Paklenica, situated just outside of the quaint, seaside village of Starigrad and nestled in Croatia’s picturesque Velebit Mountain range, is one of Europe’s best kept secrets.
Its limestone cliffs offer a wide variety of climbs at all difficulty levels with routes ranging from 40-foot single pitch sport climbs to 1,200-foot well-bolted multi-pitch routes. The majority of single pitch climbs are located a quick 10 or 15-minute walk from the main parking area over flat, well-maintained paths, while the longest approaches to some multi-pitch climbs hardly reach an hour in duration.
Park entrance is affordable and costs between $3 and $8 USD per day, depending on the type of pass you purchase (1, 3, or 5-day entry) and the current exchange rate.
In the main sector, Klanci or often referred to as “The Canyon,” one will find a relaxed and friendly atmosphere among climbers and tourists. In peak seasons, you’ll find crowds from all over Europe and the world enjoying their holiday. Here in Klanci, you’ll also find a gift shop and restrooms built right into the climbing walls so you’re never too far from snacks or a toilet when nature calls. There’s even a route that goes right over top of the gift shop, though you can’t climb it until later in the evening when the gift shop closes. Guidebooks can also be found inside the gift shop if you want to save on shipping.
Specific description of climbing style
Paklenica’s biggest attraction is its long, well-bolted multi-pitch routes, but single pitch sport is also plentiful.
You can get nearly every style of route throughout the park, ranging from technical slab or face to roof climbs and everything in between. The moderate routes in the Klanci can suffer from a little polish from the high amounts of traffic they encounter each year, but they are fun nevertheless. Once you get to 5.10+ or higher the polish becomes less of an issue.
The multi-pitch climbs are all well-bolted and usually don’t require any supplemental trad gear. A rack of 12 to 15 quickdraws should suffice and a 60m rope should be all you need as only a few climbs in the whole park would require two rope rappels or a 70m. The longest routes on Anića Kuk have a walk-off that takes about 30 to 40 minutes over relatively easy terrain to reach the main park trail from the summit and the path is well marked with red and white circles.
The spring and fall offer the best temperatures for climbing, though you can easily climb in the summer as well. Highs in the summer average between high 80s to mid 90s, but you can chase shade in the park and/or take a dip in the sea during peak temperature hours.
Rain in all three seasons is sparse so you’re unlikely to be completely rained out, but be sure to check the wind forecasts, especially if camping. Bura, the strong northeastern winds, blows through on occasion and can snap tent polls with ease! She only lasts for a day or two and then conditions become calm again, but not without damaging at least one or two tents belonging to unsuspecting folks or those who underestimate her power!
Also, bugs are wonderfully absent! You may encounter some mosquitoes but they aren’t a big problem. The main poisonous creature to watch out for are Croatian vipers. Spottings are rare but definitely not unheard of and they like to hang out in trees.
Climbing grade range
Grades range from 5.5 to mid 5.13 with only a few 5.13+s and only one 5.14a. The largest concentration lies between 5.10 and 5.11 with a few sectors specializing in the 5.11+ to 5.12/5.13 range.
- 5.5 to 5.9 – 25%
- 5.10 – 40%
- 5.11 to 5.12 – 30%
- 5.13+ – 5%
The routes can be on the stiff side when compared to other climbing areas in Europe, especially Spain. It is recommended to climb a grade or two below your onsight level to get a feel of difficulty and go from there.
Top climbs in the area
Centralni Kamin (5a/5.8): An excellent 6-pitch route ascending the Veliki Ćuk rock face. Enjoy moderate 5.7 to 5.8 climbing on interesting features and a nice view at the top.
Slovenski (PIPS) (6a/5.10b): This is a classic line on the Debeli Kuk rock face and holding what some may call one of the more sandbagged pitches in the park so be en garde. Enjoy great stemming, face, and a touch of crack climbing on this joyfully varied climb. Keep left between the 3rd and 4th pitches, don’t get distracted by the shiny bolts leading right. You may get on an 11c instead of the 10c you were expecting! Debeli Kuk also faces the main canyon area overlooking much of the single pitch climbs in the Klanci sector. Perhaps you will hear some cheers from your friends as they watch you ascend!
