Going from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes is like landing in a place of astonishing natural beauty and mystery. Plitvice was the first place recognized as a protected site in all of Croatia.
Legend has it that the Black Queen of Velebit created the lakes in response to local prayers for drought relief. The surrounding caves bear the remains of mysterious creatures, and the lakes are never the same from one day to the next.
Chances are, if you’re planning a trip to Plitvice Lakes Croatia, you’ve got questions. You’re in luck, we’ve been on a recent fact-finding mission to Plitvice Lakes National Park, and this is what we found out.
Where Is Plitvice Lakes National Park?
Plitvice Lakes National Park is roughly in the center of Croatia, about 80 miles from the capital, Zagreb. It’s one of Croatia’s most popular tourist attractions and deserves a place on your list of things to see and do during your travels.
While you can get a two-day pass to the lakes and overnight nearby, a day trip from Zagreb is the best way to fit it into your Croatian trip.
There are two main park entrances, named simply Entrance 1 and 2. Entrance 1 will take you to the lower lakes while Entrance 2 gives you access to the enchanting upper lakes and terraced falls.
A complimentary bus runs between the two entrances and the end of the uppermost lakes.
When is the Best Time for Visiting Plitvice Lakes?
Spring is the best time to visit since the waterfalls are at their peak during May and June.
Fall, from September to October, is also beautiful with its colorful displays of golden leaves. The weather is also mild and pleasant at these times. Summertime can be hot in Croatia.
Peak Periods at Plitvice Lakes
The summer months of July and August are also the busiest times of the year at the lakes. Thousands of tourists flock to the area at this time of year, so it’s not the best time to make the most of the lakes’ beauty and tranquillity.
It’s best to arrive as soon as the gates open if you want to walk in solitude or take photographs undisturbed. The gates open at 7 am during the warmer months and at 8 am in the summer.
Where to Get Tickets for Plitvice Lakes National Park
You can buy tickets on arrival at the gate, but there are a limited number of entries granted per day. It’s best to get tickets online from the park’s website if you want to guarantee your spot.
All ticket prices include tax, insurance, and transport on the electric boat and panorama train. Remember to print out your ticket or save it on your phone.
If you want to visit the park for two days, the park offers a discount on two-day passes.
Can You Swim in the Lakes?
Unfortunately, you can’t swim in these gorgeous clear waters. Plitvice is a protected area and a part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, so swimming is a no-go.
You can get up close to the waters on boat rides around the lakes, though. These open-sided electric boats are the best way to experience the full beauty of the lakes and hear more about them from your guide.
The boat trips take about 20 minutes to complete and are a must-do activity during your visit to the park.
Is there Hiking in the Plitvice Lakes Park?
After the boat rides, hiking is the most popular activity around Plitvice Lakes.
There are six main trails in the park, named A, B, E, F, H, and K.
The first two and trail F focus on the lower lakes. Trail E will take you to the upper lakes. The H and K hikes loop around the entire park and can take up to 8 hours to complete. Fortunately, it’s easy to switch trails if you start running out of time.
Don’t let the vague descriptions of the trails on the park website put you off. When you arrive, you’ll know exactly where you’re going.
Are the Trails Difficult?
All the trails are clearly marked, and the shorter ones only take two hours to complete. You’ll find detailed maps at both entrances and clear signposts along the way. Since all the trails connect at some point, it’s almost impossible to get lost.
The hiking trails at Plitvice Lakes aren’t arduous, so they’re perfect for amateur hikers walking at a leisurely pace. There are plenty of solid wooden bridges to help you cross rough terrain and watercourses.
While spring and autumn should pose no problems, if you’re planning on hiking in summer, be sure to take the necessary precautions.
Are there Bears in Plitvice Lakes National Park?
Yes, there are bears in the park. Bears have been in this area since the Pleistocene age, and archaeologists have even found bones of these extinct creatures in the Plitvice caves.
Nowadays, the bears confine themselves to the forests far from the busy tourist areas. Today, the caves are home to one of the tiniest snails on the planet, which is transparent and only 1mm long.
Fauna and Flora
Along with bears, the forests are home to wolves, lynx, wildcats, deer, and boars, as well as many smaller creatures. Along the trails, you might be lucky enough to see rare crested newts, black salamanders, or a harvest mouse.
You’re guaranteed to see some of the 50 species of orchids, and 150 species of birds that thrive within the park.
How Many Lakes are in Plitvice Lakes National Park?
There are 16 lakes in the Plitvice Lakes system, which cascade down into one another to create over 90 waterfalls.
The main attraction of these lovely water features is their constantly changing colors. They can be emerald green one day and faded grey the next. These color-changes depend on the mineral content of the water as well as the angle of sunlight.
There are 12 lakes in the upper system, including the two largest, Kozjak and Proscansko. You’ll find the highest waterfall in Croatia, Veliki Slap, in the lower section. Galovacki Buk is the highest waterfall in the upper section.
Is there Accommodation in Plitvice Lakes Croatia?
Unless you want to explore the park over two days, it’s best to stay in Zagreb and visit Plitvice Lakes on a day trip. This is the one we booked as a day trip from Zagreb.
Most of these establishments provide bed and breakfast accommodation, but there are places to eat within the National Park too.
Are There Restaurants Near the Lakes?
There are three restaurants and a bistro within Plitvice Lakes National Park. Most of them serve up familiar international cuisine, while one specialized in traditional fare.
Although convenient, these eateries are very expensive. It’s best to pack a picnic basket and enjoy a picnic alongside one of the lakes instead.
Where are the Best Places to Take Photographs in the Park?
All of the lakes in Plitvice are spectacularly photogenic, but some stand out more than others. Try to get some snapshots of the following during your visit:
- Beautiful pools near boat station P2
- Lakes and streams crisscrossed by wooden boardwalks between Lake Galovac and Gradinsko
- The ‘Postcard View’ of Veliki Slap about 50m from Entrance 1
- Canyon views between Entrance 1 and bus stop ST1
- The junction of boardwalks at the end the first lower lake
There’s also the sought-after ‘Secret View,’ considered the most beautiful sight in the park.
To find it, you need to head for Veliki Slap then take the small path up the hill to the left as you leave the boardwalk. Turn right at the top and continue for about 200 yards until you find the path to the viewpoint.
The travertine barriers between the upper lakes also make for some dramatic shots of water cascading over the rocks.
What Should I Bring for My Day Visit to the Park?
Visitors to Plitvice National Park should remember that it gets hot during the day in Croatia, so sun protection is vital. It’s also essential to bring extra drinking water if you’re going to be hiking.
It’s advised to bring a light jacket for boat rides as it can be chilly out on the water. Apart from that, all you need is comfortable clothing and sturdy walking shoes.
A camera is essential for recording your beautiful surroundings, and you should bring a picnic if you don’t want to buy food within the park.
Visit Rastoke on Your Way from Zagreb to Plitvice
Rastoke is a picturesque village with rivers and waterfalls, on your way to Plitvice. When you drive from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes, you can make a small detour and admire it and take some nice pictures.
Plan to See More from Zagreb to Plitvice
One thing’s for sure; you won’t regret including Plitvice Lakes Croatia in your European travel inventory.
Although this destination isn’t well-known among US tourists yet, they’re catching on fast. Why not be one of the first to experience it?
If you want to know how to make the most of backpacking around the world, or if you’re hungry for information about the best places to go, keep reading our blog.