It had rained every day for the last two months according to our Airbnb host, so we weren’t holding out for the sun to suddenly shine just for a visit from two Aussies who had managed to score a kid free holiday. We woke up on the morning of our adventure in the pitch black to start the 2 hours drive from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes, still not prepared for the torrential rain that pounded the windscreens. In fact, we nearly decided to turn back. Knowing this was the only chance we would get to visit the world famous UNESCO World Heritage due to our limited time frame ( we could only bribe someone to watch the three kids for so long) we decided a little weather wasn’t going to put us off. That decision was perhaps the best of our whole trip.
Plitvice Lakes, the secret most visited spot in Croatia
If you have never heard of Plitvice Lakes (Plitvička jezera), don’t worry you may not be the only one. Before we planned our trip to Croatia I had never heard of the area despite it being one of the oldest National Parks in Southeast Europe and the fact that over 1 million people visit the park every year. During our research, I realised I had seen images of this stunning landscape in the past but had never imagined it was in Croatia.
Situated roughly halfway between the Croation capital Zagreb and the coastal city of Zadar, Plitvice is an easy day trip from either location. We had a hire car and found getting there and parking easy. There is a parking fee so make sure you have some small change. Alternatively, you can catch the bus directly to the Lakes from both cities.
Plitvice is the largest National Park in Croatia and covers an area of over 300 square kilometres. There are 16 lakes of ever changing colours tumbling one into another via gentle cascades and deafening waterfalls. All surrounded by thick, cool forest that is home to bears, wolves, deer and other wildlife.
We visited in June when everything was touched with vivid greens and luminous aqua. This area is beautiful in every season though and I can imagine crunching amber leaves underfoot while walking along the timber pathways and bridges that amble 18 km around the lakes. Or the breathtaking beauty of the landscape covered in snow and ice during the winter months.
Opening times vary from season to season. And only one entrance is open in Winter. To get full timings head here.
Rain or Shine
The lakes of Plitvice shimmer all different hues depending on the light. Visiting on a grey day where the clouds hung low the waters still shone all the mermaid hues you could imagine.
Due to the high rainfall in the lead up to our visit the waterfalls in the park put on quite a show. We could hardly hear each other talk when we stood at the bottom of Veliki Slap, the force of the falls nearly knocking us backwards as we walked towards them. Luckily, the cheap ponchos we bought at the gate entrance stopped us from looking like we had been swimming.
Things to Know about Plitvice Lakes
There are two entrances to the park. Entrance 1 is the lower lakes and Entrance 2 is the higher lakes. If you choose to do the mapped walks, this may dictate which entrance you use.
Our top tip would be to enter the park before 9 am. Getting views like this all to yourself is well worth the early morning. It can get extremely crowded during the summer months.
To help with the protection of the park and upkeep there is an entrance fee. This can be paid at either one of the park’s entrance gates. Prices vary during the year and there are discounts for children and students. For up-to-date prices head here.
There are a few options for tickets. 1 or 2-day passes can be bought as well as guided tours. These come in a variety of languages and can be for a half-day or full day.
You can also purchase maps upon entry.
Due to our itinerary, we had a limit of one day for our visit. I was happy with what we saw during our trip but if you have the time and like to while away hours surrounded by nature then two days would be great.
There are a variety of walks through the park, varying in difficulty, length and scenery. They range from 3 hours to 8 hours walks.
We picked track C which started from Entrance 1 and had a 4-6 hour time frame. Track K is a walk around the whole park and would take you 6-8hours. All tracks have great sign posts and we found no need for a map. For a more detailed idea of tracks try this post.
Transport Within The Park
Once you have paid entrance fees, transport within the park on the boats and buses is free. They depart regularly and are a great way to break up your walk. The slow boat trip over the mineral-rich lakes lets you enjoy the area from a whole new perspective.
There is no swimming allowed in Plitvice Lakes. If you really want to swim a great park to visit is Krka National Park.
Food within the park can be expensive and the restaurants become crowded during busy periods. We decided to head to a local store before we entered the park and stocked up on some tasty local produce. There are lots of shady spots with amazing views to enjoy your picnic. Please remember to take all your rubbish with you. This area is pristine. Do your part to keep it this way.
Remember to take plenty of water with you. Places to buy water are few and far apart.
Good walking shoes will make your trip more enjoyable. It was raining during our visit and the wooden walkways became quite slippery. Hiking shoes aren’t necessary, however.
Plitvice Lakes with Children
Although we visited Plitvice Lakes without our children, as parents we would highly recommend visiting with your family. We found most of the track quite easy. Bare in mind, there are stairs in areas and during the walk, some of the pathways become steep and unpaved. Our biggest worry would have been one of the children exploring too close to the edge of the water and falling in. Seems that would be a viable worry, Stacy from Strolling the Globe wrote this great post on her trip with children.
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Travel With Meraki – Don’t let the weather deter you when you travel. You might just find that it adds to the experience of a destination as well as keeping the crowds away.