I’m going to say something that should be beyond obvious to all but the most sheltered among us: Croatia is really beautiful. Like, bucket list beautiful. And visiting Plitvice Lakes should be at the top of everyone’s list of sights to see in this spectacular country. Over the past year, I have visited the park at least half a dozen times–it’s a must see for our visitors and as long as they’re already going, there’s no reason I should miss out! Here are my top five tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes.
1. Choose Your Season
Plitvice National Park is–hands down–one of the most beautiful sights in Europe. That said, a touch of the charm is diminished when you visit the lakes along side 145,000 of your closest, selfie stick wielding friends. (Seriously, what is with those stupid sticks? On one visit, I literally had to step over a girl who was laying across the boardwalk, dipping her-assumably waterproof-camera into the water to try to get a photo of a duck…) Luckily, there’s more months in the year than July and August! I am determined to visit the gorgeous park in every season–I love gazing upon the aqua pools of summer, but I am just as eager to enjoy the bright fall leaves, icy winter waterfalls, and first buds of spring. If the height of summer is your only option, the park is still spectacular, but if you have a chance to visit in the off season or on the shoulder season, take it!
The photos in this post are from our recent fall visit. We were a little late on the color front; almost all the leaves had fallen. But, the park was still beautiful. And-more importantly–quiet! We loved winding our way along the wooden paths and enjoying a peaceful picnic beside the lake without a selfie stick in sight.
2. Plan Your Route
Plitvice is big, and it’s best to decide ahead of time how much hiking you’re up for. You can find a map and series of suggested routes on the national park’s website. Hiking is a generous term for the trails, it’s mostly flat and more of a walk. We tend to start with the lower lakes and make our way up and then back around. Once we get to Kozjak lake, we skip the boat ride and stay to the right. Even in the height of summer, very few people hike this part of the trail. (Plus, you don’t have to wrestle any grannies for spot on the boat.) If you want to enjoy the beauty of the park but aren’t feeling up to a long walk, you can always take the shuttle from the parking lot to the top of the upper lakes and work your way down.
3. Arrive Early
This might seem obvious, but arriving early, before the first tour busses start pulling up. The park opens at 7, and it always seems like the busses start arriving around 9. Plus, in the height of the summer the park can be hot, so you’ll want to take advantage of the cool morning air. If you visit in the off season, arriving early is not so important.
4. Come Ready To Hike
Seriously. Wear normal sauce shoes, no stilettos, no platform espadrilles, no flip flops. You won’t be doing any *serious* hiking since it’s mostly a flat path, but depending on the water level the walkways can get a bit slippery and there are stairs, so proper footwear is advisable. If you take my advise in #3 and arrive early, you’ll also want to bring a light jacket (or a few layers depending on the season) to keep you warm in the early morning shade. There are a few places where you could stop to buy water along the way, but a water bottle will also come in handy.
5. Pack a Snack
This is solid advice for pretty much everything. Who doesn’t love a snack? What could be better than taking a break in the shade to enjoy a Nutella blondies, cherry pecan granola bar, or a slice of butternut squash galette? But seriously, there are a few stops along the way where you can buy ice cream (the entrance, while waiting for the tram, and right before the long boat ride) but otherwise there is nothing worthwhile to eat, and what could be better than enjoying a picnic along the lake?
Regardless of when you go, which route you take, or whether you pack a picnic, don’t miss out on visiting Plitvice Lakes. I’ve never left disappointed. It’s gorgeous all year round!