Plitvice Lakes in a must visit destination for any Croatia itinerary, this UNESCO site belongs on every bucketlist

Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia


Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia is one of the Balkan’s top destinations. With multiple turquoise lakes and waterfalls with wooden boardwalks winding through them, it’s the perfect destination for nature lovers. There are multiple trails, shuttles, ferry crossings, and entrances at Plitvice Lakes so it can be a bit overwhelming to visitors who want to make the most of their trip to Plitvice. With that in mind, I created this guide to Plitvice Lakes that covers everything you need to know about what trail to hike and where to get the best viewpoints of the park.

Veliki Prstavic waterfall in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia. This waterfall is part of the upper lakes and is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park.

Plitvice Lakes is a UNESCO World Heritage site and Croatia’s first National Park. The hiking trails and boardwalks make for an easy hike so it is accessible to most people. If you visit, I highly recommend staying near the park so you can have a couple of days to explore.

Even though Plitvice Lakes National Park is known for waterfalls, there is more to the park than that. The mountains and karst formations around the edges of the lakes make for stunning scenery.

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About Plitvice Lakes

Not long ago Plitvice Lakes was the site of war and landmines. In the early 1990s, it became the site of armed confrontation in the Croatian War of Independence. Following the war, Plitvice Lakes was one of the first places cleared of landmines and was renovated to become a huge source of economic wealth to the region.

Approximately two million people visit Plitvice Lakes every year. While these tourists bring money into the region, there are always downsides. One of these downsides to tourism is that the water in Plitvice Lakes is no longer drinkable. This is because of sewage runoff polluting the lakes and illegal construction in the park. Hopefully, this situation will turn itself around as officials get a better handle on protecting the area.

On the bright side, the National Park is home to fauna that is rare in Europe, Some of the animals found here include bears, wolves, polecats, and lynx. You aren’t likely to come in to contact with but you will see bear photos everywhere as the brown bear is the symbol of Plitvice Lakes National Park. There are also many species of butterflies and birds that call Plitvice Lakes home.

How to Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park

How to Get to Plitvice

By Car The best way to visit Plitvice Lakes is by car. It gives you the freedom to stay overnight and to visit before and after the tour buses arrive. Zagreb, Zadar, and Split are all reasonable locations to drive from to Plitvice Lakes.

Public Transit It is possible to do this using public transit from several major Croatian cities. Beware that a lot of the cheaper accommodation is going to be a far walk from the park entrances and potentially up huge hills/mountains. If you want to make Plitvice Lakes your base, there are tour bus options from the park.

Tour Bus If a tour bus is your only option, take it. Especially if you are traveling in summer, book your tour to Plitvice Lakes in advance so you can get the date you want.

There are organized tours from most major tourist cities in Croatia. You can check out tours from Zagreb, Split and Trogir, or Zadar.  If you’re traveling using public transit, this tour from Zagreb may be particularly useful as you leave from Zagreb, visit Plitvice, and then are dropped in Split.

Dubrovnik is way too far for a day trip to Plitvice, don’t even consider it. You will be driving more than you will be seeing.

Best time to visit Plitvice lakes

Plitvice Lakes is open year-round so you can visit in any season. Spring and autumn will be your best bets for having nice weather and less crowds to deal with.

Be aware that in the winter, the shuttle bus and the ferry may not be operational because of snowfall. You can still hike and there are routes around Lake Kozjak, it will just be a lot more walking.

Beware of crowds in summer. You can avoid crowds by being there early as soon as it opens and staying until it closes. Most tour buses have to leave by the time it closes so you get more of the park to yourself. Boardwalks do become very crowded in summer and it is also very hot with little shade coverage.

The lakes at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia offer up stunning scenery of the Croatian landscape especially in autumn when all the leaves change colour
An autumn visit is great for capturing the changing colours of the leaves and less crowded paths.

What to Eat at Plitvice Lakes

Once you start hiking in the park, the only place to buy food is the rest stop at the end of the Lower Lakes hike before the ferry. There is a big picnic area here as well. If you have dietary restrictions or it’s the off-season, pack a lunch. This rest area is also the only bathroom along the hiking route.

