The European country of Croatia has never been a more popular place to visit, thanks to its many inspiring destinations. Although many of Croatia’s best places to visit are along its spectacular Adriatic coast, a few show you an entirely different side of the country. Chief among those is the dramatic and beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park, which you’ll find in one of Croatia’s more mountainous inland regions.
To enjoy Plitvice’s dazzling array of lakes and waterfalls properly, you need to arrive fully ready to tackle this UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you start planning a trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park, you’ll realize just how large the park is and how different the experience can be at different times of the year. This guide to Plitvice Lakes National Park will answer your most important questions and likely point out factors you hadn’t even thought of yet.
Brief Background on Plitvice Lakes National Park
It may help to start with a bit of background on Plitvice Lakes National Park. The park is in a mountainous region near the Dinaric Alps, mostly within central Croatia’s Lika-Senj County. It was founded in 1949, making it Croatia’s oldest national park as well as the largest.
The Plitvice Lakes themselves are 16 individual lakes, each with a terrace flowing into the one below, dropping 133 meters from top to bottom. Waterfalls flow over mossy limestone between the lakes, giving them their signature look. The water from the lakes forms the Korana River, which flows out into northern Croatia.
The park has two entrances along the D1 national highway. This is the main inland road that runs north to south through Croatia, making it a common route for those avoiding the coast.
Best Time to Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park
The time you travel to Plitvice Lakes National Park will significantly affect what you see there. The region experiences four seasons, its appearance changing remarkably throughout the year, so the best time to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park depends on how you want to see this beautiful destination.
As with most of Croatia, summer is the peak season for Plitvice, thanks to the great weather. With day trips possible from the bustling coast, the park can get extremely busy. That isn’t to say you should avoid summer, only that you should be aware of the crowds that may greet you.
A better approach may be to visit in late spring or autumn. Not only will the crowds be lighter and the weather generally good, but you’ll get to see the park at its most colorful. Of course, Plitvice makes any color scheme look good, whether you come when the park is vibrantly green or speckled with various yellows, reds, and oranges.
Winter is when it gets tricky. Thanks to its elevation, Plitvice sometimes gets so cold in winter that the waterfalls freeze over. The frozen lakes surrounded by snow can be a magical sight, but winter conditions also mean limited park access. During winter, only the Lower Lakes are open to visitors; walking trails and ferry access to the Upper Lakes are closed.
How Long It Takes to Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park
When you’re not familiar with a destination, it can be tricky to decide just how long to allow for your visit. It’s hard to judge just how large Plitvice Lakes National Park is and how much time you’ll need to see everything.
You can see quite a lot of the park in one day. With a full day, you can see the main sights around the Lower Lakes, cruise across to the Upper Lakes, and start exploring them as well, taking quite a few nice walks as you go. It would be quite a rush to see all 16 lakes properly in one day, though. If you want to see more of the lakes and take all sorts of hiking trails without feeling rushed, two days would be ideal.
The park’s operating hours vary by time of year. Its shortest hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter. You can see the opening hours for each season here.
How Much It Costs to Enter Plitvice Lakes National Park
As with any national park, you’ll need to buy a pass to enter Plitvice Lakes. The price depends on the time of year and how long you visit, with one- and two-day passes available, but starts at €10 (about $10.88) for an adult. The passes are cheapest if you visit sometime from November through March, while a visit in July or August is the most expensive. You can see the full list of prices and buy your ticket here, though you can also purchase your ticket upon arrival.
How to Get to Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park is right by central Croatia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina among the Dinaric Alps. Being somewhat far from the popular coastal destinations, it’s not the simplest stop to add to a Croatia itinerary.
The two closest major cities to Plitvice Lakes are Zagreb (the nation’s capital) and Zadar. It’s also common to travel there from Split, one of Croatia’s biggest holiday destinations. You have three main options for how to get to Plitvice Lakes National Park from any of these cities – taking a bus, joining a tour, or renting a car and driving yourself.
The cheapest way is to take one of the public buses that connect each of the cities with Plitvice. For a stress-free experience where everything is taken care of for you, though, a guided tour is the way to go. This way, you don’t have to find your own way to the park, and a guide tells you about the park as you go.
