If I hadn’t managed to see the Plitvice Lakes during my last road trip itinerary between Slovenia and Croatia, I would have been really disappointed.
If you like nature, visiting the Plitvice Lakes will be like getting a “fill” of well-being. They are indescribable. It is impossible to convey to you the feeling of being literally surrounded by more or less large streams, by impressive waterfalls and other tiny ones, by lakes surrounded by greenery that is as green as it gets. The Plitvice Lakes are one of those once-in-a-lifetime places to visit!
For this reason, I have tried to summarize in the article you are about to read some suggestions to be able to understand well how to visit this Paradise. Unfortunately, “around” one can only find fragmentary information. In this post I will try to be very complete and not to forget anything…not even about bathing, but then I will explain why.
What are the Plitvice Lakes?
Let’s start with understanding what they are, because “Plitvice Lakes” brings to mind big lakes, maybe a couple, three, four…in reality they are a huge number of lakes, ponds, puddles connected by streams of varying water flow. For a better understanding, take a look at the following photograph.
So, this complex of lakes and waterfalls is best called“Plitvice Lakes National Park.” It is the most fascinating natural point of interest in the interior territory of Croatia, not surprisingly it was recognized as aUNESCO World Heritage Sitein 1979.
They became a tourist spot in 1951 when the National Park was established; in 1991 they were the scene of the beginning of the Civil War due to the killing of a Croatian agent by Serbian activists right within the context of the Plitvice Lakes.
The limestone nature of the area
One naturally wonders how the Plitvice Lakes came to be. This area of Europe, as well as that of the famous Skocjan Caves or those of Postojna in beautiful Slovenia, is characterized by a composition of carbonate rocks.
The two rivers (the Bijela River and the Crna River), which then flow into the Korana River, are rich in limestone salts. Over time, these tiny rock fragments sediment along the way. In the area of the Plitvice Lakes they have been deposited creating natural dams that put a brake on the water forming the various lakes.
Where are the Plitvice lakes?
The Plitvice lakes are located in the lika region, in northern Dalmatia, a few kilometers as the crow flies (a 10/15 km) from the Serbian border. They are therefore in the middle of Croatian territory at a not inconsiderable distance from the beaches. Just to give you an example, if you will be on vacation in Zadar, to get to the Plitvice Lakes you will have to drive about 130 km for a total of 1 1/2 hours.
I have included them within a road trip itinerary and so they were a scheduled stop. If they were to be a day trip for you, then consider that it takes a while to reach them from the sea. So definitely book your ticket to avoid any inconvenience. I will explain why in a moment.
How to get there?
To be autonomous, I recommend that you get to the lakes by car. There are no parking problems because for each entrance there is a huge paid parking lot that “develops” inside the pine forest. You will be able to park among the various trees.
You can also reach the Plitvice Lakes by bus either from the capital Zagreb, or from Zadar or Split if you are on the coast. Of course, the travel time is longer and you have to respect the transport timetables. Being in such a paradise and having to watch the clock is not for me. However, on a note of record it is only fair that I point out that there is also this possibility.
Warning: there are two (or rather three) entrances to the Plitvice Lakes and they are not close to each other. So try to set your navigator to the entrance for which you will have purchased a ticket.
Sleeping near the Plitvice Lakes?
I open a short paragraph regarding where to stay near the Plitvice Lakes because I believe mine was a winning choice. Given the amount of people who visit the lakes every day, I recommend sleeping near the national park so that you can wake up early in the morning and be among the first to enter.
This, in my opinion, is the best choice you can make. One of the drawbacks of such incredible places is that because they are remarkably beautiful, quite a few people want to see them. Being able to explore the lakes and enjoy them without people taking a thousand selfies is priceless.
For this reason I recommend the hotel where I stayed. It is located in Grabovac, a scant 10 minutes to the first entrance to the Plitvice Lakes. Clean, giant room, features a swimming pool and restaurant. Perfect, since the area does not offer much in the way of dining.
RECOMMENDED solution -> Hotel Plitvice Palace (CLICK HERE to see hotel)
How to visit the Plitvice Lakes
As many as 18 km of trails within a breathtaking panorama of 16 lakes. The Plitvice Lakes are huge and to visit them I recommend you assume a full day. They should not be seen in a hurry. They are to be appreciated and admired.
The Plivice Lakes are a multi-level lake system, one upper and one lower, formed by the Bijela and Crna rivers and many underground springs. The color of the lakes changes continuously according to the refraction of the sun and the season in which you visit, that is, according to the flow of the rivers. The various shades of color vary according to the amount of minerals and organisms in the water.
Where to book admission
I strongly recommend that you book your entrance on the park’s official website
Why do I recommend that you purchase your ticket in advance? Because admissions are limited. A maximum number of people can enter per hour. Consequently, it is advisable to select:
- date of arrival.
