A Little Beauty… Visiting the Waterfalls of Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park

Last updated on August 31, 2023

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia is one of those places that absolutely and totally lives up to its hype—it is stunning. Just stunning. When I visited Croatia, my Croatia Lonely Planet at the time used a photo of this UNESCO World Heritage site as the main image to promote tourism to Croatia.

The cover image has changed now, but at the time of my first visit to Croatia, the country was only just entering the public mind. The captivating blue waterfalls of Plitvice were enough to compel most curious travelers to at least consider visiting Croatia.

Plitvice lakes national park in Croatia Guide
Gorgeous views of the turquoise lakes and small waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia.

But Plitvice Lakes was just the start of the reasons I wanted to backpack the country. Croatia boasts miles of coastline, other gorgeous waterfalls like Krka National Park, and the stunning city of Dubrovnik.

Truth be told, after skimming images of Plitvice Lakes, I didn’t even need the nitty-gritty travel planning details to know that I was adding Croatia to my round the world route, and I knew for sure that the country’s gorgeous waterfalls would be a highlight of my time there.

Where is Plitvice Lakes National Park?

A Croatian tree with a thought bubble!
Doesn’t it look like the tree has a thought bubble? Just one of the interesting sights hiking around the park.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is a beautiful natural area located in Croatia, in the Dinaric Alps region. The park is home to a series of 16 interconnected lakes and a large variety of plant and animal life. It is a popular tourist destination and is known for its stunning waterfalls and crystal clear lakes.

How to Get to Plitvice Lakes

The bus from Krka National Park dropped us off in the middle of dense and verdant forest—what a change from the gray and rocky coastline! It shocked my senses to find myself in the middle of such lush forest environment after weeks on an island near split soaking in the coastal waters and sunshine.

The last time I had hiked in a forested area was traveling through Nepal a month earlier when my cousin and I trekked in the Annapurna range.

The bus dropped us two kilometers from our guesthouse, but we were saved the hike by our kind guesthouse owner at Villa Jezerka—which is truly one of the best guesthouses in Plitvice and comes highly, highly recommended. The owner zipped up to the curb just as the bus pulled away.

We had taken several cramped buses all day, so it was a relief to drop our bags at the guesthouse and then frolic through the forest for a bit before dinner. Yes, I said frolic.

With a bit of fresh, cool forest air cleaning out our lungs, we all slept soundly. Visiting Plitvice is a trip into nature before you even arrive, and part of why we slept so well was due to the peaceful town and quiet atmosphere.

History of Plitvice Lakes National Park

Turquoise waters so unreal - one of my favorite plitvice images!
Turquoise waters so unreal. I can’t even. This is one of my favorite images from our day exploring the national park!

The history of Plitvice Lakes dates back to ancient times. The area was originally settled by Illyrian and Roman tribes, and later by Slavic tribes in the 7th and 8th centuries. The region has a rich cultural history and was part of the Kingdom of Croatia, the Ottoman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire at various times.

Plitvice Lakes was officially designated as a national park in 1949, and it has been a popular tourist destination ever since. The park is known for its stunning waterfalls and crystal clear lakes, which are formed by the karst topography of the region. The park is home to a variety of plant and animal life, including many rare and endangered species.

In 1979, Plitvice Lakes National Park was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, recognizing its natural beauty and cultural significance. Today, the park is a popular tourist destination, attracting millions of visitors each year.

How to Avoid Scams Entering the Park

view of several of the lakes and sets of watefalls

The next morning, my friends and I packed healthy snacks we had snagged at the store so that we could bring our own lunch into the National Park. As a vegetarian traveler, preparing my own food is not only easier, but cheaper, too. Plitvice is larger than Krka, so we packed a hearty lunch: hard boiled eggs, fresh bread, local cheese, and apples.

With our lunches stowed in daypacks, and with a bit of an adventurous skip in our step, we hiked to the entrance to the park on foot.

And we nearly got had by scalpers at the entrance. The scammers surrounded my cousin and pushed me and Jenn to the fringes while they tried to pressure her into buying a park ticket. Each one shared a sob story and a reason we should buy their ticket.

My cousin was overwhelmed—they had isolated her and bombarded her senses with too much information. But Jenn and I shook our heads when she looked at us with a questioning look. It didn’t feel right and we were all feeling hemmed in by their tactics, so Jenn and I grabbed my cousin’s arm, pulling her from their circle and refusing to make eye contact or respond to the scammers.

travel tip

How to Avoid Ticket Scalpers

The only way past the scammers at the Plitvice Lakes park entrance was to completely ignore the scalpers until we were safely ensconced in the ticket office. Just put your head down and walk past without eye contact or saying anything.

