This page contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, if you click a link and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
Plitvice Lakes is like something from a fairytale…the cascading waterfalls of the 16 lakes are nothing short of breath-taking. There are a total of 90 waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park! However, it can be overwhelming to try to navigate the lakes and decide which route is best. The routes through the park are lettered A through K – which definitely illustrates just how enormous this incredible national park is. This guide to Plitvice Lakes will help you to navigate this incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When to Visit Plitvice Lakes
This wouldn’t be the ultimate guide to Plitvice Lakes if I didn’t recommend the best time to visit the park. We took our trip in the fall, early October to be specific. It was pretty cloudy and rainy the entire trip but there was also a minimal amount of people at the park. While the weather is better in the summer – the park gets incredibly crowded – which is especially painful on the narrow walkways. And crowds mean you can’t get photos like these:
This is Veliki Slap AKA “the Big Waterfall”. Photos can’t do justice to how massive this waterfall is. Fair warning: if you go for this photo – you WILL get drenched.
Yes, the boardwalks were really this empty through almost the entire park.
Summer is peak season for Plitvice Lakes so fall or spring are better times to visit to avoid crowds. Personally, I’d love to go back in the winter for the chance of seeing the park as a frozen winter wonderland (Check out this blog post from the Ginger Wanderlust to see what I mean).
But the fall colors at Plitvice Lakes were to die for – I imagine it would be even better in late October/early November.
Where to Stay at Plitvice Lakes
There is no shortage of accommodation near Plitvice Lakes National Park. There are hotels, cabins, campsites, Bed and Breakfasts, and glamping spots all around the park and even inside the park.
If we’d been at Plitvice Lakes in the spring or summer, we would have camped. But be aware that camping here is more expensive than camping in the US – check carefully for additional fees. Expect added cost per person, per night, per tent, etcetera. We stayed at Hotel Palcich, just a couple miles from Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Hotel Palcich was the perfect choice for us on our trip to Plitvice Lakes. It was overcast and raining our entire stay, which meant the sauna and hot tub were incredible! They also gave us a random upgrade upon check-in to a room with an amazing view.
The Best Route Through Plitvice Lakes
As I said at the beginning, Plitvice Lakes has routes from A through K – with lengths ranging from one kilometer through twenty. The entirety of Plitvice Lakes National Park totals a whopping 296 square kilometers. It can be just a tad bit overwhelming to decide which route is best for you. I referenced Earth Trekkers guide to Plitvice Lakes and pretty much followed their advice on what routes to follow through the park. What follows is a combination of a few different named routes through Plitvice Lakes. I’m super thankful to Julie and Tim over at Earth Trekkers for their guide to the absolute perfect route through Plitvice Lakes.
Start at Entrance One
There are two entrances to Plitvice Lakes. I recommend you start at Entrance 1, so that you’ll be walking towards the waterfalls throughout the day. This will start you off at the lower lakes and give you the incredible view I mentioned in my first picture as soon as you walk in the entrance of the park.
From Entrance 1 you’ll simply follow the signs to Veliki Slap – the Big Waterfall. ‘Slap’ means waterfall in Croatian and Slovenian. We actually went to Slovenia the month before and it quickly became our favorite word!
Even the approach to Veliki Slap is incredible. Be warned though – if it is a rainy, or even just a windy day – you WILL get soaked on your way down to, and in front of this waterfall. But still – worth every second!
A Slight Detour on Your Route Through Plitvice Lakes
Once you’ve gotten your fill (and all your photos!) of the Big Waterfall, double back and continue on the boardwalks (follow signs towards routes A, B, C, K), you’ll pass by some smaller waterfalls on your right and then you’ll see a pathway up into a cave – Supljara Cave. We almost didn’t take this detour since it was sprinkling and the path was SUPER slippery (my fear of heights almost got the best of me) – but I promise this is 1000% worth the climb! This is where you’ll get the postcard picture view over Plitvice Lakes! Would this even be a guide to Plitvice Lakes if I didn’t tell you how to get this spectacular view?
Tell me this view isn’t to die for! The climb up through the caves takes 10 to 15 minutes at most – but there are a couple narrow and steep staircases that are pretty slick when they’re wet. This is the most strenuous part of the hike, but worth every second of it for this overlook of the lakes!
After the caves and amazing views, continue along the route you were already following. Continue up the trail towards Lake Kozjak but rather than crossing the lake when you come to the bridge – follow the signs toward the shuttle bus stop (ST1). I usually refuse to take short cuts on hikes as I’m terrified of missing anything (FOMO, anyone?) but I promise you it’s necessary when visiting a park as massive as Plitvice Lakes. Especially if it’s cold and wet like it was when we visited.
