Much of the landscape inland from Šibenik is shaped by the Krka, the 72.5km-long river that rises in the arid karst near Knin before flowing towards the Adriatic via a spectacular series of rugged canyons, azure lakes and tumbling waterfalls. The valley’s most dramatic stretches, between Skradin and 3.5km downstream of Knin, fall under the protection of the Krka National Park (Nacionalni park Krka), which is visited by an average of one million people a year.
About 90% of these visitors never get any further than Skradinski buk (the most dramatic of seven sets of rapids within the park), whose foaming waters are reproduced on the cover of many a tourist brochure. However there is much more to the Krka than Skradinski buk, especially in the upper (northern) reaches of the park, where visitor facilities and trekking routes are recently being developed. Fauna in the park includes roe deer, wild boar, and the more elusive wolves and badgers. The rocky sides of the valley play host to various communities of bats, who play an important role in eating mosquitoes and other irritating waterside insects. It’s also an area rich in historical resonances, with ruins of fortresses recalling the region’s erstwhile status as a disputed borderland between warring empires, and waterside monasteries providing evidence of a rich spiritual culture.
Visiting the park
There are five main entrance points to the park. The first is the town of Skradin (Open 08:00 - 18:00 July, August Open 08:00 - 20:00) where the National Park Information Centre sells tickets, provides brochures, and contains an educative audio-visual display detailing the flora and fauna of the park. There is also a boat service (hourly in season) from Skradin to Skradinski buk. The second is Lozovac (Open 08:00 - 18:00 July, August Open 08:00 - 20:00), on the plateau above the Krka, from where you can descend to Skradinski buk either on foot (20min) or via shuttle bus. The third is Roški slap (June - August Open 09:00 - 20:00), although the road is narrow and there is not much parking space. The fourth is at Burnum (Open 10:00 - 18:00 July, August Open 09:00 -20:00) on the road from Kistanje towards Knin and the last one is Kistanje (Open 10:00 - 18:00 July, August Open 10:00 - 20:00). (During the other months please check the Park’s Web site or give them a call to check opening hours.) Daily tickets (June 110/80kn, July and August 200/120kn) and three-visit tickets (June 230/180kn, July and August 320/200kn) that includes three visits to the Park within a one week period from the date of purchase and can be bought at Skradin branch office or at the entrance points described above. The ticket price includes rides on the national park’s shuttle boats from Skradin to Skradinski buk, but does not include travel on excursion boats heading further north into the park – these must be paid for separately.
Most popular part of the park is Skradinski buk, where the Krka flows over a series of waterfalls and rapids formed by the gradual build up of dam-like barriers of travertine, the limestone sediment that settles on branches, grasses and moss to form a solid substance. This is very much an ongoing process, with Skradinski buk’s travertine barriers growing and changing shape at a rate of 1-2mm per year. The travertine at Skradinski buk has created 17 principal falls, each of which is made up of multiple cataracts. The place gets its name from the Croatian word buka (“racket”), a reference to the noise generated by the water rushing over the rapids. Skradinski buk was once a milling settlement at which the rushing waters of the Krka were harnessed to power a variety of machines. Some of the stone mill buildings have been restored, and visitors can see working examples of flour and fulling mills, alongside displays of traditional costumes and agricultural implements.
Just below the mills is the Imperial Belvedere (Carski vidikovac), a small balustrade lookout point built for visiting Habsburg monarch Franz Joseph I in 1875.
A little further downstream are the ruins of Jaruga 1, the hydroelectric power station built by Šibenik mayor Ante Šupuk and brother Marko Šupuk in 1895. It was the second AC-generating hydroelectric project in the world, the Forbes dam on the Niagara Falls having been completed just months previously. The Šupuks formed a private company in order to build and manage the power station, the first of its kind in Dalmatia. When Šupuk died in 1904, the whole of Šibenik’s electric lighting was switched off in his honour. Immediately downstream from Jaruga 1 is a wooden bridge that crosses a wide pool of river water right below the biggest of Skradinski buk’s waterfalls. This broad stretch of shallow water is Skradinski buk where you are allowed to swim, although a barrier of plastic buoys prevents bathers from getting right up close to the waterfall itself. On the other side of the river is a network of trails leading up and down the hillside beside many of Skradin’s tumbling streams, many on raised wooden boardwalks built on stilts to keep your feet dry during bouts of seasonal flooding.
