Your Guide to Visiting Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Waking up on the day of our visit to Croatia’s iconic Plitvice Lakes, filled me with tingles. That excitement that flows through your veins when you’re about to embark something new. At last it was our turn to explore this magnificent gallery presented by Mother Nature.
Whilst I could just regale you of tales from our sensory exploration, I thought it might also be helpful to explain how to make the most of your visit here. I reflect back at my pre-visit research and the whole mind-blowing options available to us and this drives me to do a more practical blog. So that is our plan with this little ditty. We will entice you, of course with our autumnal tour, although more importantly we will share how to best navigate this Croatia National Park.
1. What is Plitvice?
Plitvice is a natural masterpiece that has required no intervention from man for its evolving landscape. Its name derives from the phenomenon created by nature’s formation of shallow basins – those pools are called plitvak in Croatian.
Founded as a National Park in 1949, the world-famous Plitvice Lakes is the largest and one of the oldest in the country. It was awarded with the UNESCO accolade in 1979. The Park is an open air natural history museum, that tells you a story about yesterday and tomorrow with each passing season. The water course that runs through the Park trickles, gushes and cascades over 30,000 hectares until it reaches the river Korana, and eventually into the Black Sea.
Plitvice, like much of Croatia is formed as part of a Karst system of lakes, waterfalls and caves that are all interconnected. The interaction between the air, water and plants constantly reshapes this environment. New layers of tufa sediment build up that alters water’s flow. With its 16 lakes and around 90 waterfalls, this iconic destination is so much more than a park. It is a sensory experience that transports you away from the world’s craziness.
For the eyes you have a spectrum of blues to dazzle you. There is azure, topaz, emerald and mint-tea green to name just a few. And it is thanks to the algae that thrive in this protected habitat, that we have such a kaleidoscope of colour.
To the ears, an orchestral movement that sometimes hums, sometimes gushes and other times it simply bellows like a baritone. The water’s course sings in chords that provide a constant background percussion. And then there’s the silence, which amidst the water’s sonnet, is immense, punctured only by the merest whispering of the reeds. In autumn, beneath your feet, the crunch of russet beech leaves bring out the child in you as you kick your way through the orange carpet.
It is though the unspoken magic that makes Plitvice so intoxicating. The essence of water’s time-honoured tradition that somehow touches your soul. Walking through this fairyland moves you as nature permits you to share an intimacy with its lakes. Each corner gives you a new vista. Each lake a different personality. So you are never bored, just infatuated with the soul of this enchanting piece of natural beauty.
2. How to best experience Plitvice Lakes
Now this is where you might be bamboozled by a ton of information as you trawl through the internet. So I am going to share our on-the-ground experiences, that I hope might help make your visit easier.
2.1 There are Two Entrances
Entrance 1 is the furthest north and gives you access to the four Lower Lakes.
Entrance 2 is the southern entrance and gives you access to the Upper Lakes. Do not worry about which you will choose right now as that will be driven by a number of factors, which I will discuss shortly.
The image below is a summary of the walks available at each of the entrances which should set the scene for the walk descriptions below.
2.2 Eight Walking Routes
There are plenty of walking options that will suit your time and fitness. I will describe each one in a bit more detail, each with their own map to show you how it looks in reality. Click the galley to the right for a map of each individual walk.
Entrance 1 – is located at the northern end of the Park and all routes from here are signposted in Green. Your routes will take you up hill with all the waterfalls in front of you, which makes for a more pleasant experience.
Route A – this is the shortest route that takes in just the Veliki Slap waterfall – the largest in Croatia. Then it routes back on the upper path to the car park at Entrance 1. Around 2 miles in length (3.5km).
Route B – This is the next shortest option. It takes you to Veliki Slap and then onto the long boat across the river. Then you hop on the short boat which takes you back to the main route back to the Car Park at Entrance 1. Here you can take the Panorama Train or walk as you wish. This is 2.5 miles long (4km).
Route C – This is a long walk that encompasses both the Lower and Upper Lakes. It accesses both the long boat trip and the Panorama train. This is around 4.8 miles in duration (8km).
Route K1 – This route takes in both the Lower and Upper Lakes although doesn’t take any of the free transportation. So you walk around the lake that the free boat crosses. This is a long one at around 10 miles (18.3km)
Entrance 2 – is located at the southern end of the park and you walk downhill with the waterfalls behind you. The routes from this entrance are colour coded in Orange. All the routes accessed from this entrance are slightly longer than from Entrance 1. Click the galley to the right for a map of each individual walk.
