While researching for our trip to Croatia, we found breathtaking photographs of a corner of the country that we haven’t heard of before. While our minds were focused on visiting Dubrovnik and Split, the images were so beautiful that we could not pass up on the chance to see this park with our own eyes. As gorgeous as the pictures we saw of this place were, it still did not prepare us enough for the waterfall wonderland of Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Located 2 hours south of the capital city of Zagreb and 2.5 hours north of Split, Plitvice is the largest national park in Croatia and one of the oldest in Eastern Europe. It is known for its series of cascading lakes that collectively span an area of about two kilometers within a protected area of about 296 kilometers.
It is a nature lover’s paradise with the stuff of which a geologist’s dreams are made. There are 16 terraced lakes weaving through a lush valley partitioned by travertine dams and spilling from one to another through dreamy waterfalls. The water comes down as runoff from the mountains and tumbles down a distance of about eight kilometers into the upper and lower cluster of lakes. The colors of the lake run in turquoise, azure and varying colors of green and blue that change depending on the organisms and minerals present in the water as well as the angle of sun hitting it at the moment you take it in. The surrounding trees and vegetation were punctuated with the vibrant fall colors of red, orange and yellow. A unique blend of specific geologic, geomorphologic, and hydrologic processes that having been occurring through the ages has resulted in this spectacular natural wonder.
There are two main entrances into the park: Number 1 is at the eastern end leading to the lower lakes while Number 2 is above the Upper Lakes. The park provides maps that give you choices of hiking paths along with the estimated amount of time it takes to cover them. We started at the Lower Lakes from Entrance 1 and made our way west. There is a well established system of trails and boardwalks that help take visitors in and around the depths of the park. While there are suggested routes, you can always do your own thing, provided you have a good sense of direction to avoid getting lost.
We visited the park in the fall, towards the end of September. It was after peak season, but there was still a sizable crowd that gathered at the entrance gate, including a large continent of Korean tourists. Once we started walking, we met and passed several groups but they were spread out and moved quickly, giving us the chance to take in the natural beauty in relative peace and solitude.
It had been raining the day before and sprinkled at the start of the day. Some of the paths were marked off as closed due to flooding. This, of course, only served to challenge some of the more adventurous and “pasaway” visitors.
After making our way through the flooded paths, we arrived at the dock where riverboats ferried visitors over to Upper Lakes.
We highly recommend a stop at the Plitvice Lakes National Park if you’re ever in Croatia.
We drove a rental car to the park en route from Zagreb to Split. You could also take public buses from Zagreb or do an organized day trip from either Zagreb or Split.
We stayed at the dated but comfortable Hotel Plitvice. We heard the gushing waterfalls in our room through the window. All the way into the park, the road was lined with signs for sobes or rooms for rent in private homes as well as other guest houses.
Rick Steves’ Croatia and Slovenia guidebook had great information on hiking the lakes.
We didn’t have time to check out the town of Slunj and village of Rastoke but if you get to the area early enough, it sounds like a great pit stop about 30 minutes before reaching Plitvice if you’re coming from Zagreb.