It was a rainy morning in Plitvice National Park. I looked outside the window and saw the deep green forest shrouded in mist. It seemed like it’ll rain all day, it was mid September and there was a lingering smell of autumn. Given the very tight schedule, we only had two days to spend here and we couldn’t afford to postpone the trip to the famous lakes. After all, there’s no such thing as bad weather if you’re properly dressed. Cameras packed, hiking boots on, Plitvice lakes here we come!
Plitvice Lakes National Park is situated in central Croatia, near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.Getting to Plitvice can be done in a few ways. Buses are available from major cities like Zagreb, Zadar or Split, and they run frequently in the summer season. You can check the schedule and buy tickets online here . My choice of travel was to rent a car, which despite being a costly alternative, has allowed for a more flexible and efficient journey (especially if you’re planning to get there from Dubrovnik, like I did).
How to explore the park
We decided to start exploring via Entrance 2 (South entrance), where you see most of Plitvice’s Upper Lakes. The ticket can be purchased at the entrance and it comes as either a day ticket(110HRK) or two-day ticket (180HRK), we went for the latter.
The national park covers an area of about 300 sq km and is best known for its dreamy wooden footbridges that take you along the 16 crystal clear lakes, over 90 waterfalls, many caves and rich vegetation.
Given the vastness of this place, there are a few suggested routes:
Route A: 2-3h, 3.5km
Route B: 3-4h, 4km
Route C: 4-6h, 8km
Route K: 6-8h, 18.3km
Route E: 2-3h, 5.2km
Route H: 4-6h, 8.9km
Route K: 6-8h, 18.3km
While these routes are good for those who are constrained by time or fitness, you can always make your own variation and go off the beaten path. We started at Entrance 2 with route K in mind. The plan was to see as much as possible, enjoy the scenery and don’t rush things. Once you step on the path, depending on the route you choose to follow, you can also take a boat across Kozjak Lakethe, the largest lake of the park, or a panoramic train to higher points (both included in the ticket) .
We hit the path on foot. Hoods on, as the rain danced across the lake. The path takes you on a journey, sometimes very close to the lake shore. The clear water will serve as an invitation to look close into its depths where you’ll discover entangled roots, fallen trees, underwater plants as well as large numbers of trout and chub, swimming leisurely in these protected waters.
Why are these lakes so special?
Plitvice Lakes became a protected national reserve in 1949 and was added on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1979. It is the the particular climate and the specific terrain configuration that allowed the formation of these world-famous lakes. The aquamarine waters are cascading over a series of picturesque terraces or tufa barriers, formed all due to the high concentration of carbonate in the water (coming from the limestone and dolomite that dominate the area). The moss and other organic compounds in the water plus TIME help trigger the sedimentation process and voilà, this mystical wonderland was created.
Best time to visit
Talking about mystical, this place really castes a spell on you. Every step further on the path brings out a different view. The rainy weather has cleared most people out of the way which allowed for a more intimate encounter with the misty blue-green waters along the wooden footbridges. Gloomy autumn weather does come with its perks:
-you won’t get stuck behind big groups stopping every 5 meters to take a photo
-you can enjoy everything at your own pace
-you won’t have to wait for everyone to pass when you want to take THE photo
-less people means better visual but also sound experience. Bursting waterfalls, ducks landing on water or even the sound of your steps on the wooden path, will add up to an unforgettable experience
-there’s a reduced possibility of falling in the water, after all, the footpaths are quite narrow
I did get to experience all of the above (minus taking a dip in the lake) on the second day. This time, a shower of sunlight animated every single corner of the park. With the sun-drenched skies also came more people. The whole experience was enhanced in some aspects (weather) and (sort of) ruined in others. In comparison with the previous day, the footpath was buzzing with eager tourists who all seemed to go where you were heading. Top tip: If you find yourself behind a big group, try overpassing or walk in reverse, there’s plenty more routes as well as alternatives to reaching the most popular spots in the park.
Despite the seductive quality of the landscape, I did come across magnificent viewpoints where the landscape’s timeless rhythms stood out. Here’s just a few of them:
1.Velike Kaskade, the small waterfalls along Kaluderovac lake
2.The wooden footpath going around Gradinsko lake
3.Veliki Slap, also known to be the highest waterfall in Croatia
4.Šupljara Cave, located above lake Kaludjerovac
5. Keep an eye out for the wooden walkways that hide small waterfall underneath
A few things to consider:
-Visit the lakes in either spring or autumn, at opening or late afternoon to get a crowd-free visit
-Take your own food and plenty of water
-There’s no need to follow a suggested route if time is on your side
-Respect the environment: don’t swim in the water, stay on the path and don’t feed the ducks nor the fish as tempting as it might be.
-Don’t forget to put your camera down from time to time to enjoy the view, as difficult as it might be