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Strict nature reserves of Croatia: Hajdučki i Rožanski kukovi and Bijele i Samarske stijene

Bijele i Samarske stijene, strict nature reserve
Bijele i Samarske stijene; Image by Punkufer (Getty Images)

Nature is the most talented painter you’ll have the honor to meet in your life.

Croatia is lucky to have plenty of preserved unique landscapes including:

  • 8 national parks
  • 2 strict nature reserves
  • 12 parks of nature
  • 79 special reserves
  • 2 regional parks
  • 79 monuments of nature
  • 81 significant landscapes
  • 27 park-forests
  • 120 monuments of park architecture

Strict nature reserves are the highest on the list of protected nature in Croatia. There are 2 strict nature reserves in Croatia, each hidden in nature with its own collage of landscapes. Both of them rest on the divine mountain of Velebit.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

What are strict nature reserves in Croatia

A strict nature reserve is an area of land and/or sea where nature hasn’t been changed or has only been slightly changed that is entirely intended for preservation. Any economic and other activities are strictly prohibited.

These nature reserves are intended for scientific research and monitoring of nature. However, these activities must not change the biological diversity and originality of nature or endanger the free flow of natural processes. Visiting is also allowed.

A strict nature reserve is called “strogi rezervat” in Croatian. They are one of nine types of protected areas in Croatia. Strict nature reserves have the highest level of protection, even higher than national parks and parks of nature. [Read: National parks in Croatia PLUS detailed visitor guides]

Croatia has 2 strict reserves:

  • Bijele i Samarske stijene (White and Samarian rocks)
  • Hajdučki i Rožanski kukovi (kukovi translates as hips)

The facts are these…

Ratkovo sklonište, Velebit mountain
Ratkovo sklonište; Image by Punkufer (Vanja Šiljak)

Bijele i Samarske stijene

Bijele i Samarske stijene is located near Velika Kapela located on the mountain of Velebit. It includes numerous bizarrely sharp limestone and karst rocks. Some protrude more than 50 meters into the air. Due to many cracks, abysses, and faults, it is not easy to access this area.

Fir, spruce, and beech forests grow on the blocks of stones. The contrast between white stones and dark green trees is stark. Bijele i Samarske stijene was declared a strict reserve of nature in 1985.

The greatest symbol of Bijele stijene is a series of 5 sharp rocks in a row called Prsti (Fingers). They got this name thanks to their shape, which resembles a hand raised to the sky.

Another notable site is a valley with a “chapel” – a space that is enclosed with 50-meter high vertical cliffs reminiscent of an amphitheater. To get there, you will have to pass through a narrow passage under rocks referred to as Slonova brada (Elephant’s Beard).

A hiking trail towards Bijele i Samarske stijene is one of the most demanding and exciting hiking trails in Croatia. Some paths are pretty wild and secured with steel ropes and wedges.

If you decide to take a hike, definitely visit Ratkovo sklonište. It is one of the most original mountain shelters in Croatia built into a semi-cave below the cliff called Šerpas. There is enough space for overnight accommodation of 12 people. A water tank next to the shelter will keep you hydrated. Ratkovo sklonište was named after Croatian alpinist Ratko Čapek who died in an accident in the Alps.

Look out for endangered plant species such as runolist (Edelweiss) or srčanik (Gentiana). Be sure not to disturb the local animal population, which can include bears, weasels, dormouse, or martens. [Read: Endangered animals you might see in Croatia]

Location: Velebit mountain (Primorje-Gorski kotar county, Karlovac county) – View map
Peak height:

  • Bijele stijene – 1.335 meters
  • Samarske stijene –  1.305 meters

Landscapes: Limestone and karst rocks, beech trees growing from stones, abysses, cliffs

  • Prsti
  • Valley with chapel
  • Slonova brada
  • Ratkovo sklonište


  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Sightseeing
  • Photography
  • Adventurous exploring

Best time to visit: Spring and autumn
Closest major city: Rijeka – read about public transport in Rijeka here
Closest airport: Rijeka-Krk airport

Hajdučki i Rožanski kukovi, strict nature reserve
Hajdučki i Rožanski kukovi; Image by Punkufer (Shutterstock)

Hajdučki i Rožanski kukovi

Hajdučki i Rožanski kukovi includes a group of rocky peaks of peculiar shapes located in the center of Northern Velebit National Park. Peaks are made of limestone deposits and separated by abysses. Some of these peaks rise up to 200 meters high making it nearly impassable. Hajdučki i Rožanski kukovi was declared a strict reserve of nature in 1969.

There is a mysterious pit hidden in the middle of Hajdučki kukovi at 1.475 meters above sea level called Lukina jama (Luka’s pit). Its bottom lies 84 meters above sea level. It is 1.382 meters deep which makes it the 8th deepest pit in the world. An unknown animal from the order of leeches was discovered here in 1994.

Rožanski kukovi is easy to enjoy thanks to the 57-kilometers long mountain path called Premužićeva staza. With an average slope of 10% and the largest slope of 20%, this path is not demanding. It is suitable for hikers of all skill levels. If you decide to take a break, visit a mountain shelter Rossijevo sklonište, located in the heart of Rožanski kukovi below the rock called Pasarićeva kuka.

[Read: Premužićeva staza: A diverse and unique hiking trail on Velebit Mountain]

Together with Nothern Velebit National Park and Paklenica National Park, Hajdučki and Rožanski kukovi is listed on UNESCO’s world heritage list – joining in 2017. It is listed under the Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe as a group monument of nature. [Read: UNESCO monuments of culture and nature in Croatia]

Location: Velebit mountain (Lika-Senj county) – View map
Peak height:

  • Hajdučki kukovi – Golubić, 1.658 meters
  • Rožanski kukovi – Gromovača, 1.675 meters

Landscapes: Rocky peaks, limestone rocks, abysses, pit


  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Sightseeing
  • Photography
  • Adventurous exploring

Best time to visit: Spring and autumn
Closest major city:

  • Rijeka – read about public transport in Rijeka here
  • Zadar – read about public transport in Zadar here

Closest airport: Rijeka-Krk airport; Zadar-Zemunik airport

Rossijevo sklonište, Velebit mountain
Rossijevo sklonište; Image by Punkufer (Srđan Brajković)

Other places to visit on Velebit mountain

Both Croatian strict nature reserves are located on Velebit giant, a divine mountain that is a true paradise for all visitors, especially hikers.

You can learn more about Velebit here:

There are also 2 mega hiking trails that pass through Croatia including Velebit:

Visit other protected areas in Croatia


Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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