Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most stunning places in the world and in my opinion the best park in Europe. Covering over 73,000 acres, you’ll be hard press to find a more extensive nature preserve. After being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, Plitvice Lakes National Park has seen a boom in exposure and visitation. I had seen photographs of Plitvice for years on everyone’s “must see” list. Well I wasn’t disappointed. I planned ahead and arrived before the crowds and enjoyed some quiet and tourist free lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. Follow these tips and you can also. With 1.2 Million visitors a year you’ll need all the advance planning you can get.
HISTORY FACT: The first armed confrontation of the Croatian War of Independence that resulted in bloodshed happened here. Plitvice Lakes National Park was long held by the Serbian military until Operation Storm in 1995.
I can’t express how important this is. Simply put, you want to beat the tour groups. Although tour groups are good for some kinds of travel, Plitvice Lakes National Parks isn’t one of them. Tours start to arrive at the park around 10am. You should arrive around 7 or 8am at the latest. You’ll be able to take one of the longer routes and have most of the part to yourself with the exception of a few other early birds. The sun isn’t too strong and your photo opportunities are rarely spoiled by 12 people trying to get the same shot.
OR DEAL WITH THIS
Take a lunch and plenty of water
Some sandwiches and snacks. I took Peanut Butter and Jelly because they keep well. Trail Mix for energy. And a liter of water. The food areas are expensive and not very close together. It can be a couple hours trek between them on some trails. Be prepared. We stopped a few times for a quick sandwich and it was perfect. Take in the views during a makeshift picnic. Just make sure not to block the paths.
Be respectful and PATIENT
At times Plitvice Lakes National Park can get crazy. Thousands of tourist arrive every day. Some paths have you inches away from taking a dip in one of these magnificent lakes. While I visited there were only two group types there. Over 50 and under 12………imagine that. Not necessarily the fastest groups out there. Kindness is returned and most people will actively allow you to take the shot you want as long as you do the same.
Start at entrance no 2
Entrance no 2 is essentially the “back” part of the park if you’re coming from Zagreb. The traffic and crowds here are quite a bit lighter and you can see an good portion of the park undisturbed if you arrive early enough.
Save your shopping for later
Both entrances have souvenir shops. No point in shopping before you’ve toured the park. Just more for you to carry. There will be plenty of time after your feet are sore.
Take it slow, if you can
Plitvice Lakes National Park is best enjoyed slow. Even with the large crowds there are chances to slow down and take in the views. Sit down, eat a sandwich, and watch the waterfalls. Not only will you enjoy some stunning views but rest your weary feet as well
Use the park provided transportation………or not……..
The parks are easily traveled with free trucks and boats that transport guest from one side of the park to another. BUT the truly adventurous can explore the park entirely on foot. If you’re feeling brave make your own path, within the limits of course.
Watch the weather
Plitvice Lakes National Park is made up of 16 lakes and countless falls, rivers, streams, and pools. Guess what happens when it rains? You got it. Watch for heavy rains because certain parts of the park will close due to flooding. The day I visited one route was closed due to flooding. Remember, the paths are inches from the water.
Pack plenty of memory, film, and power
You’ll run out. Trust me. As someone that photographs for a living I even found myself pushing the capacity of my equipment. Take an extra battery and extra memory card. And don’t bring your laptop thinking you’ll have time to upload images. You won’t.
I recommend nylon over cotton. Especially for socks. NEVER wear 100% cotton while doing anything active. They absorb sweat. Merino wool and nylon.
Take a small jacket. The temperature constantly changes by a few degrees depending on your location in the park. Not to mention you’ll get so close to the falls you may get a bit of misting happening.
Don’t wear new shoes. Break them in a bit first. Some have recommended hiking boots/shoes but at Plitvice Lakes National Park they are completely unnecessary if you’re going to follow the paths. A few may be a bit wet with a stream or two but overall it’s a very easy stroll.
Stop taking pictures.
As with slow down, put the camera down. Sometimes you need to take a mental photo. Appreciate where and when you are. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in the world. Enjoy it.
Check out full res versions of my favorite shots from Plitvice Lakes National Park at my Smugmug.
High res images and prints available on Smugmug.