The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park, CroatiaCroatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia (or in Croatian, Plitvička Jezera) is one of those places that simply defies words.
Made up of 16 interconnected lakes that tumble into each other, one after the other, in a series of stunning waterfalls, the Plitvice Lakes were designated as Croatia’s first national park in 1949, and later became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
The lakes themselves are absolutely magnificent, filled with crystal-clear water that changes color by the hour, but often appears as a bright turquoise that seems more suitable to a fantasy novel than a place on Earth.
Picturesque wooden boardwalks criss-cross the lakes, creating a fairytale-worthy environment where you can get right up close to the fabulous natural beauty.
I first became enamored with the idea of visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia after finding a photo of the park on Pinterest almost a decade ago, and many years, two trips, and several days spent staring in wonder at the lakes later, I’m still just as smitten with them.
Planning a trip to the Plitvice Lakes?
We’ve put together this guide to visiting Croatia’s beautiful Plitvice Lakes to help you plan your trip, and have packed it full with everything we wish we had known before visiting for the very first time.
Table of Contents
- Where are the Plitvice Lakes?
- Logistics of Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Sample Itinerary for a Day in Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Important Tips for Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Where to Stay in & Around Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
- Getting Around Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Best Time to Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia
- What to Pack for Plitvice Lakes National Park
Where are the Plitvice Lakes?
Plitvice Lakes National Park is located in central Croatia, in the eastern part of the country, and not far from Croatia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
If you’re looking at traveling the to the Plitvice Lakes from one of Croatia’s other popular tourist destinations, here’s what you can roughly expect as far as drive times:
2 hours south
2.5 hours northwest
5 hours northwest
1.5 hours northeast
3.5 hours east
There is no train access to Plitvice Lakes National Park.
If you’d prefer to avoid driving yourself or booking a tour, you can reach the park by bus.
Logistics of Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
Planning a Plitvice Lakes holiday involves making dozens of decisions about how to spend your time in and around the park.
Before we dive into details, let’s cover some quick Plitvice Lakes FAQ.
Should you take a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park?
Short answer: you can, but where you leave from matters a lot.
In our opinion, the Plitvice Lakes are a much better experience if you can spend at least one night in the area, as you’ll be able to see the park shortly after opening and before closing (ie, when all of the daytrippers aren’t there!), you’ll have more opportunities to explore in case bad weather ruins some of your plans, and you’ll get to see more of the park.
However, we completely understand that depending on how your Croatia itinerary shakes out, that may not be possible.
If you do want to take a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park, it’s best to do so from either Zagreb or Zadar. From these locations, you can either drive yourself or book a tour–this tour from Zagreb and this tour from Zadar are well-reviewed, popular, and will help you make the most of your limited time in the park.
In a pinch, you can also take a day trip from Split, but it makes for a very long day, and we feel it’s best accomplished with a tour–this one is a great option.
We absolutely do not recommend taking a Plitvice Lakes day trip from Dubrovnik, though you’ll find the occasional enterprising tour company offering them.
Book your day trip to Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes today!
How much does it cost to visit the Plitvice Lakes?
The ticket price for visiting the Plitvice Lakes varies throughout the year, with the most expensive months to visit being June, July, August, and September (when ticket prices are roughly $45 USD/person for a one day ticket).
In the winter, tickets are at their cheapest, coming in at around $12 USD for a one-day adult ticket–so as you can see, prices vary dramatically!
One and two-day tickets are available, and discounts are available for students and children.
Be sure to keep an eye on the ticket prices–they have almost doubled since we first visited Plitvice in 2015 and will likely continue to climb. You can find the most up-to-date information on prices here.
Which is better: Plitvice Lakes Entrance 1 or 2?
We recommend starting at Entrance 1 for your first (or only, as the case may be) day in the park.
Arriving via Entrance 1 will allow you to start your day by admiring one of the most famous viewpoints in Plitvice Lakes National Park, explore the Lower Lakes, and then make your way to the ferry after a couple of hours of exploring and head to the Upper Lakes.