Hovering above the river Čikola, which flows into the Krka just upstream from Skradinski Buk, Ključica Fortress is part of the fortification system developed by the medieval Nelipić family, who controlled the trade routes between Šibenik and Bosnia and levied duty on goods transported in both directions. The Nelipić clan’s tight grip on commerce was much resented by others in the region, and Ključica was sacked by forces from Šibenik in the mid-14th century. Subsequently occupied by the Ottomans, it fell into disuse when they were driven out by the Venetians in 1684.
Boat trips from Skradinski buk head up the river into the so-called Visovac Lake, a stretch of the Krka which measures 800m from shore to shore at its widest points. Grey-green hills rise steeply on either side. Main destination for the excursion boats is Visovac Monastery, picturesquely located on an island 7km upstream from Skradinski buk. A Franciscan foundation has existed on this site since at least the 14th century, although the church we see today was built in 1576. Long a centre of Catholic Christianity in the region, it nowadays holds a seminary, as well as being the site of a much-visited church. A decree issued by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet IV, returning Visovac to the Franciscans in 1674, is held in the monastery treasury. Upstream from Visovac, the ruins of Kamičak fortress can be seen on the cliffs above the eastern shore. Again built by the Nelipić family in the 13th century, it was demolished by the conquering Ottomans after 1522.
Excursion boats continue from Visovac to Roški slap 5km north, a barrier of foaming waterfalls and cataracts that marks the northern end of Visovac lake. Roški slap is also accessible by car from the west (via minor roads from Đevrske) or the east (via minor roads from Pakovo Selo), although parking space is limited when you get there. As at Skradinski buk, there is a restored millers’ settlement beside the river, with displays of milling and weaving techniques inside.
Krka Monastery and beyond
Located on the western bank of the Krka about 10km north of Roški slap (and accessible via minor road from Kistanje), the Monastery of the Archangel Michael is arguably the best known of Croatia’s handful of Orthodox monasteries. It was founded in 1345 thanks to an endowment by Princess Jelena, a sister of the Serbian Tsar Dušan who married a Croatian prince of the Šubić family. Famous for its Romanesque bell tower and arcaded cloister, the monastery is also known for its early-Christian catacombs – although they are not always open to visitors.
Roughly opposite the monastery is another of the Nelipić cliff-top fortresses, Bogočin.
North of the monastery lies the most dramatic stretch of the river, a narrow winding canyon with sheer sides. Perched on cliffs on either side of the canyon are two of the park’s most dramatic fortresses, Nečven to the east, and Trošenj immediately opposite to the west. Trošenj once served as the power base of the Croatian Šubić family, although the Ottomans subsequently turned it into a gaol. It was notorious as a place of execution - throwing offenders from high windows being the favoured form of capital punishment.
Just outside the park’s western boundary, the road from Kistanje to Knin forges across maquis-covered karst, passing the site of Burnum, the 1st-century Roman legionary camp that subsequently developed into a civilian settlement. On the western side of the road lie the remains of an amphitheatre, while further up to the east are the remaining two arches of the former military command post. An educational hiking trail goes from Burnum to the Manojlovac viewpoint.
Puljane Eco Campus
Two kilometres north of Burnum, a turn-off to the east twists its way down into the canyon of the Krka, crossing the river at Brljansko lake and climbing up onto the plateau on the opposite side. A signed exit leads to an Archeological display devoted to finds from nearby Burnum opened in 2010. There is also a look-out point affording fine views of the canyon.