There are eight national parks in Croatia. But Plitvice National Park, also known as Plitvice Lakes, is the largest and, hands down, the most beautiful of them all. So much so that in 1979 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visited the park on our way from Zadar to Zagreb and can confirm that it is absolutely worth it.
We were utterly spellbound by rambling cascades and rushing rapids while walking the winding boardwalks along turquoise pools and emerald forestry, as if on a secret path to a wizard’s residence. It can be very crowded, so pick your time carefully.
Visiting Plitvice National Park was our favorite thing to do in Croatia. So, we want to help you plan your own trip to the lakes. Here is the only guide to Plitvice National Park you need, including everything you should know, tips, and recommendations.
Essential Info at a Glance
Opening times: 07:00 – 18:00 (may vary according to season, check before you go)
Entry fee: varies according to season, check before you go (We paid about $40 per person, plus $10 to park.)
Size: over 115 square miles
Trails: 8 well-marked routes – 4 departing from Entrance 1 (Lower Section) and 4 from Entrance 2 (Upper Section); each trail is lettered. The length varies from 2 to 8 hours.
Highlights: 16 lakes interconnected by waterfalls
Official website: https://np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/en/
Best Time to Visit Plitvice National Park
The best time to visit Plitvice National Park is from spring to September, when it’s flooded with lush green vegetation. Avoid coming in July and August when sightseers rub shoulders on the boardwalks and squeeze to get the perfect photo. The park is considerably less busy in fall, and you get the bonus of fiery foliage. In winter, you will likely be the only visitor, but the landscape turns into a frosted fairyland.
Getting to Plitvice National Park
The park is located roughly halfway from the coast and Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Renting a car gives you the most freedom to explore at your own pace and is easy as the highway exit to the park is clearly labeled. Otherwise, you can book a trip with a travel agent, of which there are plenty in towns like Split, Zadar, or Zagreb. If you are coming from Dubrovnik, we recommend breaking the trip into a few legs, as it’s too much travel to tackle in one day. You can also make the journey by bus, but the bus stops in Plitvice are not clearly labeled, so check the departure point and bus timings with the locals.
It is possible to visit Plitvice National Park on a day trip, but prepare to spend a long time on the road and run into thick crowds as you arrive at peak hour.
There are two entrances to the park: Entrance 1 and Entrance 2. Both entrances are outfitted with cafes, ATMs, and car parks. There is a ferry across the lake and a shuttle bus system that can get you around the park to various trails.
Getting Around Plitvice National Park
Don’t be intimidated by the park’s size; getting around Plitvice National Park is a seamless experience. The park staff members help you navigate your way, the trails are well-marked, and you can even hire a guide. Also, the ferries and shuttle buses, included in the price of your entry ticket, run every 30 minutes to help you cover the large area. So don’t rush the process and take in the magical atmosphere.
The Best Things to See in Plitvice National Park
Pick the route you’d like to do ahead of time or consult the park staff, who will be more than happy to make recommendations depending on how much time you have and what you’d like to see at the park. If you have plenty of time to spare, we suggest taking the H route, which is the route we did, starting from Entrance 2, and saw all the main sights in about 5 hours. This route begins with a shuttle bus to the upper part of the park, where we hiked down, crossed the lake on a ferry, and shuttled back to the parking at Entrance 2 at the end. If you enter at Entrance 1, take C route, it’s the same route as H, only backward.
Veliki Slap (Big Waterfall) is the park’s biggest and most impressive waterfall, located about 20 minutes from Entrance 1. The most serene part of the park is Lake Proscansko, located near Entrance 2, the upper section. The lake’s secluded trails are a peaceful escape away from day trippers. The upper section is also considered the most scenic part of the park.
Yet another hiking route transports you from being up close and personal with the cascades to the viewpoints offering aerial views over the lakes, the boardwalks, and the waterfalls, including the Veliki Slap.
Know Before You Go & Bonus Tips
Buy your tickets in advance. They sell out fast, especially during peak season, as there is a people limit for every hour of entry. We recommend visiting Monday through Wednesday when the park is less crowded. Select a specific hour and stay as long as you like.
Start your hike early because the closer it gets to noon, the busier it gets. So to avoid the early morning travel to get there on time, we suggest arriving a day early and spending the night in the nearby villages. There are plenty of accommodation options at both Entrances, which are simple but guarantee an authentic experience, and you get to support the locals. Alternatively, you can set up camp in the designated Camping Plitvice 2.5 miles from Entrance 1.
The Upper Lakes (Entrance 2) tend to be the less crowded starting point off-season, as the main parking point is located at Entrance 1. It also allows you to see the waterfalls from above, but if you fancy observing them cascade head-on as you walk, start at Entrance 1 and take the C route.
Food and beverage options are located at both entrances, so you won’t go hungry. But if you plan to take one of the longer routes and spend the whole day in the park, do bring snacks or a picnic because there are no fueling stations in the park itself. Regarding preparations, bring an umbrella or a waterproof jacket and wear non-slip shoes.
Swimming in the lakes is not allowed since the park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The park is perfect for visitors of all ages, but watch your step and keep an eye on your kids, as the boardwalks do not have any railing.
Keep in mind that the water color may look different from the photos online when you visit. That’s because the shades of blue and green change depending on the sun exposure and the mineral content in the water at that time.
The nature writer Robert Macfarlane insists that the most important landscapes are the ones that live on in our memory and that we retreat to when we are most remote from them. Plitvice Lakes left us speechless at the moment and will forever live rent-free in our heads. The park is so spectacular that even the least outdoorsy visitors will leave with powerful impressions.