Tips for Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

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.

Visiting Plitvice Lakes: one of the many waterfalls

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.

Visiting Plitvice Lakes: The Great Fall, the tallest waterfall in the park

Visiting Plitvice Lakes: the azure colored waters

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.

Visiting Plitvice Lakes: one of the many waterfalls

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.

Visiting Plitvice Lakes: one of the small waterfalls

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!

Visiting Plitvice Lakes: A wooden walkway through the park

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.

Visiting Plitvice Lakes: another stunning waterfall

Visiting Plitvice Lakes: more of the wooden walkways over the lakes

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.

Visiting Plitvice Lakes: the view over Lake Kozjak

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.

Visiting Plitvice Lakes: alone on the K path

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.

Visiting Plitvice Lakes: A view from the trail

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.

 

Tips for Visiting Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

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  • September 30, 2016

    Fab tips! I visited a couple of years ago, though I didn’t have a car as I was travelling solo, which makes car hire kinda pricey. Thankfully I decided to make my own way there on public transport from Zadar, rather than taking an organised tour, which was a) cheaper and b) so much better. Yes, it was overcrowded, but at least I could hike off on my own away from the main entrance towards the Upper Lakes, and lose the crowds for a bit. Couldn’t believe how slowly I had to walk when I was in the thickest of the crowds. There was one woman on crutches & another woman in stillettos, which meant that everyone (all thousand-or-so of us) had to walk at their speed… Eek!
    Katie @ the tea break project recently posted…The 5 Best Places We Stayed on our Western American Road TripMy Profile

    • October 1, 2016

      Amazing that someone would show up in a park in heels, right? Saw some of the same thing when we were there, and it was just confusing to me. Not a heel-friendly environment!

  • October 1, 2016

    What an amazing national park. I love all those lakes and waterfalls and the colour of the water is amazing. I haven’t been to Croatia but I would love to visit!
    Chrysoula recently posted…A local’s guide: Things to do in Ericeira, PortugalMy Profile

  • October 1, 2016

    First, I would have never pronounced it as ‘PLEET-veet-seh’ . So thank you very much for enlightening me on this.

    The color of water looks very inviting with green & blue shades. Quite peaceful place.
    Nisha recently posted…My First Flat TyreMy Profile

    • October 1, 2016

      no one pronounces it right. It took us a while to get the hang of it!

  • October 1, 2016

    What a beautiful place!
    It’s a real pity you cannot swim there – although I understand there are definitely too many people for that 🙂
    Monika recently posted…Why are you going there?My Profile

  • October 1, 2016

    Thanks for this super comprehensive write up! SO useful for those that want to go. I’ve been dying to go to Croatia! 🙂 One day!
    anna recently posted…Basic Khmer for Travellers: Essential Phrases You Need to KnowMy Profile

    • October 1, 2016

      definitely a great place to visit…just don’t go in July or August!

  • October 1, 2016

    Plitvice failed to impress us. It was pretty, but it doesn’t even register in the prettiest places in Europe that we’ve been. We went in September and despite being there before the park even opened, we still waited over an hour just in the ticket line. It was so overcrowded that it just wasn’t even enjoyable. We also went in a year there was drought, so the waterfalls were pretty pathetic.
    Jennifer recently posted…5 Tips for Photographing Iceland’s Gorgeous WaterfallsMy Profile

    • October 1, 2016

      That’s a bummer. There was no lines at all when we went two weeks ago, and there were a lot of people, but the bulk of them arrived between 11am-3pm. In fact, on the K trail, around Kozjak Lake, we didn’t pass a single person for 30 minutes. And the waterfalls were all pretty strong, so I guess we were lucky. I think large crowds can ruin almost any site, no matter how beautiful.
      I talked to a few people in Split, who said they are trying to figure out a way to limit the tourists. That’s why the admission price is so high…they thought driving up the price would slow tourism. However, this past summer was the busiest summer ever. They do need to do something, because waiting an hour in line at a national park defeats the purpose of going to a national park.

  • October 1, 2016

    Thanks for sharing the information about the best time to visit. I love the look of this place but would hate all those people there so when I do get around to it, I will definitely be taking your advice and going out of season.
    Anne recently posted…Does British Airways Think Its Passengers Are Stupid?My Profile

    • October 1, 2016

      yeah, they really don’t have the infrastructure to support so many tourists, and they have tried increasing the price to reduce the crowds, but it’s just bringing in more people. Off season is the only way to see the park properly.

  • October 1, 2016

    The Plitvice Lakes have been high on my bucket list ever since I left Croatia without visiting them. I’d love to visit Plitvice during the shoulder season in order to admire the waterfalls without the crowds! Sounds like you hit the jackpot on the K trail!

    • October 2, 2016

      Plitvice Lakes is definitely worth a visit, but definitely in shoulder season. Another person commented that she had to wait in line for an hour just to go into the park, which sort of defeats the purpose of going to a national park to enjoy nature. Nature shouldn’t have a queue!

  • October 2, 2016

    Plitvice Lakes is one of the places that I long to visit. I’ve seen so many wonderful photos – and I must congratulate you on your gorgeous ones! – and wonderful stories. A friend recently went there and was simply mesmerized. I love that you’ve included various trail options, include some secluded ones! Great tips!
    Lori recently posted…50 essential backpacking tips for safe and enjoyable travelsMy Profile

    • October 6, 2016

      We’ve heard some differing comments on Plitvice Lakes. Like you, we were really looking forward to visiting for a long time. But some people have been underwhelmed (maybe they were expecting Niagara Falls?), or annoyed by the crowds. Hope you’ll find your way there soon 🙂

  • October 3, 2016

    I don’t know where to start – but those waterfalls – wow. That first photo here is incredible! The colours of the water, the backdrops, everything makes me want to book a flight there tomorrow!

    • October 6, 2016

      If you can believe it, those colors are almost exactly true to life (ok, i might have bumped up the saturation a tiny bit but still!), and you can find similar water in Slovenia. Hell, just book a flight to both places!

  • October 4, 2016

    Based on your stunning photographs, it is a safe bet to say that more tourists will hear of the park soon. It is amazing how such natural beauty has been under discovered for so long.

    • October 6, 2016

      So kind of you. I hope the park figures out quickly how to manage more visitors – they seem to be pretty much at capacity now. It’s definitely something that the local tourism industry seems on edge about.