- entrance at which you would like to enter the Plitvice Lakes.
You can purchase them in advance up to one day before your arrival date.
Plitvice lakes entrance hours and cost
The park is open year-round, but opening hours vary with the seasons.
Since the hours also vary by year, I recommend that you check the maximum allowed entry times directly on the link mentioned in the previous paragraph. You will have the option to select other months as well, and as a result you will see which are the last admissions that can be purchased. As for the park’s opening hours, I recommend that you look at this link for the various updates: Check Here.
The price of admission varies according to the season. For completeness I give you the table. 200 kuna is about 25/26 € depending on the exchange rate.
What if you can’t make a reservation?
Let’s get to the critical point. What if you happen to forget to book them (as happened to me in the middle of August)? Cross your fingers and head to the ticket office as early as possible in the morning.
This is actually not the case at all and you can rest assured. You will still be able to see the Plitvice Lakes. The only thing is that you will probably have to get in late. You can always view at THIS LINK the number of tickets available for today.
My dispassionate advice: go to the ticket office as early as possible in the morning so that you can purchase the tickets available for the first time slot. Ticket offices open at 7 a.m. (at least as far as summer is concerned).
Entrance 1, entrance 2 or entrance 2bis/3 (Flora)?
No kidding. For the Plitvice Lakes there are 2 entrances far apart. They are the two main ones, but there is a third one that I called 2bis.
Entrance1: located at the end of the Plitvice Lakes (the first one you encounter coming from Grabovac)
Entrance2: located in the middle of the lakes (the first one encountered coming from Zadar)
Entrance3: located near Plitvica Selo, more distant but less crowded.
Which entrance to choose? There is no preference, it depends on the route you would like to take. Inside, the park is excellently connected. You will have to choose the entrance according to the route you would like to take.
The routes inside the Plitvice lakes
When I looked at the map to figure out which route to choose, I was blown away. I thought there was only one option, but instead there are so many. As many as 8, designed based on the needs of those who want to put in more effort (and cover more miles) or less effort and enjoy more of the equipped spaces.
They are nomenclated in letters and are as follows:
- A – 2/3 hours – 3.5 km
- B – 3/4 hours – 4 km
- C – 4/6 hours – 8 km
- E – 2/3 hours – 5.1 km
- F – 4/6 hours – 4.6 km
- H – 4/6 hours – 8.9 km
- K – 6/8 hours – 18 km
Basically, the K corresponds to all walking around the lakes, while the other programs allow for faster travel by using the inland electric train and the various ferries that connect the major marshalling points.
If you want to make the day full of trekking, the advice is to do the K program (which can be started from either entrance)
If, on the other hand, you want to visit the Plitvice Lakes without struggling too much and still enjoy the best parts of the lakes, I recommend program H. I did just that, and I think that just under 10 km in such a natural setting is the right compromise. You have plenty of time to enjoy the main sites and spend a wonderful day in a heavenly place.
Within the park, the trails are well divided and it will be no problem to walk the one you choose. In addition, you will have with you a detailed map that will help you in case you need to better understand your route.
Here are some photos of this beautiful place in Croatia.
Tips for visiting the Plitvice Lakes
A visit to the Plitvice Lakes will take up an entire day. You will not have a chance to get out of the park unless you finish the trail or otherwise take to one of the exits prematurely. It is best to be equipped and not forget anything.
How to dress and what to bring
The first point is: how to dress to best visit the lakes area? Of course, it depends on the season.
For each season: hiking shoes/shoes with suitable soles and walk trails. Avoid flip-flops (ubiquitous), smooth-soled shoes and the like because some boardwalks may be wet.
In winter: appropriate, heavy clothing.
In summer: I recommend that you take along a k-way and a light sweater in case the weather is changeable. I assure you it could be your salvation, as we found ourselves in the middle of August in about 10 degrees in the morning. It was a rainy day and I cannot tell you how cold it was.
Other things to bring: water. There are not many refreshment areas along the route and as a result you may spend several miles walking before you reach them. Especially in summer, don’t forget water.
Bathrooms (meaning toilets)
Toilets at the Plitvice Lakes are a problem. Remember I told you in the previous paragraph that it was very cold in the morning? Well, at 7 a.m. we “got it all”…the next phase you can imagine.
So, not so much to recount my experience, but remember that along the way you can only find toilets at rest stops (just to say that there are not even at the ferry docks). Especially if you are visiting the Plitvice Lakes with children, I recommend you consider a preventive bathroom stop.
Best time to visit Plitvice lakes
We visited the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia in the middle of August. There were a lot of people and I must say that I would have appreciated them even more with less crowds. Nevertheless, 18 km of trails allow you to take your time and be alone with a piece of Paradise.
Regarding seasons, however, the best times are:
- Spring -> the water flow is greater and therefore the waterfalls will be more impressive
- Fall -> the classic fall colors make this magical place even more magical.