The road less travelled in Plitvice Lakes National Park

Share the wanderlust:

Considered one of the most beautiful natural sights in Europe, this park plays host to more than 1 million visitors each year. Rightfully so. With tips from our B & B manager and some luck, we explored this park in a different manner – we reached the best viewpoints and stayed away from the summer crowds for the most part.

The lower lakes area within Plitvice park

 

In 1979, Plitvice Lakes National Park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage register.

 

The National Park covers a total area of 300 square km, whilst the lakes join over eight km.

 

It is world-famous for its lakes arranged in cascades, that are all interconnected and follow the water flow. The lakes are renowned for their distinctive colors, ranging from azure to green, grey or blue.

 

18km of wooden footbridges and pathways snake around the lakes’ edges and across the rumbling water.

 

General information and tips

Most people visit the park as a day trip from Zagreb or Split, so beware of crowds especially in summer months between 10 am and 5 pm. Ticket prices vary by month and can range from 110 kunas per adult during shoulder season (Apr-June, Sept-Oct) to 180 kunas per adult in the peak season of July and August. Entry for my 6-year old was free.

If you want to avoid taking a group tour to Plitvice, it is best to rent a car to reach the park and stay the night. There is no train service in the area, but several public buses ply from Zagreb and Split to the park. It is, however, a tad more difficult to figure the exact bus stops and timings from Plitvice to either Zagreb or Split. During my research, I found out that it was possible to book tickets online on the buses, but the logistics of carrying 3 suitcases with a child in tow dampened the idea of taking a public bus.

Do read: A quick stopover in Zagreb: Things to do in a day

Tips to visit Upper Lakes area in Plitvice Lakes
Veliki Prstavac, Upper Lakes, Plitvice park

There are three hotels available inside: Hotel JezeroHotel Bellevue, and Hotel Plitvice. Staying inside the park is perfect for those who don’t have a car. There is another huge perk: hotel guests, after having purchased their park tickets once can have it extended at the hotel’s front desk for the entire length of their stay, for no extra charge.

Which route to take?

There are 8 different hiking routes – A, B, C, K1, E, F, H, K2 – that cover the entire park. They are not all unique; for example – Route E that only covers Upper Lakes from Entrance 2 is largely a sub-set of Route C (that starts from Entrance 1, Lower lakes area). Your route choice would depend on the distance you want to cover, easy vs moderate hiking options, whether you want to be closer to the lakes/waterfalls, your desire to be away from the crowds.

Plitvice Lakes is easy to explore with well marked paths
All the paths are well marked.

Upper Lakes: Access from Entrance 2

Having had a late start from Zagreb in the morning, and a leisurely lunch stop en route, we had arrived in Plitvice only by 5 pm. Even if we had reached earlier in the day, it was difficult to imagine covering the 8 km loop to see both the Upper Lakes and Lower lakes area, in one go, with my daughter.

If you were to explore only the Upper lakes area at a stretch, like we did, it is easy to access from Entrance 2. There is ample parking and a ticket counter (along with a souvenir shop). We got a 25% discount on buying tickets for consecutive days. Take the overhead bridge to cross the road, and you are instantly transported in a forest that only gets lusher as you walk ahead.

Tips to explore Plitvice park away from the crowds
Small waterfalls flowing under the paths are a delight

We took the Route E to explore the Upper lakes, this is 5.2 km long and takes about 2-3 hours. It is a beautiful walk, feels very intimate, and meanders around lakes, forests, and short waterfalls. There were few people on this trail in the evening, and the entire experience was serene. We kept crossing the same set of people – all as pleasantly surprised as us, to have the park to themselves. My daughter was exhausted after the 2-hour trek. Thankfully, there was a bus available to go back to the Entrance 2 parking.

Tips for Upper Lakes
Intimate, serene walk in the forest

Also read: Take a scenic walk in the Vintgar Gorge

Lower lakes area: Access from Entrance 1

You would find the Lower lakes area, very crowded relative to the Upper lakes. Staying in a hotel within the park, or even within a 5 km radius, would make it easier to come early in the morning to beat the crowds. We reached Entrance 1 only after 830 am. There were already many people around; but the big tourist buses were yet to join.