Route E – Takes you from Entrance 2 to the Upper Lakes with the short boat trip and the Panorama train – 3 miles long (5.1km)
Route F – The shortest of the Entrance 2 routes. You head north towards Entrance 1 where you then walk down to Veilki Slap and back uphill to the long boat trip, pick up the short boat trip and then returning to your Entrance 2 parking. 2.8 miles long, (4.6km)
Route H – is the same route as Route C, you just head downhill towards Entrance 1 and then work your way around to the boat, the Upper Lakes and then the Panorama train back to Entrance 2. This route is 5.4 miles duration (8.9km).
Route K2 – This is identical to Route K1, you are just starting from Entrance 2 and heading your way downhill towards Entrance 1 and following the route from there. This is around 6.5 miles (18.3km).
3. Walking Route Pointers
Things worthy of note with these Routes:
- The long boat trip across the Kozjak Lake will take 30 minutes, so you get a good rest. They run every 10-15 minutes. If you miss one boat, the next will be along very quickly. There are refreshment huts and toilets at the waiting area. This crossing is a one way trip. So you will only ever cross it having completed the Lower Lake walks.
- The Panorama Train runs frequently from each of the 3 Stations (ST1, 2 and 3) available to you. So you are never waiting long. If you need to conserve energy we do suggest that you take the trains to save energy. Bear in mind that the final Station closest to Entrance 1 (ST1) still requires a half a mile walk back to the car park. The boat and train are all included in the price.
- Irrespective of which Entrance you choose, you will still need to pay for your parking. If you are arriving in your motorhome then it is 100 Kuna for the day. A scooter is free of charge and by car is 8-10 Kuna per hour depending on the season.
- During winter, Entrance 2 is shut, so from November- March you will only be able to park at Entrance 1.
- There is a bird’s-eye view of the lakes from what they call The Cliff. Although the path up to it from the Veliki Slap waterfall is currently closed (@November 2022). So you would need to take your vehicle to it. We decided after our Panorama Walk (or the train if you catch it) we had a sufficient fill of views. Plus in autumn the sun’s position makes for tricky photography.
4. What will it cost?
Here are the all important fees that you need to know before making your trip.
4.1 The Entrance cost
This will depend on the month you travel. This is what you can expect to pay, although please check with the official Park site to get up to date information at the time of your trip. Click here to buy your tickets online. OR you can purchase at the Ticket Kiosk at Entrance 1 and 2 (and the auxiliary entrance Flora close to Entrance 2).
Nov-March – the LOW SEASON option 80 Kuna per person (don’t forget that during the winter season the Upper Lake section is shut as is Entrance 2)
April/May and Oct – the SHOULDER SEASON price option 180 Kuna per person
June, July, August and September – the HIGH SEASON price 300 Kuna per person. You can pay a reduced rate of 200 Kuna per person if you arrive at 4.00pm during June/July/August or 3.00pm September.
For conversion rates for your currency, you might want to use XE.com
Please remember that our entrance fees help with the Park’s maintenance. The price includes the boat and train ride although excludes refreshments and the Car Park which are all additional charges.
4.2 Parking Charges
These also vary depending upon the type of vehicle you bring.
- If you travel by Shuttle Bus offered by your campsite, please check with them for their current prices.
- If you decide to cycle in, there are limited option for securely locking your bikes, we found, although you are not charged.
- If you travel in by Scooter there is no charge for parking.
- A car is charged an hour rate that varies from 8-10 Kuna per hour depending on the time of the year.
- If you visit in your motorhome you pay between 80-100 Kuna for the whole day irrespective of the number of hours you stay.
For up to date pricing information for your visit we suggest you go to the Plitvice Park website which you can find here.
5. Our Top Tips and Recommendations
1. Start at Entrance 1 and go up hill to get the best waterfall views.
As a photographer, light and easy access to my subject is really important. So when I came across§ advice about taking Route C so that all the waterfalls in front of me, it made total sense. Go uphill for the best view.
2. Go for the earliest time slot available.
In high season the Park opens at 7.00am. Whilst that sounds ridiculously early, to avoid the crowds and to have the boardwalks to yourself, it makes good sense. In the low season from November to May the Park is open from 8am and our advice is the same. Choose the first slot.
