The magnificent Velebit is the largest mountain in Croatia. Looking from the Adriatic sea, it is an impressive sight – dangerous, naked and seductive. Behind that inhospitable “facade”, when approaching from the land, is an exquisite world of differences – white cliffs, green meadows and forests, turquoise water and dark caves. If you want to explore Velebit, its exquisite flora and fauna, we are highly recommending you do it. But, go prepared and approach it with the utmost respect.
Velebit is the largest mountain in Croatia with over 145 kilometres in length and 30 kilometres in width. It is a part of Dinarides mountain chain and follows the Adriatic coast from Senj on the North to Zrmanja river on the South. The highest peak is Vaganski vrh (1757 m). The part seen from the sea is mostly barren karst, and the much greener part is the slope stretching in Lika county, mostly forest. The mountain is a natural border between Lika and the sea. The modern crossing is made in 2003 with tunnel Sveti Rok on the highway A1. Before that, the only two traffic connections were Vratnik saddle, Oštarijska vrata between Gospić and Karlobag, and Prezid between Gračac and Obrovac. Old scenic road Jadranska magistrala follows Velebit along the coast, from northern to the southern part of the Adriatic sea.
Velebit is a protected nature park with smaller, even more, protected, areas and two national parks: Northern Velebit national park (hr. Sjeverni Velebit nacionalni park) situated on the north, in Lika county; and Paklenica national park on the south, in Dalmatia. The entire mountain is under UNESCO protection as a World Biosphere Reserve since 1977. Besides widely known limestone karst and mostly beech, fir and pine forests, Velebit has over 1850 floral species and 79 of them are endemic. The most recognizable is the small yellow flower velebitska degenija (lat. degenia velebitica).
The area is a habitat of larger animals like brown bears, wolves and lynx, and in some areas, like around Zavižan mountain lodge, you can enjoy a view on wild horses roaming free on surrounding meadow slopes. If you are visiting Velebit in Spring or Summer and hiking, be aware that you could encounter a mama bear with cubs and highly venomous nose-horned viper so, be careful and watch your step.
What to see
The diversity of experiences that Velebit offers makes it a perfect destination for all outdoorsy types. If you like hiking, Velebit has a large net of hiking trails and more than 70 peaks offering a view from above. The most known 57 kilometres long Premužić trail, built from 1930 to 1933, and named after the builder Ante Premužić. It connects North and Central Velebit, from Zavižan to Baške Oštarije. Since 2009, it is a protected Croatian cultural heritage.
If you are more into speleology, Northern Velebit is an area with more than 500 explored caves and pits! The most famous is Lukina Jama – Trojama cave system situated in Hajdučki kukovi. It is the deepest known pit in the wider area, and probably in the world, that goes impressive -1,431 meters deep. Cerovačke špilje are more tourist-friendly, with 7 kilometres of explored passages and the first 700 meters open to the public. Here you can see the traces of extinct large cave bears.
Another protected landscape is Zavratnica cove. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was a summer resort for the elite. Today, you can enjoy a beautiful view by following their steps on walking path by the sea.
If you are planning to visit any part of the Velebit mountain, you won’t be disappointed. Just be sure not to underestimate it because the karst and sun can be a quite dangerous combination. Follow the marked paths and make sure you have the right equipment and are overall well prepared.