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RISNJAK NATIONAL PARK.

THE PARK.

The Risnjak National Park is located in Gorski kotar, the most wooded part of western Croatia. It lies in the immediate vicinity of the Adriatic Sea, only 15 km north-east from Rijeka. The Park covers an area of 63.5 km2 including the central part of the Risnjak and Snježnik massif, as well as the upper flow of the river Kupa with its source area. The area of the Risnjak massif was proclaimed a national park in 1953, at the suggestion of an eminent Croatian natural scientist and researcher of Risnjak, prof. dr. Ivo Horvat.
Early in 1997, the NP "Risnjak" was extended to the area of the Snježnik massif and the source area of the river Kupa, thus fulfilling the wish of prof. dr. Ivo Horvat to protect and enhance this area. The area of the NP "Risnjak" belongs to the Dinaric mountain system which stretches from the eastern Alps to the Sar-Pindos Mountains, so that is a part of the area which connects the Alps and the Dinarides. Although large migrations of Alpine, arctic and boreal species moved across the Risnjak and Snježnik massif towards southeast, on these mountains a vegetation substantially different from the one in the Alps has been preserved. Due to various climatic, geologic, petrographic and other factors, a very heterogeneous flora and fauna has been preserved in this area. The Park is made mostly of limestone and dolomite with major karst features. Therefore, in spite of great amounts of rain and snow in this area, in the Risnjak and Snježnik massif there are only very few weak springs (Klupice in Smrekovac and Studenac in Javorov kal), and the three permanent springs in Leska make a small stream which sinks towards the source of the river Kupa which is located in the north-eastern part of the Park and which represents a distinguished hydro-geological feature of this area. The source itself is an oval pond drawn underneath vertical rocks, some 50 m wide. The researches made so far have shown that the water springs out of two separate vertical channels. The narrower channel is 86 m deep, and the wider one 57 m. In the first few hundred meters of its flow, the river Kupa receives water from two torrent-streams, krašičevica and sušica, which at times bring great amounts of water and material through their wild canyons. The whole area of the river Kupa is rich in permanent and periodical streams which vary in size and intensity.
The highest peak of the NP "Risnjak" - Veliki Risnjak - is only 1528 m high, but this massif together with the contiguous Snježnik massif (1506 m) is nevertheless a great climatic and vegetational barrier between coastal and continental parts of Croatia. Climatic influences from the Adriatic Sea penetrating from the nearby Kvarner bay and the continental influences penetrating through the Kupa valley collide here and play a significant role in determining the specific climate of the NP "Risnjak" with pleasantly warm summers and an average temperature up to 20°C, rainy springs and autumns, and long, cold snowy winters. At the Risnjak mountain lodge, snow lies for full five months, sometimes up to 4 m deep.


Paths towards Snjeznik.
The main access route to Snježnik leads from Platak. The mountain path first follows the Rimska cesta and reaches a small parking area via several shortcuts, where we can choose one of the two variants. The first leads on the left into the forest (so-called "kroz Grlo") to the mountain lodge beneath Snježnik, while the second path continues along the road for some 10 minutes to the pass Rimska vrata where it turns left and reaches the peak of Snježnik (1506 m) following the mountain ridge. The second variant to access Snježnik is mostly used by those who climb the Goranski mountain path from Jelenc. They take the ridge path Jelenc - Planina -Guslica - Meduvrhi - Snježnik which is abundant in mountain grasslands with exceptional views in all directions. The third acces route which leads from Lazac follows the so-called Frankopanski put steeply through the forest to rocky Stjenovita vrata, where the visitor can choose either the left, direct path to the lodge on Snježnik, or the right, easier path that leads to the ridge and continues along the previously described path Meduvrhi - Snježnik. From Risnjak there is a direct path via Cajtige and Fratrovi dolci to the road Rimska cesta which is at the same time the boundary of the NP "Risnjak" between Fratrovi dolci and Rimska cesta. While climbing towards the Rimska cesta, the visitor can choose among access routes that come from Platak. Snježnik also offers numerous possibilities for walks to Hahlic, Obruc, Crvi vrh, Jasenovica etc.

Educational path "Leska"
The visitors of the Park are recommended to take a walk along the educational path "Leska" where they can easily get to know some of its natural resources and carst features. The path leads from the administration building in Bijela Vodica following the road towards west, through a forest of tall fir trees that grow along the path, then it turns right via Jurjev put across the Leska meadow, introducing the visitors to numerous karst and other interesting features. On the way back, the path leads through a hamlet Leska and close to its two crystal-clear springs.

