Take your time when visiting Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park
One of Europe’s most unique landscapes
In the central part of Croatia, close to the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina, lies the Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of Europe’s most famous and, by far the prettiest. This almost 300-square-foot area consists of a broad range of natural features, such as turquoise water, deep green forest surroundings, limestone canyons, and an impressive series of 16 cascading waterfalls.
Best time to visit the Plitvice National Park
Although many people travel to Croatia for summer and beach vacations, visiting the Plitvice Lakes National Park is highly recommended either at the very end of the summer season or during the gap between summer and fall. Until today, I have not met or spoken to one single person who visited Croatia and skipped a trip to Plitvice. Accordingly, the number of tourists is usually extremely high, especially during its primary season and European school holidays.
Where to stay when visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
The Plitvice Lakes National Park is located in the center of a triangle of three major cities: Rijeka, Zadar, and Zagreb. Although these cities offer a great variety of accommodations, a day trip to Plitvice Lakes is a three- to four-hour drive (round trip) from any of these cities. Luckily (or surprisingly to most people), even hotels in close proximity of the park are not that expensive when compared to a common standard of travel. Depending on the time of travel, it is easily possible to get a hotel or bed & breakfast for as little as $50 or $60 USD per room/night. As an example, my wife and I booked the Plitvice Holiday Resort, which is a decent 4-star hotel with pool, located only five minutes from the national park’s main entrance, for $56 USD per room/night.
Rushing through the park is a big mistake
The biggest mistake a lot of people seem to make is scheduling only one day to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park. Since the area is quite large, hiking trails of various lengths can be taken to explore the area. Trails range between 2.2 and 11 miles and either incorporate small sections of the area or the entire beauty of the park. If you are interested in seeing the entire national park, it is highly advised to take half-day trips. When I was hiking up and down the river, I constantly stopped to take pictures or just take in the scenery. And when I say constantly, I really mean it. After every turn, every descent, there was another unique view I had to internalize. Additionally, splitting the exploration of the park into two days makes it much easier for folks with less physical endurance.
Start your hikes at central entrance number 2
For those still aiming for just a one-day visit, it is important to plan the day as efficiently as possible. Deciding on a hike is probably the first step on this journey. A detailed list is provided on the park’s official website. The national park offers two different entrances, Entrance 1, and Entrance 2. I highly recommend starting in the area of Entrance 2, which is located near the center of the national park and therefore allows you to hike in all directions. If you start at Entrance 1, which is on the very northern part of the lakes, it is very likely that you will miss out on the prettiest parts of the lake in the southern part. On a general note, the northern part has more waterfalls, but the southern part has more cascading lakes. Furthermore, Entrance 2 serves as one of two locations offering a free boat tour across the lake.
No swimming inside the national park
What makes the Plitvice National Park so special is its unique scenery and intact natural beauty. Obviously, this is only possible as long as the human impact is restricted to the minimum. For that reason, swimming and bathing inside the lakes has been prohibited since 2006 to protect the sensitive environment of the park. However, there is good news! Just five minutes north of the park’s Entrance 2, there is a small village called Korana. This town provides a few parking spaces right at the edge of the Korana River, which feeds the lakes of the national park. Hence, the water is as beautiful and crystal clear as the lakes themselves. If you walk upstream of the river, starting from the parking lot, you can even find a small bridge that people jump from before floating back down the river.
Getting a guide is possible and helpful
If you do not want to figure out the best way to see the park by yourself while learning about the park, it is possible for you to book a tour guide. A single-day entrance ticket costs between $25 and $35 USD, depending on the season. If you chose to book a guided tour, this will cost you anywhere between $40 and $100 USD, depending on whether it is just a tour inside the park or an arranged trip from a surrounding city. Either way, visiting the Plitvice Lakes National Park, which, by the way is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is highly recommended when traveling in Croatia. Don’t forget to take your time to fully enjoy this paradise!
COVER: Aerial picture of wooden walkway leading through picturesque cascade waterfalls of Plitvice National Park. Photo: Thomas Später
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Thomas Später, PhD, is an experienced backpacking traveler that specializes in adventurous trips around the globe. He has traveled to remote and exotic places, such as Namibia or Mongolia and focuses on landscape and wildlife photography to share the beauty of our planet with others. In 2021, Thomas published a (German) book about Overpopulation and Over-consumption (Die Überbevölkerung). With his awareness of current global issues, he uses his travels to support particularly local hotels and restaurants to raise awareness for the nature and culture of his destinations. Follow Thomas´ adventures on Instagram as well as on his website, World In Frames.