we are at the biggest, most famous and most beautiful climbing site in Croatia’, says Danijela.
Based on her experience, here are the three main reasons that make Paklenica a must for rock climbers worldwide:
Once you park your car inside the national park, right where the road ends, you’ll find climbing sites of fantastic limestone rock to the right and to the left side. The first route is only 5 meters from the parking lot: it just can’t get any better! Anika Kuk is the most famous wall in Paklenica and it’s located at a 30-minute hike from the parking lot. There are also some multi-pitch routes at a 1-hour distance, being that the longest approach.
‘The rock is mainly limestone of karstic origin, which is solid, although sometimes quite sharp, but perfect for rock climbing, with good holds’, she explains. In Paklenica, you can find routes for different types of rock climbing, from short single-pitch sport routes, to trad-climbing & multi-pitch climbing.
‘Almost 80% of the routes in Paklenica are intermediate and demanding routes. The rest 20% of the routes are those for beginners’, she says.
The greatest number of short sport climbing routes lie in the narrowest part of the Velika Paklenica Gorge, known as Klanac. Here, ‘most of the slabs are vertical or slightly oblique with small sharp handholds, mainly flakes’, says Danijela. With very easy access, this section is even suitable for children.
‘Recently in Paklenica, there have been developed some sections with oblique, athletic routes on the reddish rock face covered with stalactites. Some of them, like Crljenica and Tarajlije, are also suitable for climbing in the winter period’, she adds.
Some of the most attractive routes can be found in Kukovi ispod Vlake, Debeli Kuk, Kuk od Skradelin and Ćuk. But the most famous mountain in Paklenica is definitely Anića Kuk, boasting a 350 m vertical wall. According to Danijela, ‘there we can find routes of different characteristics: ranging from the ones with no in situ gear on the routes, aided routes to modern long sports climbing routes’.
The gorge is located in such way that you can find a good place for climbing at each time of the day. During the morning, you can climb on both sides of the gorge; by noon, you can climb the right side and afterwards, the left side.
Besides, during the summer months, you can find many places to climb in shade!
Well, that depends on your previous experience and your goals:
BONUS: If you’d like to spend a full day in the outdoors, you should take this multi-sport day in Paklenica, that will take you both rock climbing and hiking.
You can climb in Paklenica National Park from April to mid-November. However, you’ll find the most reliable conditions up to the end of October, as November may be rather unstable.
The summer months (July and August) can get really hot in Paklenica. Luckily, the Velika Paklenica gorge has many places where you can climb in shade.
During winter, the winds are very strong and climbing is not so popular. However, there are two spots where you still can climb: Crljenica and Tarajlije. ‘These walls are exposed to the sun, so when there’s a sunny day many climbers go there to train, it’s beautiful’, says Danijela.
The entrance fee to Paklenica National Park is 5 to 8 EUR. Also, 3-day and 5-day tickets are offered to climbers and they can be used within 30 days. The same types of tickets are available for children.
The price of guided trips depend on several factors, like the size of the group (guides usually offer discounts for large groups), the level of difficulty and the length of the trip.
For a group of 2 or more, a half-day of guided rock climbing can cost around 35 to 50 EUR per person (depending on the trip level), while a full-day guided trip can be around 100 EUR.
Paklenica is 45 km away from the city of Zadar. The nearest town to the park is Starigrad Paklenica.
There are a few family hotels near Paklenica National Park, but the most common option for accommodation are private rooms and apartments in Starigrad Paklenica.
Inside the National Park, there’s a camping site by the coast and three mountain huts.
With a more than privileged locatation between the Velebit Mountain and the Adriatic Sea, Paklenica allows to combine mountain adventures with aquatic activities: ‘there’s only 1km between the mountains and the sea’ ―says Danijela. ‘People usually come down to the beach after a day of activity rock climbing or hiking. You can do scuba-diving, sea-kayaking, private boat riding…’.
Hiking is also very popular in Paklenica National Park. The spectacular gorge surrounded by harsh mountain cliffs, black pine and beech forests make for the perfect scenery for a hiking trip. Options range from short day hikes to multi-day adventures. Manita Cave, an underground paradise of stalactites and stalagmites, is definitely a must-see!
Paklenica is all about families, nature lovers and sport people, so don’t expect a busy nightlife. If you feel in the mood for partying, you should not miss Zrece Beach on the Island of Peg, at only 1 hour from Paklenica. Known as ‘the Croatian Ibiza’, it is considered one of the top party destinations in Europe.
Paklenica awaits with an outstanding combination of a beautiful natural scenery, exciting mountain adventures and a coastal atmosphere. Are you ready to discover one of Europe’s best-kept secrets?
Check out all the options for rock climbing in Paklenica and get ready for an incredible experience!
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