What’s one thing that can mar the best natural wonders of the world? Crowds! Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest and largest national park in Croatia. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As such, it gets many visitors – especially during the summer months. Today I’m sharing a few tricks to help you enjoy this wonder of nature in relative solitude.
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While many people visit Plitvice as a day trip, I recommend an overnight here. It’s a perfect stop between Split and Zagreb, Split and Istria, or Split and Ljubljana. It’s even possible to reach the Lakes from Sarajevo in time for a late-day entry!
The #1 Tip to Avoiding Crowds
Plan to arrive at Plitvice mid-afternoon and pre-purchase an admission ticket for 3 PM or later. Stay overnight at one of the three on-site hotels (which will validate your ticket for the next day) and reenter the park early the next AM to see the lakes and falls with different lighting.
These hotels, The Jezero, Plitvice, and Bellevue, aren’t going to win any beauty awards but they are well-situated right next to Entrance 2 of the park and offer the next-day validation of tickets. This is what makes all the difference! During the summer months, the park stays open until 8 PM with earlier closing hours in the shoulder and off-seasons.
By arriving at 3 (or slightly later, depending upon the time of year), you’ll have ample time to tour both the Upper and Lower Lakes without the excessive crowds from tour buses and day-trippers. With validation, you can re-enter the park as early as 7 AM the next day, and once again experience the magical landscape with no crowds and the golden, early-morning light.
Lodging & Dining
As mentioned above, all three hotels are older, run by the government, and dated. That being said, our room at the Jezero was quite spacious and, even without AC, was cool thanks to the mild climate and mountain air.
While the hotel has a restaurant, we decided to go to the nearby Restaurant Lička Kuća for dinner. The cozy setting with multiple fireplaces was just what we needed after an afternoon of hiking. The food was hearty and quite good, as was the service, right up until the late stages of our meal when our waiter suddenly ghosted.
We did all sorts of research on the best approach for touring the lakes but ultimately didn’t end up following it. We started with the very short boat ride from our hotel/Entrance 1 to the Upper Lakes. Confusing signage posts a number of different routes. Here we followed the advice of one guide that recommended turning around after Lake Galovac as the best scenery is in the lower half of the Upper Lakes.
From there, we took a longer (20-minute) boat ride to the Lower Lakes which has more dramatic scenery and a couple of Plitvice’s most notable sights. Veliki Slap (The Big Waterfall) is the biggest in the park at 250 feet and Supljara Cave is where several European films/”Spaghetti Westerns” were shot. From the Lower Lakes, you can take a steep hike up to Entrance 1 for a shuttle bus back to Entrance 2, or you can retrace your steps and return by boat.
Without crowds, this plan takes about 2.5-3 hours to cover. With crowds, plan on an extra hour or so. You can bring your own picnic to the park or visit one of the eateries and souvenir shops interspersed throughout.
The next morning, take advantage of your validated entry to revisit the areas that were most appealing to you. The light changes the look of the water throughout the day and if you enjoy nature photography, you won’t want to miss this chance to get some different shots.
Do you know the saying “half the fun is getting there“? Well, this is certainly true when discussing Plitvice Lakes National Park. On our drive in we passed countless charming roadside stalls selling cheese and honey. Our drive out took us through some of the craziest, twisties roads we’ve ever traveled. Several times we passed houses that had, what looked like monorails, perched in front. Any idea what that’s all about?
I highly recommend that you use this plan to visit Plitvice with fewer crowds. As you’ve likely noted in the photos above, the boardwalks are narrow and it’s much harder to get great photographs with a slew of people around.
Know someone planning a trip to Croatia? Send them this blog post to help in their planning! The posts on the Top 10 of the Dalmatian Coast and The Best of the Balkans in 2 Weeks will also be of interest.
Thanks so much for stopping by! Hope to see you again next week.