Two Perfect Days in Plitviče Lakes National Park
We visited Plitviče Lakes National Park last year on our vacation to Croatia. We only spent 1 day here and were so excited to come back and see more of this beautiful area. This year we chose to spend two full days hiking in the park, trying to cover as much of it as possible. We also were hoping to avoid some of the crowds, as it can get quite busy in the summer and shoulder seasons. Over 1 million people visit the park each year!
Plitviče Lakes National Park is one of the largest in Croatia, and it is becoming increasingly popular with international visitors – especially those who are already coming for Croatia’s stunning coastline. Plitviče is located in the inland central part of Croatia, close to the Bosnia and Herzegovina border.
The park consists of 16 terraced lakes that cascade through the mountain valley. The terraces produce a seemingly infinite number of waterfalls. There are 22 km of pathways and 36 km of hiking trails throughout the park, giving visitors many options to explore the area. The lakes are a gorgeous green/blue colour. It’s so colourful that in most of our photos the colour didn’t look natural, almost as if we had cranked up the saturation of the photos!
The lakes really only make up 1% of the National Park. There are also very important forests and vegetation. Since the park is quite far away from large major cities, it isn’t as impacted by pollution or noise. Most of the nature remains untouched and preserved, which allows for many rare flora and fauna – such as the brown bear, wolf, wild cats, eagles, and over 55 different types of orchids. Since it is such an important area, it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1979. The National Park does a really great job of allowing visitors to see the park and explore its beauty, while respecting how delicate and sensitive it is. There are clear and specific pathways and signage, and by the end of your visit you really feel like you had a chance to see something almost magical.
During our last visit, we got lost and ended up doing a 17km hike along the top of the hills. It was great because we got to see so many of the falls and lakes from above. This time however, we wanted to see them from ground level and mix in the occasional top view. To do this we decided to make our own route and combine a few pathway options so we could make the most of a two-day visit without revisiting sections. On the first day we focused on the Upper Lakes, and on the second day we started with the Large Waterfall and did the Lower Lakes.
The park has a great website (https://np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/en/) and app, which would be worth checking out if you are visiting. We also used Maps.Me to find a bunch of additional, cool looks out points that were kind of secret gems! Here is an overview of how we planned our two days to cover the whole park.
Day One – Upper Lakes
Everything we had read said that you want to arrive as early as possible to avoid crowds, so we planned to start each day right when the park opened – 7:00am. We started at Entrance Two, which took some time to walk to the ticket counter. So really, by the time we made it into the park it was actually closer to 7:40. We followed the pathway to the boat area so we could cross the smallest boat section on the lakes. This allows you to cross over to where the Upper Lake walks start. We took the boat ride from P1 to P2, and after we got off we followed the Route C line along the bottom right hand side of the lakes.
It was a very quite pathway. We really didn’t see anyone for the first two hours, which allowed us to take out time with pictures and really enjoy the scenery. We had so much fun during this time! The pathway starts off by walking past a hand full of beautiful waterfalls, and then you cross the lake shortly after to see another 4-6 waterfalls from a higher lake. It was just gorgeous.
We crossed back to the right hand side of the lakes and continued to see gorgeous view after gorgeous view. The C route is highly recommended because you walk towards most of the waterfalls, instead of walking past them and having to look back to see them. We followed the C Route for 3.2 km before coming to a Y-intersection. It’s quite easy to miss, so look at the map below. There is a map information station on the right side of the trail, so that is what you want to look for before you head right. From here, we walked up to three high viewpoints.
It was a steady climb for about 130 meters. That’s when you reach the first viewpoint. It isn’t marked on the path, but some trees are cut to give a great look out over the lake and waterfall. The next two viewpoints are a steep climb up, about another 150 meters. From here you can get a great view of the lakes and really see the beautiful terraces!
We took part of this path last year, so we didn’t continue on the hiking trail, instead we headed back down the way we came up, and continued on the walking path we left where we took the right at the Y-Intersection. This takes you around the other side of the lake, and we followed pathways C and then K to take us all the way back to the P2 boat station. It was about 3.5 km of walking. There are also bus shuttles you can take, but this way is definitely a more scenic route!
