Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

The internet is pretty keen on Plitvice Lakes National Park, so we decide to take a two day break from the coast and head inland. On our way to the park, we make a quick stop in nearby Rastoke. Rastoke is famous for waterfalls, water mills, trout and just being generally adorable. Despite the trout being pretty average and the town being touristy AF, we cannot deny that the place is pretty adorable. After lunch we take a walk near the restaurant, and the views over the falls are definitely worth it.

Houses built into a hill next to a river.
Adorable, touristy Rastoke.

We eventually arrive at our accommodation near the park and have a room on the top floor of a two-story stone cottage, not far from entrance 3. From our balcony, we have a great view of the national park forest, with signs threatening the possibility of bears. If it wasn’t for the rakia welcome shots, I would swear that we were in North America. The good thing about staying near entrance 3 is that we can park our car for free and walk into the park. However, staying here is not without logistical challenges: you can’t purchase tickets at entrance 3, and the boat from entrance 3 to the upper lakes can only be taken once. It makes planning our visit a bit like a logic puzzle. For the record we opt for a two day pass, hitting the lower lakes late on day 1, and then the upper lakes early on day 2.

Wooden path between overgrown grass and trees.

Everything you read about Plitvice suggests that you should arrive at opening time to squeeze yourself some uncrowded time in the park. Instead, we opt to, explore the lower lakes in the late afternoon, taking Route A and starting with the main attraction, Veliki Slap, aka the big waterfall. Despite battling the crowds early on it’s an amazing walk, which passes the most famous aerial view of the lake, before descending to a number of caves and several other small waterfalls. As we are staying nearby and in no hurry to leave, we notice the park soon starts to clear out considerably, meaning the paths soon empty enough to find space to talk photos and walk much more comfortably. Rather than getting here early, the real secret appears to get here late and be one of the last people at the park.

Aerial view of wooden path over a lake, next to a waterfall.
Path to Veliki Slap, an hour before park closing.

It’s a rather harrowing 45 minute drive from our accommodation into town, along side a cliff and down skinny, dark roads. Rather than endure that drive in the dark, we decide to take a leaf out of Bill Bryson’s book and have dinner at our hotel. Dinner consists of one choice, pig on spit, that comes with seemingly endless shots of rakia. After several rounds we try, somewhat unsuccessfully, to leave our glasses full so that our host doesn’t keep topping us up. Given there was no menu and no prices, we probably shouldn’t have been surprised to later discover that our (actually rather average) dinner had been the most expensive meal of our trip, but of course we were.

Wooden path alongside a lake with tress overhead.

Despite the best of intentions, we do not manage to make an early start the next morning (I blame the rakia), instead getting stuck behind a long trail of slow walkers as we make our way along Route H. The problem with the upper lakes is that generally everyone arrives by ferry, which immediately puts you into a large crowd. However, it is not so much the crowds that are annoying, but the narrow board walks and the inability to walk at our natural pace. There are moments of peace, but they are few and far between. We don’t get to test our theory, but the upper lakes would probably be less crowded just before closing too. Rather than take a crowded ferry back to the starting point, we make the relatively untramelled 4km lakeside trek back to our starting point. We find plenty of solitude, and given the recent rain, a lot of mud. The kind of mud you get you might lose a shoe in (okay, did, temporarily, lose a shoe in).

Two pairs of muddy feet standing on a dirt ground.
The results of a very muddy walk.

Towards the end of the path, we pass a couple coming from the opposite direction, their hiking boots pristine, in stark contrast to our feet and legs which are now caked in mud. We assume the rest of the path ahead must be dry and are once again surprised. We continue our trudge back to entrance 3, when we discover the path is completely covered in water. Entering the lakes at Plitvice is strictly prohibited, but given we are almost finished this hike, we aren’t keen to retrace our steps. Instead we take the plunge and wade along the flooded path. Ankle deep in water, technically in contravention of the rules but, conveniently cleaning off layers of dried mud.

We arrive back to our car in the early afternoon, and set course back to the coast, ready to continue our search of the perfect Croatian island.

Man walking on a path that is completely covered in water.
Walking the flooded path.

Inspiration List

It’s hard to believe, but we’re not the only people who have visited Plitvice Lakes and blogged about it. This might not even be the best blog about Plitvice Lakes (nah, scrap that, it is). We did however do a lot of research before we visited, below are the resources we couldn’t have done the trip without.

Researching Plitvice Lakes is tough going. Nearly every blog post says the same things, arrive early to avoid crowds. Hundreds of posts, same advice, varying quality. Dull. Hayley, from A life of more, managed to say something a little different in her post and quickly became my favourite blog on Plitvice Lakes.

Instagram might be evil. Thousands of beautiful photos of the place you’re about to visit, coupled with the knowledge that your photos won’t be half as good. The result? Major anxiety. The remedy? Ellen’s Photographers (Mini) Guide to Plitvice Lakes.

This list wouldn’t be complete without a link to the official list of walks at Plitvice Lakes. It’s not really a good website by any stretch of the imagination, but at least you’ll be able to decode walking routes in the blog posts you read.

The biggest complaint about Plitvice is that you can’t swim in the lake. We got to put our feet in since the path was flooded, and I can assure you that the water is freezing. However, if your trip doesn’t coincide with flooding, you can always try swimming over at Korana river.

If it seems like I am obsessed with Hayley from A life of more, it is because I am. Her blog on Rastoke was the best in show.

Think we missed a great resource? Add it in the comments below.

Aerial view of a big waterfall, with a corwded wooden path in foreground.
The path at Veliki Prstavac, during the middle of the day.
Distant view of lakes and forest.
Plitvice Lakes from afar.
Man walking on wooden path over a waterfall.
In many places falling off the path would be terrifying.

3 thoughts

  1. I am a bit confused. I am changing my accommodations from Entrance 3 to talking 5 minutes to entrance 1. Is that a good idea. We are getting to the park at 7:00. Are you saying that it will still be crowded for Route C at 7:30 when the park opens. We want an experience as close to not being crowded. We are staying in the park for 8 hours. Might do the K option route. Should we start at entrance 3 for a less crowded experience or end up in the after noon in the upper lakes. Will it be crowded then. In your opinion what is the best way to see the park and not be in terrible crowds? We will be there at the first week in September.
    Thanks for your help

    1. Hi Joan,
      We think you’ll have a great time whenever you visit, plitvice is very beautiful! Like any beautiful places, it is crowded wihh tourists. There is an hour or two before closing and opening where the park is least crowded, but it does not last long. We would recommend planning your trip so you visit the sites you are most looking forward to, either as close to opening or closing as possible. We personally found closing time much less crowded, but we are not early risers! We found that a lot of people go early to avoid the crowd, which, of course, ends up creating a crowd. Have a great trip to Croatia!

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