Plitvice Lakes National Park is a stunning, fairly-tale like setting where emerald blue water pools and then cascades down waterfalls to the next pool. The process repeats itself over and over, and each waterfall is unique; some are wide, some narrow, some high, and some low.
Given the amazing beauty of this place it is not surprising that it is one of Croatia’s most popular attractions. It is especially popular as a day trip from any major city within a five hour drive (including Zagreb, Zadar and Split).
As throngs of tourists can really detract from the serenity of the park we planned our visit to avoid the crowds as much as possible. Because many visitors come on day tours our main strategy was to stay in a nearby AirBnb and get to the park at opening time so that we could enjoy a few hours at the park before the day tour buses started arriving.
Another AirBnB Win
AirBnB is our go-to choice for accommodations and we used it to find a wonderful cozy cabin in the nearby town of Plitvička Jezera. The first evening of our stay our host gave us a mini walking tour from the cabin to an overlook of the “Big Waterfall” in the park. He also gave us some advice on planning our visit for the following day. Check out 33 Shades of Green if you will be in the area (you can use this referral link for any AirBnB booking and you get $40 on your first trip)!
Plitvice Lakes Touring Plan
Based on the advice from our host and from our friends who had recently visited the park, we settled on a plan for our visit to the park. The map below shows our route.
- Take the ferry from P3 to P2
- Take the short ferry from P2 to P1
- Take the bus from P1 to St3, at the top of the upper lakes
- Walk the boardwalks and trails back to P2
- Take the ferry from P3 back to P2
- Lunch outside at P3
- Walk from P3 to the lower lakes and “Big Waterfall”
- Walk along the ridge from the “Big Waterfall” back to our cabin
The Day Begins
Our cabin was a short walk to the ferry at P3 but tickets are not sold there so our host offered to go buy us tickets when the park opened at 7 a.m. then bring them to us.
At 7:30 a.m. with tickets in hand we walked to the ferry at P3. The temperatures were a pretty big contrast from the coast, getting close to freezing overnight. The lake was calm and flat, with swirls of mist from the cool temperatures. The kids were pretty happy that a cute dog followed us most of our walk from the house, all the way to the ferry pier. We ran into him (or her?) again later in the day.
The Upper Lakes
Our first ferry ride was about 20 minutes, followed by a short ferry to cross a more narrow area, then another short walk and finally a bus that took us up the hill to the start of the walk by the upper waterfalls. It was downhill walking, mainly on wooden boardwalks, until we made it back to P2.
With the hilly terrain and large number of waterfalls, it was interesting to see how they built the boardwalks to keep people from walking on the fragile travertines formed by the waterfalls while still allowing a close-up view. In some places, the result was a walkway with waterfalls rushing under it.
We also found ample opportunities for waterfall family selfies.
The Lower Lakes
After completing the walk back down to P2, we got back on the same ferry we rode in the morning and ate lunch near the ferry pier at P3. The kids were starting to think they might be done with hiking for the day, but lunch gave them renewed energy and we pressed on for a walk down to the lower lakes and the big waterfall. By this time, the many buses had arrived and some of the narrow boardwalks by the water were quite congested. We made it through the masses and were rewarded with some more gorgeous views of lakes and waterfalls.
We stopped for pictures whenever we found a break in the crowd.
At the end of the canyon, we found the bottom of the big waterfall we had seen from above the day before.
Gazing up at the waterfall, we thought, “Sure, let’s walk up these stairs to the top!” The kids were troopers and made it up with limited complaints and only some candy-based bribery. We were rewarded with more beautiful views into the canyon below.
There are no pesky barriers or guard rails at the top, but there were some helpful signs reminding you to keep to the path.
It was interesting to look down and see how small the boardwalks looked relative to the rest of the lake.
We highly recommend a visit to Plitvice Lakes for anyone who is making a trip to Croatia. Even though it can get quite crowded, the stunning landscape is worth seeing. It was particularly interesting to see the elevation changes between the lakes, which we are more used to seeing on a much smaller scale in waterfalls.
The facilities in the national park are well suited for a comfortable visit, with plenty of places for food, drinks and restrooms. Depending on how you visit, you will need sustenance because there can be a lot of walking. Proof from the Fitbit results for the day – it is good the kids were still smiling at the end (at least two out of three – and in the immortal words of Meat Loaf that ain’t bad).
Next time we travel to Zadar and begin our journey down the Dalmatian coast!