If you are looking to experience one of the greatest travel stories around, then Plitvice Lakes National Park is an amazing destination to visit as it is one of the most memorable national parks we’ve been to.
This gorgeous Croatian location is set around a collection of 16 lakes in Croatia, which are all interconnected and cascade into each other, from the highest point at 636 mts to 503 mts. They are also expertly grouped together in two sets: twelve Upper Lakes and four Lower Lakes.
It is important to keep in mind that there are two waterfalls: the Big Falls or Veliki Slap at 78 mts in the Lower Lakes, and Galova?ki at 25 mts in the Upper Lakes.
The incredible thing is that the lakes act as one big water reservoir surrounded by Mt. Velebit, in the west, which divides the coastal area from Plitvice Plateu, and to the east, by Mt. Pljesevica, which marks the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Historically the name Plitvice means shallow basin, as the waters create these hollows in the limestone, although the depth varies from 1 to 47 m. Famously, the Plitvice Lakes National Park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
This is due to the fact that the Lakes of Plitvice are famed for their water – all of which are very clear azure with shadows of green and blue, changing according to the weather and the sunlight, as well as the number of micro-organisms, such as moss and algae in the water. You will also find some of the best Croatia waterfalls in the park area.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
Best time to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park
The best time to admire the lakes is at sunrise which means before 7 am (during the summer months). So, if you can stay at one of the hotels or guest houses within the park Plitvice itself, you can simply wander around before breakfast and enjoy the magnificent scenery before the crowds arrive.
Hiking in Plitvice Lakes National Park
The Plitvice National Park offers eight different hiking routes, marked by letters from A to K: A, B and C are the ones starting at Entrance 1; while routes E, F and H start from entrance 2. There is also the K route which can be started from either entrance.
The shortest is route A and it takes you in a 2–3-hour circle from Entrance 1 and back, passing the Big Waterfall, Supljara cave and magnificent viewpoints of the Lower Lakes. If you are fit and have lots of time, then you should go for the K route which is the longest at 6-8 hours.
Each route is supplemented with environmentally-friendly electric buses and boats. The boat runs across Kozjak Lake which is the largest one, one way and it takes 20 minutes. There is also a little shuttle bus called the Panoramic Train that runs every 20 minutes. There are refreshments, toilets and information points at every stop.
Explore the Plitvice lakes
The resulting seclusion of the lake and large altitude difference in such a small area contributed to very diverse flora and fauna. One of the most representative animals of this area is the brown bear. I am sure you won’t encounter them on your walk through the Lakes as they come close to humans only when they are really, really hungry. But if you would like to meet a Brown Bear why not visit the sanctuary for orphaned young bears in Kutarevo, which is only 75 km from Plitvice Lakes en route to the coastal area. The park is also populated by boars, wolves, deer and rare birds.
If you are on a cruise along the coast of Croatia, you will probably call at the ports of Split or Zadar and either of these two options are good starting points for a shore excursion to the magnificent Plitvice Lakes in the heart of the country.
Tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
Thinking about visiting this Croatia national park? Here are our top tips.
- Go early so you can beat the crowds – stay overnight in the park if possible. There are several modest hotels and guest houses within the precincts (search for accommodation in the park here). You can also read our post on Plitvice Lakes National Park accommodation.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- Bring a waterproof jacket for walking close to the waterfalls.
- The lakes of Plitvice Park have two different types of entrance tickets: one-day and two-day tickets.
- The entrance fee varies according to the season, one-day tickets are 80kuna between November and March, and 110kuna between April and October, and 2-day tickets 130kuna and 180kuna.
- Credit cards are accepted (MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Maestro and Diners).
- Guests from the park hotels in the have one-day tickets for the duration of their stay.
- Opening hours during summertime are 0700-2000, winter 0800 -1600, spring and autumn 0800-1800.
Croatia has invested a huge amount of money into the infrastructure of the National Park and the roads there are excellent, so the lakes of Plitvice are easily accessible on a day tour from most of the major towns on the Adriatic coast except maybe from Dubrovnik when you would need to either have an overnight stay or come back to Dubrovnik very late.
Plitvice Lakes in Croatia – Paradise On Earth
The world is full of incredible places, but few compared to the sheer natural beauty of the Plitvice Lake National Park.
Nestled in a valley in central Croatia it is a MUST visit for anyone in the region.
The valley takes a full 8 hours to tour properly and includes beautiful wooden boardwalks, several small boats, incredible waterfalls, crystal clear blue water and stunningly beautiful vegetation. It made for a long day, but I paused at Plitvice during a bus trip from Zagreb to Split.
Once at Plitvice, they maintained a locked luggage room where I was able to store my backpack while I hiked the lakes. If you take this approach, make sure to have accommodation lined up in Split, as you’ll be arriving after dark.
Highlights of the beautiful in Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park is perhaps the most beautiful natural wonder in Croatia.
In addition to the numerous waterfalls, a bevy of wildlife can be seen, including fish, frogs and a variety of bird species. Special attractions at Plitvice include the Veliki Splat, a 100 foot waterfall surrounded by nearby boulders to which tourists have access.
There is also a large waterfall complex that can be access via a cave in the surrounding rock face.
The paths near the entrance of the park are extremely well maintained and it is a relatively short walk (about 1 hour) around the nearest lake. Boats also operate on the lakes and there are small buses (which are useful to take you up hills). The cost of all of these is included in the entrance price.
