Croatia’s oldest and biggest national park, Plitvice is a four-season playground known for its pristine forests, stunning waterfalls, and dozens of turquoise lakes. To see it all, trek along the wooden pathways that twist through bright-green vegetation and past water rushing down limestone and dolomite rock. Along the way, keep an eye out for the park’s signature blue butterflies and the trout that populate the shallow waters. Though you’re unlikely to encounter them, protected species like brown bears, gray wolves, and Eurasian lynx also roam the forests around Plitvice. If you need more than one day to explore, overnight at one of the many nearby lodgings such as Bear’s Log, with cozy wooden interiors, an outdoor Jacuzzi, and terraces overlooking the verdant landscape.
If going to Croatia you must check out Plitvice Lakes—a world heritage park of impossibly colored lakes criss-crossed by wooden boardwalks. Fed by hundreds of falls and scattered with autumn leaves, the lakes presented a surreal Monet-esque vista. We spent four hours exploring the park, which is so large it has its own ferries and tourist trains, and that wasn’t long enough. Protected by man for the enjoyment of others, Plitvice was a literally a breath of fresh air on the way to the capital, Zagreb.
Visiting the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia
Plitvice National Park is, without a doubt, one of the world’s most beautiful nature reserves. A UNESCO Heritage Site, it consists of sixteen emerald lakes split between upper and lower levels. The colour of the lakes changes from emerald to turquoise to navy and the difference in the elevation between lakes results in beautiful cascading waterfalls. Although there are a couple of accommodation options right next to the park, we opted for a cozy cottage 4 kms from the entrance of the park. The Croatian hospitality and a hearty serving of Ćevapčići, a unique grilled-meat dish served with fried flatbread, ensured that we had a good night’s sleep. Make sure you are well rested for the day at Plitvice—there will be lots and lots of walking. We were spellbound the moment we entered this natural reserve—acres and acres of open land with emerald coloured lakes scattered all over. Walking routes are laid out and vary depending on how easy or difficult you want your day to be. Take it easy and absorb the views—this is one experience you will cherish all your life. Although the “Large Waterfall” (marked Veliki slap) is hard to miss, a lot of people don’t make the effort of climbing to the view point behind this massive waterfall. Make sure you go to this view point, which in our opinion is one of the best vantage points in the park.
Plitviče Lakes National Park
Plitviče Lakes National Park features a family or two of brown bears, three packs of wolves, 157 bird species, 16 lakes in all imaginable shades of blue and green and waterfalls around every corner. It also features hordes upon hordes of zombie tourists with pesky selfie sticks, so if you are in charge of your own schedule, visit the park as early in the day as you can.
Our group spent three to four hours hiking through the park, and crowds aside, it is breathtaking! We were dropped off at Entrance 1, hiked to P3, then took a boat across a dark blue lake to P2, explored the waterfalls there, and hopped on another boat to ferry us the short distance to P1, where we were picked up again. We had a fantastic guide with us, knowledgeable and passionate, and although you can easily hike the park without someone holding your hand, it made our experience so much richer. It also allowed us to find humor and sanity in conversation with a local, while ducking other peoples cameras and iphones.
Plitviče is open all year, unless it snows, or the walkways get too slippery otherwise. For entrance fees, please consult the parks website, as they change per high/ low season.
>>>Warm thanks to Alan Mandić from Secret Dalmatia, for organizing a truly memorable, and off the beaten path trip for our curious and insatiable group of travelers, and to the Art Hotel Kalelarga for perfect accommodations in Zadar.
Experience the wild side of Croatia
Many folks know about Croatia’s famous coastline, but the country’s national parks are another not-to-miss sight. At the top of the list is Plitvice Lakes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes hundreds of cascading lakes and beautiful forest walks.
While I was planning my second trip to Croatia, I researched other sites to visit besides Dubrovnik’s Old City and islands along the coast. One of my Croatian friends told me to look into the Plitvice waterfalls. As soon as I saw some photos online, it was set—I had to go. I’ve been to Niagara Falls, Iceland, and Norway; I thought I had seen enough waterfalls to last me a lifetime. That is, until I saw those photos.
I took a bus from Zagreb to Plitvice National Park, a two-hour bus ride. The park is situated in between Zagreb and Zadar. For 110 Kunas (approximately 20 USD for adults and 15 USD for students), visitors have access to the entire park, including boat rides and tram rides. The weather was cloudy and it rained on and off. Although I had my umbrella on me, there was no need to pull it out because the canopy of trees sheltered me from the rain. I don’t have the words to describe the magnificent beauty of the park so I have to allow my photos to speak for me (I took almost 120 photos in just five hours).
It was stormy all day, with grey clouds brewing over us. But after a quick but driving rain, the sun illuminated the lake beautifully. It was enchanting to see the different greens as they interacted differently with the sun. The plants in the foreground stayed in the shade and thus remained quite dark while the pines in the background glowed a bright, warm green. The water was a beautiful turquoise—perfect for reflecting the darker clouds.
Pouring waterfalls of Plitvicka Jezera
Waterfalls on a stormy day.
The water just barely let the light through--thus depending on depth, colors varied dramatically. Plitvice National Park in Croatia was filled with breathtaking spots like this.
The clouds roll in
A fallen tree rests partially submerged in Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Even on an overcast day, Plitvice is sure to please with its meadering walkways and gorgeous scenery.
