Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of Croatia’s finest treasures, a garden of Eden among a stunning collection of natural attractions sprinkled throughout this stunning Baltic country. It is Croatia’s oldest and largest national park and one of the country’s eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, bringing in over 1 million visitors each year. It’s nearly impossible to plan a trip to Croatia and ignore the pull of this tempting paradise, so allow us to provide you with some helpful tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes.
Getting to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park is located approximately 1.5-2 hours drive from Zadar, 2 hours from the capital city of Zagreb, and roughly 2.5-3 hours from Split. You can either rent a car and make the journey yourself (note: you will need to pay for parking), take the bus, or join in on a day trip, which we’ll cover a little later. You can also pay a little extra to hire private transfer services from Zadar, Zagreb, or Split. No matter what method of transportation you choose, we do recommend visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park earlier (or even later) in the day, for reasons we will also go over shortly!
Plitvice Lakes National Park Hours
The park is open daily (including Sundays and holidays) from 7 am – 7 pm (hours may vary slightly by season). If you have control over your arrival time, it is recommended that you arrive as early in the day as possible to avoid crowds. We booked a room in a guesthouse just 3 miles from the national park so we could be among the first to enter the park. We arrived just before the gates opened and we want you to take note of how few other people, if any, you see in our pictures. For reference, we visited in mid-September. Many public buses and day trippers arrive around 11 am, so try to avoid the hours between 11 am and 3 pm if visiting Plitvice Lakes on your own.
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Day Trips to Plitvice Lakes
If you do not feel comfortable renting a car or relying on public transportation during your time in Croatia, there are still countless options for having the opportunity to visit this gorgeous paradise, no matter where you’re based throughout the country. Take a look at these highly-rated tour options and book a guided day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park: Full-Day Tour from ZADAR | Full-Day Tour from ZAGREB, including a stop in Rastoke | Full-Day Tour from SPLIT | Tour of Zadar & Plitvice Lakes from SPLIT | From Split or Trogir: Plitvice Day Tour with Entry Included
What to Do at Plitvice National Park
There are a variety of options for exploring the lakes and waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes, depending on how much time you have/want to explore.
At Entrance 1 (the main entrance), visitors can access programs A, B, C, and K:
- A (2-3 hours/2.2 miles/3.5 km) Walking the lower parts of the park
- B (3-4 hours/2.5 miles/4 km) Walking the lower parts of the park and riding the boat on Lake Kozjak
- C (4-6 hours/5 miles/8 km) Walking the lower parts of the park, riding the boat on Lake Kozjak, and taking the bus to upper parts
- K (6-8 hours/11.4 miles/18.3 km) Walking around the entire national park.
At Entrance 2, visitors can access programs E, H, F and K
- E (2-3 hours/3.2 miles/5.2 km) Walking the upper parts of the park, starting with a boat ride on Lake Kozjak
- F (3-4 hours/2.85 miles/4.6 km) Like B tour above, just from a different starting point
- H (4-6 hours/5.5 miles/8.9 km) Like C tour above, just from a different starting point
- K (6-8h) Same as above; walking around the entire national park.
The boat and bus rides are included in the ticket price. Please note that during the winter months (November-March), while the park is open, the buses and boats do not always operate. The lakes and their waterfalls, the region of the park that the majority of visitors access, actually only make up 1% of the national park. If you find yourself with limited time to explore the park, this is obviously where you should spend your time, but know that in addition to the upper and lower lakes, you can also access a large network of hiking and cycling trails.
In addition, you can explore Šupljara Cave located between Gavanovac Lake and Kaluderovac. Visitors can ascend up to the canyon ridges or descend down to the hiking trails along hte waterfront via sttep (and sometimes slippery) stairs that are carved into the rocks. Due to safety concerns, this particular activity is not recommended for children. However, one activity that may be fun with (or without) kids is to rent a rowboat and explore Lake Kozjak on your own. As you can see, there is plenty of things to do at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia.
Is Swimming Allowed at Plitvice Lakes?
So, what’s one thing you CAN’T do at Plitvice Lakes?! Go swimming. Though the turquoise water may look tempting, and swimming is allowed at Krka National Park, swimming in the lakes at Plitvice National Park is strictly prohibited. Stay on the designated boardwalks and trails and do not enter the water at any point while visiting Plitvice Lakes.