Click on your departure city to book a guided tour to Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb, Zadar, or Split or Trogir.
Of course, driving yourself there allows the most independence, and it’s easy enough to park at either of Plitvice Lakes’ main entrances. For the best car rental rates, check out Rentalcars.com.
How To Get Around Plitvice Lakes National Park
With Plitvice Lakes National Park’s canyon setting, there are some natural limitations to how you can get around in it. The main means of getting around are walking, boats, and the shuttle (Panoramic Train). You’ll probably use all three methods during your visit.
Walking is how you’ll get around for much of your visit. From Entrance 1, you’ll have to make your way down the switchback path into the canyon. From there, boardwalks lead you along each lake and up to the next. There are also walking trails along the edge of the canyon, sometimes offering great views of the lakes below.
You can best experience the four marked routes along the canyon by following the seven recommended visitor programs. Program C or H is the best, depending on which entrance you use. The shortest circuits take around 2-3 hours, while the most extensive can take up to eight hours.
Beyond the lakes, you can also hike up forest trails to nearby peaks like Medveđak. All in all, there are 22 kilometers (about 14 miles) of lake trails and 36 kilometers of hiking trails in the park.
With so many lakes, it would be a crime if there weren’t at least one cruise option in this national park. Thankfully, there is, and it’s a good one. You can take a gentle cruise on an electric boat from end to end of Lake Kozjak, the largest and deepest of the lakes. This trip is referred to as “P3 to P1” on timetables and maps.
Technically, there are two boat rides, the second one (P1 to P2) being a short shuttle trip from the shore to the middle of the waterfalls and on to the rest of the Upper Lakes. The trips from P3 to P1 and P1 to P2 are both included in your park ticket.
By Shuttle Bus
The Panoramic Train (or Sightseeing Train), the park’s electric shuttle bus with panoramic windows and multiple adjoining cars, is an ideal way to get around the Upper Lakes without walking. Like the boat rides, this shuttle service is included in your ticket.
The shuttle makes three stops. The first, ST1, is at the northern end of Lake Kozjak’s east bank. It then heads south to ST2, which is between the first ferry point (P1) and several park hotels. The final stop, ST3, is close to the three highest lakes, giving you an easy way back after you walk up to these lakes.
Where to Stay in Plitvice Lakes National Park
Figuring out where to stay during your Plitvice visit can be confusing. If you plan to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park as a day trip from Zagreb, Split, or Zadar, it’s not such an issue. But if you want to spend multiple days in the park, you have a decision to make: Do you stay in the park itself or somewhere nearby?
Staying Inside Plitvice Lakes National Park
If you want the shortest possible walk from your room to the lakes, look for accommodations in either the park itself or Plitvica Selo, which is within walking distance of the park. Of course, the prime location tends to come with a hefty price tag and steep competition in summer.
Combining a convenient location and comfort, the rustic B&B Plitvica Lodge is within walking distance of Veliki Slap (the Great Waterfall). This bed-and-breakfast will make you feel more than welcome, offering a dose of rest and relaxation after a day of exploring the park.
With its ideal location right by Entrance 2, Hotel Jezero has long been a refuge for park visitors after a day of hiking. This three-star hotel offers two restaurants, a tasty breakfast, a gym, and a wellness spa.
Plitvica Selo doesn’t really do budget accommodation, but one of the most affordable places you can stay within walking distance of the park is B&B Villa Plitvica. This simply furnished inn has everything you need for a great stay, including a balcony with a view.
Staying Outside Plitvice Lakes National Park
If you’re after more affordable options or access to conveniences like supermarkets, it’s best to look beyond the park’s borders. Nearby villages to consider include Jezerce, Rastovača, Korana,and Grabovac. However, these villages are all about 5-10 kilometers away from the park entrances, so you’ll have to figure out transportation. The town of Slunj,while farther away, is an excellent alternative, as it has a proper bus stop on the route from Zagreb to Plitvice.
A perfect place to end your day at the lakes is Plitvice Ethno House. Consisting of four traditional guesthouses, it gives your stay a local flavor and provides amenities such as a sauna and swimming pool.