When is Plitvice Lakes National Park open?
The park is open year-round, 365 days per year, though some trails and access points close depending on weather–for example, the Upper Lakes often close during the winter.
Like most national parks, Plitvice has longer hours in the summer months. You can check official park hours for your dates here.
Can you swim in the Plitvice Lakes?
Nope! Leave your bathing suit at home–swimming is forbidden in the national park.
If you’d like to swim in some of Croatia’s magnificent waterfalls during your trip, we recommend checking out Krka National Park.
Can you bring food into Plitvice Lakes National Park?
Yes, and there are small convenience stores at the entrances selling snacks.
Of course, you’ll find more selection and better prices if you shop a bit further from the park.
Alternatively, there are some restaurants and snack stands available inside the park, so you won’t go hungry either way.
Sample Itinerary for a Day in Plitvice Lakes National Park
If you only have one day in Plitvice Lakes National Park, this is a fantastic way to spend it!
The Plitvice itinerary outlined here makes for a full day, but you’ll see most of the famous viewpoints as well as some of Plitvice’s less well-known but still stunning corners.
If you have longer in the parks, you can either explore more slowly, perhaps by focusing on the Lower Lakes one day and the Upper Lakes the next (that’s how we structured our first visit), or add in more trails and viewpoints.
The official national park website has several suggested programs for exploring the park that provide a good overview of what options you have–if you have a half-day or less to spend in Plitvice, for example, they have a program for that!
Keep in mind that this sample Plitvice Lakes itinerary assumes that you’ll be visiting in the summer, when the park is open the longest. Keep an eye on the time if you’re visiting during the offseason!
Morning: Start at Entrance 1 and explore the Lower Lakes.
By kicking off your visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park at Entrance 1, you’ll start your explorations of the park by immediately walking up to one of the most famous views of the lakes: the overview of Veliki Slap (aka the Big Waterfall) from across the gorge.
It’s a magnificent sight, especially in the early-morning light, and a great way to start your day.
Once you finish snapping 10,000 photos, head down the trail to the boardwalks, where you’ll be able to make your way around the Lower Lakes at a leisurely pace.
Mid-Day: Eat lunch near the lakes and hop the boat to the Upper Lakes.
As you follow the trails through the Lower Lakes, you’ll eventually arrive Kozjačka Draga restaurant and a large surrounding picnic area, which is located right next to the dock where you can board the ferry to the Upper Lakes.
This is a great place to rest and have lunch, whether that’s your own packed lunch or something from the restaurant.
The food at Kozjačka Draga is exactly what you might expect from a restaurant inside a national park: simple, expensive for the area, but filling enough.
After you finish eating and resting, it’s time to board the ferry across Lake Kozjak!
The ferry runs regularly, so join the lineup of people waiting whenever you’re ready.
Be sure to have your ticket ready when you get ready to board–since only one ride is included with your park ticket, the park staff will stamp it as you board.
Grab an outside seat if you can–the views as you cross the lake are lovely!
Afternoon: Follow the path around the Upper Lakes to Entrance 3.
As you wind further and further along the Upper Lakes, the waterfalls will start to be a bit more spread out–but so will the crowds.
This is where you’ll find some of the most peaceful lake views of the day, and if you’re lucky, you may even get to enjoy them alone for a few minutes!
The paths (a combination of wooden boardwalks over the lakes and traditional trails alongside them) are well-marked and will eventually lead to the tram’s Station 3, where you can return to the Lower Lakes and position yourself closer to Entrance 1.
From there, you can enjoy a little more time with the lakes, and potentially return to some of your favorite boardwalk views from the morning to see them under different lighting conditions.
Early Evening: Find the postcard view of the Plitvice Lakes.
What better way to close out a day visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park than by taking in its most famous view?
There are two ways to get the famous postcard view over the Plitvice Lakes (you know, the view all the tour companies use to sell their day trips and that is the top photo on this post!)–and no, a drone is not one of them (drones are not allowed in Plitvice, so leave them at home).
