waterfalls in front of a turquoise pool on a sunny day

The Complete Guide to Plitvice Lakes National Park: Tips and Tricks

Plitvice Lakes National Park is the biggest and most visited national park in Croatia. It’s also considered by many to be the most beautiful- both in Croatia, and perhaps in the world!

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about planning a visit to this incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ll go over the best time to visit (and why), how to get around the park, the most popular routes and attractions, useful tips, amenities within the park as well as attractions in the surrounding area.

When to visit Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes National Park is open all year round, and each season has its own charm. However, some seasons are better than others, depending on what you want to see and do.

Spring

Spring is a great time to visit Plitvice Lakes as the weather is mild and pleasant. The park is full of colours and fragrances, and the water levels are high, creating spectacular waterfalls. The crowds are also smaller than in summer, so you can enjoy the park more peacefully. The downside is that some trails may be closed or muddy due to snowmelt or rain.

Summer

Summer is the peak season for Plitvice Lakes, as the weather is warm and sunny, and the park is at its most vibrant. The lakes are crystal clear and inviting, and the forests are lush and green. The park is also full of activities, such as boat rides, electric train rides, and cultural events.

The downside is that the park is also full of people, which means long queues, crowded paths, and higher prices. The temperature can also get quite hot, especially in July and August, so make sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water.

Autumn

Autumn is another beautiful time to visit Plitvice Lakes, as the weather is cool and crisp, and the leaves are changing colours. The park is a feast for the eyes, with shades of yellow, orange, and red. The waterfalls are still impressive, and the crowds are smaller than in summer. The downside is that some facilities may be closed or have reduced hours, and some trails may be slippery or wet due to rain or fog.

Winter

Winter is the least popular time to visit Plitvice Lakes, but it can also be the most magical. The park is transformed into a winter wonderland, with snow-covered trees, frozen lakes, and icy waterfalls. The park is also very quiet and serene, as there are fewer visitors and no boats or trains. The downside is that the weather can be very cold and unpredictable, and some parts of the park may be inaccessible or closed due to snow or ice.

How to get to Plitvice Lakes

There are a number of ways to get to Plitvice Lakes National Park. The most popular way is by guided tour, with many options from the capital, Zagreb, as well as from the coastal cities of Zadar and Split. Platforms such as Get Your Guide offer booking in advance, and you can choose from private transfers, group tours and options that include stops at nearby attractions.

If you’d prefer more flexibility than an organised tour would provide, then another popular option is to drive to the park. You can compare Croatia car rentals on Discover Cars and Qeeq, and there is parking at both entrances of the park. Parking over winter is free, and you can check parking rates for the rest of the year by following this link to the park’s official website.

If you aren’t confident driving abroad or don’t have a license, and you’d like more freedom than a guided tour, then you can also take the bus to Plitvice Lakes. Taking the bus will also probably be the cheapest option, depending on where you start your journey. There are daily buses from Zadar and Zagreb to Plitvice, as well as from other locations in Croatia. Meanwhile, platforms like GetTransfer allow you to book your own private driver and are also a good option.

small boat on blue water of Plitvice Lakes in front of green mountains
Plitvice Lakes boat ride

How to get around Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes is a large park, covering an area of 296.85 km2. It consists of two sections: the Upper Lakes and the Lower Lakes. The Upper Lakes are a series of 12 lakes connected by waterfalls and cascades. The Lower Lakes are a series of 4 lakes ending with the largest and most famous waterfall, the Big Waterfall (Veliki Slap).

The park has 2 entrances: Entrance 1 for the Lower Lakes and Entrance 2 for the Upper Lakes. Hikes around the park start at either entrance, and most guided tours of the park also start from the entrances.

The park has several options for getting around, depending on your entrance, your route, and your preferences. You can walk, take a boat, or take an electric train. Walking is the best way to see the park up close and enjoy its beauty. However, it can also be tiring and time-consuming, as there are many stairs, bridges, and slopes.

