3 Things We Wish We Knew Before Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Raised wooden paths along the karst waterfalls and lakes of Plitvice National Park, Croatia.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes was one of the places we wanted to visit even before we’d planned this trip. Seeing the photos on Google, we were hooked, we knew we had to get to this place. Plitvice was a very close second to sailing the Dalmatian Coast in terms of beauty. It was out of the way, up in the mountains, with nothing much else around to draw us to it, except for the natural beauty, kind of the way Yosemite draws you in, at least for me. But let our initial confusion be your guide. We wish we knew these 3 things before we went to Plitvice Lakes National Park. (To be fair, when we say “park” we mean the area of the waterfalls. Like the main valley in Yosemite National Park,, the falls and lakes area of Plitvice are but a small part of the whole national park, but are the big draw to it.)

1) When to Go

On leaving our airbnb accommodations in Selište Drežničko, we headed down the road to the park. Although just a few miles, it started out as a cool and cloudy ride and I was apprehensive that yesterday’s weather was hanging around for another day. But after just a mile or two the sun had burned through the clouds and the day was shaping up. So at 7:15 am we reached Entrance No. 1 and it was empty! The upside of this is that we were there ahead of the hordes, the downside is that we didn’t really know where to go. We got into the parking lot and weren’t really sure if we were in the overflow area, were near the entrance, or where we had to go to get tickets and enter the park. We finally found a place to buy tickets and wandered our way across the main road, down the hill, and toward the park. It’s about a mile-long walk down a pretty good decline to reach one of the two park entrances. Once we got in, we found a map of the park and started off. We recommend going to the park around 4 pm the day prior to your park visit to find out where to buy tickets and walk to the actual entrance – you’d think it would be clear – IT’S NOT.

When you arrive in the park, there are a couple of decisions to make: how much time do you have and how much of the park do you need to see. The answer to these two questions will dictate how you approach the park. We spent one full day (7 am to 5 pm) walking nearly all of the trails in the park, and we feel we got a good dose of the park. Of course the park and each waterfall looks totally different at different times of the day, so for good photography, you may need a few days. As we experienced during our one day, even the same waterfall feels different in different light and when enjoying it alone or with a hoard of tourists. We can’t stress enough how awesome it was to walk the falls from 7:30-10:00 almost alone, compared to the rest of the day bumping elbows with people from all over the world for the next few hours.

2) Where to Go – Once You’re In

On the map for the park (which for some reason they don’t have available to view on the website), they have a few routes (A, B, C, E, F, H, and K) you can take that are marked by signage in the park. They also provide roughly the number of hours you need to walk the particular path. However, we came to find out that although there are signs throughout the park that show which route you’re on, you can’t always count on a sign being in the spot you need it when coming to a fork in the path. Paths and routes are different; many paths make up a route and the paths aren’t named. In my opinion, they would be better off providing the trails with names or other designations, than showing a route you can take on unnamed and unmarked trails. All that being said, getting lost in this karstic wonderland is not altogether bad. These are the trail maps that you get when you buy a map, which is not included with admission. We bought ours about 1/2 way through the day just to confirm we weren’t missing anything but, if you pretty much keep the water in your sights you’re good to go.

3) What’s included in Admission

If you are looking to get some exercise this is a great place, you can walk for hours. We recommend walking as much as you can. We spent the whole day at the park, covering the majority of the trails and walked from 7:30 in the morning, not counting the 1 km walk from the ticket office to the entrance, until 5:00 with only a short break for a bite to eat.  However, if you don’t have all day or aren’t fit enough to walk all day, never you fear, there are boats and a shuttle ride that are included in your ticket price. Again, the above trail maps are NOT included in admission (the map in the picture is the back of our ticket, which is not very helpful). The pictures in the post are some of what you’ll see, we have another post, which you should check out, with more waterfall pictures of Plitvice.