Easily one of the most beautiful natural sights in Europe, Plitviče Lakes National Park (Plitvička Jezera) is made up of over 16 terraced lakes joined by spectacular waterfalls. Each lake has a distinctive and vivd, blue-green color due to the moss, algae, and travertine present in the water.
At 295 square kilometers, Plitviče is the largest of Croatia’s eight National parks. It is the oldest national park in Southeast Europe (declared as a national park in 1949) and one of the first natural sites designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site.
Plitviče Lakes National Park is a perfect weekend destination, or a great add-on to any trip to Croatia! We spent a few days in Plitviče during our road trip through Croatia and had a fabulous time.
We drove to Plitviče from Otok Krk, and it was a stunning (but slow) drive. The small winding road goes through numerous small villages and some of the most gorgeous countryside imaginable. Think abandoned barns, grazing sheep and goats, well-maintained fields, and plenty of wildflowers. Once you get close to Plitviče, the road becomes so narrow it is hard to believe that it is still a 2 way street. And don’t be surprised when the locals fly past you in large vans on blind curves! Leaving Plitviče, we drove in the direction of Zadar. These roads were primarily highways, and the driving was much easier and faster, but the views were just as amazing.
Bistro & Caffe Plum | A few kilometers up the road, at the Hotel Degenija, this small restaurant has great local food and a nice terrace to sit outside.
Ethno Houses Plitvica Selo | This hotel is about as close to perfect as you can get if you want to see Plitviče Lakes with kids. The whole hotel is gorgeous, made of wood to blend in with the surroundings. A huge adventure playground right in the middle of the grounds is great for letting the kids burn off steam after a long car drive, and there are a number of animals, including goats, rabbits, a horse, a pig, and even a St. Bernard pup for the kids to pet and play with. Plus a pool, miniature golf, archery, a soccer field and more, means there is something for everyone. All less than 400 meters from Plitviče Lakes National Park. It may be a little pricier than other accommodations in the area, but it is so worth it!
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SEE & DO
Explore Plitviče Lakes National Park | You came for the crystal clear lakes and breathtaking waterfalls, so get out there and explore them. Follow one of the pre-designated routes or make up your own. Spend just a few hours or stay all day. You will be amazed at the color of the water, each lake seemingly more beautiful than the last. The colors range from brilliant blues to light greens, pale blue and even grey, depending on the amounts of microorganisms in each lake. Learn more about the chemistry of the lakes and waterfalls here.
9 Tips for making the most of your trip to Plitviče Lakes National Park
1. Go Early!!
We arrived bright and early at 7am, right when the park opens. I had read about how crazy the crowds can get, and wanted to make sure we could enjoy the beauty of the park without 10,000 of our closest friends crowding us on the walkways. The first few hours were amazing. Hardly another person in sight. We were able to walk down the pathways completely alone, stopping to look at the flowers and the fish, and take plenty of photos.
By noon, it was a complete mad house. It wasn’t even enjoyable, as you could barely walk down the paths without feeling like you would fall off the edge.
I have heard that the late afternoon and early evening are also not as crowded, but my kids are definitely better earlier in the day. Plus, I love how crisp and sparkling everything is in the morning.
2. Plan to stay two nights.
Many people try to see Plitviče Lakes National Park as a day trip from Zagreb, Zadar, or even Split. While it is possible, I definitely don’t recommend it. Mainly because you won’t be able to arrive super early. (See tip #1) Instead, two nights (with one day spent in the park) is the perfect length of time for your trip.
Arrive at the hotel on the first day, check in and relax. If you take my advice to stay at Ethno Houses Plitvica Selo, there will be plenty to do to keep you and your kids busy. Go to bed early so that you can wake up before the sun and have plenty of energy to hike through the park. After your hike, head back to the hotel and relax for the rest of the day. Especially in the summer heat, you will be completely spent. After a good night’s sleep on the second night, you will be ready to move on to your next destination.
3. Start at the top, and work your way down.
Walking downhill will help you avoid crowds, and makes the hike much easier.
We didn’t follow an exact pre-designated route, but the route we took ended up working perfectly. If you enter at Entrance 3, I highly recommend following this route. We walked to Entrance 3 from our hotel, which is only about 400 meters. From P3, we walked down along the lower lakes to Veliki Slap (Big Waterfall), then around to Entrance 1. From there we took the panorama train to St3 at the top of the Upper Lakes. We hiked down from St3 to P2, then took the boat back across the lake to P3. It took about 5 1/2 hours total, but that includes time spent waiting for the train and the boat, stopping to take lots of photos, and walking very slowly when my youngest was out of the carrier. (See map for details)
4. Bring a baby carrier.
The narrow, uneven rustic wood plank pathways through the park are not suitable for strollers. (Understatement of the year!) There are a lot of stairs, and the spacing between the boards on the paths are perfect for tripping little ones. Plus there are no railings on most of the paths. So you will definitely want to bring a baby carrier for babies, toddlers, and even young preschoolers.
We ended up hiking over 6 miles, and while my 6 year old did great, my 2 year old wouldn’t have lasted that long even on the easiest of streets. When we were on some of the flatter dirt trails, I let her walk, then when we came to a lot of steps or narrow wooden paths, I put her back into the carrier on my back. Especially when it got super crowded at about noon, it made me feel so much more comfortable to have her safely strapped in.
5. Wear sensible shoes.
I was so surprised by how many people I saw attempting to hike the trails and walk across the wooden paths in strappy little sandals, flip flops, or even heels. That can’t be good for your feet! Do yourself a favor and wear some very comfortable sneakers or running shoes.
6. Pack food and water.
There are snack bars and restaurants at each of the entrances. But they are all super crowded, and I can’t imagine the food would be very tasty. Plus, if you are trying to get through the park before the crowds, you won’t want to waste time sitting down at one of the restaurants.
Bring a backpack with plenty of water and some snacks that you can eat on the go.
7. Use the restrooms when you can.
There is a long stretch of trail up around the upper lakes where there is no bathroom. Plan ahead, and use the restroom before you head up that way.
8. Time your trip.
Just as it is important to arrive at the right time of day, (I vote for early morning but very late afternoon would probably be nice as well) the time of year is important as well. In the spring, the lakes are full and waterfalls are at their peak, but the chance of rain is much higher. Summer has warm weather, but higher prices and a ton of people. In the fall you can see the leaves turning all sorts of magnificent colors. In late June when we visited, the weather was sunny and warm, the waterfalls were still going strong, and the prices weren’t at their peak yet.
9. Plitviče Lakes is great for kids.
Almost everything I read said that Plitviče was really only suitable for kids age 5 and up. While I agree that kids 5 and up will love it, I also feel that it is a great place for toddlers as long as you plan ahead. Follow tips #1-5 and you will have no problems visiting Plitviče Lakes National Park with kids.
My very active 2 year old loved it! We saw a ton of fish, some frogs, and even ducks. She loved walking parts of the route, was intrigued by the waterfalls, and had a blast on the boat ride. Plus, we ended our hike with an ice cream treat, which makes any trip worthwhile in her book.
Go over the park rules with your kids before beginning your hike (stay on the paths, no swimming, no picking flowers, etc) and you will have a great time.
Read more about our road trip through Croatia.
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