Situated about 2 hours off the coast north of Zadar, Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Croatia (there are eight in total). The national park covers an area over 70,000 acres which includes ancient forests, intimidating caves, gorgeous lakes and waterfalls of all shapes and sizes.
The main attraction at the national park is the collection of 16 lakes (12 upper and 4 lower) which are carved into a towering valley and are one of the most impressive natural landscapes we have ever been lucky enough to visit. The lakes drop down through the valley from 636m to 503m above sea level through a range of rivers and waterfalls that twist and turn through the surrounding forest, which are easily accessible thanks to the network or dirt paths and walkways.
The park is open all year round but due to weather conditions some areas have limited access out of season. The main thing to bear in mind is that the shuttle buses and boats only operate from April through October. Visiting the park outside of these dates will limit how much you will be able to see in one day, so unless you plan to visit for at least two days or enjoy a good hike make sure you stick within these dates.
Access to the park is gained through two main entrances on the main highway 1 access road .Entrance 1 is the most popular near the lower lakes with entrance 2 being further south by the upper lakes. Parking is available at both entrances between 7am to 8pm costing 7Kn per hour.
The entrances have different opening times depending on the time of year:-
Nov.-March: Daily, 8 am-4 pm
April-June and Sept.-Oct: Daily, 7 am -5 pm
July-Aug: Daily, 7 am-6 pm
April-June and Sept.-Oct: Daily, 7 am5 pm
July-Aug: Daily, 7 am-6 pm
Tickets which can be bought from either entrance that give you access to the bus and boat network and makes getting round this large site a lot easier. Ticket prices vary throughout the year:-
Nov.-March = Adults: 55 kn, Children (7 to 18): 35 kn, Children below 7: free
April-June and Sept.-Oct = Adults: 110 kn, Children (7 to 18): 55 kn, Children below 7: free
July-Aug = Adults: 180 kn, Children (7 to 18): 80 kn, Children below 7: free
The national park is a major tourist attraction within Croatia with over a million people visiting each year with the majority between July to August which would make the thin walkways very crowded and getting around tricky. We visited at the beginning of October and it was reasonably quiet even with having to wait for the occasional coach tour to walk by so we could enjoy the views in peace. Also at this time of year the autumn colours in the forests give an amazing display and offer a great contrast to the turquoise lakes. You can of course visit in the winter to see the park covered in snow and ice but many of the services will be closed so getting around could be difficult.
There are numerous hiking trails that can take you around all the lakes which are well signposted but we’d advise getting the bus from either entrance to the upper lakes to make your day’s walking a little easier, shuttle buses run from 8 am-7 pm, every 30 minutes. After walking round the upper lakes head towards the boat station where you can either cross over to entrance 2 or head north to the lower lakes on a short boat crossing which runs from 8 am to 6 pm, every 30 minutes. After getting off the boat this is a good spot to grab some refreshments with plenty of facilities on offer. Continue to head north around the lower lakes following the signs for the “big waterfall”, make sure you take a look into the Supljara cave on your way. Once you have followed the trail down the stairs to the base of the main waterfall stop for a break to take in this impressive sight in preparation for the climb back up to entrance 1. Retrace your steps until the first fork in the footpath and follow the signs to bus station St1 up the zig zag path. Grab a coffee whilst you wait for the bus to take you back to either entrance.
There are a range of other outdoor activities to do in the national park other than hiking around the lakes. If you’re after something a little more energetic after walking round the lakes there are a range of outdoor activities that can get your heart pumping including zip lines, kayaking and free climbing.