Adriatic Crest, Croatia

  • Distance

    380 Mi.

    (612 KM)
  • Days

    8

  • % Unpaved

    70%

  • % Singletrack

    5%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    6.5

  • % Rideable (time)

    98%

  • Total Ascent

    35,728'

    (10,890 M)
  • High Point

    5,037'

    (1,535 M)

Contributed By

Joe Cruz - Pedaling in Place

Joe Cruz

Pedaling in Place
The Adriatic Crest visits the rugged side of coastal and island Croatia. The sea is a constant companion glinting temptingly in the distance while the ride traverses challenging contrasts of dry rocky backcountry double and single track, intimate tunnels of trees, long spans of steeply up and down gravel roads, and traffic-free forgotten radiant hot tarmac. Yes, there are opportunities to swim, but this ride is mostly about adventure.
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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.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Trail Notes

    signpost

  • 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.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Vjekoslav Kršanac

    The border crossing from Slovenia to Croatia is not legal and police patrols are not rare. There is even a fence along the Slovenian border, and probabbly a gate or something on this forest road.

  • Ah yes, thanks Vjekoslav! We had no trouble crossing at the point originally indicated and the gate is open but to make things absolutely legal I’ve modified the map to cross at Pasjak.

    I appreciate you jumping in!

    Joe

  • Steve Lake

    Hello Joe,
    Fascinated by your ride and very much hoping to visit that part of the world in 2018.
    Was the trail you followed marked or did you identify a route on a map and then plan from there?
    Do you know if there are any good topographical maps available for the area?

    Best regards,
    Steve Lake

  • Hi Steve, Croatia was certainly beautiful and interesting for rough road bicycle travel! The route is not marked, with the exception of some of the mountain bike trails on Krk and some stretches of dirt track in in the southern section that are part of a national bike route. As with most of our routes in bikepacking.com, the idea is that following the GPS is the primary and essential method of navigation.

    I created the route through a combination of web research, looking at paper maps, and looking at different electronic mapping layers, including satellite images. (For this trip I was using komoot.com and then used their excellent phone app to navigate.)

    The paper resource I used was the Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina road atlas published by Marco Polo. It’s not a topo map, but it does have relief shading that gives and idea of elevation gain.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  • Zoran

    I am so pleased you visited beautiful Croatia.
    I hope one day you will do deeper to Dubrovnik and then bikepack through my home country of Montenegro. If someone haa enough time to link Slovenia, Croatia, my Monetengro, beautiful Albania and Greece, that would be something!

  • fauxpho

    What seasons are appropriate for this route?
    When to go is a key element of any route, so I’d love to see “Riding Season” as a required part of every route posted here. Typically it is addressed in the “Must Know” tab, but not always.

  • mirogster

    Hi Joe,
    That’s exactly what I was looking for :D Ride on the “wild” side of Croatia! :) Thank you so much, great source of useful info and reference!

    May I ask about bikes? Have you rented them out somewhere, or flown from US?

  • Hi Fauxpho, when you don’t see riding season advice, that usually means that we don’t know. We did this ride in June.

    Joe

  • Thanks Mirogster—We brought our bikes from the USA.

  • Zoran

    Temperatures in July and August can reach 40C (around 100F). During the winter and fall months area is blasted with strong winds called bura. June is the best! I believe … Now part of my family is close to area, and they experience 100F on the beach. Water is so spectacular for swimming. If you are rock climber you could climb in the most beautiful climbing spot in southern Europe, Paklenica National Park near Zadar.

  • Joe, This looks fantastic, excellent inspiration for my upcoming travels in Eastern Europe.

  • Thanks, Nick. Buen viaje!

  • Fionn McArthur

    Now that sounds like a proper route indeed. You’d better start working on it!

  • Hi…
    I ride some of this roads :). People, you must come to my country. Its great and totally diferent from everything.

  • I agree with you, Marko, people should absolutely visit Croatia! 🤘🏼

  • Nick B

    Zoran, I was thinking of riding this combined with Joe’s west loop of Slovenia in mid late september/october with my lady. Probably would mean some cooler temps and a bit of rain. Snow would make it interesting for sure probably would do some route alterations in that event. Would the bura be a buzzkill at this time?

  • ondřej vesely

    Hi Joe, thanx for this great road, just finished that. My first longer bikepacking solo trip, really enjoyed that from the beginning till the end. It seems I just got another hobby:)) Ondrej

  • Jo Emmers

    This route will be my easter or summer plan!!! Looks so great!!

  • Excellent Ondrej! Did you post any photos from your trip? We’d love to see them.

    Joe