Where to Stay near Plitvice Lakes National Park

I recommend sleeping near to Poljanak because of its proximity to Entrance 1 and a lookout point over the Lower Lakes. The whole area is nice and has very affordable accommodation.

Guest House Aurora is located in Poljanak and offers up modern and clean rooms with a large backyard you can relax in at the end of the day.

For a boutique hotel experience, check out Ethno Houses Plitvica Selo Deluxe. Rooms here come with a private hot tub and there is a restaurant on-site. 

A 2-minute walk to the beach on the Korana River, Pansion Vukovic is close to restaurants and the park. Rooms here are basic but many come with a terrace or balcony.

If you are looking for an apartment, Apartments Pavlic has large apartments and a playground on-site for kids. It is close to the local grocery store as well as Entrance 1.

What to Do at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Swimming at Plitvice Lakes

Swimming isn’t allowed at Plitvice Lakes. If you want to swim near a waterfall, checkout Krka National Park near Split in Croatia, or Kravica Waterfall in Bosnia. The Korana river is even closer. If you go to the village of Korana using the D42 road towards Poljanak, you can swim in the Korana river outside of the boundaries of the park.

Are there hiking trails at Plitvice Lakes?

Plitvice is the perfect place for hiking. Most people stick to the main tourist loops but there are longer hikes that can be undertaken in the forests around the lakes. Check out the Plitvice Lakes National Park official website for more information.

Are Dogs Allowed at Plitvice? 

You can definitely bring a dog to Plitvice! I saw a few well-behaved dogs while there. Make sure to keep them leashed and out of the water. This goes for everywhere, but pick up after your dog. There aren’t many trashcans so you will be stuck carrying that around.

Can you ski at Plitvice?

In the wintertime, there is a single ski lift approximately 5 km away from Entrance 1 in the park. It is also possible to sleigh ride here. It’s mostly for beginner skiers.

This caterpillar was left stranded on a maple leaf
This caterpillar is one of the only swimmers allowed at Plitvice Lakes

Hiking Plitvice Lakes

There are actually 7 different walking trails named by letter in Plitvice Lakes National Park. Trails are well marked and there are maps at both Entrance 1 and 2 as well as the rest area at the ferry crossing across Lake Kozjak. Maps of the walking routes are available for purchase at the gift shop. You can check out this map for an idea of the hiking routes.

Plitvice Lakes is separated into the Upper and Lower Lakes for trails. The Lower Lakes are closest to Entrance 1 while the Upper Lakes are closest to Entrance 2. If you have time, go to both. I found the Lower Lakes to be a bit more dense with people. The Lower Lakes are your classic Plitvice Lakes images with huge waterfalls and winding boardwalks. The Upper Lakes were my favourite because there is more of a forested area to walk in and there are tons of smaller waterfalls.

Starting from Entrance 1 at Plitvice Lakes

Trail A

Trail A is the shortest route at Plitvice and takes in the Lower Lakes. From here you can see the highest waterfall, Veliki Slap at 78 metres, and the curving boardwalk around the lakes that is a popular photo. If you only want a short walk and to see only the Lower Lakes and Veliki Slap, choose trail A. This is a great trail to pick if you are only doing Plitvice Lakes as a day trip and don’t have a lot of time.
Length: 3.5 km Time: 2-3 hrs Difficulty: Easy

Trail B

Trail B is essentially the same walking trails as Trail A but adds on the ferry across the lake to see the scenery as well as what they call a train (shuttle) back to Entrance 1. It takes about an hour longer to do Trail B than Trail A.
Length: 4 km Time: 3-4 hrs Difficulty: Easy

Trail C

If you have a longer time and want to see both the Lower and Upper Falls, choose Trail C. Trail C includes a boat ride across Lake Kozjak and a train ride back to Entrance 1. It takes in all the sights of Trail A and B but adds on a hike in the Upper Falls. You can do the hike in 4-5 hours but plan on taking longer because of photos.
Length: 8 km Time: 4-5 hrs Difficulty: Easy

