Nature Park Velebit is the largest and the most complex protected area in the Republic of Croatia. It covers an area of 2200 km2. It stretches from the mountain pass Vratnik in the northwest to canyon Zrmanje in the southeast, in the length of 145 km. On the western side it is bordered by the Adriatic Sea, and on the mainland side it is surrounded by Gacko, Lika and Gračačko polje (field) with rivers Gacka, Lika and Otuča.
Velebit, in terms of relief and vegetation the most important Croatian mountain, because of its natural value and importance for the conservation of biological diversity, in 1978 was included in the network of international UNESCO biosphere reserve. Nearly the whole Velebit, of the area of 200,000 hectares, was declared three years later, in 1981, the Nature Park. Within the boundaries of the Park there are also two national parks, the National Park Paklenica and Northern Velebit National Park.
Velebit is one of the most attractive karst complexes in the world – the Dinaric karst. The area is characterized by the immense wealth of karst formations: with karrens, sinkholes, vertical solitary rocks, there is a great number of speleological objects – caverns and caves. Velebit Mountain, as the most striking orographic obstacles along the Adriatic coast in Croatia, is crucial in the formation of weather and climate conditions of the Croatian coast and of the continental hinterland. Velebit is therefore a major dividing line between the Mediterranean and continental climate, making the weather on it very variable and unstable with frequent extremes. The positions of Velebit and special geological, geomorphologic and hydrological conditions have influenced the development of a very rich and diverse wildlife. Abundant forests picturesquely alternate with meadows and typical vegetation of rocks and gullies, and flora is rich in diverse and numerous plant species from the sub-Mediterranean to the high mountain flora elements. Also, in the area of Velebit there is a large proportion of rare, protected and endemic plants as well. Among the endemic species the famous Velebit degenia (Degenia velebitica) stands out, and among the tertiary relics the Croatian Sibbirhaea (Sibiraea croatica). In the Nature Park numerous animals live as well, among which many of them are rare and endangered species (example: long-fingered bat, wood grouse).
Rich cultural heritage which is reflected in the numerous ruins of the cattle huts, the so called “apartments”, dry stone walls, historic roads (Josephine, Maria Theresa and the Karolinska) bears witness to the life of many past centuries and active living on Velebit. Today they bear witness to the customs and ways to adapt to the harsh living conditions of the population on this, at the same time cruel and mysterious, beautiful mountain. These roads are now transformed into educational trails and represent the best way to discover the natural and cultural-historical value of the Park:
• “Terezijana”, built in 1786, connecting Karlobag with Gospić,
• “Kudin most”, where the magnificent waterfalls and travertine cascades of Krupa can be seen. The bridge is also the oldest preserved crossing over the river Krupa,
• “Starigrad Senjski – Donja Klada”, traced back in 1847, leads the visitors into a number of beautiful Adriatic bays.
Velebit has always been a favourite hiking destination. Hikers are attracted to the diversity of natural beauties, vistas of the sea, richness of karst forms, contrasting coastal and continental slope, the unity of land and sea, botanical and zoological rarities, approximately 1000 km of forest roads, well-marked longitudinal “Velebit mountain path” and, especially valuable, longitudinal Tourist “Premužić path” through northern and central Velebit, masterpiece of the dry stone walls construction. In addition to hiking, Velebit is popular as a destination for sport fishing, rafting, mountaineering, biking. It offers to the visitors a large number of resorts, among which, in addition to the aforementioned educational trails, stands out the cove Zavratnica, and Cerovačke špilje (caves), which are considered to be one of the most famous and the most significant speleological objects in Croatia.
Approaches to Velebit from the direction of Rijeka, Zagreb and Split
Rijeka – by the Adriatic highway to Senje wherefrom it is possible to reach by several approaches northern Velebit from its sea and Lika side (Oltari, Jablanac, Vratnik, Krasno) or further on by the highway which goes along the Adriatic coast until its southernmost part. There is possibility of several approaches to middle and southern Velebit, and crossing to the Lika side (Baške Oštarije, Ledenik, Mali Alan, Prezid).
Zagreb – by the highway Zagreb-Split, exit Otočac or Gospić wherefrom numerous approaches lead to northern and middle Velebit (Krasno, Baške Oštarije, Ledenik, Rizvanuša, Trnovac, Pazarište, Kosinjski Bakovac).
Split – by the highway from the direction of Splita, exit Sv. Rok or by the Adriatic highway to Zadar, further on by the highway to the foot of southern Velebit or further on along that highway which follows Velebit until its northernmost part (several approach options in its interior, and crossing to Lika side (Prezid, M. Alan, Baške Oštarije, Alan, Vratnik ). The other option to approach the southern Velebit is the highway via Knin to Gračac, and where the foot of southern Velebit is reached again, and further on via Gospić and Otočac to its northernmost part, several options to approach its inner part and crossing to its sea side (abovementioned passes).