Plitvice Lakes: Impressions, Tips and Regrets

Plitvice Lakes Impressions, Tips and Regrets

I read a lot of blogs and they always help me in planning what to see and how much time to spend somewhere. I wish I hadn’t read anything on Croatia’s famous Plitvice Lakes, because the National Park in our opinion really requires more than the one night stay/ half day excursion that most bloggers suggest. But maybe that’s because we’re old and no longer enjoy rushing through things 🙂 .

For those not  familiar with Plitvice lakes National Park: it is a Unesco World Heritage Site, the oldest National Park in Croatia, and is considered one of the most beautiful National Parks in Europe. It is known for its sixteen lakes which range from clear to turquoise and for the waterfalls, canyons, and streams that shape the landscape around these lakes. It really is a ‘waterworld’ which the visitor can access by following the wooden paths that have been laid out around the waterfalls and over the streams.

Upper Lakes waterfall, Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Above: Waterfall in the Upper Lakes.

We took the Zadar – Zagreb bus from Zadar. Plitvice Lakes National Park is midway between the two cities, about 3 hours from each. We were staying at the Plitvice Hotel (which is the place to stay) and getting there couldn’t have been easier; the bus made a stop at Entrance 2 to the park and we just had to walk the 300 or so meters to the hotel.

stairs in Upper Lakes, Plitvice, Croatia

Above: Path in Upper Lakes.

Time: The consensus is that walking the park should take you 5 to 6 hours. There are a few factors you should consider however. They’ll make the difference between a relaxing day of hiking and a stressful day fighting the hordes for walking space on the narrow paths.

Below: Ferry that takes you between the Upper and Lower lakes. This is ferry stop P1.

ferry at P1, Plitvice  Lakes, Croatia

Ferry dock P1, Plitvice Lakes. Croatia

Itinerary: The itinerary you choose to visit the park will depend at which entrance to the park you arrive from. The park is logistically divided into the Upper Lakes and the Lower Lakes. Entrance 1 to the park is closest to the Lower Lakes, Entrance 2 is slightly closer to the Upper Lakes (although both parts can be easily accessed from this point). Most people coming through Entrance 1 will do the Lower Lakes first, then either walk or take the boat to the other section to do the Upper Lakes. Contrarily, those entering the park at Entrance 2 usually take the bus (10 min) to the top of the Upper Lakes then follow the lakes down, crossing by boat or walking to the Lower Lakes section. Either way, most people do the whole route in one day. In fact, some people don’t even overnight in Plitvice; they’ll arrive early in the morning on a day trip and leave late in the afternoon. You’ll notice the ranks of people swelling mid-morning and then diminishing mid-afternoon.

Below: some of the views you’ll see in the Upper Lakes.

beautiful views over the Upper lakes, Plitvice, Croatia

views in Upper Lakes, Plitvice, Croatia

falls in upper lakes, Croatia

path through forest, Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Upper Lake at Plitvice, Croatia

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Which is the most impressive section?
Most people we talked to thought it was the Upper Lakes. We were most impressed with the Lower Lakes. Since so much depends on the lighting conditions, it probably depends on what time of day you saw either. Talk to the Park employees and they’ll say that ideally you should see the Lower Lakes in the morning and the Upper Lakes in the afternoon.

Below: Views in the Lower Lakes.

Milanovac Slap, Lower Lakes, Plitvice Lakes, Croatia (1)

Milanovac Slap, Lower Lakes, Plitvice Lakes, Croatia (4)

Milanovac Slap, Lower Lakes, Plitvice Lakes, Croatia (3)

rapids in Lower Lakes, Plitvice, Croatia

Below: Crazy Bastard making an appearance.

Crazy Bastard near big waterfall, Plitvice, Croatia

large gorge, Plitvice lakes, Croatia

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Below: Veliki Slap, the largest waterfall in Plitvice Lakes.

Veliki Slap, The big Waterfall, Plitvice, Croatia

 

What we recommend? Stay 2 nights. Arrive early the first day and see the Upper Lakes in the late afternoon. The next morning do the Lower Lakes. Take a break at mid-day, then, if you want, re-visit any part of the lakes that you really liked in the late afternoon. The point however is that it is a beautiful, relaxing location that shouldn’t be rushed – and doing the walk in the early morning and late afternoon you’ll be avoiding the mid-day crowds. We really regret not having stayed two nights, we found our visit to Plitvice too rushed and didn’t feel that we enjoyed it as much as we could have.

 

Talking about crowds: Plitvice Lakes National Park is the 2nd most popular tourist spot (after Dubrovnik) in all of Croatia. We were there early June so the crowds weren’t too bad. But we’ve heard about the hordes of people in July and August and have seen photos of airport-like lines on the paths. By all accounts it is a nightmare (ie. waiting hours to enter the park, following the crowds like a herd of sheep). While Plitvice is impressive nothing is worth that. We would never visit that time of year.

 

Summary: Impressive and we enjoyed the natural surroundings. Are the lakes as fantastic as advertised? While we found the lakes beautiful, we thought that some of the hype is overdone. There are many gorgeous places in Europe, 99% of which get nowhere near the recognition or the crowds of Plitvice.
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luggage at bus stop outside entrance 2, Plitvice

Above: bus stops on either side of road, most going to either Zagreb (inland) or Zadar (on the coast).