First option: climb up the steep staircase near Veliki Slap. This was closed on our recent visit, but it’s generally an option. The downside of this option is that you’ll then need to climb back down, cross the lakes via boardwalk, and climb back up on the other side to reach Entrance 1 and fetch your car again.
The other way requires a bit of a drive, but is also a bit less hassle if you do it at the end of the day like this Plitvice itinerary suggests: head to 44°54’9″ N 15°36’27” E via car, park near the trailhead, and hike 5-10 minutes down the trail.
We lucked out during our first visit to the park and stayed a short walk from here, and we had no idea how lucky we were at the time!
Bear in mind that while you won’t generally find any park staff or get your ticket checked here, the area is part of Plitvice Lakes National Park and you technically need a valid ticket with you to visit the viewpoint.
Important Tips for Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
Arrive as soon as the gates open… or even a little before.
Trust me: the experience you’ll have at Plitvice, especially during the busy summer months, will be dramatically different if you’re one of the first to hit the boardwalks than if they’re already congested by the time you get there.
During high season, purchase tickets in advance.
In 2019, Croatia introduced an online ticketing system for Plitvice Lakes National Park, which allows you to purchase timed tickets before you arrive, which then must be redeemed at the entrance number and time you selected when buying the tickets.
Tickets are still available to purchase at the park, however, the number of visitors per day has been capped at 10,000–so if you show up too late in the day, especially during the summer, you may find yourself unable to visit that day.
If possible, spend at least one full day at the lakes.
Even if you only visit Plitvice for a day, you’ll get so much more out of your visit if you’re able to stay the whole way through instead of squeezing in a few hours at the park (at the most crowded time of day with the harshest lighting conditions) on a day trip.
… Which means ideally, you’ll spend a night nearby.
Seriously: it’s worth setting aside the time during your trip to Croatia to spend a night at the Plitvice Lakes!
Don’t be afraid to climb!
If you look closely along the trails when exploring the Plitvice Lakes, especially around the Upper Lakes, you’ll notice several opportunities to climb up to a higher trail or vantage point–and the views are virtually always worth the effort.
Be prepared for crowds.
With over 1 million visitors each year and skyrocketing international popularity, there’s no doubt about it: visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia means dealing with a lot of crowds… especially during the beautiful summer.
You can mitigate this by showing up early (and staying late), traveling outside of peak season, and wandering further up the trails than most, but come mentally prepared for the fact that you generally won’t have those beautiful boardwalks all to yourself.
The Plitvice Lakes are in a very rural area.
Because of this, restaurant and hotel choices are limited, which of course lends itself to a selection of subpar restaurants that charge expensive prices for the area.
We recommend checking reviews before sitting down, enjoying the food for what it is, and generally accepting that you won’t have the best food of your Croatia trip while here.
If you are road-tripping to Plitvice, consider stopping at Rastoke on the way!
The village of Rastoke is absolutely beautiful, with waterfalls that literally run through the town and under the buildings–including under a couple of very picturesque antique mills!
We love Rastoke and think it’s definitely worth visiting (it won’t take more than an hour or two to stop by, explore, and grab a cup of coffee at one of the cafes), but it’s best to see it before you arrive at the Plitvice Lakes–as lovely as the waterfalls at Rastoke are, they’ll be underwhelming after experiencing Plitvice itself.
Where to Stay in & Around Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Ideally, you’ll want to spend at least one night either in or practically next door to Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes to help ensure that you beat the crowds to the park!
The budget option, Hotel Bellevue, gets more mediocre reviews than the other two but still offers an excellent location.
Be sure to book as soon as you can commit to dates if you’d like to stay in the park, as these hotels fill up fast!
However, there are also lots of home and apartment rentals right outside the park.
Keep in mind that as this is a rural area, you won’t find many large hotels unless you’re willing to drive a bit further.
