Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list.
The natural beauty of the cascading lakes, with dozens of waterfalls and crystal clear water that fades from azure to green, is otherworldly. It’s the kind of landscape that was probably the inspiration for The Land Before Time. The park consists of sixteen lakes, all interconnected and fed by runoff from the surrounding mountains and was made a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1979.
While this national park seems to fly under the radar of North American tourists, it is hugely popular among Europeans, who have been coming here for years. It is frequently mentioned as a highlight of Croatia, and we were encouraged to visit by Europeans who couldn’t believe we hadn’t heard of it. The park is also becoming a more frequent addition to huge European tours, so let’s just say if you haven’t heard of this park, you will. It’s coming to a tour near you.
Here is our comprehensive guide for visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of Croatia’s most important landmarks.
How and When to Visit
Plitvice Lakes National Park (pronounced PLEET-veet-seh) is located about two hours from Zagreb or Split, near the Bosnian border. Buses are available from most both cities, and are normally part of day tours. The upside to such a tour is that you can easily see the park and return to your original city in a single (long) day. The downside is that almost all buses and arranged tours arrive at the park around the same time of the day, which means the most congestion on the trails.
Ideally, visiting Plitvice Lakes by car is best, as you will have more flexibility around your visit, avoiding other visitors and intermittent bad weather.
Like all of Europe, July and August is peak tourist season, so expect large crowds. In fact, if possible, avoid the park during this period. On the busiest days this summer, the park had up to 11,000 visitors in a day, which means long lines and consistent crowds all around the park, a park that is really best experienced with as few interruptions as possible.
Also, to be frank, the park does not have the infrastructure to comfortably accommodate that number of tourists, which is something the park is trying to deal with as its popularity increases. In practical terms, this means squeezing by other groups on the narrow footpaths, or waiting in long queues for the ferry boats that shuttle visitors around.
The shoulder season (April, May, September, October) is best, and the weather will still be pleasant.
The best times of day for visiting Plitvice Lakes are in the morning (from 7am-10am) and after 4pm (closing time varies by time of year, but it is open during daylight hours). As previously mentioned, almost all of the tour buses are at the park from roughly 11am-3pm. On your own, you can enter and leave as you’d like, taking a break during the busiest hours and returning again later in the day.
One day, as we wrapped up our hike at 11am, we were greeted with fleets of tour buses pulling up to unload more passengers.
Prices and Tickets
For adults, the price ranges from 55-180 kuna (£6-£20) depending on the time of year you are visiting Plitvice Lakes. The offseason, (November-March) is 55 kuna, the high season (July and August) is 180 kuna, and the shoulder season is 110 kuna (April-June, September-October).
During high season, this is actually the single most expensive attraction in all of Croatia, but the money goes towards protecting the park and its environment.
If you are driving yourself, parking is available next to Entrance 1 and 2, and costs 7 kuna (£.80) per hour. Another bonus of the slower seasons is that a two-day pass in September costs the same as a single day entry in July or August (180 kuna), so fewer people and more bang for your buck!
Getting Around the Park
The main entry points to the park are Entrance 1 and Entrance 2, both located on the same main road, running along the east side of the park. Entrance 1 is located on the lower lakes section of the park, and is closest to the trail down to the Great Fall, the largest waterfall in the park. Entrance 2 is situated in the upper lakes, which is home to more of the terraced falls that you see in these photos.
Entrance 2 also has the easiest access to the fully electric ferries, which run two routes across the lakes. There is also a complimentary bus that runs from the end of the upper lakes, connects back down towards Entrance 2, then continues on to Entrance 1.
All buses and ferries are included in the price of a ticket to Plitvice Lakes.
Within the park, there are six main hiking trails (A, B, E, F, H, and K) that weave throughout the park. Trails A, B, and F focus mainly on the lower lakes, E on the upper lakes, and H and K do loops of the entire park. You can easily transfer between trails and the signs to do so are plentiful. The longest loop, K, will take around six-eight hours, while the shorter loops can be completed in as little as two hours. These time frames in our estimation are quite generous. We easily completed trail E in under two hours, with lots of stops for photos and walking at a leisurely pace.
While there is a lack of clear information about the hikes on the Plitvice Lakes website, within the park itself, the trails are clearly marked and easy to follow.
There are detailed maps near both entrances, as well as signs on the trails. It would be almost impossible to get lost, since all of the trails are circular and many overlap with each other.
The Best Itinerary for Visiting Plitvice Lakes
Ideally, a two day pass is best for seeing the entirety of the park while visiting Plitvice Lakes. It could be done in one day, but with the large crowds in the park during peak hours, it is easier to spread out the hikes between two days, seeing the upper lakes one day, and the lower lakes the next.
For the upper lakes, park at Entrance 2, and walk down to the ferry, located at the bottom of the trail. The short 5 minute ride takes you across Lake Kozjak and the start of the E trail.
This is one of the more iconic trails, as it curves around the smaller, upper lakes, with elevated wooden walkways, allowing you to walk across the lakes and capture incredibly close views of the lake and its waterfalls.
The E trail ends at the bus station, where you can board and ride back down to Entrance 2. If you would like to do more hiking, you can link up with K trail and backtrack by foot down to Entrance 2.
For the second day, start at Entrance 1, and walk down to the Great Fall. Just make sure to start early, as this path becomes clogged by 11am, as its usually the first stop for most tour groups. You can follow the B or H trail, which loops around the lower lakes.
These lakes are larger, with fewer waterfalls, and more paths through the woods, rather than over the water on the wooden platforms like the upper lakes. Most trails lead to a dock, where you can pick up the ferry for a longer ride across Lake Kozjak back towards Entrance 2, where the bus can transfer back towards Entrance 1. Again, you can do this all on foot as well, but the bus and ferry provide a nice break and change of scenery.
For a more secluded adventure, our vote is for the K trail, which goes past the ferry dock and loops around the lower and upper lakes. On K, we found ourselves completely alone for 20-30 minutes along the lakeside trail, a highlight of our entire visit.
Where to Stay
There are lots of hotel and camping options around Plitvice Lakes, but we must give a little shout out to the guest house that we chose, thanks to it’s incredible ratings online. The Plitvice Hills Guest House, located about a 15-minute drive south of the lakes may only have four rooms, but the family who runs it is incredibly welcoming and accommodating.
Our visit started with a welcome drink with the proprietor, and even included a late night treat one night – sweet crepes delivered to our room, filled with a creamy almond filling. The guest house opened in March 2016 after a year long renovation, so all of the rooms are updated and have fantastic wifi (which we especially enjoyed during a morning rainstorm that left us chilling out in our room).
Their breakfast spread is stellar as well, including fresh eggs from the chickens that roam the grounds around the guest house. The chickens belong to the neighbors who call them by name and they come running. Seriously. Rates start around £50/night, which we thought was a fantastic value.
Check out the video below for even more beautiful images of this pristine group of lakes.