By this part of the hike the pathways were quite busy, so we didn’t find ourselves stopping too often. It’s definitely more enjoyable when you can experience it before the crowds. We were so thankful to have had a couple of hours – especially because we thought the first few waterfalls were totally stunning.
We made our way to the boat, and from there we headed to our car. We had a commitment in the mid-afternoon, so this was our shorter of the two days. All in all we did 11.5 km, which included our walk to and from boats and the parking lot. The Entrance Two parking lot was actually quite far from the boats and first lakes. But as soon as you get off the boat you are faced with ton of waterfalls, so it was a great route to start the day with. Here is the route we took. We had to break it up into three maps, but if we find a better way to post it we will update it!
Day Two – Lower Falls and the Big Waterfall (Veliki Slap)
Since starting early the first day went so well, we made sure we were at the ticket gate ready to start right at 7:00 am. We had purchased a two-day pass, so getting into the park was super easy. We were the first ones in and had at least a 10-minute head start before anyone else entered the park. This day we started at Entrance One. Unlike Entrance Two, as soon as you walk through Entrance One you see a waterfall - Veliki Slap. It’s quite spectacular, and you get to see it the whole time you walk down into the valley. You walk down quite a ways to get to the bottom of the valley, and then you head across a lake towards Veliki Slap.
At 7:00am there was already quite a line up of people waiting to enter the park. Way more than the previous day. When we got to the bottom of the valley and cross the lake we came to a Y-intersection. We split directions here so that Darrell could head to Veliki Slap and get some up close shots, and Sharleen went the other direction to capture a few pictures of the pathways before they were crowded with people. Some of our favourite pictures from the last visit were the beautiful wooden pathways with the bright green water underneath them. After snapping a few pictures, Sharleen headed back to the Veliki Slap and we were there for about 20 minutes before moving on. We headed back to the Y-intersection following the signs for Route K.
After only 20 minutes of being in the park we were shocked by how busy it was. There were people everywhere and we definitely didn’t have the same peaceful start as the day before. However, we lost most of the crowds around the P3 boat station. At P3 you can take the long boat ride across the lake. We decided to walk around the lake. It’s a very beautiful walk, and it’s not difficult at all. You leave the wooden pathways and walk on a hiking trail for 4.2 km, but it is an easy walk. Just near the end of the walk there is a gorgeous waterfall that can get right up next to. Not too many people go here because you miss it if you take the boat ride. It’s one of our favourite waterfalls in the park, and we really enjoyed taking some pictures here.
Once we made it to the P2 boat station we took a boat ride to P1. We had seen the falls and lakes around P2 from the day before, so we wanted to head to P1 to walk around the other side of the big lower lake. Once at P1, we followed the signs for Route K and walked around the lake. This side is shorter, and not as scenic as the other side, but still quite beautiful.
Right after you finish the walk around the lake, Route K breaks off the lower pathway and heads up to a few higher lookouts. The view from above was quite nice, and since we walked on the lower pathway in the morning, it was nice to see the lakes form a different angle. The route brings you up to Bus Station 1, so if you didn’t want to walk you could take the shuttle to the station for the higher lookouts. Because the shuttle stops there, we found the lookouts to be quite crowded. We could wait 5-10 minutes at each look out to have less people around, but they were almost always busy. It was also around noon, which is when the park is the busiest with tourists.
We walked along the top ridge and stopped at three different viewpoints. By the time we got to the last one, we could see the huge crowds below. It was crazy! All the people below looked like little ants on the pathways. We really couldn’t believe how many people there were. We decided to take a lunch break before continuing with the last section of our hike. The Licka Kuca restaurant in the Entrance One parking lot has really tasty food, so we popped out of the park and into the restaurant to refuel before heading back out to the grounds.