Additional Common Scams at Plitvice Lakes

Be cautious of street vendors: There are a number of street vendors in the area who may try to sell you fake or overpriced souvenirs. It is a good idea to be cautious of these vendors and to avoid purchasing items from them.

Beware of unlicensed guides: There are a number of unlicensed guides in the area who may try to charge you high prices for tours or other services. It is a good idea to book tours and services through reputable companies or agencies to avoid being scammed. You guesthouse is a good starting point.

Protect your valuables: Plitvice Lakes can get crowded, especially during peak tourist season. It is a good idea to keep an eye on your valuables and to be careful when carrying them. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and consider using a money belt or other security measures to protect your valuables (I love this money belt, which is just different enough that you might actually use it when not traveling—though it’s not quite as secure as a traditional money belt).

Use common sense: Trust your instincts and use common sense when visiting Plitvice Lakes. If something seems too good to be true or if you feel uncomfortable, it is best to avoid it.

Things to Do Inside Plitvice: Lakes, Waterfalls and Forest!

turquoise waterfalls at Plitvice
Gorgeous waterfalls and turquoise waters wait around every bend in the path when visiting Plitvice.

Once safely inside, we breathed deeply and calmed down. It’s nerve-wracking when they bombard with stories while entering your personal space. The ticket lady, however, was great. She helped us pick the four- to six-hour loop around the park, which was advertised as mildly strenuous but with beautiful viewpoints.

Like Krka National Park, boardwalks zig-zag throughout the entire park as a way to minimize the potential negative impact of the park’s growing tourism industry. Also like Krka, tourists fill every inch of the National Park during the summer months. But for good reason.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is indescribably pretty.

Each lake and waterfall dotting the park is distinctly different in color than the others because the living karst rocks and travertine dams shift and change.

Blindingly brilliant blue hues filled our walk. Vivid green plant-life and deep, blue-gray waters contrasted with azure lakes and turquoise waterfalls shimmering in the sunshine.

1. Hike the trails

A pretty path that hugs a stunning blue lake at Plitvice National Park
This pretty path hugs a stunning blue lake in Plitvice National Park. There were pretty fish visible from the path that bobbed at the surface to say hi.

The park is home to a network of trails that take you through the forests and along the lakes. The trails offer stunning views of the waterfalls and the surrounding landscape, and they are a great way to explore the park.

2. Take a boat tour

The park is home to a series of 16 interconnected lakes, and you can take a boat tour to explore them. The boat tours are a great way to see the park from a different perspective and to get closer to the waterfalls.

3. Visit the waterfalls

Croatia waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park
Waterfalls are one of the main reasons to visit Plitvice, and there are no shortage of them as you wander through the boardwalks.

The park is home to a series of stunning waterfalls, including the Great Waterfall, which is the highest waterfall in Croatia. The waterfalls are formed by the karst topography of the region and are fed by the clear waters of the lakes. The Plitvice waterfalls are a highlight of the park and are definitely worth a visit.

  • The Great Waterfall: The Great Waterfall is the highest waterfall in Croatia and is located in the upper part of the park. It is 78 meters (256 feet) high and is a spectacular sight to behold. The Great Waterfall is located near the entrance of Plitvice and is easily accessible by foot.
  • The Small Waterfall: The Small Waterfall is located in the lower part of the park and is a series of smaller waterfalls that flow into the Lower Lakes. The waterfalls are a beautiful sight to behold and are a popular spot for photography.
  • The Veliki Slap: The Veliki Slap is a large waterfall located in the lower part of Plitvice Lakes. It is 25 meters (82 feet) high and is a spectacular sight to behold. The waterfall is accessible by foot and is a popular spot for swimming in the warmer months.
  • The Galovački Buk: The Galovački Buk is a small waterfall located in the upper part of the park. It is a beautiful spot to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the region.

4. See the wildlife and nature

summer flowers in Croatia

The park is home to a variety of plant and animal life, including many rare and endangered species. Keep an eye out for birds, deer, bears, and other wildlife as you explore the park.

5. Relax by the lake

My bestie Jenn and I pause for a snapshot to remember our time!
My bestie Jenn and I enjoyed the day out in nature. We explored early in the morning and found it wasn’t too crowded, even though we visited in June. It was busy, but still peaceful.

The lakes in the park are crystal clear and are a great place to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the region. Pack a picnic and spend some time by the lake, or go swimming in the warmer months.

6. Visit the cultural and historical sites

The park is home to a number of cultural and historical sites, including the Plitvice Lakes Museum and the Ethno Village. These sites offer insight into the history and culture of the region and are a great way to learn more about the park.

8. Take a photography tour

The park is home to a variety of stunning landscapes and is a great place for photography. You can hire a guide or join a photography tour to learn more about capturing the beauty of the park on camera.

spontaneous hugging on the boardwalks
Sometimes when you’re in nature, spontaneous hugging at the Plitvice waterfalls is exactly what is called for.

