After visiting Croatia, my husband asked me what my favorite part of the country was.
This was a pretty difficult question. I have problems narrowing down favorites especially if the country is full of gorgeous sights.
However, I can tell you Plitvice National Park is at the top of my Croatia’s favorite list. Some days, I feel like Plitvice takes the top price.
If you have not heard about this park (where have you been?), let me tell you it is one of the most enchanted places I have visited. Think about this UNESCO World Heritage Site as 16 lakes at different elevations. Water flows from the upper lakes to the lower lakes through a series of falls.
You end up with hundreds of waterfalls all over the place. I heard somebody describe it as “Eden on Earth” and I think this is an excellent way to think about the place.
This guide will help you to plan a trip to this marvelous park.
Purpose of this Guide
I am aware there are hundreds of guides to Plitvice National Park. Nevertheless, I feel like some guides are not specific enough or do not cover topics important to independent travelers.
This guide would be helpful to those visiting the park for the first time and/or to those arriving by public transportation.
Table of Contents
Visiting Plitvice National Park by Tour
This is the easiest, most convenient way to visit the park. A day tour can be booked from cities such as Zagreb, Zadar, Split, and Pula.
If you choose this option, take into consideration the following:
- Make sure you understand what is included in your tour. This is even more important if the price offered by an operator is way lower than other operators (for example, it may not include the entrance fee to the park)
- Understand the time you are going to spend on transit vs. the time you are going to spend in the park. For example, it takes about 2 hours to reach the park from Zagreb or Zadar, 3-3.5 hours from Split and 3-4 hours from Pula (and other cities in Istria). All those times are one way. If you visit from Zagreb, Zadar or Split, you may spend on the park 5-6 hours. If you visit from Pula, you may spend in the park 3 hours. Spending 6-7 hours on a bus may be tough for some people.
Visiting Plitvice National Park Independently
Visiting the park on an independent tour is very easy. Since this is one of the most popular attractions in Croatia, the country has an excellent infrastructure that allows travelers to reach the park from multiple points.
It is possible to visit as a round trip from the city you are staying, reach the park from one city and move on to another one or stay the night in the area.
Keep reading to find out details about each option.
Arriving by Car
Reaching the park by car is straightforward. Roads are well developed and signed. Get prepared to pay tolls.
There are big parking lots at both park’s entrances. Lots charge an hourly or day rate. Make sure to park on designated areas and follow instructions.
Arriving by Bus from Zagreb
There are more than 20 buses connecting Zagreb and Plitvice daily. You can book your ticket online or buy it at the station. It is a good idea to have tickets reserved if you are departing Zagreb before 8:00 a.m.
My advice is to leave Zagreb early in order to maximize your time at the park and beat the crowds. We left around 7:00 a.m. and were at the park around 9:00 a.m. We finished our sightseeing around 3:00 p.m. If you do something similar, you will have enough time to eat something and refresh before returning to Zagreb.
Arriving by bus from Zadar
There are about 9 buses connecting Zadar and Plitvice daily. Driving time is less than 2 hours. Make sure you book a direct bus since some buses stop at several cities. This can add more than an hour to the total travel time.
Arriving by Bus from Split
There are about 10 buses connecting Split and Plitvice daily. Driving time is 3.5 to 4 hours.
Bus Transportation Tips
Given the driving times, it is possible to visit Plitvice from Zagreb and Zadar as a day trip. It is also possible to arrive at the park from Zagreb, tour the park and continue to Zadar in the afternoon.
I do not think visiting the park from Split, by bus, as a day trip, is a good idea. A guided tour is a better option for that scenario.
Also, I believe it is a bit tiring to arrive at the park from Zagreb, hike and try to arrive at Split that same day. We stayed in the park area and move on to Split the next day.
Do not expect premium buses with TVs, Wi-Fi, and restrooms. Some companies may offer these but, for what I observed, this is not the norm.