For the last part, we wanted to head back to the Veliki Slap. There is a pathway at the base of the waterfall that brings you up to the top for some other viewpoints. From here you can see the top of the large waterfall and walk on the opposite side of the lake that we did before our lunch break. This was really the last part for us to do before we felt confident that we had seen all parts of the park!
We weaved through the crowds and made our way up the steep stairs to the top. It was surprisingly quite high, and we were definitely out of breath by the time we reached the top. There were a handful of people making the climb up as well but it was not as crowded as other pathways below.
For this whole section of our walk we followed the Maps.Me app. None of these paths are marked on the Plitviče Lakes App, so it was really handy to have the app for this part - especially because it showed you where some great viewpoints were. We were both really shocked by how many people missed the best Veliki Slap lookout. When you get to the top of the stairwell, head right. You get a great viewpoint of Veliki Slap, and there are no clear signs so many people miss it. In our opinion, it was one of the main reasons to climb the large stairs, so don’t miss it!
After seeing this viewpoint, we headed along the ridge and saw five other viewpoints. The first four are quite obvious and there were about 2-7 people at each one. But once they snap their pictures and selfies they move along to the next one. The last one was a bit harder to find, and again we only found it because of the Maps.Me app. You have to walk through some bushes on something that semi-resembles a path. But once you walk about 5 meters, you are treated to a great view. It was a little closer to the falls then the previous ones, so we got some cool photos. However, it isn’t a maintained lookout, so there were trees and brush in the way of the view.
After seeing this lookout, we headed back towards the Veliki Slap top lookout. By now we had hiked 15 km, but we noticed there were two more viewpoints on the Maps.Me app on top of Veliki Slap, so we decided to check them out. Then we were absolutely confident we had seen all there was to see.
We made our way onto a road and bridge that crossed over the water that feeds Veliki Slap. Right after the small bridge, we headed onto a hiking trail. It was a worn path and not tricky to walk on. It was only 180 meters to the lookout, and it was a very clear look out – just like the other four we visited before it. This viewpoint is less popular, and we only saw a handful of people there the whole time we were in the area. It’s also a great view because you can see the terraced lakes and the gorgeous falls you walk over on the way to Veliki Slap. These clusters of little waterfalls are so beautiful, and were another one of our favourites in the park.
On the Maps.Me app we noticed another viewpoint. However there was not a clear pathway to it. Once again we headed into the bushes and made our way to a rock ledge. The viewpoint was amazing! It brought us even closer to the lake and falls, and it literally looked like something off a postcard. From the rock ledge we saw another point a littler lower that would give us an even better view, so we carefully made our way down and onto a rock ledge that was sticking out. We joke that Norway made us too brave because now we are definitely a bit more daring in our hiking adventures! But climbing to this ledge was totally worth it, and it was the highlight of our whole two days in the National Park.
We loved being here. We sat on the ledge for close to 45 minutes taking photos, enjoying the peacefulness, and taking in the gorgeous scenery. For us it was the perfect ending to our time here, and we were so happy we decided to check out the random viewpoint.
Once we finished at the viewpoint we made our way back to the Veliki Slap look out, down the stairs to the bottom of Veliki Slap, and back up out of the valley to the Entrance One parking lot. We hiked a total of 17 km, and felt pooped! But we couldn’t have ended the trip a better way. Again, here is the route we followed on day two of our time in the National Park.
We really enjoyed the way these two days worked out. The great thing about purchasing the two day pass is that it allows you to take your time exploring both the Upper and Lower sections of the park, and you can come early for two mornings. Which means if you are lucky you can have two quiet and peaceful mornings. Each day we saw a mix of upper and lower viewpoints, and we explored areas that are not too common for most visitors to the park. If you are tight on time and don’t have time to visit the park over two days, we would recommend you follow Route C in the park, and try to add in a view point or two from the Maps.Me app. If you could only do one, the viewpoints up the stairs to Veliki Slap and the viewpoint after the bridge are our tops picks!
Every time we visit Croatia we are in awe of its beauty. Most people visit for the stunning blue Adriatic waters and medieval coastal towns, but in our opinion, a visit to Plitviče Lakes National Park is a must see!