Most people take the Route A or B from Entrance 1. We ended up doing a combination of several routes. The cheerful manager at the family-run Plitvice Miric Inn – where we stayed the night – had marked out the area map for us, indicating how to take the trails high above the lakes and to reach panoramic (secret!) spots where few people are to be found. This meant giving a miss to being close to the lakes / waterfalls, but it suited us fine. Armed with this information, we first headed to Veliki Slap, the tallest waterfall in Croatia (78 m).

Tip to view Veliki Slap, away from the crowds
Veliki Slap – the number of tourists increased dramatically as the day progressed, so go early.

How to reach marvellous views at Lower lakes

More to avoid the people admiring this fall than anything else, we climbed the steep, partially broken, uneven steps, located on one side of the waterfall (the park authorities close these steps, at times, especially during rainfalls). Hardly any crowd up here. You get to a private spot to view the Veliki Slap in shade, without having to jostle with other people for space. We wanted to get to another spot where, as the Miric Inn manager had gushed, the entire lower lakes and its cascading waterfalls lay beneath you. Some backtracking and much quibbling ensued but we finally reached the spot.

Tips to reach viewpoint for Plitvice Lakes
A panoramic view of the lower lakes and waterfalls cascades. Can you spot all the people on the path on the right?

 

Here is what you should do to reach this spot –

– first, take the partially broken steps that are located on the side of the big waterfall,

– reach the asphalt road

– turn right there and walk straight for few minutes until you pass a wooden bridge,

– then turn right after the bridge into a narrow lane

– follow this lane, and when there is a split, stick to the lane to the right.

– keep listening to the sound of the falls to your right and you would reach the viewpoint

Hike in the forest

While trying to reach this view-point, we had crossed 3 men in yellow T-shirts, manning a large table groaning under the weight of many bottles and fruit slices. We got chatting with them –  only one knew English and played the role of a translator – and got to know that it was the day for the Plitvice marathon. The water and fruit, which I had earlier assumed to be on sale, was for the runners. We passed many of the marathon runners, walking down the road, towards Upper lakes. This is part of Route K1 – the lakes are on the left and a lovely, lush forest all around. If you are up for a moderate hike meandering around the forest, with opportunities for stunning vistas, away from the maddening crowds, this route is for you.

Tips for Plitvice Lakes
Some breathtaking stops for birds’ eye view of the lakes / waterfalls on this route.

The route culminated in Lake Kozjak, where my daughter insisted on taking the long boat ride back to the Upper Lakes. This long boat ride can be taken just once, and our plan was to take the bus back to Entrance 1. Alas, the bus was not operating due to the marathon that day. No choice but to walk back to Entrance 1. The last leg of the walk around the Lower lakes area was not enjoyable. It was quite hot by now, and the hordes of people in every direction didn’t help. I was glad to be out of the park by 1230.

Serene walk along Plitvice Lakes
The walk around the Lake Kozjak is quite romantic, there is plenty of shade and not too many people.

The tranquil walk in the Upper Lakes along Route E, and the trail with gazebos high above – in the Lower Lakes area – would be my recommendation to experience the park’s beauty, away from the crowds.


Food and Stay in Plitvice

Plitvice Miric Inn is a great stop for a night stay. They served us a wonderful set-menu dinner – soup, choice of meat / fish / vegetables, followed with dessert. They stock some nice Croatian wines and beer as well. Breakfast spread here was decent, it was all part of a buffet, but nothing was available on order.

Our expectations for Licka Kuca, the restaurant at Entrance 1 where we had lunch, were not high. It was a convenient option right after 4/5 hours of walking. Food turned to be good and service slow.

One of the best meals we had was at Bistro Plum, just before entering Plitvice park area. The homemade ravioli and greek salad were perfect for a warm summer day.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia Travel Tips


Planning a trip to Croatia? Do read my two week itinerary.

Headed to Croatian islands? Do read:

Hvar: one of the 10 most beautiful islands in the world

Vis: an interesting history to boot


Which is your memorable national park experience?

Subscribe to Zest In A Tote Digest, my monthly newsletter, for travel tips and inspiration.

Join me on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook as I share my travel experiences.

