Croatia Calling :: Plitvice Lakes

[trip style = active + adventure]

For the final installment of our Croatia series, we're pulling back from the coast and heading inland. Scroll to the bottom of the post for more on Dubrovnik, the Dalmatian Islands and Rovinj.

Plitvice Lakes National Park might be the most beautiful natural wonder in Europe you've never heard of. Croatia's stunning coast receives most of the attention—and crowds—but away from the coast lies a gorgeous and unforgettable park made up of 16 crystal-clear lakes laced together by countless waterfalls. At Plitvice, the colors of the lakes are so vibrant you might think you're in Bora Bora or the Rockies. My Croatia guru Rick Steves compares Plitvice Lakes to a European Niagara Falls sliced, diced and sprinkled over a heavily forested Grand Canyon. With its lush landscape rich in deep blues and bright greens, I'd compare it to the Blue Lagoon meets the Shire. Whatever your comparison, you'll realize it's uniquely Plitvice and well worth a day or two on your Croatian itinerary.

 Plan to spend three to four hours in the park if you stick to the main paths, or longer if you take the paths less traveled.

Plan to spend three to four hours in the park if you stick to the main paths, or longer if you take the paths less traveled.

 A path along the Lower Lakes and the biggest waterfall in the park—Big Waterfall {seriously, that's the name}—a short walk from the main path.

A path along the Lower Lakes and the biggest waterfall in the park—Big Waterfall {seriously, that's the name}—a short walk from the main path.

 Waters flowing over limestone and chalk have, over thousands of years, deposited travertine barriers, creating natural dams, which in turn have created lakes, caves and waterfalls.

Waters flowing over limestone and chalk have, over thousands of years, deposited travertine barriers, creating natural dams, which in turn have created lakes, caves and waterfalls.

 The no-swimming and no-fishing rules guarantee a serene surrounding, but if it's warm, you'll really, really want to jump in.

The no-swimming and no-fishing rules guarantee a serene surrounding, but if it's warm, you'll really, really want to jump in.

 Electric boats shuttle visitors across the park's largest lake.

Electric boats shuttle visitors across the park's largest lake.

 During the 1960s, several "spaghetti westerns" were filmed in Plitvice because Germans and Italians believed certain sections of the park looked like the American West.

During the 1960s, several "spaghetti westerns" were filmed in Plitvice because Germans and Italians believed certain sections of the park looked like the American West.

 Miles of plank walks connect the 16 lakes.

Miles of plank walks connect the 16 lakes.

 Most park visitors focus on the Lower Lakes; hike all the way to the end of the Upper Lakes for a more peaceful experience.

Most park visitors focus on the Lower Lakes; hike all the way to the end of the Upper Lakes for a more peaceful experience.

 It's hard to believe that in 1991, the first shots of the Croatia-Yugoslavia war were fired in Plitvice. The Serbs controlled the park until 1995, which allowed the ecosystem to recover from years of visitors prior to the war.

It's hard to believe that in 1991, the first shots of the Croatia-Yugoslavia war were fired in Plitvice. The Serbs controlled the park until 1995, which allowed the ecosystem to recover from years of visitors prior to the war.

 Plitvice is one of Croatia's seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Plitvice is one of Croatia's seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

 For a Euro-Disney-meets-Jurassic-Park experience, take a "train" {which the park calls its shuttle buses} from the top of the Upper Lakes back to the park entrance. 

For a Euro-Disney-meets-Jurassic-Park experience, take a "train" {which the park calls its shuttle buses} from the top of the Upper Lakes back to the park entrance. 

Things to know

  • With over a million visitors a year—up to 10,000 a day—Plitvice {Pleet-veet-seh} is a packed park. Visit during the shoulder or low seasons for fewer crowds, or before 10am or after 3pm to avoid the bus tours. 
  • Stop at a nearby grocery store to stock up on snacks and enjoy a picnic on the shores of the largest lake.
  • Adult cost: ~$10-33/day depending on the season
  • The park is located two hours from Zagreb, or three hours from Rovinj. It has three hotels, but we chose to stay in an apartment nearby.

This post is written by Trip Styler's Assistant Wayfarer/Editor Heather.

Related
Croatia Calling: Dalmatian Islands
Croatia Calling: Dubrovnik
Roam+Board: Hotel Lone

[images by @heatherlovesit]