Trails that Start from Entrance 2 at Plitvice Lakes

Trail E

Trail E which is just a short ferry ride across a lake and then you can explore the Upper Lakes before looping back to the ferry or taking a shuttle back to Entrance 2.
Length: 5.1 km Time: 2-3 hrs Difficulty: Easy

Trail F

Trail F is basically the reverse of Trail B so you begin with a ferry ride and then hike the Lower Falls before getting the shuttle back to Entrance 2.
Length: 4.6 km Time: 3-4hrs Difficulty: Easy

Trail H

Trail H starts with a shuttle to the top of the Upper Lakes. You then explore the Upper Lakes and then take a ferry across Kozjak Lake to the Lower Lakes. You explore the Lower Lakes and then take a shuttle back to Entrance 2. It’s very similar to Trail C but varies its route through the Upper Lakes a bit.
Length: 8.9 km Time: 4-6 hrs Difficulty: Easy

Trail K

If you want to see everything, Trail K is the longest and includes all of the lakes and waterfalls. Instead of taking the ferry across the lake, you walk alongside Lake Kozjak. You only take the short ferry that crosses from the Upper Lakes trails to Entrance 2. If you visit in winter, this may be your only option as the shuttles and ferries may not operate due to snowfall.
Length: 18.3 km Time: 6-8 hrs Difficulty: Easy

Plitvice Lakes Best Route

If you have a full day, either hike Trail C, H, or K. If you are short on visiting hours, Trail A or B would be my pick.

The route I chose was to do Trail E on my first afternoon and then do Trail C the next day. I did see the Upper Lakes twice but I really am not complaining, it was a great experience.

I’m not sure if it matters if you start at Entrance 1 or 2, either way, there are a lot of tourists. If you want to avoid tour groups, try to visit as soon as the park opens or go a couple of hours before closure.

Plitvice’s Lower Lakes

The Lower Lakes at Plitvica Lakes National Park are what most people have seen in the tourist brochures and rightfully so. This area has the highest waterfall of Veliki Slap, as well as the famous winding boardwalks that curve around the brightly coloured lakes.

The first view of the park is pretty stunning. Before walking around the lakes, there is a view from above of Veliki Slap and the boardwalks before descending down some stairs to see the lakes and waterfalls up close. If you are staying near the park, try to get to the park as soon as it opens in the morning to avoid crowded boardwalks.

This is the first view of Plitvice Lakes you get when you start hiking from Entrance 1 of the park. The stunning view of the tallest waterfall in the park, Veliki Slap and the curving boardwalks that Plitvice is famous for.
The first view of Plitvice Lakes National Park from Entrance 1

There are waterfalls everywhere. I’m not complaining. I was expecting waterfalls but I didn’t realize they would literally be around every corner and even under the boardwalks. It was a delight to discover all of the smaller waterfalls that can be found along the boardwalks in Plitvice. It’s a waterfall lover’s paradise here.

When visiting Plitvice Lakes, there are lots of waterfalls to see but looking down gets you great views of the crystal clear turquoise waters of the lakes.
The water of the lakes goes below you on the boardwalks.

The first stop on most people’s walking tour of Plitvice Lakes is Veliki Slap. This impressive waterfall is the largest in the park and the main sight of the Lower Lakes.

Veliki Slap is the highest waterfall in Plitvice Lakes and makes for a great first stop when walking around the trails of the park.
Veliki Slap in Plitvice

After visiting Veliki Slap, continue on the boardwalks to explore the scenery of the park.

Fall or autumn is the perfect time of year to visit Plitvice Lakes as there are fewer tourists and the colors of the leaves changing contrasts nicely with the lakes of Plitvice. These are some of the most beautiful lakes of Croatia
Some of the fantastic karst cliffs that make up the cliffs around the lakes at Plitvice
There is an abundance of waterfalls in Croatia's Plitvice National Park. This moss waterfall even went under the boardwalk. The lower lakes of Plitvice have tons of great waterfalls.

