Sixteen turquoise lakes connected by over 90 waterfalls? I know you’re already in love with “Europe’s Niagara Falls”.
Croatia’s the country you should be spending your time in. With a rugged coastline dotted with islands and beaches to keep you busy for days, there’s also some of the best hiking around once you head in from the ocean. And Plitvice Lakes is the spot you absolutely have to see … good thing it’s easy to hop over to Croatia when you’re already living and volunteering in Europe, right?
I spent a whole semester living in Europe (and yep, it was unreal).
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Plitvice Lakes is one of the gems of the country. It’s a hiking network (with a few levels of difficulty) that take you over wooden boardwalks to a series of gemstone colored lakes. These lakes are all connected by waterfalls, hiding in the thick wilderness of Southern Europe. The colors of the lakes are unreal, ranging from a Caribbean-esque blue to a deep dark sapphire depending on the minerals in the water. So pretty. Since seeing a couple pictures, I know you absolutely have to see this place for yourself, so here’s all the info.
- About The Park
Hiking Plitvice Lakes
- Hours + Prices
- Which Entrance Should I Book?
Getting To The Lakes
- When To Visit + Other Details
About The Park
These cascading lakes hiding in the thick Croatian forest are stunning, that’s for sure. Just so you have a bit of an overview, this place is enormous. According to the official website, Plitvice Lake National Park is one of the oldest and largest in the entire country, spanning over 100+ square miles. It’s been around for ages, but was officially recognized as a national park in the 1940s and became a UNESCO treasure in 1979 … but you’re here for those pretty lakes, aren’t you? While they are definitely the most popular part of the park, they make up just 1% of what the park includes. Wild.
Oh and there’s 16 named lakes, but a few smaller and unnamed lakes that all fall into each other. You’ll want to keep reading to know how to the trails work and where to see the prettiest views.
Hiking Plitvice Lakes
The 7 Trails To Hike
This massive park is broken up into seven routes that walk you through and around the lakes. These seven trails (called Programs) named A, B, C, E, F, H, and K. Get a map of the seven program here — that link breaks up the different programs into which entrance you’ll need to use and how long it takes to travel that particular trail. This map is also super handy, so be sure to take a look at it as well.
As far as the rest of the park goes, it’s easy to think of the park in to two levels: the upper 12 lakes, and the lower 4 lakes. There are two entrances to enter the park, Entrance 1 and Entrance 2 (the two entrances are 3 kilometers apart). Make sense? Here’s a breakdown of the hiking programs and their entrances below.
- Entrance 1: This entrance includes the lower lakes, and the Veliki Slap which is the number one viewpoint that you can’t miss. We have more info on that later. A, B, C, and K Programs use Entrance one. All the trails through Entrance 1 are marked in green on the info panels along the trails. Heads up, K is both an Entrance 1 or Entrance 2 option.
Entrance 2: This entrance is typically less crowded, and includes sections of the park lined with wooden boardwalks past some of the most picturesque waterfalls. E, F, H, and K. All the trails through Entrance 2 are marked in orange on the info panels along the trails. Heads up, K is both an Entrance 1 or Entrance 2 option.
There are also four hiking trails which are longer, and trek through the forest rather than past the waterfalls and the lakes. If you’re short on time, stick to one of the programs (A, B, C, E, F, H, and/or K) rather than the hiking trails because those are the trails that will take you around the lakes.
Which Entrance + Programs To Choose?
Entrance wise, you have two options, Entrance 1 or Entrance 2. Tourists are split when it comes to what entrance you’ll want to use. Some suggest using Entrance 2 because it tends to be slightly less crowded, and you’ll be walking against (as opposed to walking with) all the foot traffic when the crowds come. However, others think Entrance 1 is the way to go, especially if you’re wanting to hit the park early. Another perk? Starting at Entrance 1 means walking towards the waterfalls and the lakes, instead of walking from behind them, and turning around to soak in the view.
I vote you check out which Programs you want to hike and let that guide you… remember how each Program has an entrance suggestion? Or you can check out a suggest route that this blogger put together. One popular option is to kinda combine Program C and Program H. You’ll get to see both the upper and the lower lakes, and some of the best views. That link has a really detailed walk through for you to follow.
Where Are The Best Views?
There are a few around because this place feels like a magical, fairyland but there are some viewpoints that are more popular than others. This photography post does have a few of them outlined, just don’t miss the views at Veliki Slap, which is the biggest waterfall in the park. Plus, there’s a secret view just by Veliki Slap that the link above outlines. Don’t miss it. This blogger also has a Program C + Program H suggestion that gives you some stellar views.