Don’t forget to book travel insurance for your trip—a great policy provides coverage in case of medical emergencies, lost or stolen gear, adventure sports riders, and more. I’ve used IMG Global for more than a decade highly recommend it!

Leaving the National Park

At the end of the hike, which was mostly flat for hours, the path changed abruptly. We took a strenuous uphill ascent to the top of the park, and the views proved beyond worthwhile.

Shannon in front of one of the larger waterfalls!
We posed for a lot of pictures that day, even though I don’t often take a lot, because it was just so darn pretty!

One side of the peak contained a view over the largest waterfall in Plitvice Lakes. The other side provided dramatic views of several of the lakes in succession. All of the shots that look down on the lakes from above are a result of putting in the hard work of hiking to the top!

Since we were traveling other areas of Croatia, it was a long journey into the center of Croatia. It’s far removed from the beaches and coastline that many prioritize when visiting Croatia, but it’s stunning.

When we decided to take the time to visit, we didn’t know if it was worth visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park. A lot of places on this planet are pretty, but should you take the three-day break from beaches and sunshine to visit?

A resounding yes.

We walked back to our guesthouse in a daze after such a fun and pretty day. We made a pit-stop for ice cream and then ate it silently as we processed the brain overload of such blatantly gorgeous scenery.

Travel Guide and Tips: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Best Guesthouses

Budget: Most travelers will stay in Jezerce, which is 2km from the park. Of those many places there, Villa Jezerka is a great place for anyone visiting the area on a budget. They had a triple room, which sealed the deal for us, along with the free wifi and the assurance that we could walk to the park entrance.

Mid-range: If you’re more of a mid-range traveler, B&B Millennium was our runner-up choice and just gorgeous.

Recommended Guidebook

Rick Steves’ Croatia Guide is the best for an interesting history and neat activities—perfect if you are planning a mid-range trip or luxury. Rick Steves’ guides for Europe are usually spot on.

That being said, backpackers might want to stick with Lonely Planet Croatia. This guide has a better list handle on the nuts and bolt—train times, hostels, and budget travel to get you to and fro.

Cultural Reading

Pick up a copy of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. Part travelogue with a strong slice of the region’s history, you’ll enjoy insights from the region right as World War II began. This is a compelling way to read about Balkan history, though it can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction throughout.

Essential Travel Planning Resources

Yes, you need travel insurance.
IMG Global is the travel insurance I’ve used for well over a decade of traveling solo, and with kids. Here’s why.

🧳 Smart packing can save your trip.
Shop my favorite travel gear, including all of the packing essentials for world travel, gear to keep you safe on the road, my favorite travel books, and more.

🛏️ Find great accommodation.
Booking.com is essentially the only hotel booking site that I use. It has a wide and affordable selection of traditional hotels, but also hostels and vacation rentals, too. Use these pro tips to find the best travel accommodation.

📍Navigate more effectively.
Rome2Rio is super handy to assess the full range of transport options between two cities—shows everything from flights to trains, buses, minibuses, and more. If you’re booking a rental car, I’ve always found the best deals on RentalCars.com.

✈️ Book affordable flights.
Expedia is one of the first places I look for low-cost flights.

Peruse all of my tips for round the world travel, or learn how to move and live abroad.

Croatia Travel Guide

A download on everything I learned from backpacking across Croatia—including a lot of information on visiting the country’s national parks and places with immense natural beauty!

11 thoughts on “A Little Beauty… Visiting the Waterfalls of Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park”

  1. You forgot to mention the 42€ per person admission. Croatians themselves are upset about such greed. For less than that, a carload can visit Yosemite for a week and see more than just a collection of waterfalls. And I don’t remember paying anything to see Iguaçu.

    • Uff! That has gotten a lot steeper than it was a decade ago when I visited. I also see online that it’s only that price during the four months of summer high season, then it drops back down to under 100 HRK, less than $15. That’s good for travelers to note that the prices fluctuate a lot and it’s a much better value in shoulder and low season.Thanks for reporting back!

  2. Plitvice lakes are the most beautiful in the fall, when the leaves are yellow and red. It is also less crowded and easier to walk because it is not so hot

  3. One of the more stunning places I've been. Your great photos capture it well and I had a wonderful time photographing it too, including the same one overlooking the bottom four lakes!

    • Wow, the tone of your pictures is actually totally different than mine even! Just goes to show that the lakes really do look different every time you visit :-) Beautiful shots you took there :-)

  4. Wow, that place looks awesome. We’re definetly going to have to add that to our list of places to see. Good luck with your trip, it looks like it’s going well so far.

    • You should! Croatia has some really beautiful places – gorgeous, and Bosnia is right next door and one of my favorite countries!


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