Velebitaski (6a+/5.10c): An ultra-classic line on the famous Anića Kuk rock face. It goes right up the center of the wall and climbs to a cave-like feature on the iconic Klin, a dramatic protruding wedge-shaped feature. It has 11 pitches and is estimated to be about 1,100 feet of climbing. The majority of this climb ranges from 5.7 to 5.8 with a couple pitches of 5.9 and a pitch offering up a 10c crux. The views from every point on this route are spectacular as you can look deeper into the Velebit mountains. The route is well-bolted but you must be vigilant as there are several intersecting routes that can lead you astray, getting you into something a little more difficult than you expected.
Water Song (6a+/5.10c): A classic line on the Veliki Ćuk rock face, this 6-pitch, 500-foot route is primarily 5.10a climbing with a pitch of excellent 5.10c movement. Did you know you can stem on a face climb? The features that give Water Song its name will have you smiling as you ascend with interesting techniques you have likely never used before. If 5.10c isn’t your cup of tea, there is a 5.7 variation to skip the hardest pitch.
Brid Klina (7c-/5.12d) A hard testpiece route on the Anića Kuk rock face and probably one of the most obvious lines on the wall. You climb right on the outside edge of Klin for nearly its full length. This once aid route is now bolted and will provide you with some exciting, airy climbing high up on the wall.
H.S.V. (5a/5.8): This route and the several nearby provide a concentration of easy to moderate routes good for warm-ups and beginners. Tread cautiously though, these are some of the most popular routes in the park and suffer from a good amount of polish.
Kanjon Special (6a/5.10b): An exciting and spicy climb in the Klanci sector. The years of traffic have made this a bit slippery but it just adds to the fun. Make sure you have your feet set well because a slip up could send you flying with some mild run outs compared to neighboring climbs!
Flash Back (6c/5.11b): Technical face climbing at its best. Climb wonderful, crimpy cruxes to find excellent rests between and battle pump to finish out this tall, nearly 80-foot climb.
Timon (7a/5.11d): This route offers up delicate feet and fun, thuggish throws to good holds. If you should get hit with a rainstorm during your stay, Crljenica, where Timon is located, is often well-sheltered allowing you to get at least a few climbs in. However, on sunny days this can be a very sweaty spot as it gets full sun most of the day.
Kad Legenda Umire (7c/5.12d): A fantastic route with a little tufa climbing to start, leading to fun overhung face climbing. The movement on this route is exceedingly fun and will have you trying again and again as you project it!
Aglaia (8a+/5.13c/d): This route is on you from the start with a hard, technical face on thin holds into a small roof section leading to some technical, overhung face climbing.
Bonus: Be sure to check out the Hram sector as well. It’s a very cool archway feature with several good 5.12 to 5.13 climbs on it. If you don’t climb that hard, go take a look anyway then head over to the Olimp sector, which is just a little bit further up and offers some really great 5.10s on crispy, sharp rock.
Best local spots
Restoran Dinko is the climber’s hangout. In the restaurant you’ll find a hanging museum of old climbing gear and guidebooks are available to look through upon request. Be sure to stop by for a coffee in the morning, maybe a bite to eat for lunch, or maybe a few pivas (beers) in the evening. Dinko’s is also conveniently located at the end of the park entrance road and walking distance from the three best spots for camping: Camp Vesna, Camp Marko, and Camp Anića Kuk. If you stop by for dinner, get the fish! It’s some of the best fish you’ll have and definitely the best in town. It comes out as a whole fish and you can either choose to clean the bones out yourself or Dinko himself will do it for you at the table!