 

Author: zestinatote

Hi! I am Shweta, the zest behind this blog . I play several roles – parent to a 6-year old, adventure enthusiast, travel blogger, generally open to trying out new things in life. Besides travel, I love books and theatre and art. I would love to hear from you; do drop a comment. Join me on Instagram / Twitter @zestinatote.

22 thoughts

  1. We were unimpressed with Plitvice. Like you, we stayed just a few minutes away from the park and had our own car. And we didn’t even visit in summer. We arrived before the park even opened, yet still waited in line so long that I sat and leisurely had breakfast at the little cafe near the entrance, then traded and my husband did the same and then we still waited some more.

    Not only was it far too crowded to enjoy half the park, we did visit in a year there was a long summer drought. The waterfalls were sad little trickles that weren’t even worth the aggravation of the hordes of tourists.

    1. Oh, that’s sad to hear. The crowds are definitely maddening, I wouldn’t want to be caught behind a large tour group on those wooden planks for sure. Plitvice for me, for not so much about the large waterfalls, but the forest hike and the cascades (not trickles when we went) and the lakes in the most astonishing colours.

  2. Great idea on renting a car and staying overnight – I had no idea that there were actually hotels inside the park, but what a great way to explore and experience such a beauty natural wonder without the hoards of crowds it usually attracts. And beating them all in the morning!

    I love that route E is quite intimate – I really want to visit Plitvice but had given into the reality that I was going to have to share it with a billion other people at the same time.

    Thanks for sharing tips on avoiding the crowds!

  3. I just bought a ticket to Croatia so this post comes very handy. I did not know that I could sleep in Plitvice Lakes, I will try to do it! Hopefully the crowds will be gone by the end of October

    1. Yup, no crowds end of October. And I would like to see the fall colours, so do post pictures on some social platform where I can see then 🙂 Where else are you going in Croatia?

  4. Thanks for sharing your advice for where to go at Plitvice Lake. It looks absolutely gorgeous there, I love your photos! Sounds like it’s worth staying inside the park to save some money on fees and have a chance to start early and avoid crowds!

  5. Thanks for such a comprehensive post, it’s good to know the less touristy parts of the park. I like the idea of staying in one of the park hotels and being right in the heart of nature. The water looks so crystal clear!

  6. Love this posts. This is the first time I’ve seen so many different views of Plitvice Lakes. I have never seen photos of Veliki Prstavac, Upper Lake or the winding wood pathways. Plitvice Lakes is such a spectacular place I hope I get to visit one day.

    1. Thanks Simon, Plitvice Lakes is not really about big waterfalls, more about forest and cascading small falls and blue green lakes and wooden pathways that join all of this, in my opinion. It is indeed spectacular and one-of-its-kind.

  7. Thanks Rhonda. The most visited attraction in Croatia and summer crowds go hand-in-hand. So I really glad we got all the advice from the Plitvice Inn manager, and with some planning & luck, saw the beautiful lakes in a different way.

  8. Wow, this looks absolutely stunning. We didn’t manage to get to Croatia on our Europe trip, but I hope to get there one day. Excellent details, thank you for all the helpful and well-informed tips on how to get to the best trails and spots. Your first photo had a trail in the foreground that looked absolutely packed with people, but it seems your B&B owner did very well to keep you away from those crowds for the rest of the photos.

    1. Hello, you will love your time in Croatia. Spring is a great time to visit to avoid summer crowds. Hope you get some useful ideas / tips from my other posts on Zagreb, Split, Hvar and Vis.

  9. Wow! This national park looks beautiful and you shared very helpful information. Thank you so much! I feel ready to book my ticket to Croatia 😊 the views are amazing!

  10. I was in Croatia and Plitvice Lakes last year. I have to say, you’ve written a pretty detailed post and this can be very helpful for people because it is quite confusing once you’re there, which entrance to take, what part of the lakes to explore, etc. Plitvice was hands down my favourite experience in Croatia and Dubrovnik was second 🙂

    1. Thank you Medha. So happy you liked all the tips. Partly guidance from the Plitvice Inn manager and partly luck, we were glad not to be behind the tour bus crowds. We loved Plitvice Lakes as well.

  11. Hi, Loved this post. If I could visit only one place out of Hvar, Vis and Plitvice, the national park would be the one. Sounds and looks marvellous in this post. Thanks for sharing the information. Zen

Join the discussion! I'd love to hear from you.