When we left Trogir it was 80 and sunny. By the time we arrived at Plitvice, via an unexpected detour off the A-1 highway that resulted in our taking the old, winding, nail-biting route over the mountains, the day had turned chilly and was steeped in fog. We fortified ourselves with lunch and hot tea at Lička Kuća before heading out to the trails. Once we oriented ourselves and chose our route, an 8 hour trek covering nearly all the main trails, we were delighted to discover that even without the sun, the lakes and pools were beautiful shades of emerald, cobalt, and sapphire. The cascading waterfalls, tittering small streams, and the burbling of calmer water created a backdrop of sound that was truly unique, and best captured by video. The trails through the park consisted of natural wooden walkways and dirt paths that meandered along lakes, ponds, streams, and bog areas. At times, the walkways became crowded and we had to dodge and skip around clusters of slow moving people. We skipped a small portion of the walking trail for the sedate, but lovely, ferry ride across the lake, where we were content to rest a bit and gaze at the passing shoreline. After finishing our hike and taking a bus back to the parking area, we headed back to Trogir using the faster and more direct route. On the way, we stopped at Šibenik for dinner at Pelegrini where we sat outside and toasted to the incredible start of our vacation!
Croatia's Unspoiled Beauty
At the end of our one-month summer vacation through Europe, we had had enough of the heat and crowds of touristy cities. We longed for open space and fresh air. After an overnight stay at a nearby pension, my family and I finally arrived early morning at this long-awaited, breathtaking wonder of nature. The photos on the travel websites were real! The lakes are a stunning palette of emerald, turquoise and azure blue. Crystal clear waters show off the abundance of trout. The waterfalls, of varying heights, surprise you around the bend, and flow nonstop as if the turn-off valve had broken. Close your eyes and hear the gurgling. Butterflies with velvet blue wings flutter by. Ducks float quietly over the trout. Limestone provides a nice contrast in color and texture to moss and algae. We easily explored the connection of lakes by shuttle bus, ferry and boardwalks. These walkways allowed us to traverse the lakes, while in other areas, protect plants from foot traffic. Plitvice Lakes National Park, the largest in Croatia, has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. Though it has attracted many tourists over the years, it is excellently maintained -- no trash lying around, swimming and fishing are forbidden, no cars allowed inside. We have been back in California for a few weeks now. Of the 8,000 photos we took on our trip, only one has been framed and sits in a prominent spot in our living room. With a glimpse of the blue-green water, I smile at the memory.
Swimming in Korana River (Plitvice Lakes)
After or before your walk in the wonderful Plitvice Lakes you must swim in the Korana River. Some accommodation gives you the opportunity of a “private” spot but if you aren´t in one of those you can swim in some public areas. Don´t miss it!
A Hike Totally Worth The Time In Croatia, Plitvice Lakes
Oldest national park in southeast Europe. It has 16 lakes connected by waterfalls and is a World Heritage site.
A Hike in the Rain
On a recent visit to Croatia we spent a day hiking in Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site that contains more than twenty lakes connected by an intricate system of natural dams, waterfalls, streams and caves. A place of astounding beauty, the park is the oldest national park in Southeast Europe and a popular international attraction. Our visit, early in the season on a gray and rainy day, was well timed as many of the paths that wind throughout the water features are narrow and can become quite crowded. A trail system, connected by water ferries and a tram/bus, connects the upper and lower lakes and provides an opportunity to explore the densely wooded areas of the park which are home to many rare species of plants and birds. The park has multiple entrances and there are lodges at several locations within the park with cafes making it possible to spend the day here.
Hiking the Primordial
The lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice hit you like you’re falling off a cliff. Quite literally. Your first glimpse of this ancient landscape is over a 300 foot cliff down into the green canyon - waterfalls, pools and streams glistening below, probably similar to its look a thousand years ago. Jurassic Park indeed. Plitvice is more well-known than ever since its 1979 inclusion on the Unesco World Heritage list but that doesn’t seem to take away from the bliss of simply walking around here. People are very well behaved and quiet. Obviously smitten too. Take a full or half day to wander the trails and rustically slatted walkways that lace the park, each bringing you closer to the waterlines, close enough to feel the spray of the waterfalls and to bask in the sound of the rippling of the laketops. The water here is clear, calcified by eons of Karst Topography and the fish swimming under the surface look as if they weren’t in water at all, at one with the ducks gliding over their backs. Of the two weeks we spent in Croatia, Plitvice was one of our favorite days, even perhaps in my top 10 days traveling ever. It’s that wonderful. Very much worth the drive from Zagreb or Dubrovnik through the countryside, in itself a trek through (a more recent) history. Get a sobe guest room in a town nearby and make Plitvice one of your most affordable and memorable days traveling anywhere. Looking back, “magical” doesn’t seem to do it justice for me, more like transcendent.
Nature, glorious nature!
Ultramarine natural lakes, caves and waterfalls. This nature is knock your head off beautiful. The waters flowing over limestone and chalk is made explorable by a network of walking bridges; and above the waters, weaves walking trails through the surrounding forest. We were the first ones there, at sunrise, and chose to enter the gate at the top of the park and work our way down to avoid batches of tourists who typically take the opposite route. We were perfectly entertained all day.
Out of this World - Plitvice Lakes
The waterfalls and color of the water were simply out of this world! An amazing experience. I can’t believe more people don’t fall in the water off the little walkways (with no railings).