Plitvice Lakes
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Practical Information:

Getting here by car is the best option. We took the bus and it worked out very well coming (from Zadar) and leaving (to Zagreb). You can use this site to help you with the bus schedule.
– There are 2 government run hotels which are situated within about a hundred meters of entrance 2 to the park. Hotel Plitvice is the better of the two (the other is Hotel Bellevue). Hotel Plitvice was built in the 1950s and has a ‘Mad Men’ air. Quite elegant, we enjoyed the hotel bar and restaurant. Beautiful setting and as mentioned above easy to walk to from the bus stop (make sure you get out at the National Park’s Entrance 2).
Prices for the park. Note that if you stay at the Park hotels (including the one above), you can buy and visit the park on your day of arrival AS WELL as the next day. Ask the staff at reception to validate your ticket for the next day and you can essentially get 2 days of usage out of your ticket.

 

Have you been to Plitvice Lakes?  What was your experience?

 
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Comments

  1. I’ve heard that area is beautiful but wow! What a beautiful National Park and great information. Enjoyed your amazing photograpy!
    Elizabeth Hampton recently posted…Celebrating Festa Junina in BrazilMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for taking time to comment Elizabeth. I just remember that it was a really hot day and that we sweated a lot 🙂

  2. Love these pictures! Since we were there in early March, we didn’t get to see the lush green of the park OR the Upper Lakes. BUT, we practically had the place to ourselves and spent two days there. We think our entire experience would have been different if we had to deal with crowds.
    Sarah recently posted…Best Craft Brews of our JourneyMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hey guys – that sounds nice. We didn’t quite have that but the first day when we arrived we took a 2 hours walk 5ish and almost had the place to ourselves. The next day we went out at about the same time as everyone else 8:30ish and the crowds grew steadily…until it was a bit too much around noon time.
      We’ve discovered that visiting Europe in March is actually kind of pleasant, just for the reasons you just cited.

  3. Wow! This is really an impressive place. I have never heard of it, and l certainly would never have pictured something like this in Croatia. It sort of reminds me of Hawaii somehow. Really impressive. Your pictures do it justice :-). They are fantastic!!!
    Kemkem recently posted…Seville Cathedral and La Giralda – stunning ode to excess in AndalusiaMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hey Kemkem – yes, totally different than Coastal Croatia that most people associate with the country. Once you get into northern Croatia the coastal mountains give way to hills and there’s a lot of greenery. Very different geography.

  4. Frank, We visited Plitvice in April, and even though it wasn’t as crowded as the middle of summer, there were plenty of people. I think the most important tip is to be ready to hike at 8:00 am when the park opens. We hiked around for almost two hours before the hordes descended!
    Corinne recently posted…Mont St. Michel – A UNESCO World Heritage SiteMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Corrine, I’ve even heard of people starting off at 6:30. I don’t know if anyone is manning the gates at that time and if it is officially a ‘no-no'(I assume it is) but if it can be done it would be a beautiful time. The earlier the better. Also later; the first day we were walking from 5ish (pm) to 7ish (pm) and we didn’t see the crowds we would see the next day.

  5. Thanks for the tips – I really try to avoid 1 night stays and it’s nice to get positive reinforcement about staying 2 to visit the lakes. Filing away for a Croatia plan that’s coming together…slowly.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      You’ll love Croatia Rebecca! We’ll come back one day and explore the islands.
      My feeling is that generally people rush through things too much and that’s especially the case at Plitvice where you’re surrounded by beautiful nature and the object should be to relax and enjoy. So good for you for having the good sense of staying 2 nights! 🙂

  6. Totally agree, we spent a night in a guest house in a small hamlet about 100 yards from the entrance and one day wasn’t enough to do the lakes justice. We visited about the same time of year and it wasn’t too busy, but we did get drenched by heavy rain.
    Jack recently posted…Oh Oberammergau you are Such a TeaseMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Rats – I can image rain would ruin a visit because you need the reflections of the sky in the water to appreciate the different colours of the lakes.

  7. Oh, it makes me happy to meet people who love slow travel 🙂 Thanks for this blog post that encourages people to stay a bit longer and really appreciate the beauty of Plitvice Lakes. If you ever get a chance to come in wintertime – that’s really amazing. And very very few crowds 🙂
    Andrea recently posted…Leafy Zagreb walk – the coolest walk in the cityMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      It MUST be very beautiful in wintertime, I can only imagine. The thing is that everyone does it the same way (ie.rushed) and we fell in that trap. You’re in nature, relax and enjoy it, right? I’m sure we’ll make it back one day because we love Croatia 🙂

  8. I recently saw a post on Instagram of Plitivice in October. Wow was it sensational with the beautiful fall foliage. Great tips here to get the best out of the experience. I agree, it is best not to rush especially a place as beautiful as this.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…Little Calumet River group canoeing GoPro selfieMy Profile

  9. Hello,
    Thanks guys for this tips, realy your blog post is helpful, clear and well written. Keep writing and posting, you are doing great job.

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