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

  • Geert De Decker

    The route map has disappeared! I trust it’s only a temporary issue?

  • Doiminic

    HI there Zoran. I plan to travel from Dubrovnik along the Dalmation coast to Zadar and then up into Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia< Greece and on to Turkey. I would love some advice with regard to myplanned route.

  • FT

    Any recommendations on stove fuel? Thanks for the route and all the rad work on the site!

  • Hi FT, you’re welcome! The main idea behind this site is to share cycling and travel and be a part of a community that’s really important to us.

    When you ask for recommendations on stove fuel, you mean on where to buy some or on what kind to use? As far as buying fuel, if you’re starting in Ljubljana, there will be many camping and trekking stores there to get a canister or two. If you’re joining the route well into Croatia, I have less of a good sense since we didn’t bother cooking and carried enough food with us to make it between resupply points. I would guess that finding alcohol for an alcohol stove wouldn’t be very difficult.

    Perhaps someone else can jump in with more insight.

    Joe

  • FT

    Hi Joe, Ok got it. Yep starting in Croatia and wondering what type of fuel is available (along the lines of msr /jetboil). Thanks!

  • Justus

    Hey guys, iam about to start the Route tomorrow or so. Right now iam close to triest at a very nice campsite in osp, slovenia. Close by there is a decathlon and a big supermarket where you can buy fuel and if needed other Material. I will try to scout a nice connection, starting in triest to enter the route from joe.
    Cheers, Justus

  • stefano pegoretti

    concluded now. thanks for sharing this beautiful track!!

  • jex_the_bug

    I have at least 30 days free from the end of August and looking for a good route somewhere in Europe. Just wondering if anyone knows of a good way to link this with the one in Greece? I’m currently traveling Europe in a van so don’t have internet to do much research.

  • Beth Hewes

    Very random question- I’m planning to do this route in a couple weeks and am wondering whether I’ll be able to find a standard butane/propane fuel canister to use with my stove once I’m in Croatia? Appreciate any insight :)

  • Beth Hewes

    Hi FT- I’m planning on starting this route in a couple weeks and had the same question. Were you able to find standard butane/propane fuel canisters in Croatia? Thanks in advance for any insight!

  • FT

    Hi Beth,

    We flew into Zagreb and bought fuel at a outdoors store (they had all kinds of fuel, we bought a primus canister that lasted the whole trip) . Our friend then drove us to Rijeka where we took the ferry to Split. I imagine there are camping stores in Rijeka too.

    have fun!

  • Beth Hewes

    Starting the route Saturday- any chance anyone’s in the area?

  • Joe

    I friend and me just finished the route. First, big thanks to Joe for creating this route and making it public. It goes through amazing landscapes and finds very clever ways to connect paths that would otherwise require going on asphalt or long detours.

    We found the description of the route a bit misleading though. Croatia, at least the coastal area, is a karst landscape (same as South Slovenia) meaning it’s just limestone (i.e. rocks) wherever you look. Paths are VERY rocky. So saying 98% of the route ridable is hard to believe unless you are a superhuman, which then means if this is a 6.5 difficulty route, I can’t imagine those rated 9 or higher. This was our first route from this site.

    The first day the track takes you to about 4 miles of climbing on a path used to extract wood from the forest, so gradients are about 30% and the surface is pretty much like a dry river bed. Last day the route climbs into some wind turbines, first through overgrown bush (marked in the gps track, although no word of the sharp thorns! ;-)) and then some steep and rocky path for about 3 miles. So that is already your 2% unridable part of the total 380 miles, without accounting for all the other many pushing streches along the way.

    This comment is not meant to depreciate the route, which is a very nice one, only to warn future riders about the true difficulty of it. I totally recommend a front shock (I went rigid with a vintage mtb), and an ultra-light setup (and I mean really ultra-light if you want a chance to ride some of the streches, also the downhill parts). The description talks about “long spans of steeply up and down gravel roads” but in Europe, if they are the size of your fist or bigger, we just call them rocks, not gravel.

  • Hello Joe,

    Thank you for coming back to leave feedback on this route, and for being civil! Given your description, I imagine that you may have had some choice words for me while you were on the track…

    I apologize that you feel misled as to how hard the route is. I do think of this Croatia trip as somewhat difficult, and it is useful for me to hear that the 6.5 rating seems off to you. It is, of course, very difficult to assign these arbitrary seeming numbers. Not an excuse but an explanation: to my way of thinking, I reserve 8, 9, and 10 for those trips that are a month or longer in very remote places with little chance for getting food (so that you might have to carry a week’s worth) and where the temperatures, altitudes, and equipment demands are extreme. If one or a coupe of these factors isn’t present, the rating is reduced. Croatia is certainly not any of those, with reasonable resupply and manageable weather and terrain.

