I have been intrigued with Plitvice Lakes National Park ever since I started seeing spectacular waterfall pictures on Instagram. Before that, I had never heard of the place, nor was Croatia on my radar. After ten years of salivating at Lord of the Rings like waterfalls, I finally decided to visit Croatia and check mark hiking Plitvice Lakes National Park off my bucket list. It definitely lived up to the hype that had built up in my mind.
Planning for hiking Plitvice Lakes National Park
Normally, I do some research and planning when visiting a national park. Some places like Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica or places in Africa require extensive planning and advanced reservations. It seemed like this was not necessary with Plitvice National Park, so I just decided to show up. I did make reservations for the park a day in advance, and I did book a hotel inside the park; however, since I was visiting in mid November, I did not think it was necessary to do anything more. It might be a good idea to plan and book lodging in advance if going in the summer, but for off season travel, one can easily just show up and figure it out from there.
Bus from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes
I used the website, Get by bus to purchase a bus ticket from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes. The cost was 16 U.S. dollars, and I downloaded the ticket to my phone. The bus station was a 15 minute walk from the Hotel Dubrovnik, where I was staying in the main square of Zagreb. I downloaded a picture of the QR code for my ticket, and the conductor scanned my ticket. It might cost a Euro or two extra for luggage. I placed my backpack in the compartment under the bus, and the conductor either did not see it or he did not want to bother shagging me down for more. He did ask for a Euro a piece from a couple boarding ahead of me for their backpacks. The bus trip to Plitvice was rural and scenic once we left Zagreb.
I decided on a 10:30 a.m. departure because I wanted to take advantage of the breakfast buffet at my hotel. Also, I was staying at a hotel inside the park, so I knew I would not be able to check in early. There was a 5:45 a.m. departure if you want to get to the national park first thing in the morning. Plitvice Lakes National Park opens at 8:00 a.m. in the winter and spring and 7:00 a.m. in the summer and fall. The trip is about 2.5 hours long.
Arrival at Plitvice Lakes National Park
I was staying at Hotel Jezero, so I should have gotten off at the second bus stop in the park, but I got off at the first one by mistake. I went to the front gates, and the lady at the front gates scanned my ticket. Unfortunately, I bought a ticket for entry for the next day instead. The lady said this would be no problem. She instructed me to forward my email with the ticket to the park’s email and ask for a new ticket with today’s entry. I did this and within 5 minutes, I had a new ticket. The lady at the front was super nice and helpful and spoke perfect English.
Next, I needed to find my hotel. I asked the super friendly lady how to get there. She said I needed to walk the trail for 20 minutes to station one, wait for the shuttle, and go to station 2. I did this and within 20 minutes I was at the station. The shuttle comes about every 15 minutes, and soon enough the shuttle was there to pick me up. At station two, my hotel was a ten minute walk away. Convenient signs lead me up the hill to Hotel Jezero.
Related: Kaieteur Falls video and photo essay
Veliki Slap Waterfall overlook
The trail I took from the entrance gate to station 1 overlooked the lower lakes and the most prominent waterfall in the park. Veliki Slap is the highest and arguably the most beautiful waterfall in the park. The weather was cold, rainy, and misty, but despite the terrible conditions, the view was amazing. A foggy mist hovered over the falls, making it even look more otherworldly. I had only been in the park for 20 minutes, but the scenery was already incredible. The trail also overlooked the falls between the lower lakes. The twenty minute walk to the station turned into a 30 minute walk with all the stops and picture taking.
Hotel check-in and Lower Lakes hike
Since it was November, I did not have much time before the park closed and night fell. The last shuttle runs at 3:30, so whatever trail you take, you have to finish before 3:30 or walk back to your lodging by yourself. I put my stuff in my room, changed into my hiking gear, and proceeded to head back to Station one and hike the lower lakes. There are two entrances to the park. The first entrance is the lower lakes and the second entrance is the upper lakes. Any time you enter the park, you have to get your ticket scanned. They have maps that show the different hikes you can take depending on what entrance you come through.
I choose Trail A as it was listed as 2-3 hours. By the time I got to the trailhead, I only had an hour and a half, but the ranger said I could easily finish in that time. Trail A is a loop that starts and ends at Station one, and I had to get back to the beginning to take the shuttle back to my hotel at Station two by 3:30. This turned out to be no problem as I made it back to the trailhead with about ten minutes to spare.
Hiking Plitvice Lakes National Park Trail A
Trail A descends from the heights to lake level, and crosses the lake via a boardwalk. This crossing is right in front a series of waterfalls that descend into the lake on the other side. Then the trails weaves its way along the shoreline and then takes hikers right in front of Veliki Slap Waterfall. As the trail bends around the corner to view Veliki Slap, the water from the lake drops into a gorge on the right, so hikers are basically surrounded by waterfalls. The name of the falls going from the lake into the gorge is called Stastavci Falls.
Due to the rain, cold, and late hour, there was no one else on the trail. This hardly ever happens as this is the most crowded area of the park. I went back to this area earlier in the day two days later, and there were many groups of Japanese and Korean tourists as well as many other pairs and groups. It would have been nice to see the sun while I was in Plitvice, but I did not mind having the supremely beautiful area to myself.
Veliki Slap Waterfall
After admiring the ring of waterfalls, I continued on to gape at Veliki Slap. The trail loops past Veliki and a small spur trail goes off and dead ends practically right in front of it. I took some pictures including a selfie or two and moved on. Veliki Slap is actually more interesting and photogenic the farther you get away from it, but it is still amazing to stand below it and listen to it roar.
Lower Lake falls
I crossed back over the lake and took the trail up through the lower lakes. There are four lower lakes all in a row, and each one is slightly higher than the one below. Therefore, there is a waterfall between each lake. I hiked up past a couple of these falls, and then turned around to head back to the trailhead as I had to get back to Station I by 3:30 to get the last shuttle back to Hotel Jezero. If I failed in this pursuit, it would have been a long walk back.
I made it back to the hotel and rested for day two. Staying at Hotel Jezero made it even more convenient for hiking the upper lakes. The trailhead is just below the hotel and a 20 minute ferry takes you to the start of the trail, but that is a blog for another day.