There are places in this world with natural landscapes so stunning that they don’t seem real even when you are standing in them. Plitvice Lakes National Park in central Croatia is one of those magical places. Crystal clear water flows through a series of interconnected lakes formed through thousands of years of erosion and travertine deposits. Thanks to the water’s rich mineral content, its color ranges from electric turquoise to deep emerald when it’s not a mirror image of the sky. The lakes are surrounded by chalky limestone cliffs, lush forests, and cascading waterfalls, with hiking trails and wooden boardwalks woven throughout. I visited in mid-September, when autumn’s first blush was spreading over the leaves. If there was ever an enchanted forest, surely this is it.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is divided into two sections, the “Upper Lakes” and “Lower Lakes,” and features eight different visitors’ courses. I followed the “H” course which took me through both sections of the park over a span of about five hours. The courses are well marked, though you do need to pay attention when you come to a fork in the trail as some routes can take much longer than others. At the time of my visit (mid-September), entrance to the park cost US$16 (110 kunas – Croatia is not on the euro) and was worth every cent.
My journey began with a bus ride to the Upper Lakes section of the park followed by a three hour hike down to the main lake. From there I rode a small ferry about thirty minutes across Lake Kozjak to reach the park’s spectacular Lower Lakes. This last section I unfortunately had to race through in order to catch the last bus back to the parking lot (Entrance 2) at 18:30. In hindsight, I would have spent the greater portion of my time exploring the Lower Lakes, which turned out to be more scenic and less crowded.
Two hours is plenty of time to explore this section of the park. Not realizing the grandeur to come, I dawdled, taking tons of photos. The shifting colors and vistas were extraordinary!
With a bus to catch, I was forced to hustled through this part, even though I wanted desperately to linger. Give yourself between two and three hours to revel in the Lower Lakes’ verdant scenery.
The weather was perfect during my visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park, but heavy rains and flooding overnight meant that the Lower Lakes were closed the very next day. Given that the water often flows directly under the wooden boardwalks, I certainly wouldn’t want to take the risk!
Aside from the souvenir shops and restaurants near the park’s entrance, I don’t remember seeing any food options along the trail. There are plenty of benches, though, so pack some sandwiches and enjoy lunch with a view!
Although there are several hotels in or near the park, I rented what turned out to be the nicest apartment of the entire trip to Croatia. Apartment King’s kindly owners thought of everything, from multi-country plug adapters and a first aid kit, to “do not disturb” door signs and free wine and chocolates. The whole place, including towels and bedding, felt brand-new and I very much wanted to stay longer – if only to play with the owner’s adorable puppy! But the next morning I drove through the mountains to Rovinj after stopping at Restaurant Degenija for breakfast. I recommend ordering the eggs and bacon.
Have you been to Croatia?
Is an autumn visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park on your bucket list?