Photo: Kanuman/Shutterstock

Hiking in the Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Croatia National Parks Insider Guides
by Neha Puntambekar Dec 23, 2009
On the old road between Zagreb and Zadar a dense green cover takes over. As the sound of rushing water blocks out everyday noises, you know you’ve reached the Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Getting There

Getting to Plitvice (pronounced plit-veet-seh) is pretty easy. Just jump into a car and follow the road signs. The other option is to take the bus. However, the lakes are in the middle of the run, so while the bus will drop you off, full buses won’t always stop on the way back.

Tip: Rentals are available at local airports. Hit the tourist office for more information on tourist taxis and tour buses.

Tickets and Routes

There are two entry points to the park. Both come with parking facilities, a money exchange center, and a ticketing office. High season tickets are priced at 110 Kuna (15 Euros) for adults and 55 Kuna (7.5 Euros) for kids.

The park also offers a number of hiking routes: the shortest one runs through the park within ninety minutes while the longest takes about 6-8 hours.

The Regenerating Karstic Basin

Plitvice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Its unique features — the natural barriers, pools, cascades, caves, and crags — are a result of thousands of years of interaction between water and the dolomite rock and limestone that form the lake’s continuously evolving Karstic basin; come back in a few hundred years and chances are you won’t recognize the place.

The Upper & Lower Lakes

The Upper Lakes are formed on a lush dolomite valley. They’re surrounded by dense forests, and trails run through giant fir, beech, and spruce trees. A system of wooden walkways, stairways, and dirt trails lead you along the water, past waterfalls and cascades.

Expect to see all different shades of blue and green; the position of the sun dictates the ever-changing hues.

The Lower Lakes are shallower and are formed on limestone beds. Along the edges, white limestone walls rise up; red smoke bush grows along the stone in patches and caves break through at regular intervals.

From the wooden walkways, you can stare right down at the lake’s floor, tracking every pebble and fish. At times they’ll stare back at you.

Tip: Many people toss coins into the water for luck. Don’t — it disrupts the ecosystem.

Local Wildlife

The Plitvice Lakes are home to many rare and endangered animals and plant life, from unusual flowers and butterflies to rare birds and small cats. It’s said the endangered European brown bear is a resident too.

That said, the closest I’ve come to seeing a mid-sized animal here was a giant Labrador, on a leash, pouncing at a duck floating a little too close to the trail (the duck got away — the dog got drenched).

Rest Up and Have a Picnic

A large picnic area is spread out along the edge of Lake Kozjak, the big lake separating the two parts of the park.

The break is perfectly timed too; it shows up just as hikers are beginning to tire and complain.

Okay, that’s just me. But the spread — grilled sausages, burgers, fries, homemade bread — helps power the remainder of the hike.

Hotels and Camps

If you want spend a few days here, there are hotels within the park limits and camping grounds beyond.

You can’t tell now but during the Balkan conflict of the early ’90s these facilities were used as barracks.

The entire region suffered great damage. A major clean-up operation and stringent environmental laws since the war have allowed the park and park facilities to return to their former glory.

Tip: Rooms for rent open up during the summer in the surrounding villages.

Last on the itinerary, stop at one of the wooden strukli (strudel) stalls at the park entrance on the way back. Take a minute to reflect over a slice (apple, cheese, and something red, either berries or plum) before hitting the road.


What can I say? We obviously like lakes and national parks. Check ’em out:

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