A trip to Croatia wouldn’t be complete without visiting the gorgeous Plitvice Lakes National Park. Most accessible from either Split or Zagreb, we chose to drive down from Zagreb for an easy daytrip before taking off for Nepal. There was also the option of a bus tour as we noticed many groups during the day along the paths, however, the freedom of an inexpensive car rental had already gotten us. We set off early hoping to have the entire day for hiking. (Keep in mind we had a 3 week trek coming up, so a little extra hiking would be good preparation). It was about a 3 hour drive from the city, but definitely felt slower as I was on my best behavior avoiding any more traffic tickets. I’ll tell you, driving the speed limit of 40km/hr for much of the time felt like we were cruising at a snail’s pace, but I managed to keep it under the limit for the entire ticket-free ride.
The park itself is in a more rural part of the country; there seemed to be only a few small stores along the two lane road to the national park. Friends of ours had already told us to pack food and drinks, so we were well prepared. We arrived about 10am, and bought our tickets just ahead of a few of the large bus tour groups. We skimmed over the small map provided on the back of the ticket, then with a recommendation of the kind lady in the maps and information office we headed off on the trail. Based on the expected time, you can follow several different color hiking paths. We were expected to take about 8 hours which would include a short boat ride and train ride.
As the centerpiece of the park, the Plitvice lakes are essentially a series of about 16 lakes of different sizes separated by a variety of naturally formed picturesque waterfalls drawing visitors from around the world. As soon as we started on the trail we could see the beauty that covers every brochure and billboard that mentions this park. We wandered down the initial pathway that zig-zags its way to the water’s edge until we were stepping onto the raised wooden bridge and pathway that winds through the valley.
Just after the last lake we followed the crowd to Veliki Slap, the “Large Waterfall” to get a few photos before heading upstream. With our cameras in hand we followed the wooden pathway along, enamored at times by the blue waters and the peaceful scenery. Whitney and I played a sort of leap frog pausing for pictures as we passed one another back and forth along the way.
Further up the path we arrived at one of the largest lakes. Included in the ticket is a short pontoon boat ride to the far side of the lake to continue along the path. We squeezed into a couple of the front seats and cruised across. It was a pleasant 15 minute ride then we were back on the path. Based on internet searches and the park representative’s quote we were expected to take about 4 hours to get to the far end of the trail near the uppermost of the lakes. It turns out we had scrambled along very quickly and made it in just over 2 hours.
Well at that point it was lunch time so we snuck off the edge of one of the trails for our own little picnic. We packed a couple Nutella and banana sandwiches and split a bag of chips…nothing too exciting. Through a little brainstorming with our limited trail map we came up with a plan to extend our speedy hike.
We finished lunch then took the train as planned for the experience, but mostly because it was included in the ticket price. It turned out that the train was more like one of those airport parking shuttles with a series of trailing cars filled with people. After riding along the roadway, we decided to get off at the first stop and hike back to the park entrance because one: it wasn’t that scenic on the shuttle and two: we had plenty of time left in the day.
Exiting the shuttle we made our way past a few tour groups gathering at the top of the hill and headed down to the edge of the lake we had taken the boat across. From here we followed the path along the edge of the gorgeous blue water feeling as if we had the trail all to ourselves. Then with a few glances at the map I thought we could take a path that went along the ridge looking down at the Plitvice Lakes for few more intriguing views from above. Then at the end, we could take the steep path down to the valley near the Big Waterfall then back up the other side to the entrance. This ended up taking us on “the road less travelled” and completely void of the larger tour groups we struggled to pass earlier in the day.
Finally as the evening was nearing, we were almost to the start of the trail. The only problem was that the pathway leading down to the lakes and back up the other side was blocked with a wooden barricade. Faced with backtracking about 2hours, I looked around then tugged Whitney’s hand as I stepped over and around the barricade. It appears that this unmaintained and steep trail was blocked off due to falling rocks. Luckily, we escaped unharmed as we stepped over the barricade at the bottom before heading out and back to Zagreb.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park should be on everyone’s list when visiting Croatia. We did like the freedom of visiting on our own schedule rather than a tour group. Lastly, we encourage everyone to look at the alternative pathways during the midday hours as the large tour groups could fill the picturesque lower pathway taking away from the experience.
As our last 24 hours left in Croatia came to a close, we anxiously packed our things in preparation for our first Asian country, Nepal!!