Before hiking in Plitvice Lakes, I had no idea there was a cave there. It’s known as Šupljara Cave and is located on Kaludjerovac Lake. I should have known given the karst landscape there would be a cave. You can’t really go in the cave but you can walk under the karst and come up on top of the ridge to look down over the Lower Lakes. A nice detour although the steps up are slippery as they are carved out of the karst. It’s worth going through the cave so you can get a great photo from the top of the cliff of the lakes of Plitvice below.

While exploring Plitvice Lakes in Croatia you may be surprised to discover a small cave. There is this one above as well as caves below the water. It's worth walking through this cave to get a view from the cliffs above.
Šupljara Cave in Plitvice’s Lower Lakes

To get a classic view over the lower lakes, you do need to go through the cave and uphill a bit. Though it will feel like you are going away from the lakes and waterfalls, it’s worth it. There’s a few viewing points from atop the cliffs over the lakes that get you a great vantage point of the curving boardwalks.

After walking through the cave at Plitvice you get this wonderful view of the lakes of Plitvice, Croatia from above. Plitvice Lake Croatia offers up amazing scenery like this one. You can view this in the lower lakes of Plitvice. The curving boardwalk makes for great photography while hiking Plitvice Lakes

After viewing the lower lakes from above, return back through the cave and continue along the boardwalks. There are tons of waterfalls here to take in.

This waterfall at Croatias waterfall park, Plitvice Lake, is just one of many that you can see while hiking in Plitvice. It really is a waterfall lovers paradise.
Waterfall in the lower falls area of Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Continue along the boardwalk to the picnic and ferry area. This is the only place in the park outside of the entrances where there is a bathroom. It’s a great place to have a picnic as well as there are some picnic tables and a grassy area. Grab the ferry that will take you across the lake to the start of the upper lakes hiking area.

Plitvice’s Upper Lakes

Just like the lower lakes at Plitvice, the upper lakes offer up tons of gorgeous scenery. I enjoyed the upper lakes a little bit more than the lower lakes because it felt like there were fewer tourists there so it was a bit less crowded on the boardwalks. There are also more areas here that are on paths instead of boardwalks so it felt a little bit more spacious for walking and like you could slow down and enjoy the scenery.

Teal lake Plitvice Croatia. This lake at Plitvice National Park in Croatia is lit up by the afternoon sun and the gorgeous autumn colours of the park.
Teal lake in Plitvice’s Upper Lakes.

Even though it is a bit less crowded, the upper lakes do not disappoint with waterfalls. There are tons of waterfalls here to explore.

This is one of the more popular waterfalls at Plitvice Lake to take photos of. The park is full of great waterfall photo opportunities and is one of the most beautiful places to see lakes in Croatia
Waterfall in Plitvice National Park, Croatia

My favourite waterfall at Plitvice Lakes is actually located in the upper lakes. Veliki Prstavic is a gorgeous waterfall with multiple streams of water flowing over the karst. It almost looks like the water is flowing out of grass clumps.

This boardwalk in the Upper Lakes of Plitvice Lakes in Croatia attracts fewer visitors but is no less beautiful than the lower lakes. It's worth visiting both at Plitvice.
Veliki Prstavic waterfall in the upper lakes of Plitvice National Park

In most places, this would just be a regular ravine, still lovely, but a forested ravine. In Plitvice Lakes, this ravine is turned into a cascading waterfall. I was surprised by this waterfall because it was just on the side of the path. And hardly anyone stopped to look at it. Any other place in the World and this waterfall would be a star, in Plitvice Lakes, it’s just regular scenery.

Plitvice Lake in Croatia even has waterfalls that go through the forest. There are seriously waterfalls everywhere in this park.

There’s so much moss. I’m not saying that moss makes everything better. It makes lots of things better though, and waterfalls are one of those things. Add it to the karst rock and tufa deposits and suddenly everything looks a little bit more magical. Moss-covered waterfalls add these really gorgeous shades of green to the scenery while the tufted grasses give little spots of whimsy.

Waterfalls and teal lakes in Croatia's Plitvice Lakes.