Paths towards the Kupa source

The source of the river Kupa, as a distinguished hydro-geological feature and one of the pearls of the NP "Risnjak", attracts a great number of visitors. There are 2 ways to reach the Kupa-source. The first comes from the village Razloge, The second main entrance is from the village Kupari, where you can also get by car via a winding asphalt road.


FLORA.

A distinguishing feature of the Park is that in this small area opposite influences can be found: the coastal and the continental. The greatest part of the Park is covered with beech and fir growing on a limestone and dolomite underground. Due to the well indented relief, numerous variations characterised by specific micro-climatic systems and types of soil have developed, which is also reflected in a specific floral system. Here one can find single trees of sycamore maple, elm, common esh, and sometimes some yew. The beech and fir forest gradually gives way to another large forest, the sub-alpine beech forest with lettuce grass, which grows in sections of the Park at heights between 1200 and 1400 m above sea level. As we go higher towards the peak, the trunks get shorter, and on steep slopes they are bent, which is caused by heavy snow which lies there for a long time each year. On the upper border, we find
impenetrable underbrush in form of shrubs creating a specific association. Above the sub- alpine beech forest grows the highest forest with "crooked shrubby pine". The crooked pine is determined by the severe climate in the mountain belt. In the borderline zone between forests and mountain grasslands we find underbrush of large-leaf willow. The steep, warmer limestone slopes of Risnjak, above which stone blocks rise, are covered by fir and spruce forest with bush grass. It can also be found in the sub alpine beech forest.
On acid soil we find some fir and spruce. In the lower parts, in the Leska valley and around villages Krasicevica, Okrug, Plajzi and Biljevina, on acid soil and on silicate underground, there grows a beautiful forest of gigantic fir-trees with rib-fern. In the area around Lazac, on frosty places where acid soils cover the limestone base, grows an alpine spruce forest with anemone. On the rocky cold locations in the lower parts of deep doline we find the sub-alpine spruce forest. In the valley of the river Kupa there is a great number of associations. On acid soils we find a beech forest with rib-fern. The warmer climatic influence of the Kupa valley has a good effect on the development of heath and hop hornbeam forest, as well as hop hornbeam and beech forest, while on heights between 450-700 m grows an alpine beech forest with no or very few fir trees. Among other trees, one can also find for example sycamore maple. The alluvial area of the extended bed of the river Kupa is covered by silver willow forest. In the meadows of Šegina and Lazac, on the western boundary of the Park, as well as in the Leska valley, a grass vegetation has developed, surrounded by old forests. Here we find brome grass and plantain, abundant with colourful flowers, then a meadow of arnica and finally a meadow of fescue grass. A particularly interesting mountain flora can be found on the rocky peak of Risnjak. Its first yet endangered beauty is the edelweiss. Furthermore there are black vanilla orchid, mountain milfoil, alpine yellow violet, livelong saxifrage, alpine snowbell, mountain avens, alpine kidney vetch, false aster, alpine rock rose, globe flower, martagon lily, gentian etc. On the peak itself, among the crooked pines, we find hairy alpine roses with beautiful red flowers. The upper parts of Risnjak and especially Snježnik are covered with a great number of different mountain grass associations.


FAUNA.

The animal life of the Park is abundant and rich in variety. The dense forests of Risnjak are inhabited by the brown bear, deer, roe-deer, chamois, wild boar, wolf, fox, pine and stone marten, badger, weasel, squirrel, door-mouse and other animals. The most important animal used to be the lynx, after which Risnjak got its name. During the past century, the lynx was exterminated and has only returned to Risnjak three decades ago. There are numerous bird species living in Risnjak, among which are particularly important: capercaille, grouse, sparrow-hawk and owl. There are also numerous butterflies, insects and snails. Some snakes can also be found, among them the poisonous horned viper and the common adder, as well as the not poisonous European cat-snake. The ichthyological world in the river Kupa is very diverse and abundant. The most important fish species in this part of Kupa are brown trout and grayling. For the past 140 years, the area of the National Park "Risnjak" has been a meeting place for scientists and a site of various thorough natural-science and applied forestry researches. Today, the Park is a school where visitors can learn how to preserve nature for the future.

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