The park has 18 km of wooden walkways and 4 km of hiking trails. You can choose from 8 different routes, ranging from 2 to 8 hours, depending on the difficulty and the distance. You can find the map and the description of the routes at the entrance or online, and we’ll give a short summary of each route later in the article.

Using the Plitvice Lakes boat and train

Taking a boat or an electric train is a faster and easier way to get around the park. However, it can also be less scenic and more crowded, as you have to share the ride with other tourists.

The boat operates between the Upper and the Lower Lakes, and between different points within the Upper Lakes. The electric train operates between the entrances and the main attractions of the park.

The boat and the train are included in the entrance fee, and they run from April to October, depending on the weather and popular demand. You can choose routes that incorporate boat and train rides, or stick to hiking.

How much time you need to explore Plitvice Lakes

The amount of time you need to explore the park depends on your entrance, your route, and your pace. However, generally you need at least 4 to 6 hours to see the main highlights. To see the whole park, you need at least 8 to 10 hours.

If you have less time, you can focus on one section of the park, either the Upper or the Lower Lakes. If you have more time, you can also visit nearby attractions such as Barać Caves, Rastoke Village, or Dreznik Castle.

History of Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes National Park was declared a national park in 1949 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, in recognition of its outstanding natural beauty and ongoing geological and biological processes. However, it has a long and storied history spanning thousands of years, and has been the site of many historical events.

People who’ve lived in the park

The area around the Plitvice Lakes has been inhabited since prehistoric times by various peoples, such as the Iapods, the Romans, the Croats, the Turks, and the Austrians. The Iapods were an ancient tribe that lived in the region from the 12th to the 1st century BC. They built their settlements on high ground, for better defence and control of roads, and raised livestock. They also left archaeological sites such as hillforts and tombs.

In the 1st century BC, the Romans arrived and conquered the Iapods. They established new settlements and roads, and integrated the Iapods into their empire. The Croats then came to the area in the 7th century AD, and mixed with the Romanised Iapods and other groups. They built churches and fortresses, some of which still exist today.

The Turks invaded the region in the late 14th century, and caused much destruction and depopulation. They also brought the Vlach people, a nomadic pastoralist group, to settle in the area. The Austrians fought the Turks for control of the region, and finally liberated it in the late 17th century. They established the Military Frontier, a border zone between the Habsburg and Ottoman empires, and ruled the area until the 19th century.

The park during wartime

The park was affected by several wars in the 20th century, especially the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s. In March 1991, the park was the scene of the first armed clash of the war, known as the Plitvice Lakes incident. Serbian rebels, who declared the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina, took over the park and held tourists and staff hostage.

Croatian police intervened and recaptured the park, but two people were killed and several wounded. Serbian forces held the park until August 1995, when the Croatian Army retook the region in Operation Storm.

During the war, the park suffered some damage, as the hotels and other facilities were used as barracks or destroyed. The park was also added to the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger, due to the risk of mines and pollution. After the war, the park was demined and restored, and removed from the danger list in 1998.

Legends associated with the park

In addition to the park’s documented history, there are several legends about how the Plitvice Lakes were formed or named. One of them is the legend of the Black Queen, who created the lakes by using her magic powers to end a long drought. She made the first lake, Prošćansko, by opening a spring in the ground, and then created the other lakes and waterfalls. The people named the largest waterfall after her, calling it Veliki Slap (Big Waterfall).

Another legend is the legend of the Gavanovo Treasure, which is said to be hidden in one of the lower lakes, Gavanovac. According to the legend, a wealthy man named Gavan buried his treasure in the lake before he died, and only a person with a pure heart can find it.

A third legend is the legend of the fairies, who used to live in the caves and forests around the lakes. They would dance and sing by the water, and sometimes fall in love with humans. However, their love was doomed, as the humans could not enter the fairy realm, and the fairies could not leave.

wooden walkways between turquoise Plitvice Lakes shot from above
wooden walkways of Plitvice Lakes

Popular routes around Plitvice Lakes National Park

There are many routes and places of interest around the park, but here are some of the most popular ones:

Route A

This is the shortest and easiest route, suitable for those who have limited time or mobility. It starts from Entrance 1 and covers the Lower Lakes. It takes about 2 to 3 hours and covers 3.5 km. Sights covered on Route A include the Big Waterfall, the Great Cascade, and the Kozjak Bridge.

