A Travel Guide to Plitvice Lakes National Park
I am so excited to write about Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. Following our amazing visit to Dubrovnik (here and here), we rented a car in town and drove to Split where we stayed for one night. Then early the next morning we left with the sunrise for Krka National Park (seen here). After a quick swim in these waterfalls, we continued our drive to Plitvice National Park.
I first saw pictures of this fairy land of waterfalls and clear turquoise water after joining Pinterest years ago. I was worried that the photos I had seen were photoshopped, but the park is actually as beautiful as it seems and the water really is that color.
We visited the park in mid-August, right smack in the middle of high season. The videos I saw on Instagram of crowds walking single file across bridges made me more than a little anxious about visiting at this time of year, so I was determined to make it work. Read on to learn all the tips for visiting this stunning park!
When to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park
You are really unlimited here, as the Plitvice Lakes experience all seasons beautifully. You could have brilliant colors from the changing leaves in the fall, a snowy wonderland in the winter, or fairyland greenery in spring and summer.
Year round the lakes maintain their clear turquoise color, partially because they are well protected. Swimming is actually prohibited, ensuring that these lakes stay clean and beautiful for all visitors.
We went in August, which is actually peak tourist season, as well as, the least amount of rainfall. We found the waterfalls to still have a strong flow and I'll share all of my tips for avoiding those notorious crowds.
The key is to stay in the park, visit in the evening around 4:00 PM when most visitors and tour buses are leaving until the park closes at 8:00pm, and visit early in the morning from park opening hour until about 11:00 AM when the crowds become unbearable.
How to get to Plitvice Lakes
I loved driving in Croatia. The country has such a beautiful coastline. I was so surprised by the mountainous countryside, as it reminded me of Montana or California. I rented a car with Oryx through AutoEurope in Dubrovnik and drove to Split.
Crossing the small section of Bosnia and Herzegovina was really easy. They checked our passports once at the Bosnia border, and then twice (two booths in a row) as we left Bosnia and reentered Croatia. The roads are all very well maintained with clear signage and we only encountered traffic in Omis and then again entering Split.
We stayed the night in Split and then left again early the next morning to be at Krka National Park as soon as it opened. We left Krka National Park around noon and continued the two hour drive to Plitivice. The majority of the drive is on a toll road, which is very simple to navigate. You take a ticket when you enter the toll road, and then pay with Croatian currency or credit card when you exit.
Where to stay
We stayed at Hotel Jezero inside the park, which was perfect for our short visit. Hotel Bellevue and Hotel Plitvice are also inside the park and I found all to have very similar rooms and amenities. I would ignore the reviews and the photos, too. Some photos I found showed very outdated bed spreads, but we ended up with perfectly clean, basic white linens.
We loved staying inside the park because it ensured parking, while many visitors had to park treacherously on the roadside outside the park entrance. It was also ideal for entering the park at off-peak times. We were able to walk out of our hotel and right onto the trail.
The key thing to know about staying in or near Plitvice National Park is that you will most likely not have air conditioning. Coming from Houston, we did not find this to be a problem since it was probably only around 75 degrees.
The other thing to know is that most of the accommodations will be very basic, but perfectly adequate. There is no Hilton or Ritz Carlton in sight, but there are several cute cabin accommodations if you're willing to stay 30 min away. All of these hotels put you near park entrance 2, which starts at the upper lakes.
Which trail to explore
Several blogs and reviews that I read recommended walking the H trail. I say walk because the trails are quite easy. I don't think I ever broke a sweat in this park. The trails are mostly wood plank paths across the water without rails.
The H trail allows you to see the whole park and is mostly downhill, but it takes close to 6 hours to complete. Since we were splitting our visit between off peak hours, we started the H trail at 4:00PM and ended up at the boat dock P2 and took the boat on a super quick hop across the lake to P1. From P1 we were able to walk up a steep set of stairs back to the park entrance and then straight back to our hotel.
The next morning we were back in the park at 7:30 AM. We walked down those same steps to the P1 dock, hopped the lake again to P2, and waited until 8:30 AM for the longer boat ride that would take us across the lake to boat dock P3. This gave us plenty of time to enjoy the morning light in the park. The previous evening had been slightly overcast, but the morning was perfectly clear and beautiful.
Another thing to note is that you can rent row boats from the P1 dock to row across the lakes at your leisure. This is the only thing I wish we had made time for and would be a great activity to do around the noon, when the crowds start to get crazy.
After arriving at P3, we finished the H trail which is also just the F trail. The views at both the upper and lower lakes are equally beautiful, so I recommend exploring both. The iconic aerial view of the lakes is at the very end of the H/F trail near bus stop ST1.
There is also a secret view that you can drive to on the other side of the park, but we chose to skip this since we had to get to the airport. Definitely make time to visit Plitvice Lakes if you go to Croatia. It’s such a peaceful and beautiful place to explore!