Well-reviewed options like this guesthouse are fairly typical for the area–many options are part of small guesthouses that are housed in converted multi-family homes, that sort of thing.
Getting Around Plitvice Lakes National Park
When visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, you’ll likely use a variety of methods for getting around, thanks to the park’s fantastic infrastructure.
Here are the most popular.
Obviously, hiking is the most popular and useful way to get around Plitvice Lakes National Park, and how you’ll spend the bulk of your time there.
The trails are extremely well-maintained and generally fairly smooth to walk across, so this is hardly mountain-climbing, but you’ll want to be comfortable with uneven terrain and moderate to severe inclines and declines to hike through the park without limits.
You won’t drive your car into the park itself, per se, but road tripping is, hands down, the best way to get to the Plitvice Lakes and get around the area as a whole.
Parking is available near each entrance, and you can also use your car to get close to the postcard viewpoint, though you’ll need to park your car and walk the final 5-10 minutes.
For driving to the Plitvice Lakes, we recommend searching for a rental via Discover Cars, which will search multiple rental companies to help you find the best price and rental contract for your Plitvice Lakes vacation.
Check rates & book your rental car for your Plitvice Lakes road trip today!
Plitvice’s tram stops at three stations throughout the park, including near Entrance 3, and on both of our visits, we’ve hiked all the way to Station 3 and then taken the tram back down to the more populated areas of the park.
The tram itself has beautiful views of the lakes, but most importantly, it allows you to explore the less crowded sections of the Upper Lakes without worrying about having to hike back!
The trams run every 30 minutes.
The ferry across Lake Kozjak will take you from the Lower Lakes to the Upper Lakes (or vice versa), and one ride is included with your ticket price when visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Because only one ride is included, we recommend riding the ferry out to the Upper Lakes, hiking up to Station 3, and then taking the tram back down when you’re ready to make your way back toward Entrance 1.
If you don’t want to drive yourself or take a tour when visiting the Plitvice Lakes, there is a bus that runs to the park, stopping near Entrance 1 and Entrance 2.
If you choose to go this route, plan carefully to ensure that you’re staying near a bus stop!
Best Time to Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia
While you’ll want to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park in either the late spring, summer, or very early fall for the most popular park experience that is most commonly photographed, the Plitvice Lakes are absolutely a year-round destination and deserves to be on your list of what to do in Croatia.
This part of Croatia receives 4 distinct seasons, so while the greenery surrounding the lakes is lovely, don’t despair if your trip happens at an off-peak time–not only will there be fewer crowds, but just imagine how beautiful the lakes would look surrounded by fall foliage or snow!
Personally, we have our hearts set on visiting during the fall foliage season one day.
What to Pack for Plitvice Lakes National Park
Travel Insurance — We don’t ever suggest traveling without travel insurance–anything can happen, and an epic trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park is definitely a case of better safe than sorry. We use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Croatia.
Sunscreen — Because sunburns are never a good look in vacation photos.
Camera — We recently upgraded to our Sony a7R III and absolutely adore it, but whatever camera you’re comfortable with works–just make sure you have something with you to preserve your memories!
Hat — Parts of Plitvice Lakes National Park are very shaded, however, if you thoroughly explore the trails, you will also spend quite a bit of time in direct sun.
Closed-Toe Shoes — You definitely won’t need hiking boots to explore the Plitvice Lakes, but comfortable, closed-toe shoes that you’re happy to walk for hours in are best!
Reusable Water Bottle — You’re definitely going to want to carry water with you as you visit Plitvice Lakes National Park. Cut down on plastic waste and bring a reusable water bottle instead!
Snacks — Food in the park tends to be pricey, so be sure to pack some of your own snacks!
Comfortable Day Bag — We currently use Pacsafe’s sleek anti-theft backpack and love it, but if you don’t want to shell out the cash for this trip, that’s totally understandable. Just aim for something comfortable to wear, not flashy, and medium-sized–we used a Northface Jester backpack for years and loved it as well.