Plitvice Lakes National Park spans no fewer than 73,000 acres. Suffice it to say, you’re not going to be short on things to do. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most famous places in Croatia to visit—Plitvice sees at least a million visitors a year. Thirty years before it achieved its UNESCO status, in 1949, it became Croatia’s first national park. Typically, visitors come from Split (three hours driving), Zagreb (just over two hours), or Dubrovnik (five hours). As you might’ve guessed by the national park’s name, at its core Plitvice Lakes National Park is a collection of unreal, emerald-colored lakes: There are 16 of them in total, and here’s what you need to know when visiting them for the first time.
An Overview of Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice is divided into two distinct parts: The lower lakes and the upper lakes. There’s also a third section of Plitvice Lakes National Park: the area around Prošćansko Lake. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll focus on the lower and upper lakes, because those areas encompass the 16 lakes the national park is known for.
In terms of entry fees, the one-day ticket price to the park varies by season. Tickets for June through September are 250kn ($37) and tickets for April, May, and October cost 100kn ($15). If you’re visiting between November and March, it’s 60kn ($9).
When to Go to Plitvice Lakes National Park
Technically, Plitvice Lakes National Park is open every day of the year—though the hours shift depending on the season, and parts of the park may be closed if they are deemed unsafe for tourists in the winter.
The summer is high season, and as a result, it gets pretty packed in June, July, and August. The most frequently used entrances to the park—entrances one and two—open at 8 a.m. The parking lots for both entrances open at 7 a.m., so you can grab a hard-to-nab spot and start your hike right at 8 a.m.
One of the best times to visit Plitvice is in the spring or fall. The park’s hours are slightly more limited during shoulder season—typically, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The waterfalls are positively gushing in the spring (thanks, of course, to all the ice and snow melting) and the autumnal colors in October make for stunning photos. Needless to say, the park is also much less crowded in the spring and fall, which is a big selling point.
What to See in Upper Plitvice
The upper lakes include 12 of Plitvice’s 16 lakes. Galovački Buk is the most famous waterfall in upper Plitvice.
When visiting upper Plitvice, you’ll likely want to use entrance two (Hladovina), which is the south entrance. This entrance isn’t utilized as often as entrance one, so those traveling in the off-season should double check to be sure it’s open.
For the serious hikers, Trail K is a great way to see both upper and lower Plitvice. At 11.5 miles, Trail K is a full-day commitment. For an upper lakes-only hike, Trail E is just over three miles and the loop gets you a view of Galovački Buk and Prošćansko Lake. To hike Trail E, you’ll enter at entrance two, take a boat to P1 or P2, and upon completion of the hike, take a quick tram back to entrance two.
Touring the Lower Lakes of Plitvice
Though the lower lakes are home to only four of the 16 lakes in Plitvice, they are still the most-visited area of the park. Also, much like the southern part of Egypt is known as the Upper Nile, Plitvice’s lower lakes actually sit at the north end of the park. The upper lakes are at the south end of the park, but are referred to as “upper” because they have higher elevation. Confused yet?
The highest of the lower lakes is Milanović, with an elevation of 1,716 feet. The two famous viewpoints of the lower lakes are Veliki Slap (the park’s tallest waterfall) and Sastavci Waterfall. Travelers touring the lower lakes should use entrance one. For an intro to Plitvice Lakes National Park, take Trail A, which brings you on a two-mile hike around the four lower lakes.
If you’re ready to skip straight to an intermediate hike and take on parts of upper and lower Plitvice, try Trail C. You’ll start and finish at entrance one. On the hike, you’ll see all four lower lakes, then boat across Lake Kozjak to see the two highest lakes in upper Plitvice. You’ll hike for five miles total, and conclude with a tram ride back to entrance one.
Where to Stay When Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
There isn’t too much in the way of luxury accommodations in Plitvice. However, there are some nice hotels that sit right within the national park. We recommend spending at least one night in Plitvice so you get a full day of waterfall exploration in.
Hotel Jezero has 210 rooms, 19 apartments, and a cozy restaurant. It’s centrally located right in the national park, about 300 meters from Kozjak Lake. After a day of hiking, relax in Hotel Jezero’s Finnish spa and Turkish sauna—a perfect cure for ailing muscles.
3 is a resort within the national park that brings local Lika (the region surrounding Plitvice) design and a sense of calm to an area that gets quite busy during the high season. Walking distance from the Great Waterfall and entrance three (near Kozjak Lake), the resort capitalizes on Ethno wellness and offers a sauna, Turkish baths, and a salt room. The whole property feels like a welcoming village—complete with a lovely wine bar.