Croatia isn’t the most popular tourist destination, but it’s a vibrant country with a rich history and culture. It's also home to a number of natural wonders, such as the Plitvice Lakes National Park, home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. It’s an astonishing, lush, ecologically unique location where you can see magnificent waterfalls in the summer or see those same waterfalls glimmer like crystals when they freeze in the winter. It’s the most popular travel destination in the country, so no trip to Croatia would be complete without paying the park a visit.
The two main methods to visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park are bus or train. The trip typically takes around two hours and embarks from Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. You may drive to the park, but personal automobiles aren’t allowed on the premises of the park. That doesn’t mean you’re required to get around on foot, though.
For most of the year, you can move around the various lakes and forest trails by bus. Buses service the relatively flat Lower Lakes and the Upper Lakes and will ferry visitors across from one area to the next. However, the buses and boats cease operations from November to mid-April. This period is the slowest season for tourism, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good time of year to visit.
The most active months for visitors to the Plitvice Lakes are July and August since this is when the weather is at its best. However, the weather is still excellent in May, June, and September; you can enjoy a much quieter trip through the park during these months. Heading to the Plitvice Lakes during the winter is the most difficult, as transportation is not available during this period. Nonetheless, the frozen lakes and haunting atmosphere of the parks during the winter makes for an experience out of a storybook.
The crowds reach their height in the afternoon, and to avoid them you should plan to arrive early. The earliest buses out of Zagreb arrive around 9 am or thereabouts. If you don’t mind being up in time to catch the bus and if you get enough sleep, you’ll be amply rewarded for your efforts with a much more leisurely, relaxing nature walk.
One of the most important things to bring is solid, sturdy footwear. Sandals or shoes that are in poor shape are no-gos for a walk, much less for a fun hike. If you’re heading out during one of the hotter months, you should dress on the lighter side. It doesn’t get too hot, generally, so jeans and t-shirts are still reasonable. The Plitvice Lakes require extra layers during the colder months of the year, though, and the weather is subject to change during the spring and the fall. In this case, you should bring a change of clothes in your baggage to be prepared.
You should always have a change of clothes on hand, but that’s not all. Depending on when you visit, there’s a variety of other items you should have on hand. It’s a good idea to have sunscreen on hand during the summer, and bear repellant might give you some peace of mind, although the bears in Plitvice Lakes are quite shy and there are few or no known bear attacks there. If you’re planning a trip of any length, you should also be sure to pack enough food: trail mix, sandwiches, fruit, and plenty of water.
The park is quite large and full of things to explore. To ensure that you have enough time to have your fill of the park, you should plan to arrive early and stay all day. If you’d like, you can even book a stay at one of three hotels in the park and resume your hiking early the next morning, when the park is nearly empty.
One of the top sites on any trip to the Plitvice Lakes National Park is the Great Waterfall. It’s one of the largest waterfalls in Europe and makes for an expectacular view at any time of the year. You can head to the lower lakes where the water crashes down, and hike up to the top of the waterfall and enjoy the astonishing view from the Upper Lakes.
Many visitors never set foot in the upper lakes, which is an unfortunate blessing. It’s unfortunate for them, as the Upper Lakes are one of the most beautiful parts of the park, and it’s a blessing for you since the Upper Lakes tend to be uncrowded even during the peak season. They’re a bit more out of the way and the terrain is more rugged there, but it’s an important part of enjoying the full experience at Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Speaking of the full experience, the lakes are only a small part of the overall national park. The thriving forests around the lakes are mapped out in countless great forest trails that beg to be explored. You’d need a full day or more to enjoy all of the lakes, but the forest is worth coming back to so can wander in nature for another day or two. Corvoka Uvala, in particular, holds the distinction of being one of Europe's last virgin forests.