Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia to see waterfalls and water in vivid shades of turquoise and green. The water is so clear you can see fish and rocks deep below. On a half-day trip, you can hike the forest trails, walk on wooden ramps suspended over the clear water, and take an electric boat ride across a lake. We almost passed on this Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I am so glad we changed our minds.
UNESCO World Heritage Site in Croatia
Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia to see crystal clear lakes and beautiful waterfalls, all in a huge rocky valley surrounded by woods.
The vivid greens and turquoise of the water are stunning. Unlike most lakes, the bottom is not mud and is not brown. Instead, the lake bottom is white rock – travertine, formed by chemicals in the water reacting with plant life and clinging to the rocks. Since the lake bottom is tan or white rock, the water is crystal clear, not muddy. To preserve the delicate chemical balance of the water, there is no swimming or boating.
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Over time, the travertine rock formed natural dams in the valley, creating skinny waterfalls over 200 feet high. The lakes and waterfalls are in two groups, the upper lakes and the lower lakes. The entire Park, about 74,000 acres, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Getting around the National Park in Croatia
You have to hike to get around the Plitivice Lakes National Park. The Park provides buses between some of the lakes. An electric boat ride across one of the lakes during twilight was a tranquil end to our day. But even with hopping onto the occasional bus or boat, expect to do several hours of walking and hiking during a visit.
Wear comfortable shoes. Drink water. For breaks, there are plenty of benches, vista spots, and a few places to stop for a snack. But the only way down to the water level is to hike, down and up.
How much time to allow
Depending on how much of the Park you want to explore, and how fast your group wants to walk, a half-day in the Park might be enough. Two half-days would allow you to cover most of the Park.
Where to stay in or near the National Park in Croatia
There are several hotels on the grounds of the Park, as well as camping grounds, small food stores, 2 restaurants, and several farm stands selling honey.
I highly recommend the Plitvice Miric Inn, the B & B where we stayed, located a mile from the Park. This family-run Inn has an Alpine feel, with clean mountain air and space for kids to run around, and 11 comfortable, unpretentious rooms. Both the father and daughter spoke excellent English. Everyone was friendly and welcoming.
For about $22 per person extra, be sure to reserve dinner at the Inn. You’ll linger over a 4-course gourmet meal, featuring organic produce, freshly caught trout, homemade desserts, good Croatian wines – and their housemade plum brandy.
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Our visit to the National Park was easier because the Inn gave us helpful advice about which entrance to the Park to use and how to avoid crowds. For $160 for 2 people, including the room, the enormous dinner, a filling breakfast buffet, and wifi, our stay at Plitvice Miric Inn was a delicious, relaxing bargain.
The Homeland War in Croatia
It is sobering to realize that this Park was a war zone in the 1990’s. Visitors to Croatia are helped by knowing a little of the country’s recent, tragic history, when it fought a war to become independent. On our drive from the coast, we passed through rural parts of Croatia, and saw many houses scarred by bullets and shells, lingering evidence of the war. During the Homeland War in the 1990’s, the Plitvice National Park region was occupied by Serbian troops.
Tips if you visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park
- The Park can be crowded with bus tours from late morning to late afternoon. In June, we entered the Park at 4 pm to avoid the midday crowds – and the midday heat. While there were plenty of fellow hikers, it was not crowded. At Big Falls at 5:30 p.m., the biggest attraction, there were only 15 people. And there was plenty of daylight to explore until the Park closed.
- This is a good destination for kids who enjoy hikes. While we did not have our kids with us, kids who are good walkers could easily handle the hiking. Frequent breaks and water would help kids make it through the visit. I would not recommend bringing toddlers or babies, though we did see some parents carrying tired toddlers or hiking with a baby in a backpack.
- How to get to the Park. We flew from our home in Philadelphia to Dubrovnik (you’d recognize it from Game of Thrones), and later rented a car in Croatia to drive from the coast inland to visit Plitvice National Park. You can also join a bus tour from a bigger Croatian city, like Zagreb, which is a destination in itself. Or hire a private guide. You will need to drive into the Park.
Does your family enjoy visiting national parks when you travel? Share an experience in the comment section below.