Another option close to the park is Guest House Ljubo & Ana in Rastovača, which offers a range of rooms, studios, and apartments. The kind owners – along with amenities such as laundry machines and barbecue grills – make this a fantastic choice.
For great hospitality and value in Slunj, look to Apartment Tomašević. This cozy apartment can sleep up to five people and has all the facilities you could need, including a kitchen, a common area, and a garden patio to enjoy when the weather is nice.
For more accommodation options around Plitvice Lakes, check out Booking.com. This site consistently offers the best rates, and its customer service is on point.
Tips for Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
Even after all this information, we have a few more tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park.
If you visit the park during one of its busy periods, it pays to get there early. During high season, the park may block entry for a few hours to ease congestion, so you might have to wait a while just to get in if you don’t beat the crowds. Of course, you won’t face this problem in winter.
Follow the Park Rules
To help preserve the park and stay safe, all visitors need to follow certain rules. That means sticking to the paths, leaving animals and other nature untouched, and disposing of all litter in the proper spots or taking it with you. One especially important point is that you are not allowed to swim in the park’s lakes.
Pack the Important Items
If you’ll spend a full day or more exploring Plitvice Lakes, proper packing is vital. There’s only one supermarket in the neighboring village of Jezerce, and that’s hardly convenient when you’re deep in the park. This means you should bring plenty of water and hiking snacks with you. Getting lunch at one of the park hotels is an option, but it will cost quite a bit, so it’s best to pack your own lunch.
As you’ll be outdoors all day, you should also bring sunscreen and a hat for sunny weather, an umbrella and a rain jacket for wet weather, and good walking shoes no matter what.
Best Things to Do in Plitvice Lakes National Park
Naturally, most of the things to do in the park involve lakes, waterfalls, and hiking. We’ll take you through each of them, helping you build an itinerary that works for either a day trip or a longer stay.
If you come through Entrance 1, it won’t be long before you come across Veliki Slap, or the Great Waterfall. It’s the first major sight you’ll see from the first terrace lookout, rather than any of the lakes.
This waterfall at the very bottom of the Lower Lakes is the tallest in the park (78 meters). The waters plunging down into the Korana is quite a sight to behold. If you take the steps near the waterfall up out of the canyon, you’ll reach another superb spot for a photo, this time looking up to the canyon.
Lower Lakes Boardwalks
From that first viewpoint, follow the trail back down into the canyon. You’ll soon find yourself at the edge of Novakovića Brod, the lowest of the four Lower Lakes. The boardwalk starts here, taking you across the lake, to the bottom of Veliki Slap, then up and along the Lower Lakes. You’ll get to see lovely aquamarine water and gentle waterfalls trickling through lush plant life.
It’s at these Lower Lakes that you can veer off onto the paths that follow the canyon ridge. Without doubling back, you’ll need to go up a staircase through a cave to reach the upper path. At the Lower Lakes, this means walking along the eastern ridge on gentle paths through the woods. An opening will occasionally appear through the trees, letting you look up along the lakes and down at the waterfalls and boardwalks.
When you reach Lake Kozjak, the park’s largest lake and lowest of the Upper Lakes, your options for forest trails expand. While most routes will have you take the boat across the lake, take the path that follows Program K along the western ridge of the lakes if you have time. Consider hiking this stretch on your way back, though, as there are some superb views along this edge of the lake later in the day.
Lake Kozjak and Boat Ride
When you arrive at Lake Kozjak, follow the northern side until you reach the boat dock. Once you board the next electric boat, it’s time to sit back and relax as you gently glide across to the southern end of the lake. There’s plenty to see from this fresh perspective, including the sheer canyon walls and the waterfall scenery of Galovački Buk above you.
After a short shuttle ride to the bottom of the waterfalls, it’s time to walk again, making your way along the Upper Lakes. You’ll follow more boardwalks, which barely rise above the water, and see little waterfalls passing under the stairs you climb. It may not sound much different from the Lower Lakes, but each lake is subtly unique, and you won’t get sick of this stunning scenery.
We hope this guide has answered all your questions about visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park! Once you’ve been, we’re sure you’ll agree that this spectacular place is a must on everybody’s bucket list.
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