The boardwalks that wind around the park are scenic themselves. They aren’t very wide and there are no railings so you definitely have to watch where you are walking. There is no way to miss walking on boardwalks if you are going around Plitvice Lakes as there are 22 km of trails around the lakes. They are scenic in their own right.

Plitvice Falls Croatia. These waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes rush under your feet as you walk up the boardwalk. It's sights like these waterfalls that make this one of the best national parks in Croatia
Plitvička jezera national park in Croatia has beautiful boardwalks like this one that go through tall grasses and alongside some of the most beautiful lakes in Croatia.

Even without the amazing scenery that makes up Plitvice National Park, the forest is really lovely. The forest here is super beautiful and home to wildlife like bears. Plitvice is a lot larger than just the main tourist paths, it’s almost 300km2 of forest with small areas of grassland.

The boardwalks at Plitvice in Croatia make for stunning scenery themselves against the backdrop of the forest. You can explore most of the Plitvice Lakes in a day. plitvička jezera national park is one of the best parks in Croatia

The lakes are super clear hear and look so inviting to swim in. The no swimming ban was put in place to protect the wildlife that calls these lakes home, like these fish that I spotted on the short ferry from the upper lakes to entrance 2.

Lake Kojzak at Plitvice is full of these fish that call the park home.

After exploring the upper lakes, either catch the tourist shuttle from stop 3 or make your way back to the ferry location to get the short ferry over to Entrance 2 and then a tourist bus back to Entrance 1 where your car is parked.

Entrance 3, the Hidden Entrance of Plitvice Lakes

For a shot of the Lower Lakes from above, you can drive to Entrance 3. You can find this by driving towards the village of Poljanak and turning off of the D42 onto a side road before Poljanak. There are a few places to park alongside the road. It’s not really an official entrance anymore.

With a short hike near an old mill, you can get a view over Veliki Slap and the Lower Lakes at Plitvice. To get the view, you are on the cliffside but there are safe viewing areas just be mindful that going off-trail here can be dangerous. I recommend doing this in the morning before hiking the lakes because of the position of the sun at the end of the day.

This viewpoint over the Lower Lakes of Plitvice showscase the most famous lakes of Croatia and Plitvice. You also get a great view of the waterfalls of the park.
I took this photo in the afternoon, you can see that the boardwalk is quite full of people compared to the morning.

Photography Tips for Plitvice

#1 It’s going to be hard to find a place to put your tripod. You can find places on the walking paths but the boardwalk is challenging. If people are walking on the boardwalk it will make it shake and defeat the purpose of using a tripod. I was able to set up a tripod in the upper lakes near the end of the day on the boardwalk with some success. Setting up a tripod in the lower lakes on the boardwalk is going to be nearly impossible even if you show up first thing in the morning.

#2 The waterfalls are all coming from one direction for the most part and in the afternoon, it meant the sun was behind the waterfalls. To avoid this, try and get there early to get those bright teal colours and waterfalls in the same photo.

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  1. Your photos are so beautiful but it also makes me a little bit sad to see them because I wanted to visit Croatia including this national park but had to cancel the trip due to health reasons. I hope I go there next year.

  2. The waterfalls at Plitvice are so damn gorgeous! It is so high on my list, the whole park looks incredible, I love your photos it definitely inspire me to visit asap!

  3. Wow! Between the autumn leaves and all the graceful waterfalls, this is quite a stunning place to visit! If I do get to Plitvice Lakes, I would plan to go in the fall!

  4. It looks like a beautiful location! I have always wanted to visit Croatia, I will have to add this to my list! The fall leaves make it look even more beautiful!

    1. It is honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. If you make it to Croatia, definitely try to tear yourself away from the coast (also amazing) to visit Plitvice 🙂

  5. I’ve been in spring but I had no idea about the ski lift in the winter! I’m definitely a beginner, so sounds right up my alley. Thanks for the tip!

    1. Thank you! It was such a beautiful area in autumn, it was difficult to tear myself away. I ended up wishing I was spending a day or two more near Plitvice

    1. Same, it’s just so beautiful. Croatia is such an amazing destination that it’s difficult to choose a favourite place but I think that Plitvice wins for me.

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