3. Take Route C if you only have one day.
If you are only visiting for the day, we recommend doing Route C. Make the most of the rest areas, the 30 minute boat ride and the full length Panorama Train to manage your energy. This makes the trip much more doable and accessible over 4-5 hours.
4. Visit in May/early June or mid October/November.
You may not have the luxury of specifying when you visit although if you do, then we would recommend avoiding summertime. The crowds will be intense with many coaches arriving from 10.30am onwards. The Park gets around 1 million visitors during the high season so this could impact on your enjoyment, particularly if you have a dog. So a springtime or autumn visit will award you with less crowds and a more self-paced experience. This was certainly how we felt at Krka National Park when we visited in mid-September. Of course we are not ruling out winter as an option; the Park can be affected by bad weather given its mountain location. Only the Lower Lakes are open during the winter. The Upper Lakes reopen when the weather conditions are safe enough to do so. We had 23º on our visit on 1 November although this is generally seen as being unusual for the time of year.
5. Check weather apps before booking.
The here and now is the only real accurate weather prediction. Although we recommend checking a weather apps like ventusky.com, to get a flavour of the conditions for your visit. Whilst people have told us that their visit in inclement weather was actually beautiful, clear and sunny must be a preference. So if you have the flexibility, then check the forecast before booking your on-line tickets. Of course you could also leave purchasing tickets until the day, if you have that level of flexibility.
6. Bringing children and pets
As non parents nor currently dog owners, we tread carefully with this topic. Yet having experienced the Park for ourselves, our observations may help.
We saw a number of parents with babies and younger children, some of which started out the same time of day as us. The children were initially excited, although that was soon replaced by grumpy tiredness. Given that the boardwalks are right on the edge of the lakes, constant supervision is required unless they are significantly older. We also saw a family with a buggy although with the rough boardwalks having steps and oftentimes rocky pathways through the forests, it is not an ideal place for pushchairs of any description. They were even struggling to get the pram off the Panorama Train.
In terms of dogs, the Park is definitely dog friendly as long as they are permanently on a lead. Dogs are permitted on both the boat and the train and there seems to be no additional cost for dog entry.
7. What to do if you have mobility issues or are concerned about your fitness.
If you think that Route C is too much in one day, then we would recommend booking a Two Day Pass. Not only do you get a discounted Day 2 pass, you are also able to do both lakes justice without tiring yourself out.
We recommend doing Entrance 1 – Route B on Day 1. Have the afternoon to rest at your hotel or campsite. Then on Day 2 park at Entrance 2 and do Route E, again with the afternoon to rest. Then you see all the aspects of the Park at a leisurely pace without pushing your body to its limits.
If you have mobility issues then your options are, sadly, limited. The Park is not geared up to wheelchairs, walking aids or mobility scooters. There are though two ways of getting a glimpse of the Park. Firstly you could drive around to ‘The Cliff’ and the Postcard Viewing point. You can drive up here and whilst Google Maps doesn’t show much parking, it could be an option. Alternatively you could park opposite Entrance 1 and get a wheelchair to the Veliki Slap waterfall viewing point. That is pretty much all that is on offer. Neither the train nor the boats are really geared up for any disability. This is something that the Park need to address at some point. On presentation of a valid Disability Card, you will pay 50% of the entrance ticket.
Our recommendation is rather than come all the way to Plitvice, instead visit Krka National Park, which is much more oriented for disabled or low mobility visitors.
8. Download the Plitvice App and buy tickets on-line
Whilst the App does need some further development, it gives you a basic summary of the walks and a route maps. So it did serve a purpose and it is free to download. You cannot, at the moment, order you tickets through the App nor does it have a comprehensive or complete list of accommodation or campsites.
To save queuing up at the Ticket Office, we suggest that you book using the Park’s official website. It is easy to co-ordinate and you get an email, which has your tickets attached. The Park wardens then scan your ticket at whichever entrance you choose to start from.
9. Be prepared; food, water and layers
We recommend taking your own packed lunch and refreshments with you. There are four ‘stations’ where you can get refreshments, although they may not suit your needs, timeframes or budget. Plus in high season the food sellers will be busy. So a packed lunch is so much easier. We also recommend dressing appropriately. Whilst it may seem an obvious comment, we say it compassionately. In November despite a forecast of 23º, getting there at 8.00am meant that the sun was very low until 9.30am, so we were walking in shade for a while. Layers were needed until the air warmed up with the sun’s eventual presence. Sturdy shoes are also recommended as the boardwalks are not flat nor even. The paths up through the wooded section of the park are also rocky so sturdy foot-wear is essential, especially for the longer walks.