Getting Around The Park
There are shuttles and a ferry that can take you to certain spots around the park. We’ll get to ticket prices in a minute, but just know that those shuttles and ferries are included in your ticket price. They run rather frequently (don’t plan on waiting for more than 20 minutes or so). The park itself is pretty well marked (with signs in English, too) but if you’re like me, you’ll want to purchase a tourist map. It’s for sale at both Entrance 1 and Entrance 2. You can also find it at souvenir shops in the park.
Just know that the buses and ferries don’t run during certain times of the year (in the winter and some of the spring season). You’ll also want to double check that your ticket covers what you think it covers. Some tourists mention that you can only take a 1-way boat trip, not a roundtrip one.
Hours + Prices
When’s The Park Open?
The park is open year round (yep, all 365 days of the year) but you’ll want to check the weather and the time of the year before planning your visit. We’ve pulled info from the official website below, but always double check the link in case details have changed.
- Winter: 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. You have to enter the park and purchase tickets before 2:00 PM. For 2019, the winter season is from the last Sunday in October to the last Sunday in March.
- Spring: 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM. You have to enter the park and purchase tickets before 5:00 PM. In 2019, the spring season is from the last Sunday in March until the start of the summer season.
Summer: 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM. You’ll need to get your tickets and enter the park before 6:00 PM. When this post was written, the summer season was the 1st of June until August 20th.
Fall: 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Make sure to enter the park and grab your tickets before 5:00 PM. At the time this post was written, the autumn season was after the last day of the summer season (so August 21st) until the last day of September. During October, they did default to the winter timeline for 2019.
How Much Does It Cost?
You have your choice of a one-day ticket or a two-day ticket. You can check all the pricing details in full right here, but below we’ve summarized a few points to give you an idea of the one-day prices.
- January through March + November through December: 60 kn (about $9 USD)
- October: 100 kn (about $15 USD)
- April and May: 100 kn (about $15 USD)
- June through September: 250 kn (100 kn discount if you visit after 4:00 PM). It’s about $37 without the discount, and $22 USD with it.
There is a student discount which shaves off a couple of dollars no matter when you’re visiting so be sure to pack up your ID.
You can book your tickets online here. That link also has info on what to do if tickets are sold out on the day you want to visit. Things do get busy, so it’s a good idea to book things online. You’ll need to have your tickets on your mobile, or plan on printing them out once you get them. The number of tickets sold per day and per hour is limited so you’ll want to book in advance particularly if you’re wanting to visit in June, July, or August. Tickets have to be purchased at least 1 day in advance online.
Remember, you’ll need to book tickets fro Entrance 1 or Entrance 2. We’ve pulled part the pros and cons of both earlier in this post if you want a refresher.
What Does My Ticket Include?
There are handy buses that can take you around to different sections of the park. The use of these buses is included in the entrance fee, so hang onto your ticket!
Getting To The Lakes
There’s not a nearby airport, so taking a bus is going to be your best bet. Luckily for you, there are multiple routes from cities we already love. There’s also a few tour options that will take you there and back in a day (but plan on lots of driving if you go that route). Here are some of the more popular routes:
- Zagreb, Croatia is a 2.5 hour bus ride, for around 11 euros. Check routes here.
Split, Croatia is a 3-5 hour bus ride, for around 20 euros. Check routes here.
- Dubrovnik, Croatia is about 9 hours by bus, for 37 euros. Check routes here.
When To Visit + Other Details
So, When Should I Check Out The Park?
Come in the low season. This park has been a UNESCO treasure since the 1970’s and about a million people visit every year, mostly in June, July, and August. It’s the warmest part of the year, so the idea of hiking through the shaded wilderness past some waterfalls is on everyone’s mind. If you’re visiting in the summer, plan on trekking around with crowds.
It’s recommended you visit in the morning before most of the tourists, too.
How Long Should I Visit?
This park is absolutely enormous, so you can easily spend two full days exploring all the trails … but most tourists feel like one day is plenty. You can really maximize your time if you stay nearby the park entrance then arrive at Entrance 1 or Entrance 2 when the park first opens. Most tourists feel like a full day of hiking (morning to afternoon/evening) lets them see what they came here for. Remember, there’s a 1 or 2-day ticket option.
What Do I Need To Pack?
You’ll want good walking shoes, your camera, sunscreen (or rain gear, depending on when you’re visiting) and plenty of water. I’d also want to pack up some snacks and lunch for the day so you can just see as much as possible instead of stopping off to eat. There are some cafes and restaurants inside the park itself, so if you’d rather eat there instead of packing your own food, that’s an option. Here’s a list of the restaurants inside of the park complete with info like where they are in the park and the hours they’re open.
Can I Swim In The Lakes?
Nope! There are severe penalties if you’re caught dipping even a toe into this pretty, pretty water. Plan on taking pictures only! If you’re wanting a gorgeous lake complete with waterfalls that you can swim in, you’ll want to hit the Kravice waterfalls in Bosnia.
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