Arriving at Plitvice National Park
There is no bus station on Plitvice.
What you are going to see are two bus stations corresponding to the two entrances to the park. The actual entrances are meters away from the stations.
Tourist Information Center
During my visit, I entered the park through entrance 1. If you need information or help of any kind, there is an information center next to the entrance.
There is no reason to worry about your luggage. If you are using public transportation to move around, there is free luggage storage at the park. Go to the information center and communicate your desire to store your luggage. They will provide you with a key to the storage area.
Now, the storage area is basically a covered shed with many shelves. There are no individual or private compartments.
How much time to spend on Plitvice
I recommend spending at least half a day at the park. And, to be completely honest, I would dedicate an entire day to the park.
I say this because of the following: a considerable amount of time is needed to reach the park (2-3 hours). Then, the entrance fee is not an insignificant amount of money (it can be up to $35 per person).
The most compelling reason is that this place is way too beautiful, magical and unique. I do not see a reason to rush your visit. Take this into consideration during your trip planning stage.
More than a day can be spent on the park. There is more to see in the area than the lakes and waterfalls.
Entrance Fee and Operating Hours
The entrance fee varies greatly depending on the season. Prices go from about $8 to $35 (for adults). You will pay the max prices in July and August. Two-day passes are available and can save you some money.
Tickets include the use of all the park facilities, a boat ride and a ride on a sightseeing vehicle (looks like a tram). Keep in mind you can only ride the boat and sightseeing vehicle once. Staff will stamp your entrance ticket.
The park is open 365 days of the year from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Hiking in Plitvice National Park Croatia
There is no way around it. You come to Plitvice to see the lakes and waterfalls mostly by foot.
This section of the article is called “hiking” in Plitvice but the “hikes” are really walks. Most of the trails are flat. Elevation is gained gradually. I found the trail system in the park very easy to manage. And, let me tell you, I am not the fittest person out there.
Let’s explore the main trails at the park.
What to Know Before Starting to Hike
Just so we are all on the same page, let me explain some nomenclature that is going to be used while describing the trails.
There are two entrances at the park and 4 different trails or routes starting from each one. I started to hike from Entrance 1. Therefore, I will include more details on those trails.
There are three tram stations at the park: ST1 (close to Entrance 1), ST2 (close to Entrance 2) and ST3 (near Proscansko Lake). In the same way, there are three boat piers: P1, P2 and P3. P1 and P2 are close to Entrance 2.
You can take the boat between boat stations one and two (P1 and P2) as many times as you want (that is the short ride). The long ride between stations P1/P2 and station P3 is the one you can only take once.
Same thing with the tram. You can take it between park entrances (ST1 and ST2) as many times you want but only once from ST3 to ST2 (or vice versa).
Trails are well marked and easy to navigate. You can buy a trail map at the information center but, in my opinion, you do not need it. Once you enter the park, there is a big sign describing each trail. You can take a picture of the trail you are interested in walking.
What to Do Before Starting to Hike
I recommend starting your sightseeing on a full stomach. Snacks and water are a good idea too. Nonetheless, remember to leave no trace. Dispose thrash on the proper containers.
Also, use the restrooms before starting to walk.
This is the shortest trail in the park (about 2 miles, 2-3 hours) and starts at Entrance 1.
You are overwhelmed with beauty from the beginning. Your sightseeing will start with amazing views of Veliki Slap, the tallest waterfall in the park. Then, it is time to walk to the base of the big waterfall. After this, you with continue to Sastavci and Milanovacki falls. I am mentioning particular waterfalls, but you are going to be surrounded by tons and tons of water.
At one point, you are going to reach the bridge crossing Kozjak Lake. Turn back and walk to the starting point (signs will guide you). On the way back, you are going to encounter some of the classic views of the park.
This is the most popular trail and a lot of people only do this trail.
On this trail, instead of turning back at the Kozjak Lake bridge, you will turn right and walk to the boat pier (P3). On the pier area, there are benches, restrooms, a restaurant and a gift shop. It is an ideal stop to rest before moving on.