10. At the Upper Lakes’ station take the Panorama Train
After walking for four hours, our Route C took us to the Upper Lakes’ Station where there were toilets and refreshments. This is where the Panorama Train takes you down to Entrance 2 or within 1/2 mile walking distance of Entrance 1. We decided to walk rather than take the train and whilst it was pretty, it added another 2 miles to our journey. We did eventually pick up the Train at the ST2 by Entrance 2 although hadn’t realised that we still had the 1/2 mile walk back to the car park. So we would definitely recommend the train so save your energy and blisters.
6. Where best to travel from
You have a number of options for arriving at Plitvice depending upon the trip you are taking:
- Split is the furthest destination to Plitvice at 150 miles (240km) and will take 2 days, if travelling by motorhome. We had an overnight stop at historic Knin en route.
- From Croatia’s capital Zagreb, Plitvice is around 80miles (130km).
- From Bihać in Bosnia is just 6 miles (10km) from the Border. (If you would like to explore more of Bosnia and Herzegovina then check this out our free to download eBook here).
- From Zadar 70 miles (120km)
- And the shortest route from within Croatia at 37miles (62km) is from the gorgeous Roman town of Senj, which could potentially be a day trip.
7. Where to stay
Whether travelling by motorhome, by car or public transport, there are plenty of accommodation options within and on the outside of the National Park. The Park, over the years, has brought wealth to the region and so there are plenty of options to satisfy all our needs. For a list of Hotels, B&B and apartments, I found this blog, which might be a helpful reference point.
For camping options there are a number of varied sizes of Park run sites, smaller and independent sites and Autocamps. Please note, this is a National Park, so no wild camping is tolerated at any time of the year and you are not permitted to stay in the car parks. So you must find a campsite option.
We stayed at Camping Plitvice, which is the nearest and most convenient campsite with mobile homes and plenty of pitches. Whilst it is just 3miles (5km) away from Entrance 1 if you are thinking of cycling, it is an uphill trek all the way, so don’t tire yourself out before you’ve even started on your walking route. During the season most larger campsites run a Shuttle Bus which is an additional cost on top of the pitch. On request we found that our campsite’s Shuttle ended up being more expensive than parking the motorhome for the day. So we paid the 100 Kuna for parking and thought that this was reasonable for the whole day.
Campsite prices will vary depending upon the time of year, of course. From September to July the ACSI discount card should be in operation in a number of campsites. We paid €20 per night. Although please bear in mind that from end of October most campsites shut for the winter. Camping Plitvice says on the Search for Sites portal that it is open all year yet it was due to shut on 1 November. We managed to negotiate them staying open to accommodate our 2 night stay and because of the warm weather they agreed.
Plitvice Holiday Resort, when I spoke to them said that they would stay open until the weather hit 0º. So camping in the late autumn early winter is a bit of a hit and miss affair. There is a free Camping Aire at Slunj which is just 30 minutes up the road. So if your budget is tight, then this is a good option that just requires you getting up a bit earlier to do the drive into the Park.
8. Closing thoughts
Plitvice is a magnificent destination for your Croatian Road-Trip and is well worth the journey to reach it. The magnetism of the water’s movement through the lakes is mesmerising and irrespective of the time of year, your senses will be utterly bombarded. Out of season is a must if you want to really appreciate the soul of the Park rather than being trampled by other people’s soles. Although we accept that that might not be an option for you.
And if you do go, don’t miss a near-by unique site at Rastoke. A 17th century and delightful folk village, known as Little Plitvice because of its harnessing of the river’s waterfall power, Rastoke is definitely worthy of a stop for the night. We stayed at an official aire that was free of charge to stop at. You can find the details here.
We adored our time in Plitvice and I would love, in truth to see it in winter and spring. Perhaps even slightly early in autumn to get a true sense of the forest colours. The Park is iconic, our visit was epic and our memories deeply embedded into our veins. This is one visit that we will not forget in a hurry. We hope you enjoy your visit as much and feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.
Check out our video tour of Plitvice by clicking the image below.
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