Route B

This is a slightly longer and harder route, suitable for those who want to see both the Lower and the Upper Lakes. It starts from Entrance 1 and covers the Lower Lakes and part of the Upper Lakes, taking about 3 to 4 hours to cover 4 km. It includes the same attractions as route A, plus the boat ride across Lake Kozjak and the Galovac Waterfall.

Route C

This is a longer and harder route, suitable for those who want to see the whole park. It starts from Entrance 1 and covers the Lower Lakes and the Upper Lakes. It takes about 4 to 6 hours and covers 8 km. Route C includes the same attractions as route B, plus the electric train ride to the Proscansko Lake and the Okrugljak Waterfall.

Route E

This is a shorter and easier route, suitable for those who want to see the Upper Lakes. It starts from Entrance 2 and covers part of the Upper Lakes, taking about 2 to 3 hours to cover 5.2 km. It includes the electric train ride to the Proscansko Lake, the Okrugljak Waterfall, the Ciginovac Lake, and the boat ride across Lake Kozjak.

Route F

This is basically the same as Route B, but starting from Entrance 2 instead of Entrance 1. It covers the Lower Lakes, but is slightly longer than Route B taking about 3 to 4 hours and covering 4.6 km. It includes the same attractions such as the Big Waterfall and the boat ride across Lake Kozjak, as well as a panoramic train ride.

Route H

This is quite a long route, suitable for those who want to see the whole park and enjoy some hiking. It starts from Entrance 2 and covers both the Upper Lakes and the Lower Lakes, taking about 4 to 6 hours to cover 8.9 km. It includes the same attractions as Route F, plus the hiking trail to the Big Waterfall and the Great Cascade.

Route K1

This is one of the longest routes in the park, taking 5 to 7 hours and covering 11.5 km. Starting at Entrance 1, it covers the Lower Lakes, taking you on a walk around Kozjak Lake. You’ll also cover parts of the Upper Lakes on foot, and see sights such as the Big Waterfall, the Great Cascade and Galovac Waterfall.

Route K2

This is the longest route in the park, taking 5 to 7 hours and covering 12.5 km. It’s basically the same route as K1, except it starts at Entrance 2 rather than at Entrance 1 (which is why it covers an extra kilometre).

For more information about routes to follow in the park, as well as maps and information about which routes are currently open, you can follow this link to the park’s official website.

Plitvice Lakes National Park wildlife

Plitvice Lakes National Park is a great place to observe and appreciate wildlife. Here are some tips and information for wildlife watching in the park.

Large predators

The park is home to several species of large predator, such as brown bears, wolves, and lynxes, who hunt for deer, sheep, and other prey. These animals are elusive and shy, and usually avoid human contact.

The best chance to see them is early in the morning or late in the evening, when they are more active. You can also look for their tracks, droppings, and signs of feeding.

Be respectful and cautious, and keep a safe distance from any wildlife you encounter. Do not feed or approach them, and follow the park rules and regulations.

Birds

The park has the third-largest number of bird species among Croatian parks. You can find woodland birds like crested tits and woodpeckers, forest-edge birds like black grouse, and raptors like golden eagles and Eurasian eagle-owls.

The best time to see birds is during the spring and autumn migrations, when many species pass through the park. You can also spot them throughout the year, especially near the water sources and open areas. Bring binoculars and a field guide, and listen for their calls and songs.

Reptiles and amphibians

The park’s reptiles include vipers, lizards, and turtles, while its amphibians include frogs, toads, and salamanders. These animals are more active during the warmer months, and can be found near the lakes, streams, and wetlands. They are often well-camouflaged, so look carefully and patiently. Do not touch or disturb them, as some may be venomous or endangered.

Marine Life

The park’s marine life is equally diverse, with fish, crayfish, snails, and caddisflies inhabiting the clear waters of the lakes. You can see them from the wooden walkways and bridges, or by renting a rowing boat on Kozjak Lake.

