Tips For Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia
Here's my travel guide and tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park, a misty natural wonderland in Croatia.
Plitvice Lakes is a mandatory destination in Croatia, especially for nature lovers. The gorgeous park is full of vibrant colors. It boasts turquoise water, terraced lakes, stunning viewpoints, and photogenic waterfalls. You'll be stunned at the breathtaking technicolor views at every turn.
Yet, Plitvice Lakes can be overwhelming to visit. There are different levels of lakes, four different hiking trails, 7 different routes through the park, and 2 different entrances. And there will be crowds. Read on for all my tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes.
Where is Plitvice Lakes and How To Get There
In 1979, Plitvice Lakes became a UNESCO site. It's one of the most popular destinations in Croatia, with over a million annual visitors. In the summer months, you should expect big crowds.
Plitvice Lakes is located in the hinterlands of central Croatia. It's on the highway between Zagreb and Split. The closest cities to the park are Zagreb and Zadar. It's easiest to drive, but there are buses. From Zagreb, the are buses to Plitvice Lakes takes 2:20. The bus ride from Zadar is 2 hours.
If you're planning a day trip, start early. It's probably more sensible to overnight near the park, to beat the crowds. I stopped in Plitvice Lakes while traveling from Split Croatia to Ljubljana Slovenia.
Overview of Plitvice Park
Plitvice is large, covering over 73,000 acres. There are 7 different routes (called "programs") through the park (accessed via 4 hiking trails) and 16 crystal clear lakes. The lakes are interconnected, boasting waterfalls, caves, and foaming rapids.
There's plenty of hiking of course. But you also get around by electric boat and shuttle. The shuttle is called the Panoramic Train. Everything is well marked.
Pristine Plitvice is divided roughly into three areas -- the lower lake section (Donja Jezera), the upper lake section (Gornja Jezera) and a third area around Proscansko Lake. A map of the park is below.
The lower lakes section is accessed by Entrance 1 and includes the iconic Veliki Slap Waterfall. There are several detours off the main trail, which take you to viewing points. From the lower lakes, you can take electric boats or the shuttle to the upper lakes section. Beyond that is the Proscansko Lake.
Routes Through Plitvice Lakes: Which To Take?
Planning ahead for your trip to Plitvice Lakes is a must. There are 7 suggested programs through the park. You can pick one that matches your entry point, time allotted, and fitness level. Or you can fashion your own custom walk through the park.
None of the routes are particularly challenging. You don't need to be an experienced hiker. Click here for a list of the programs, in addition to my summary below.
Program A is the convenient main route. It begins at entrance 1 and is 3.5 k. It goes downhill to the boardwalk trails where you can see the marquee waterfall. Program B is slightly longer extending from Program A. At the end of Program A, you take a boat to the other side of Kozjak Lake and return to entrance 1 by shuttle or hiking.
Program C continues onward from Program B. Once off the boat, you can walk the pretty boardwalk trails in the upper lakes regions. Program E begins at Entrance 2 but covers the same areas as Program C. Program F also departs from Entrance 2 but explores the lower lakes.
For Program H, you take the shuttle from Entrance 2 to the top of the upper lakes. Walk the boardwalks until you reach Kozjak Lake. Ride the boat across and then walk the lower lakes trails. From Entrance 1, shuttle back to Entrance 2. Program K is the longest route covering the entire park. You hike in lieu of taking the boat or shuttle.
There are boat icons that point you to the park's three boat docks. The shuttle boats leave every 30 minutes and the ride takes 20 minutes. And there are train icons directing you to the three stops for the shuttle buses, which are good for returning to your car at the end of your hike. The programs are designated by letter signs.
Should You Visit the Lower lakes, Upper Lakes, or Both?
If you have ample time, I suggest you see both the lower lakes and the upper lakes. The hues are amazing. The different shades of blue are due to algae and minerals. To do this, you'll need to do either Program C from Entrance 1 or Program H from Entrance 2. My daughter and I opted for Program C, starting at Entrance 1, which offers better head on views of the incredible nature before you.
If you are limited on time, you will have to choose between the lower lakes and upper lakes. Both are beautiful.
Programs A and B take you through the lower lakes. The lakes are nestled between canyon walls. From it, you can see all the best scenery. You begin with a descent down steep path with switchbacks. As you reach the lakes, you follow the boardwalksYou'll have close up views of the travertine rock formations
After you cross the path over the first lake, there's an optional 10 minute detour (veer right). This detour takes you to the Big Waterfall, Veliki Slap, a 250 foot waterfall. Then you'll backtrack to the main boardwalk.
You'll pass more waterfalls and then come upon Bottomless Cave. If you're interested, you can scramble through the slippery cave. I admit that we didn't do this.
Programs E and F cover the upper lakes. They are greener, steeper, and perhaps more serene. All the waterfalls are there. The air seems filled with a cooling spray. The upper lakes also tend to be less crowded, in the later afternoon especially.
Begin your hike by climbing the steep boardwalks from the boat dock. You'll curl along the outline of Lake Gradinsko. At the end, you'll find some of Plitvice's best waterfalls and walk through the middle of a waterfall. There are plenty of ponds and cascades to enjoy.
You'll eventually reach a fork. Turn left for a walk through a forest and more waterfalls. Then you'll land at a boat dock for the return trip. Or turn right if you have more time and want to continue hiking.
Viewpoints Over the Lakes
There are several other amazing cliff viewpoints along the lakes. From the boat dock near Entrance 1, you'll see a road branch off the trail. Follow the road uphill for 10 minutes. Once at the top, you are walking on the Plitvice's western cliffs. There, you'll find a hiking trail with beautiful views over the lakes.
From the last one, you hike down a staircase back to Veliki Slap and head back to Entrance 1. Alternatively, you can cross a small wooden bridge to another hiking trail. From there, it's 5 minutes to another keep going to the picture perfect Vidikovac Sightseeing Point.
Practical Information and Tips for Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
Need more tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes? Below, you'll find everything else you'll need to know about visiting this iconic park, which is open year round.
1. Opening Hours
In summer, the park is open from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm. In spring and fall, the park is open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. In winter, hours vary. Click here to check the official website. The ticket office closes at 5:00 pm.
2. Entry Fee | Tickets
You can purchase a ticket for 1 or 2 days. Ticket prices vary by season, so check the website. You'll also have to pay for parking. Tickets can be purchase online. You can also buy them in person. If you arrive at mid day, you'll be met with a long line.
Keep your ticket with you at all times if you plan to use the internal transportation. It's also best to buy a map when you buy your tickets. Though there are big maps posted throughout the park.
3. Best Time Vo Visit
The spring and fall are the best time to visit Plitvice. In spring, the waterfalls are at full tilt. In fall, you will see fiery fall foliage. Summers are crowded and the water levels may be lower. In summer, you should either arrive very early or arrive in the late afternoon and plan a shorter hike.
4. Pro Tips For Visiting
The best views of the waterfalls are from Entrance 1. There's no biking or swimming at Plitvice Lakes because it's a designated UNESCO site. The smartest thing to do in terms of food is bring a picnic lunch. And be sure to bring a water bottle. Wear good walking shoes, as the paths can be slippery and uneven.
5. Where To Stay In Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes has three official hotels -- Hotel Jezero, Hotel Plitvice, and Hotel Bellevue. None of them are great options, in my opinion. If you go a bit south of the park, Plitvice Miric Inn is better option.
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