Paths, mostly made of wooden planks or gravel, will take you through the whole park. In most places they are wide, but since the park is extremely well visited they can feel very crowded during the day. The park have made some different routes through the park so it is easy to choose how much you want to or have time to see. A walk from one end of the park to the other normally takes around 4h, but due to the unique views the park offers it is a shame to be in a hurry. Take your time and enjoy it. As told already, both buses and boats are free so it is possible to plan a walk zig-zagging up or down the lakes and the many waterfalls, and then not have to walk back the same way.
Many of the paths can be used by disabled persons, but since there is a few steps here and there is some height differences between the lower and the upper lakes it will take a strong helper to get around with a wheelchair.
A ticket is required to enter the park (there are ticket offices on the paths as you enter the park). The tickets also entitle you to free travel on the boats which run on the lakes.
The price for a non-student ticket is 110 KN. An ISIC student card is required to get a student discount.
Buses between Zagreb and Zadar or Split will stop at the entrance to the National Park if you ask the driver beforehand. (Cost from Zadar 83 kn)
Plitvice National Park, Croatia, one of the most beautiful natural sights in Europe
Plitvice National Park in Croatia is considered to be one of the most beautiful natural sights in Europe.
Due to its natural beauty and significance, this system of 16 interlinked lakes and a large forest complex around it were set aside as a national park in 1949. In 1979 the park was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The lakes are situated on the eponymous Plitvice plateau, between the mountains of Li?ka Plješevica (Gornja Plješevica peak 1,640 m), Mala Kapela (Seliški Vrh peak at 1,280 m) and Medve?ak (884 m). The sixteen lakes are separated into an upper and lower cluster formed by runoff from the mountains, descending from an altitude of 636 m to 503 m over a distance of some eight km, aligned in a south-north direction. The lakes collectively cover an area of about two km², with the water exiting from the lowest lake to form the Korana River.
The Plitvice Lakes lie in a basin of karstic rock, mainly dolomite and limestone, which has given rise to their most distinctive feature. The lakes are separated by natural dams of travertine, which is deposited by the action of moss, algae and bacteria. The encrusted plants and bacteria accumulate on top of each other, forming travertine barriers which grow at the rate of about 1 cm per year.
The lakes are renowned for their distinctive colours, ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The colours change constantly depending on the number of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight.
The lakes are divided into the 12 Upper Lakes (Gornja jezera) and the four Lower Lakes.
The Plitvice Lakes National Park is heavily forested, mainly with beech, spruce, and fir trees, and features a mixture of Alpine and Mediterranean vegetation. It has a notably wide variety of plant communities, due to its range of microclimates, differing soils and varying levels of altitude.
The area is also home to an extremely wide variety of animal and bird species. Rare fauna such as the European brown bear, wolf, eagle, owl, lynx, wild cat and capercaillie can be found there, along with many more common species. At least 126 species of birds have been recorded there, of which 70 have been recorded as breeding there.
The best of Croatia is definitely the Plitvice Lakes
First, we had been a bit disappointed about Croatia, but then we got to the Plitvice Lakes!
The Plitvice Lakes is definitely one of the major and best sites I have seen on my travels! The Plitvice Lakes alone are worth a trip to Croatia!
We left Zadar early in the morning and went on the direct route to the lakes. On our way, we’ve passed some beautiful sceneries. But what we’ve also seen were quite many houses which still had bullet holes in their walls from the war 15 years ago.
We arrived at lunchtime, which is actually the worst time to visit the Plitvice Lakes, as hordes of tourist buses arrive at the same time. But we gave it a go and went for it.
We didn’t regret it!
It was drizzling and I can’t remember the last time I shot so many photos in that kind of weather! Usually one or two of such waterfalls attract many tourists. But here you have dozens and each one is a highlight for itself!
There are nice little wooden paths through the park and sometimes they cross right across small waterfalls/rapids. The paths are nicely embedded in nature and that way, it doesn’t feel as crowded as it really is. We walked almost every path and it took us about 5 hours, but it only felt like 2 hours as we stopped so many times to take photos & film the unique scenery.
The Plitvice Lakes aren’t that far away from the Slovenian border and my recommendation is to do a trip to Slovenia instead of spending too much time in Croatia but head for a day or two to the Plitvice lakes. Why Slovenia and not Croatia? You get more for your money! I know that I’m very critical of my travels and that others will definitely see it differently. We stayed most of the time in private accommodations and they were quite expensive but shabby.
The same with the food… we tried a lot of different places, up to the best of the town and each time it wasn’t what we would have got for our money elsewhere in Europe. The scenery, the culture and the people in Croatia are great, but the accommodations, cafes, restaurants etc. have a complete lack of atmosphere and standard. We experienced a complete difference from the moment when we arrived in Slovenia again.
Ljubljana where we are right now, has got it all! Many great cafes, restaurants and accommodations are much more than what we had expected of Croatia…. ok… we’ve been to one place in Croatia I would recommend stopping for a night (if it’s a Friday or Saturday) …
Karlovac seems like an old and very typical town, influenced heavily by the former Soviet Union. A place where you wouldn’t stay too long. It also got many houses with bullet holes from the war and a hotel which is now a burned down ruin.
Then you start to wander around town, and you suddenly experience the place from a completely different side! The roads of the town centre have no traffic and everywhere you’ll find cafes with many young people inside and outside. Imagine a town with empty streets…. but bars and cafes full of people!
We’ve been to 2 places and we both completely fell in love with the town and the folks of Kalovac!