Plitvice Lakes National Park, with its over 90 cascading waterfalls, 16 crystal clear yet aqua green lakes and countless wooded trails is one of the most beautiful natural wonders in Europe. This UNESCO world heritage site welcomes over 1 million visitors each year! The national park is 73,000 acres big and having a plan when you visit is definitely a must. This post covers all you need to know about visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park so that you are prepared ahead of time as well as when you get there!
Before I get into the best routes at Plitvice Lakes, I want to go over my tips and recommendations. These will definitely help you make the most of your trip!
Tips, Recommendations and General Information for Visiting Plitvice Lakes
- You need to spend a minimum of 4-5 hours here to really enjoy the experience
- The park is huge and the biggest mistake to make is to underestimate its size
- I cannot recommend having a plan or a route in mind before hand enough
- The park has so many trails and it’s easy to be overwhelmed once you get there if you don’t know where you are going
- Buy the ticket in advance online (via the official website) and skip all the lines at the location
- Try and make the earliest slot available to avoid the crowds
- Stay close to the park so you can get there early
- You will have to do some research to find accommodation close by as most big cities are hours away
- I stayed in Rijeka which was about 2 hours away but in hindsight should have stayed closer the night before
- Pack water and snacks or even a picnic lunch
- Tickets for the shuttle and boat are included in the entry ticket so keep it with you through out the day
- You cannot swim or fish here
Best Route to take when visiting Plitvice Lakes
As I mentioned, having a route and plan in mind will make all the difference in your experience at Plitvice (unless you have all the time AND energy in the world). Plitvice has 7 official routes, 4 hiking trails and 2 entrances and can be super confusing if you don’t plan ahead. If you want to follow an official route or make your own, the park website gives a brief description and map of each route and what you can see in each.
The route I am recommending below is the route I came up with after doing my own research before vising the park. I’ve adjusted it post trip to avoid the little mistakes I made.
Start at entrance 1. From entrance 1, there’s a viewing platform that has a great view of the big waterfall and some of the other waterfalls. Then keep walking down the steep paths to the lakes. This path offers some nice views of the waterfalls too.
Once you hit the boardwalks you can take the detour to your right to see Velika Slap or the big waterfall. The sign is clearly mark. This is the highest waterfall in the entire park.
With the waterfall on your right, you will see a staircase up on your left. If this path is open, hike up. Once up, make a right and after a few steps, you will see the most epic view of the lakes and waterfalls! This view, in my opinion is one of the best views you will see when visiting Plitvice Lakes.
You can keep walking backwards (towards the staircase) and beyond for some more views. All of these will be on your left and through the wooded area. I’m including pictures below so you can decide if it’s worth your time or not.
What if the staircase next to the waterfall is closed? (It was when I went). Don’t worry! You can still see these views later on (described later on this post).
Back to the Boardwalks
Once done, head back down the stairs and back to the waterfall. From here, walk along the boardwalk until you come to where you made the detour to the waterfall. Continue walking along the boardwalk until you see a detour for….
You can hike up through the cave to see some awesome viewpoints of the boardwalks down below. If this path is closed, you can do this a little later.
Lakes Gavanovac and Milanovac
Backtrack down through the cave and continue left to stay on the boardwalk. You will pass lakes Gavanovac and Milanovac. Enjoy all the little cascades of water and the crystal clear aqua colored lakes.
Cross this lake at the bridge and follow the boat icon on the boards until you come to P-3. Here you will get on the shuttle boat and go to P-2. As mentioned above, the shuttle is free, you just need to show your ticket for them to scan it. The shuttle comes every 30 minutes or so.
The best parts of the upper lakes are between the P-2 shuttle boat and Lake Galovac (so more or less around Lake Gradinsko). Climb up from the boat dock and follow signs for route C. You will start walking along lake Gradinsko. Keep walking until you come to..
From this waterfall, keep walking on the boardwalk until you reach..
These are along the way as you visit the sites above.
Keep walking after Galovacki Buk until you come to a fork. Turn left at the fork and follow signs for P-2 to return to the P-2 boat dock.
If the stairs at Velika Slap (from the lower lakes section) were closed, then you have 2 options to see the same views. Either drive to the viewing points or hike.
If you are driving then you need to pick up your car at Entrance 1. To do this either take the boat from P2-P1 and then the shuttle bus from ST-2 to ST-1 OR take the boat from P2-P3 and cross the bridge back to the lower lakes. If the cave from earlier was closed, then walk back towards the entrance. Stay right at the fork on the steep ramp up (instead of left to the entrance) and you will soon be walking along an upper path with views of the boardwalks down below on your right. Once done, backtrack back to the entrance and pick up your car.
The coordinates to the trailhead where you can see the postcard view are HERE
This is a long hike because once done you have to backtrack back twice (especially if the staircase going down to Velika Slap is closed). Ok, with that warning out of the way, here’s how you get to the postcard view point without a car.
From P2 take the shuttle boat to P3. Once at P3, the best way to find the trail is to ask the information booth to direct you to the viewing sites. You will soon start climbing up a small road and come to a fork. Take the left. Once the road levels out, you will see a board for the viewing spot on your right. There are several of these that you will see as you walk along the wooded area (see the section at the beginning of this post) . The final one is the postcard view point (just passing the staircase to Velika Slap). If the staircase is closed, backtrack back in the direction of P3. Once at lake level, walk along the lake with the lake to your right until you come back to Velika Slap. Cross the boardwalk back towards entrance 1.
Alternately, you can also start at Entrance 2. You will have to decide if you want to do the upper or lower lakes first. Take the boat at P-1 to P2 to visit the upper lakes and then take the shuttle bus at ST-2 to ST-1 to visit the lower lakes or vise versa and then switch.
One thing to note with this route is that the waterfalls on the lower lakes are behind you. This is of course not a huge deal breaker. It just means you will have to keep turning back to see them.
Plitvice or Krka
This is probably the number one question people ask if they are pressed for time in Croatia. I had time to do both and they were both great in their own way. If I’m being completely honest, I had over hyped Plitvice in my mind and had zero expectations for Krka. Given this, I think I probably lean ever so slightly towards Krka as it was really beyond what I was expecting . That being said, if I had to pick from a bucket list perspective, I would have chosen Plitvice. What you chose is up to personal preferences. However, here are the key differences between the two. Hopefully between this list, pictures included in this post and my post on Krka, you will be able to make a choice!
|Duration||Minimum 4-5 hours (if not more)||2-3 hours (waterfall and trail only)|
|Size (relative scale)||73k acres||27k acres|
|Physical demands||A lot of hiking and stairs (depending on what you see)||Some hiking (mostly on flat ground) but not strenuous|
|Accessibility||In-land and a drive from most big cities||1 hour from Split or Zadar|
|Ease of navigation||Lots of routes and trails. Need to plan ahead||Easy to follow route|
|Swimming||Prohibited||Used to be allow but now prohibited|
|Things to see and do||Waterfalls, hiking, nature||Waterfalls, hiking, nature, history|
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