Adriatic Crest, Croatia
380 Mi.(612 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Pedaling in Place
Croatia is a beloved European holiday destination, and the sunshine, warm surf, and vibrant dockside cafes don’t disappoint. What may be less well-known is Croatia’s wild backcountry terrain. On the islands one can strike off the trodden paths to pedal bumpy, techy ledges between chalk white stone fencing. Here is terrain that evokes images of centuries of goat herding and olive, apricot, and fig trees. Then the coastal mainland rises up with imposing crags and dense forestscapes where the feeling of remoteness and the hot still air make for hard, meditative riding. Now and again the path flashes to clusters of stone buildings—smiling waving octogenarians out front or crumbing and unoccupied. These are hardly towns, but they give texture and the human story.
Croatia is remarkable in the variety of ways it presents itself. Sometimes gently woodsy, sometimes starkly barren, sometimes incredibly festive and other times somber. The early 90’s fight for independence and the breakup of former Yugoslavia is manifest as scars on walls or as swaths of land-mined earth. The synthesis is a place that is somehow passionate but laid back. And so the ride finds that rhythm too, as the going is often demanding but the overall feeling is of tranquil movement through history and place.
This route includes all of this, with just enough visits to civilization to let you experience something of contemporary Croatia.
Route Difficulty: This route is assigned a 6.5 due to the mix of rough riding, substantial climbing, scarcity of water, and distances between resupply. Some mountain bike sections require at least intermediate trail skills.
- Immense variety of terrain including loamy forest roads, narrow paths between ancient rock fences, pristine ridgeline tarmac, steep gravel grades, overgrown singletrack.
- Swimming in the Adriatic.
- Islands of Cres and Krk.
- Rugged Sjeverni National Park.
- Nikola Tesla museum (if you’re nerdy like us).
- Waterfalls in Krka National Park with more swimming.
- The attractive towns of Sibenik and Trogir.
- Fly into Ljubljana in Slovenia. There are bicycle friendly trains—look for the bicycle symbol— from Ljubljana to Ilirska Bistrica, where this route starts.
- There are places to change money on the road to Croatia from the start point in Slovenia. One, just south of Starod, is marked on the map.
- Fly out of Split in Croatia. Alternatively, take the ferry from Split to Ancona, Italy and then a train for a flight out of Bologna.
- This route is easily connected to Bikepacking Slovenia: The West Loop.
- There are three ferry trips on this route. For the Cres and Krk ferries, confirm times at http://www.croatiaferries.com/. For the Split ferry, find times here: http://buraline.com/en/ .
- We wild camped every night and had no trouble doing so. #leavenotrace.
- The large towns have substantial tourist infrastructure so lodging would be easy to secure. There is a several day span in the middle of the trip, however, that is quite remote and likely with no straightforward lodging options.
- The route passes through a region between Gospic and Sveti Rok (mile 230-250/kilometer 370-403) that is still landmined. While it was certainly spooky and heart wrenching to see the skull and crossbone signage warning against leaving the road, in practice we felt that it was very clear where the boundaries of the dangerous regions are. Keep an eye on your timing so that if you’re heading into that area at the end of the day, camp early or commit yourself to riding past it.
- The persistently dry landscape requires sensible water management. Have a carry capacity of 4-6 liters. Principal water sources will be wells, so keep a sharp eye out for them. The backcountry ones are rectangular concrete “chimneys” in the ground covered with an iron hatch and connected to a rain catch. Many of these do not have a bucket, so carry 4 meters of cord to lower a container. We improvised with a cut off soda bottle on a wire! We purified the well water but we suspect that that is unnecessary.
- Resupply is feast or famine. In large towns like Cres, Vrbnik, Gospic, Sibenik and Trogir, there are markets and great restaurants. We had an excellent dockside meal, for instance, at Bounty in Sibenik (marked on map). Given the town spacing, it is not necessary to carry much more than a day’s worth of food at the beginning and the end of the trip. The middle section of the route—from Kraljevica to Gospic—however, is very sparse in terms of resources. Be prepared for this 115 mile/185km span with two and half days of food.
Croatia is a challenging equipment puzzle. There are many sections of full-on mountain biking and there are many kilometers of smooth dirt and even brand new tarmac. We were on 29ers, one fully rigid with drop bars and one with front suspension and flat bars. The bike with suspension was overall probably a better choice, though a plus bike with drop bars like the newest Salsa Fargo might be ideal. For the inevitable question in the comments section, “Can this be ridden on a gravel bike?” the answer is no, you will often be miserable, don’t do it. Run knobby 2.1 or bigger tires.
Thorns and sharp rocks are abundant. Tubeless is the way to go here.