After a while, it is time to take the boat ride to P1 or P2. From there, you can walk or take the tram to Entrance 1.
Trail B is 2.6 miles long and takes 3-4 hours to complete. There are services near P1/P2.
Trail C is an extension of Trails A and B. After the long boat ride on Kozjak Lake, you start your walk to the Upper Lake section of the park (instead of returning to Entrance 1). At the top of the trail, you will encounter tram station 3 (ST3). At that point, you can take the scenic train to ST2. From there, you can walk or take the tram to ST1 (Entrance 1).
This is the trail you want to do if you have one day to explore the park. I found the Upper Lakes even more impressive than the lower ones. I loved, loved this section.
Trail C has a length of 5 miles and takes 4-5 hours to complete.
You can shorten this trail by turning back to P2 after walking around Gradinsko Lake. You will see signs directing you to the pier or to Proscansko Lake.
This trail explores the entire park and takes 6-8 hours to complete. It is considered a difficult trail.
- Trail E (2-3 hours) – Starts at Entrance 2 and explores the Upper Lakes area. After a short boat crossing, you walk to the Proscansko Lake and take the scenic tram down
- Trail F (3-4 hours) – This is the reverse version of Trail B. Sail across Kozjaka lake and visit the Lower Lakes. Take the tram from Entrance 1 to Entrance 2
- Trail H (5-6 hours) – This is the reverse version of Trail C
- Trail K-2 (6-8 hours) – Same as Trail K but starting from Entrance 2
Where to Eat Inside the Park
You can find cafeterias at the following spots:
- Entrance 1
- Pier Boat 3 (P2)
- Pier Boat 1 (P1)
- Entrance 2
Expect simple dishes such as burgers, hot dogs, pork chops, schnitzels, fries, soft drinks, coffee and some pastries.
Where to Eat Outside the Park
Within walking distance of the park, you will find the following:
- Across Entrance 1 – Licka Kuca
- Close to Entrance 2 – Poljana
There are other restaurants along Route 1 but a car will be needed to reach them.
Staying the night in the area
If you want to stay in the area more than one day or if the next destination is a bit far from the park, staying in the area is a good idea.
Hotels such as Bellevue, Plitvice, and Jezero are located within walking distance of Entrance 2. There are many pensions along Route 1. You will not have trouble finding a nice place for a good price. Keep in mind some of these places may not be located close to a restaurant or market.
We stayed in Rakovica and were within walking distance of a restaurant and market.
Moving around the area
If you are staying in the area and do not have a car, taxi service can be very expensive. I have been told taxis in Croatia should be metered but that was not my experience when taking a taxi from the park to Rakovica.
You may want to ask your pension or hotel host about transportation. Sometimes they will offer to transport you for a price significantly lower than a taxi.
Plitvice Lakes Weather
Weather can be unpredictable in this area. Dress in layers and carry a small umbrella or poncho. Even if it is not raining, the poncho can protect you from the waterfall spray.
In several parts of the park, you are going to be walking over wooden boardwalks. There are no railings in most of these. Be careful when walking around, trying to pass by other people or stopping to take pictures. You do not want to fall into the water!
By the way, swimming in Plitvice National Park is prohibited. If you want to swim, Krka National Park is a good option.
The park can get crowded. It depends on the season and on the trail. Be prepared to deal with people. I am saying this because you will encounter rude people who can test your patience. Do not get things personal and move on. A positive attitude will help you to enjoy your day.
Last but not least, obey the park’s rules. Please help us to keep Plitvice pristine.
More about Croatia
Croatia is a wonderful country! Take a look at my other posts about the country.
More about Slovenia
Read all about Croatia’s neighbor.
I really hope this guide will equip you with everything you need to visit to visit Plitvice National Park Croatia.
Have you been to the park? What are your tips for Plitvice National Park?
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