Take the shuttle bus to stop 3 (ST3), you’ll probably have to switch buses at stop 2. Stop 3 will put you at the far end of the upper lakes and you’ll then follow signs for program H, back towards Lake Kozjak. The upper lakes feel like they’re an entirely different world from the lower lakes. The first part of your hike through this section of Plitvice Lakes National Park is full of serene lakes. Don’t worry though, there are still plenty of waterfalls ahead of you!
I truly enjoyed the serenity of this area of the upper lakes though, along with the boardwalks shaded by beautiful greenery. I loved how vibrant the trees still looked in the fall, despite the smattering of colored leaves cloaking the boardwalks and ground.
You’ll continue along route H back towards Lake Kozjak for the duration of this portion. You should be heading towards the boat dock to take the electric boat to P3. Once you take the boat back to P3, you can head back to entrance 1. On the way back, you’ll see a road to the left of the trail which you can follow to get an incredible overview of the lakes – the postcard picture view over both the upper and lower lakes. You can also drive to this viewpoint if you’re too tired or it’s just too cold and wet like it was when we visited Plitvice Lakes.
Guide to Plitvice Lakes: Bonus Tips!
These are some helpful tips we wish we’d known prior to our visit to Plitvice Lakes.
- Bring a jacket. Even if it’s not chilly or raining, it might throughout the day, and it’s way cooler down in the valley near Veliki Slap. Especially if you visit in the fall, in which case you should DEFINITELY…
- Bring an umbrella. Even if there’s only a slight chance of rain – you might get soaked going down to Veliki Slap if it’s overcast, especially if you want that photo directly in front of it.
- Use the bathroom every chance you get. I know this one sounds silly but this actually ended up being a problem for us while we were visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park. Even if you see a sign that says there’s a bathroom in a certain direction – it could be a WHILE before you actually reach that bathroom.
- Bring food with you to save some money. Most of the restaurants in Plitvice Lakes National Park are overpriced and sub-par at best – we enjoyed getting some mulled wine but I didn’t even finish my food because it just wasn’t good.
Things to do Beyond Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Believe it or not – there are things to do outside of Plitvice Lakes National Park! Number one in this guide to Plitvice Lakes has to be the Barac Caves. This incredible system of caves is home to bat colonies and literal centuries of human history. Plus the skeleton of a prehistoric bear. So that’s super cool. Some other things to do near Plitvice Lakes National Park include rafting, an adventure park, horseback riding, and a deer park!
The Barac Caves were such an amazing experience. Your guide will lead you through the caves to the point photographed here – which is when you realize that you’ve only traversed the beginning of the cave! The tours don’t go past this point though – but there are still archaeologists exploring the depths of the cave. Once we reached the back of the cave for the tour, our guide asked everyone to stay still, turn off all lights and put phones away, and then he turned off the lights. The darkness was so complete: it was like you could physically feel it. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. It made my husband and I eager to explore more caves!
The Barac caves are also home to a few hundred bats, which you’ll spot throughout the caves. They hibernate in the winter, so the caves are closed from November through February in order to protect the bats.
And that concludes this ultimate guide to Plitvice Lakes National Park! Have you been to Plitvice Lakes? Let me know in the comments if you have, and if not – where in the world are your favorite waterfalls?
Like This Post? Pin it for Later!
- The Ultimate Guide to Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Christmas in London – Where to Find the Best Lights and Markets
- Tucson Food Tour – A Taste of the UNESCO City of Gastronomy
- Verona Food Tour – A Unique Experience in the City of Love
- Sentiero Dei Grandi Alberi – A Hike Through the Big Trees in the Little Dolomites, Vicenza, Italy
I’ve heard about the remarkable waterfalls here and your photos are proof. The colours in Autumn are stunning.
To be honest this park is absolutely amazing! this has been on my bucket list soooo long! Croatia is such a beautiful country, Slovenia deserves a visit too! I hope I can do it someday! Thanks for the guide and the tips!
What an incredible area to explore! I loooove the look of Plitvice Lakes National Park, especially in the autumn with that slightly eerie feeling with the wonderful wet landscape! It must be so different (and busy) on sunny summers days…
OMG – those waterfalls! Just stunning! I’ve never heard of this park before but now I’ve pinned it on my google maps – this is a must-see!
Yes, it is definitely one of my favorite trips ever! Plitvice Lakes is like something from a fairytale!
What amazing scenery! It certainly seems that you had good advice about the best route to take to experience the highlights of the park and great that there are also shuttle buses to take you to different areas within the park. Suplijara Cave definitely looks like a detour worth taking!