    Yes, I remember those rocky paths and the thorns, and I remember sweating and pushing (though perhaps not for the hours that you’re describing)! Like you, I did the ride on a fully rigid mountain bike but was wishing for my riding companion’s front suspension. And point well taken about rocks not gravel (that’s why the previous sentence from the one you quoted mentions “…dry rocky backcountry double and singletrack…”). I see better now that all of this could have been emphasized to a greater degree.

    Again, I appreciate your comments here and hope that there were plenty of good spans for you in Croatia. It’s a beautiful place!

    Yours,
    Joe

  • Joe

    Thanks for the response. Yeah, my comment was to provide another view on the route, not to devalue it. We still had a great time and if you had not published it we would have not thought of Croatia as an mtb destination, so thanks again for that!

  • F&J

    After reading for so long on bikepacking.com, it was finally our turn. We connected the routes of Croatia (reverse) and Slovenia, and finished Austria. For our route, see https://ridewithgps.com/trips/26015518. We published our experience with Slovenia on the corresponding page.

    Of the four countries we crossed, Croatia was for sure our favourite part. It exceeded by far our expectations with its fantastic landscapes, stunning sceneries, diversity in terrain and the many dirt roads. As we did the route in the opposite direction, it might have some (good or bad) surprises we were not aware of…

    …But made us also doubt whether bikepacking was something for us. On the first day we had an un-rideable ascent what was marked as MTB-route within the first 10km, the climb to the wind turbines was steep and very warm followed by a very challenging down-hill and the ‘overgrown, push through’-part with thorns. Moreover, we got a tube that turned flat every 30 minutes and got so tired we not able to eat anymore. With the help of a local bike-shop, we were able to clean the tube and make it tubeless again and after a short siesta we were able to finish the first day. It is strange how the waterfalls in Krka National Park (indeed worth a visit) and a dive in the Adriatic see makes you forget all those miseries!

    Although every day had its own ‘adventure’ (some more challenging than the other) each day had fantastic views with immense variety of terrain, its own characteristics and looking back we enjoyed every day.

    – The climb from Muškovci heading to Sveti Rok was a horrible hike-a-bike. However, the view above is indescribable and the change from Mediterranean (rocks, rocks and rocks) to continental climate (very green) is funny
    – The two-day ride through National park Velebit was unique in its emptiness. It’s all you in the forest, smooth gravel roads, nice views on limestone rocks and three cars a day. Oh, and you might spot bears footprints, bear poop and a running bear (we did!)
    – Brseč is worth spending your afternoon. It had a very nice historical village centre, go to the church of St. Mary Magdalene for nice views or go to the Brseč Beach
    – Water and food had never been a problem (but planning is necessary) . Once we had to ask for water and we got a bunch of fresh figs too :)

    In our opinion, both sides seem to have challenging (hike-a-bike) sections but the route reverse is doable. There are very steep uphill off-road parts too but you can skip some (e.g. from Merag to Cres, we took the main paved road). The very steep part in the beginning of the original route (as descripted by Joe) was also a very challenging descent so I can completely understand his comment.
    We think that other routes in Europe might be better for a first bikepacking trip (Slovenia!) but we don’t want to discourage anyone to ride to route. Croatia is a fantastic country for bikepacking and we will come back for sure!!
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4b1af61a14a0e9ef08a0b51721b136547871adb1380d75c760a0370c37edd535.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cb506cb09d195b66e78b593576408fc12edde8aa3036d88afb58b9d14d1ee8e4.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b86abaddf3080ed3b2cc05ea2647282050d7b029bd21d391c56d4e92f263b5f3.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c4cfde9787e2e8164f79a5873067d7508c04bd139dd3a569be9c900a19e2f14d.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e127b5383d4d51a9844ee8df1a67ed50494bec17591e7472702c2fbde81da030.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4bff7603cb422bed54f8b76a12f099790648f77ac599966cdf0f4aff38a9af35.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ab9e307469d9fb973821aff776f97da27a52f075b350f5002a5365b30df19943.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f70ae569b24046b5968fb297eb29dc7b2a5792ddc12dffd9cc90a20477de70d2.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/11a60b21cc072c04aaaa7165c843b872f3ff053f20e5ede903a692549a366232.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2d7a6ff1fdb3cc0569e14f6bd52afc3024fffb18fb3b8694e825c1c184d1973e.jpg
    Thanks Joe Cruz for compiling the route, we had a wonderful time.