Ricky Kresslein

Risnjak National Park


Nuzzled along the Slovenian border of Croatia, between Zagreb and Rijeka, is a beautiful and, more importantly, quiet national park that serves as home to brown bears, lynx, foxes, badgers, roe deer, and dozens of other super-cool creatures. If you are a wildlife photographer like me, this place is a dream.

Why Risnjak National Park?

Well, like I said before, it’s quiet. That is a huge perk to us wildlife photographers. There’s nothing worse than staking out a meadow all morning, patiently waiting for a buck (or stag, for my English friends) to walk into the frame, when out of nowhere a young child on a walk with her mom runs into the field screaming and pulling grass. At this point, all you can do is turn around and walk home.

Enter Risnjak National Park. It’s beautiful, contains valleys, mountains, springs, and lots of wildlife. Most notably, it is home to the nearly-extinct-in-Europe brown bear. Even better, there are very few little girls running into meadows and ruining photos.

Where to Go?

The most difficult thing about Risnjak NP: there is very little information available online. When I first went, I had to make a day-trip out of it just to find information on where one can camp, how to get to the popular mountain hut where one can buy a bunk and eat hot food, where to see bears, and what roads one is allowed to drive on. Then I went back the following week after using this information to plan my real trip.

At the bottom of this article I will provide the GPS coordinates you can put into Google Maps for some important spots.

There are a couple of really cool places to go in this park depending on your intention, but since I went for wildlife photography, I will focus on that. First, the easiest spot to get to and where you will probably want to go to get official and up-to-date information about the park, is the visitor center in Crni Lug.

To purchase a two-day pass for the park at the visitor center costs around USD $5 per adult. Students and children are cheaper.

Right behind the information center is the Leska Educational Trail, which is cool to walk around during the day, but your best bet to catch some roe deer and maybe even wild boar is to come back early in the morning, right at sunrise, and pick a hiding spot in the meadow in the center of the trail. In my experience, there is at least one roe deer sleeping in this field every morning, and they pop up as soon as dawn’s golden light strikes their long ears.

There is a guided tour to a photography blind one can sign up for with possible brown bear sightings. However, as of this writing, the blind has been destroyed by hooligans and is currently closed down. If that changes I will update this post. Luckily, you can still get there and stake out the place on your own. Just be careful, people have been breaking into the lodge there and squatting, so go with a buddy. The lodge has a raised deck you can sit on and wait for bears to come.

Lastly, the drive into the blind site mentioned above has an incredible open meadow and I saw some hawks there. Another notable mention is Kupa Wellspring, which is a tough hike and pretty popular, so it is unlikely you will see much wildlife, but it is a great spot for some landscape photography.

All in all, keep your camera out the whole time you drive through the park. I missed a shot of a pygmy owl, the first and only I have ever seen, because my camera wasn’t ready.

Where to Stay?

Staying in or on the border of Risnjak National Park can be quite expensive. The first time I visited I was staying in Rijeka and drove an hour to get to the park. However, Rijeka also isn’t cheap. If you have a car, the cheapest option is to stay in Delnice and drive 10-15 minutes into the park. If you want to wake up in the park and walk to the meadow each morning, as I did the second time I visited, I highly recommend staying in Crni Lug.

Crni Lug means—I’m probably butchering this, but here it goes—Black Edge of the Forest in Croatian. There are many guesthouses in Crni Lug, and even spots to pitch a tent or park a camper for a small fee. There is a restaurant at the park entrance, a tiny town grocery store, and Lidl is only 15 minutes away. If you don’t have a car (or if you do), this is the place to stay if you want to photograph wildlife in Risnjak NP.

The Big Hike

Probably the most popular and famous thing to do in Risnjak National Park, if you are up for it, is to hike to the top of Veliki Risnjak. It’s an incredibly tough 3-hour hike. It’s the third hardest hike I’ve ever done, and I’ve done some tough hikes. Speak with the information desk at the Leska Educational Trail entrance and they will tell you exactly where to go for the mountain trail.

Just near the peak is a lodge called Schlosser Lodge. If you’d like to stay here you can call the woman who works there for the warmest 6 months of the year to book a bunk and meals. You can reach her at +385 42-82-072 or +385 22-82-07. Make sure to call ahead of time to guarantee a spot, as it can get quite full in the middle of the summer. I went in June and there was only one other guest.

There is a wild fox that visits this hut almost every day hoping to score some breakfast from the caretaker. If you get outside early, or let the caretaker know you want to be alerted when he shows up, you have a chance at some great photos.

Is there anything else you would like to know about Risnjak National Park? Just ask and I will get back to you. Hope this guide helped shed some light on a little-known beauty!

Notable GPS Coordinates:

Information Desk: 45°25'06.0"N 14°41'07.1"E

Leska Educational Trail meadow: 45°25'16.5"N 14°40'30.3"E

Photo Blind: 45°27'00.6"N 14°36'07.3"E

Kupa Wellspring: Izvor Kupe

Schlosser Lodge: Planinarski dom Schlosserov dom