The water is very clean and transparent (partly thanks to environmental measures such as prohibiting swimming) so you can observe the underwater world with ease.

Don’t throw anything in the water, and don’t fish without a permit. If you do wish to go fishing, you’ll have to follow park regulations. You can find more information on the park’s official website, and permits can be obtained at the park entrances.

small black fish swimming in turquoise water of Plitvice Lakes
Fish swimming in Plitvice Lakes

Places of interest around the park

Some of the places of interest around the park are:

  • Barać Caves: These are a series of interconnected caves located around 13 km from the park. They are known for their stalactites, stalagmites, and fossils. Guided tours are a popular way to explore the caves and learn about their history and geology. Be aware that the caves are closed over winter and early spring due to bat hibernation.
  • Rastoke Village: This is a picturesque village located just under 30 km from the park. It’s famous for its watermills, waterfalls, and traditional houses. You can stroll around the village and admire its natural and cultural heritage.
  • Dreznik Castle: This is a medieval castle located around 8 km from the park. Dating back to the 12th century, it served as a strategic fortress protecting this part of Europe from the invading Ottoman Empire. As well as exploring the castle ruins, it’s a great place to enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area.

Amenities in Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park offers a range of amenities. There are toilets located at each entrance, near the boat docks, and along the main trails. Seeing as swimming is prohibited in the park, do not expect to find showers or changing areas.

There are several places to purchase food and drinks, such as cafés, restaurants, snack bars, and vending machines. You can find them at the entrances, near the parking lots, and at some viewpoints. However, dining at the park can be expensive, especially during peak season, and some restaurants may be closed or have reduced hours during the low season.

A popular option is to bring a picnic. There are no designated picnic areas in the park, but you can find benches and tables along the trails and near the lakes. As always, you should be respectful of nature and the wildlife, and avoid making noise or fire. You can also enjoy your food outside the park, in the nearby towns and villages.

If you want to buy souvenirs, you can visit the souvenir shops at the entrances or the souvenir stands near the boat docks. You can find a variety of items, such as postcards, magnets, books, clothing, and local products.

Plitvice Lakes does have accommodation options if you wish to extend your trip or are visiting as a stopover between the capital, Zagreb, and the coast. However, wild camping in the park is forbidden, so do not plan to do this.

There is the option to store luggage at both entrances, but you may have to pay a few euros. Also be aware that at the time of writing, there aren’t any lockers, so do so at your own risk.

Tips for planning a safe and enjoyable trip to Plitvice Lakes

To make sure that your Plitvice day trip is safe and enjoyable, here are some tips to follow:

  • Check the weather forecast before you go, and dress accordingly. Wear comfortable shoes, layers, and bring a raincoat or umbrella if needed.
  • Bring a backpack with essentials, such as water, snacks, sunscreen, a hat, camera, and a map of the park. It’s also a good idea to bring a portable phone charger.
  • Arrive early to avoid the crowds and the heat. The best time to visit the park is between 7 am and 10 am, or after 4 pm.
  • Follow the park rules and regulations, such as staying on the marked paths, not swimming in the lakes, not feeding or touching the animals, and not littering or making noise.
  • Respect the nature and the wildlife, and do not damage or disturb anything. Plitvice Lakes is a protected area, and you are a guest in the animals’ home.
  • Enjoy the beauty and the diversity of the park, and take your time to appreciate its wonders. Plitvice Lakes is a unique and unforgettable place, and you’re sure to have a memorable experience.

Conclusion

Plitvice Lakes National Park is an incredible destination. It’s perfect to visit on a day trip, and it’s not uncommon for visitors to want to return a second (or third) time round!

Hopefully this article has provided everything you need to know to plan your visit, from the best time to go and how to get there, to what kind of routes and amenities you can expect once you arrive. Either way, let us know in the comments if Plitvice is on your bucket list!

CTA: Check out our article From Plitvice to Krka: The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Croatia’s Breathtaking National Parks for information about Croatia’s seven other incredible national parks!

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