Europe Hiking Travel Travel Stories and Hacks

Guide to Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

2019 Update: IMPORTANT! You now MUST book your Plitvice Lakes ticket ONLINE (Click here to reserve) at least two days in advance! If you don’t pre-book your ticket, you most likely WILL NOT be able to visit Plitvice Lakes, especially during peak season.

Use of drones is also now strictly prohibited in Plitvice Lakes National Park. If you want a great view from up high, take the K-route.

Plitvice Lakes, while Instagram and Pinterest-famous, can be tempting to skip. To most people, Croatia’s biggest attractions are along the coast; Dubrovnik, Split, and Hvar would certainly be enough to make an amazing Croatian holiday. But to miss out on the inland Plitvice Lakes would be a disservice. I’ve now been to the park multiple times, and each time I have left absolutely blown away by its beauty.

The first thing you see when you enter through Entrance 1.

COST (per person):

July/August: 180 kuna (26 USD)

Spring/Autumn: 110 kuna (16 USD)

Winter: 55 kuna (8 USD)

NOTE: There are multi-day tickets available; we did this for our 2019 trip (peak season) and it only cost an additional 10 USD for the 2nd day.

WHEN TO GO:

Anytime! Seriously, Plitvice Lakes is incredible any time of the year. While I’ve only been there in the summer and autumn, I’m planning a winter visit at some point in the future.

Summer: Incredible greens and blues, best chance of sun, bigger crowds.
Autumn: Beautiful changing leaves, smaller crowds, still good weather.
Winter: Tiny crowds, beautiful winter landscape, cheap, but some areas are closed.
Spring: Powerful waterfalls, smaller crowds than summer, still good weather.

Even if you don’t get perfect weather, Plitvice is still stunning.

HOW LONG DO YOU NEED?

The first time I visited Plitvice Lakes, my sister and I had a pretty brutal itinerary:

3:30am: Wake up and drive from Budapest

8:00am: Arrive at Plitvice Lakes

8:30-4:00: Explore every part of the park that we could

4:00-6:00: Eat dinner

6:00-9:00: Drive to Split

I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS STRATEGY! It worked for us, but we were also prepared for a grueling day like that. Instead, I’d suggest taking your time, even if it means you don’t see the whole park. Plitvice Lakes has an easy-to-understand trail system. The most important routes (from Entrance 1) are routes C and K. Here are my recommendations after multiple visits (this is assuming you are in relatively good physical condition):

1. A few hours (stopping by on the way somewhere else):

Skip the K-route and stick to the waterfall areas, AKA Route C. Get your ticket for Entrance 1 (HERE IS YOUR REMINDER THAT YOU MUST NOW PRE-BOOK!) and immediately hike down to the Big Waterfall. From there, make your way to the boat dock; the first boat runs at 8:30AM and they keep running throughout most of the day. Take the boat to the other section of the park, and immediately hike on the lower trails over the water and along the waterfalls.

The morning sun shining on the Big Waterfall.

If this is all you do, it will only take about 4-5 hours, including time to take photos. During peak season, you must arrive early if you want to do this route. Congestion on the boardwalks later in the day makes it tough to see all of the highlights in just a few hours. If you can’t get started before 10am, then I’d recommend getting your tickets for Entrance 2 and doing that side of the park first.

Entrance 2 gets you to this amazing scene quicker.

2. One full day:

The K-route, or at least the partial K-route, is the best way to spend a full day in the park. This route involves a few areas not seen on the C-route; two stunning lake walks and a beautiful stroll through the woods. This is the hike Courtny and I did on day one in 2019, and it is the definitive way to see Plitvice Lakes. Oh, and when you leave the park near Entrance 1, cool off by hiking through the caves to get back!

The K-route takes you on a beautiful walk through the woods.

Overnight Recommendation: Rastoke is a tiny town about 25 minutes away from the park. You will seriously feel like you are in a Disney movie. We stayed at Apartment Slap, and it is one of our top 3 Airbnb experiences ever!

3. Multiple days:

In an ideal world, you will have a multi-day pass to Plitvice. That way, on Day 1, you can scour every nook and cranny of the lakes by taking the K-route. Then, on Day 2, just head back to your absolute favorite areas and enjoy the scenery of one of the most beautiful parks in the world! When you’re not in the park, soak up the relaxing beauty of Rastoke!

Multiple days means more time soaking in this view!

PEAK SEASON TIPS

We’re all about visiting tourist attractions without, you know, actual tourists. That can be tough, especially in peak season. Plitvice Lakes’ narrow boardwalks are amazing, but they aren’t exactly built to handle the traffic of thousands of tourists. Standstills are common (everyone, including you, wants to take that perfect picture), and standing in a huge crowd isn’t my idea of a perfect day at a national park. But there ARE ways to avoid the crowds!

MOST IMPORTANT TIP: BOOK YOUR TICKETS TO THE PARK AT LEAST 2 DAYS IN ADVANCE!

  • Book the 7AM time:

I don’t care if you hate waking up more than anything in the world (my wife certainly does). It is 100% worth it to drag yourself out of bed and get to the park right when it opens. If you’re willing to get there early enough, you’re guaranteed secluded sightings of the major sites, even in peak season.

An early start means you get a peaceful, secluded walk on the boardwalks!
  • Hit the highlights first:

One of the best parts of Plitvice Lakes is that you can see some of the most stunning waterfalls in the world and you don’t even have to hike much to get there. The Big Waterfall is a ten-minute downhill walk from Entrance 1. The best boardwalk section is similarly just a ten-minute walk from the spot the boat drops you off. Of course, that means these locations are absolutely PACKED later in the day. Be sure to hit these highlights as soon as you walk into the park.

We got here early on day 2 and were alone enough to pull off a long exposure on the boardwalk.
  • Take the upper woodland route for a lunch break:

Once you’ve criss-crossed over all of the lower lakes and seen the waterfalls close up, it’s time to sweat a bit. The upper woodland track, part of the K-route, features more walking through beautiful woods than looking at waterfalls. But at one point near the end of the trail (or, the start of it if the boat dock is your starting point), there is a small branching path that leads down to a tiny cliff. From here, the trees open up and you are treated with an unbelievable view of the park. Drones may now be banned from the park, but you can get an amazing aerial view of the paths and falls from up here! Even during peak season, most people don’t take this route, either because they don’t have the time or the energy. That means it’s pretty secluded, even as the other paths start getting packed.

What a view for lunch!

And that’s about all! If you have any questions about planning your trip, we’d be happy to help! Okay; one more reminder: YOU ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, MUST PRE-BOOK YOUR TICKETS THROUGH THE ONLINE SYSTEM!

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