Aerial shots of the stunning blue-green waters and dozens of waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes seems to be the tipping point in convincing people they have to visit Croatia. Ironically, we only found Plitvice Lakes after booking our ticket; it was Krka National Park that first drew us to Croatia, another park with waterfalls galore. Lucky we did, because visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most memorable experience we had this last year.
Plitvice Lakes is the largest National Park in Croatia, and I’m betting it has the most waterfalls too. There are 16 lakes, with water so aqua and clear it looks unreal, cascading down natural travertine dams in between. The lakes are created by the karst area; a lot of what that means is over my head, but essentially there is a lot of porous rock in the area, like limestone, that allows the water to sink through and form caves and underground rivers. When the waters reach hard rock, it begins to seep back up, forming the lakes that we see.
The park covers almost 300 square kilometers and sees over 1 million visitors a year, so it’s best to go with a plan of what you want to see. Here is our one day guide to visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia.
Getting to Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice Lakes National Park is located in central Croatia, near the Bosnian border. It’s in between Split and Zagreb, about 2.5 hours from both cities. We stayed a bit closer in Zadar, which is only a 1.5 hour drive from the park. We found Zadar to be a great home base for exploring Plitvice Lakes, Krka National Park, and much of the Dalmatian Coast.
If you want to get to the Lakes first thing in the morning without waking up before dawn, staying near the park is your best bet. This tends to be a bit more expensive than places like Zadar, but there are still a number of reasonable options. Check out the hotels here and Airbnbs here.
When to Go
Go in spring or autumn to see the biggest waterfalls, or summer to see the park covered in lush greenery. Like most places in Europe, visitors peak in July and August as much of the continent is on holiday. We went in late May, and even then mid-morning was stop and go along the wooden boardwalks. To have a little more freedom to roam, beat the tour bus rush by getting there first thing in the morning (the park opens at 7am), or stay until later in the afternoon. Most tours wrap up around 3pm, so from then until closing the park was much less busy. To really have the park to yourself, visit in the dead of winter. The frozen waterfalls look magical! Just make sure to wear lots and lots of layers; the average temp is 36 °F ( 2.2 °C) in January!
Ticket Prices and Parking
Ticket prices are based on the season, so you will pay over three times as much if you go in July and August compared to the winter months. One day adult tickets prices are as follows: 55 kuna (8 USD) in winter; 110 kuna (16 USD) in Apr-June and Sep-Oct; and 180 kuna (26 USD) in July and August. See here for the ticket prices on the park’s official website. All buses and ferries within the park are included in the ticket price.
Parking is available next to Entrance 1 and 2, and costs 7 kuna (1 USD) per hour.
Quick Tips for Visiting Plitvice Lakes
If your first question is, “Can I swim in the lakes?” the answer is ‘No.’ Sad, but probably better for the preservation of this incredible natural wonder. You can, however, swim in Krka National Park, which is about 2 hours south, also with amazing waterfalls and crazy green-blue water. See more about Krka in our post here.
If your next question is, “Should I book a tour?” my personal answer is “No.” The trails are well-marked, the park employees are friendly and helpful, and if you’re with a large group, you aren’t going to be able enjoy the scenery at your own pace.
Check out a map of all walking paths here, and a list of the different areas of the park here. We started at Entrance 2 and took the ferry to P1 to P2. After walking the loop at P2, we took the ferry to P3. We then walked the loop to Bus station 1, which took us back to P1.
Most of the paths around the lakes and waterfalls are boardwalks. This gives a really cool feel to the park, and also means that often times you’re walking directly over the water. It also means the paths are fairly narrow, so easily clogged. Just another reason why you’ll enjoy your experience more if you go in off-peak season or off-peak hours.
One Day Itinerary
Start at Entrance 2
Starting at Entrance 2, we walked into the park and down to the water at ferry stop P1. First things first, we got some coaching on how to pronounce the name of the park in Croatian from the man working the ferry stop. After a few tries, we got it down. Plitvička jezera, pronounced Plit – vich – ka Je-zair-a.
Ferry from P1 to P2
From P1 (see map above), we hopped on the ferry for the short ride over to P2. It was the coolest thing to walk along the boardwalks, over the water and around the roaring waterfalls, even if the trail did get a little backed up.
After spending about two hours or so on this loop, we got back on the ferry and headed over to P3.
Ferry from P2 to P3
The area next to the P3 ferry stop looks like my dream version of summer camp as a kid. There’s a large grassy area on the edge of the lake, surrounded by picnic tables and concession stands selling pizza, burgers and ice cream. We grabbed lunch here, which wasn’t too overpriced and pretty decent. If you want more options on when and where to eat, it’s probably best to pack a lunch.
After lunch, we headed for the trails to the big waterfall. The water levels had risen so much that the lower lake was flooding over the walking paths. This meant a lot of people turned back once the trails got wet, so we enjoyed a bit more solitude on this loop of the lower lakes. After snaking through the middle of the lakes and passing a long row of cascades, we came to the huge thundering falls, complete with a rainbow.
We cooled off a bit from the mist of the waterfalls, and then hiked up to the top. The view got better and better as we climbed out to the valley, ending with a stunning view of the lakes and waterfalls from above.
Bus Station 1 back to P1
We took some time to savor the view, then caught the bus at station 1 back to P1. We were planning on renting one of the little paddle boats for an hour, but unfortunately we arrived at 5:01 pm, and the last boat rental is at 5 pm. It’s 50 kuna, so less than 8 USD, to paddle around the large lake area near P1. We just enjoyed the grass area instead, where Hudson kept on trying to jump in for a swim. It was a warm day and the water looks so inviting, so you can’t blame him for being tempted.
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