Natural Highlight of the trip (so far!): Plitvice Park in Croatia

TL;DR for our Plitvice Post:

  • Photos from Plitvice
  • Favorite Moments: Wandering the upper lakes, randomly meeting friends there, having it to ourselves in the early AM
  • Walked:
    in Plitvice: 194,583 steps / ~98 miles
    in Total: 1,532,106 steps / ~766 miles

I’ll start by saying that we enjoyed Plitvice Lakes National Park (pronounced “pleet veech uh”) so much that both of us really wanted to take the lead on writing this post!  This UNESCO world natural heritage site is truly exceptional and neither of us has ever seen anything like it.  Part of what makes the place so magical with crystal-clear blue water has to do with the travertine deposits, which have been naturally occurring for thousands of years.  The white travertine dust sinks to the bottom of the lakes reflecting sunlight and the sky and creating incredibly brilliant colors.  It also continuously builds to the point of making barriers between the lakes and thus the magnificent waterfalls. It is no wonder that it’s visited by 1.2 million people each year.

The Waterfalls, Lakes and Caves

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Made up of 16 turquoise lakes connected by dozens of waterfalls, Plitvice seems magical– full of wondrous light which changes with the rising of the sun and the shadows of the surrounding trees. The shifting waterfalls are incredible with green moss and algae cascading over the rocks, but the surrounding ponds and lakes are equally impressive with their brilliant turquoise color.  For our first several hours, the wind was perfectly still and the lakes were like glass, making us question the mirror images we were seeing.

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It’s also nearly impossible to look in the water without seeing fish both big and small.  While we didn’t see any, the park is one of the only remaining areas in Europe where brown bears and wolves still roam.

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The park is broken up into two main parts, the upper lakes and the lower lakes.  We found the upper lakes stunning and both preferred this forested section of the park to the lower lakes. The series of upper lakes are connected by an amazing maze like trail system along the lakes, ponds and waterfalls.  Every turn simply takes your breath away and I truly did feel like I was in a CG’d movie most of the time. The lower lakes are very impressive as well and are home to Veliki Splat (the big one), a 100 foot waterfall and a cool series of caves you can explore while climbing to a great viewpoint above the lakes and biggest fall.

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The Paths
There are miles and miles of trails which wind you around and through the forest, lakes and waterfalls which are integral to the overall experience of the park.  You are often walking just a few inches above the water, which creates this sensation of being a part of the park rather than a visitor.  While there are dirt and gravel paths along the lakes, the majority of the paths and steps are made of rough-cut log planks, which blend beautifully with the natural setting.

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Park Transportation
The park has two main entrances, two ferries and numerous bus stops served by an inter park bus system all of which is included in the price of your ticket.  Both the upper and lower lake areas can be accessed by ferries leaving from a dock a short downhill walk from entrance 2 (Ulaz 2).  We did not utilize any of the park buses, which transport visitors between primary areas of the park, but we did note that the paths to the bus stops seemed well marked and fortunately they are mostly away from the trails near the lakes and waterfalls so do not disturb the surreal feel of the park.

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How to avoid the Crowds!
I can’t emphasize enough that if you go, go early!  The park opens at 7:00 a.m. in peak season and you need to be there then or shortly after.  We had a rental car and arrived at Ulaz 2 (Entrance #2) at 7:15.  While there was someone in the ticket booth by the parking lot they seemed a bit disorganized and were not yet open.  We had read there was a ticket booth below so warily passed by the ticket booth and followed the signs for about 10 minutes to the ferries. We did find a second ticket booth and then hopped a ferry among just 4 other visitors across to the upper lake section of the park.  We wandered the trails mostly counter clockwise and didn’t see another soul for hours.  We eventually wandered back to where we had gotten off the ferry (rather than take a park bus) and took a second ferry further across to the lower lakes.  By this time the crowds were increasing, but the congestion was mostly around the big waterfall, which honestly was one of the least magical parts of the park.  So our advice would be to go early and concentrate on the upper lakes first if you only have one day to visit the park.  If we were to do this again we would probably visit over two days concentrating on each area of the park on just one day and again first thing in the morning.  There are plenty of cafes and restaurants within the park so you can easily plan a lunch stop if you need to or just bring a picnic with you.

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