Plitvice Lakes Weather
Every season presents its perks. Winter (November-March) is the cheapest time of year to visit, because the weather at Plitvice Lakes is usually less than ideal. On rare occasions, the park may actually close if there is an abundance of snowfall. Also, the buses and boats within the park typically do not operate during the winter months. Spring and Fall (April-June and September-October) offer decent weather with fewer crowds.
We would love to go back and visit a few weeks later in the fall when the leaves are changing colors, though we got a sneak peek at the start of fall during our mid-September visit. Summer (July & August) may offer the best weather, but it is the most expensive and busiest time of year to visit Plitvice. (Pre-COVID, summer would bring in about 11,000 visitors a day!) Though, no matter when your visit to Croatia takes place, you will definitely want to put Plitvice Lakes National Park on your list of things to do in Croatia.
Plitvice Lakes Trails
As mentioned, there are two entrances to the lakes: Entrance 1 (lower lakes) and Entrance 2 (upper lakes). Entrance 1 is where most visitors start their journey on the Plitvice lake trails. During the winter months, only Entrance 1 and the lower lakes are open to visitors. It is worth noting that most of the trails at Plitvice Lakes National Park are not stroller or wheelchair accessible, as there are many steps and an altitude difference of 436 ft (133 m) between the first and last lake (Lake Prošća and Lake Novakovića Brod).
Here is a basic guide for visiting Plitvice in a wheelchair we came across that you may find helpful. As mentioned before, swimming is not permitted at Plitvice and visitors are urged to stay on the designated boardwalks and trails to help protect the sensitive nature within the park.
How to Obtain Plitvice Lakes Tickets
By now, you’re probably already planning on visiting Plitvice Lakes and if you weren’t before reading this post, here’s hoping we’ve convinced you to add this natural wonder to your Croatia itinerary! Whereas there used to be no need to book tickets ahead of time, advanced tickets are now strongly recommended. To purchase tickets in advance online, you must do so one day prior to your visit. Otherwise, tickets can also be purchased at the entrances of the Plitvice Lakes National Park on the day of your visit, depending on availability. You can check how many tickets are available at each gate via the Plitvice National Park website.
Tickets prices vary, ranging from 80 Croatian Kuna (~$12 USD) to 300 Croatian Kuna (~$45 USD), depending on the season. January, February, March, November, and December are considered off-season when ticket prices are lowest. June-September will be the most expensive (and crowded). May and October (shoulder season) is in between.
Discounts are available for children and teenagers (age 7-18), and students (with valid ID). Children under 7 years of age are FREE. Prices include the boat ride on Lake Kozjak (not the row boats) and a shuttle bus ride within the park. 2-day passes are also available.
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Avoiding Crowds at Plitvice Lakes National Park
If you haven’t picked up on it already, our biggest tip for visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park is to arrive before the crowds! Again, we rented a car and stayed at Guesthouse Magdic Plitvice not far from Plitvice so we could ensure that we were among the first to enter the park. When we arrived, there was one other car in the parking lot and by the time we left (approximately 4 hours later), the parking lot was completely full of cars and buses.
During our early September morning walk throughout the park, we encountered maybe 20 other visitors. We were able to stop on the boardwalks, set up our tripod, and capture some great images of the park, as you’ve seen throughout this post. The picture below is one we took as we were leaving the park, and as you can see, the boardwalks are now jam packed – a completely different experience than we had by arriving a few hours earlier in the day. Again, July and August are the absolute busiest months, so try to avoid this time, if possible. Another option to avoid the crowds is to join in on a 2-hour late night walking tour of Plitvice Lakes, though we’d probably only recommend this if you’ve already experienced the beauty of the park during daylight hours!
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If you can, find accommodations not far from the park and be among the first to arrive. Otherwise, if you arrive by bus or as part of a day trip from a surrounding city, simply prepare yourself to share the park with many other visitors, especially during those summer months. Though, no matter how or when you are able to visit, it is absolutely still worth a stroll through one of the world’s most gorgeous national parks!
Additional Tips for Visiting Plitvice Lakes NP
- Use the restroom before hitting the trail, as they are few and far between once you’re on the walking paths.
- Wear sturdy walking shoes as the boardwalks can be uneven. Flip flops are not recommended.
- Bring plenty of water and stay hydrated, especially during the warmer summer months.
- Food is available for purchase within the park, but consider packing a picnic meal to save some money.
- This should be obvious, but don’t forget your camera and make sure your batteries are fully charged!
- Respect the park – Throw away your trash and stay on the designated trails. Leave no trace…
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