I would spend summer after summer with my grandparents, in Croatia. However, we never ventured any further than southern Dalmatia. When I first met Mark, we discovered our passion for hiking and the outdoors. Together, we set ourselves a goal is to visit a different Croatian nature park every year.
About the park:
Paklenica is the largest and best preserved national park in Croatia. It was granted national park status in 1949.
The park stretches south of Velebit mountain and has some strong torrent flows, which have carved out the famous canyons: Mala (Small) and Velika (Big) Paklenica, 12km and 14km respectively. The highest peak of Paklenica is Vaganski Vrh at a height of 1757m.
We stayed in the nearby town of Starigrad, second stop after our trip to Plitvice Lakes. I was a little bit worried, how the toddler would cope, as hiking in Paklenica was very different than walking around Plitvice Lakes.
For once, there weren’t any busses or boat rides. This was the real deal. The park has around 400 marked climbing trails and 175km of hiking trails. This meant a good few hours of hiking.
When researching our day out, I found out that hiking was the only way to really get around the park. Also, there are 2 fresh water springs along the main path for visitors to top up their water bottles. You can find out more information about Paklenica National Park here.
We saw quite a few donkeys knocking about that day. The locals use donkeys to get supplies up or down to the handful of restaurants and cafes that were dotted around the mountains. Turns out, hiking was the only way up or down. The owner of the Mountain Hut, where we sat down for lunch, told us that they keep an inventory of stock and once a month or so, they hike down on foot to purchase supplies.
There are lots of different hiking trails in Paklenica national park, with high peaks, stunning views and lush green forests. Some of them leading to caves, cottages or huts. We picked a trail and stopped for lunch at the Mountain hut. The first part of our hike involved a lot of uphill hiking. And, I was glad to wear my ‘good’ grippy trainers. There were big rocks all along the trail – definitely not appropriate for flip flops or sandals, like other more commercial national parks.
Our hiking experience:
Even though we set off early-ish to avoid the burning mid day sun, it was quite a hot day and both of us were quite sweaty towards the end of our hike. Luckily, we were able to top up our water supplies at the local springs. I think at one point I poured cold water all over my neck, just to cool down.
After the initial climb, the trail led us through thick green forrest, along the river. If we didn’t have the toddler in the back pack, I would have probably suggested to jump into the stream. But to keep her safe, we figured it was probably for the best to stick to the suggested path.
As we neared the mountain hut, the trail was slowly but surely getting steeper and steeper with many loose rocks along the way. We arrived at the mountain hut, a beautifully painted little house surrounded by flowers and pots of locally grown herbs. At this point, hiking with our little toddler has taken a toll on both of us and we decided to take a rest, have some lunch and then go back. It’s important to know your limits, especially since there wasn’t much out there and the sun was at it’s hottest point.
We basked in the stunning mountain view and ordered some lunch. There was only 1 dish on the menu and maybe 3 or 4 bottled drink options. This really makes you realise how closed off from the town this place really was. The mountain hut is operated by the Paklenica Mountaineering Association. Dalibor, the landlord his girlfriend were looking after it and welcomed us with a big smile. They had cooked up a delicious sausage and bean stew for all the hungry ramblers who stopped here. We ordered 3 stews between the 3 of us and some juice.
Lila was so happy that she was finally free form the hiking backpack and showed off her new freedom by running around the hut. She explored the beautiful flowers, herbs and played with the water buckets that were next to the flowers. Funny story about the water buckets. In the oldern days, when there wasn’t any warm water, people would fill up some big water buckets and leave them out in the sun all day. In the evening, that water would be nice and warm for them to have a bath. In fact, I’ve noticed that many grandparents take big empty plastic bottles to the beach, when they take their grandkids. They fill up the bottles with water and leave it in the sun. When it’s time to go home, the grandkids can quickly rinse the sand and saltwater off. Beach showers are usually freezing cold.
We enjoyed a nice long lunch break, and after that we packed up and hiked back to the entrance. Paklenica national park didn’t disappoint. Stunning views, and gorgeous scenery, as far as the eye can see. By the time we got down, we were ready for an ice cream.
We passed a cute little cafe near the park entrance where we sat down. It’s located between the entrance and the steep climbing wall. So, we could observe people climbing, before we made our way back to the car. Truly, a day well spent!
Here are my tips how to get ready for a big hike with a toddler:
- Start your hike early to avoid mid day sun, especially as you climb higher up. Read here how we protect ourselves in the sun.
- There are fresh water springs along the trail, so take water bottles, or even better a camelbak. Our little toddler loves chewing on the camel back during a hike to keep her entertained.
- wear good walking shoes. or grippy trainers, the trail is not for the faint hearted
- Plan nappy / toilet breaks: There are toilets at the bottom, the cafe mid way and the mountain hut a bit further up. Nothing in between. Make sure to bring extra nappy bags and wipes as you will have to take any dirty nappies or sanitary products down with you.
- Apply plenty of sun creme and keep topping up regularly.
- Dress your little one adequately to protect them from the sun, and to keep them cool.
- If you take your little one in a hiking back pack, invest in a sun shade.
- Pack plenty of snacks for you and for the little one.
- Have a local meal ( when in Rome! ) and let your toddler experience local food. Even though Lila wasn’t too keen on the beans, she enjoyed some pieces of sausage and carrots.
Have you been hiking with your toddler? Comment below, or take it to Twitter@fabulousmummy1!