Starigrad has many other restaurants to offer, many serving up both Croatian and Italian classics. Restoran Ante is probably the best for meat if that’s what you’re craving for dinner, however it can be a bit pricey.
If you’d like to participate in a little nightlife, there are several bars to choose from near the village center and a couple seaside bars that offer a nice relaxed atmosphere.
If you’re getting groceries, check out Encian Market. Turn right after leaving the park to head towards Starigrad center. It is on the left hand side just after the gas station with “MARKET” written on the side. It is locally-owned compared to the national chain Konzum, which is just down the street.
Each of the camps are walking distance from the sea. Most of the coast is public so after a hard day of climbing or on a rest day, head down for a splash to cool off and to watch the sunset.
Where to stay
There are numerous rooms for rent in the village of Starigrad but I would recommend choosing to camp. It can be cheaper at $6 to $8 per night per person instead of the $30+ for a room during peak seasons. Located directly on the road leading into the park are three excellent camps to choose from: Camp Vesna, Camp Marko, and Camp Anića Kuk.
Camp Vesna and Camp Marko offer excellent shade and good protection from the Bura winds with concrete walls in strategic locations.
Camp Anića Kuk offers less shade and protection from Bura but they have a larger kitchen shelter offering more room to share with others, bigger tables, a two-burner stove, sink, pots, pans, plates, bowls, forks, knives, refrigerators, shelves, pretty much everything you need to make a nice meal. Camp Vesna and Camp Marko offer these, just in smaller quantities and tighter spaces. All three provide clean bathrooms and shower facilities.
If staying at Camp Anića Kuk and the Bura winds come through, it is recommended to put your tent down and bring your sleeping bag into the kitchen shelter to sleep for the night. You’ll sleep much better without the tent slapping you in the face and won’t risk snapping a pole!
At all three of the recommended camps you cannot reserve in advance, but even during peak season you are very unlikely to not find a spot at one of them. If this extremely rare circumstance happens, there are several other camps in the Starigrad area to choose from and you will most definitely find a spot to pitch your tent.
Best kept secret
The best kept secret is actually outside of the park. If you climb 5.12 or harder, go to Dinko’s in the evening and ask about Vranjača (vran ya cha). It is about a 40-minute car ride outside of the park but offers the most excellent of big cave climbing. It is really a special experience to climb here, hiking 30 minutes uphill into the middle of nowhere to find an airplane hanger sized cave. Routes range from (6c/5.11b) and higher.
Parking: 44.227012, 15.784545
From the parking area, cross the road onto the gravel/dirt road. From here follow the dirt road and rock cairns.
If you are on a rest day and would like to do some hiking, head down to Seline (SAY lee neh) to the alternate park entrance to Mala Paklenica. Though it has lots of exposed rock, this section of the park is under protection and climbing is prohibited. It does, however, offer some very nice hiking and spectacular scenery.
Zagreb and Split are the two closest cities with airports and Starigrad is accessible by bus from both if renting a car is not an option. It shouldn’t cost more than $25 one-way per person. Having a car in Starigrad could prove convenient, though not necessary, as everything is in walking distance, including restaurants, a grocery store, pharmacy, post office, bank, and the park itself. After checking in at the park entrance gate, if on foot, I would recommend popping a thumb out to hitch a ride to the main parking, as this can save a 30 to 40-minute walk.
Croatians are excellent English speakers so you shouldn’t run have much difficulty communicating. However, here are some key polite phrases in Croatian. They do very much appreciate tourists using their language!
Please – Molim (mow leem)
Thank you – Hvala (fah lah)
Good morning – Dobro jutro (doe bro you troh)
Good day – Dobrar dan (doe brar dahn)
Good evening – Dobra večer (Doe bro veh chaird)
Good bye – Doviđenja (dove ee jane yah)
Beer – Pivo (pea voh)
Paklenica (PAHK lay neat suh)
Anića Kuk (Ah knee cha kook)
Veliki Ćuk – (Vel licky chook)
Now to you
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