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Plitvice Lakes National Park Guide - Entrance 1 

Plitvice Lakes National park

Plitvice Lakes National Park is a true wonderland of nature, with its series of 16 terraced lakes joined by waterfalls dripping from the Tufa rock. Plitvice is one of Croatia's most popular places, drawing visitors from around the world to witness its unique landscapes and emerald green waters. It is truly one of the most beautiful places I have seen with absolutely breathtaking views and scenery. Croatia's oldest and largest national park, Plitvice is a gorgeous reserve of forests, lakes, caves, and waterfalls. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its unrivaled beauty and unique geological formations.The national park centers around the lakes that are grouped into an upper and lower cluster. The lakes are formed by the deposition of travertine, a form of limestone that accumulates as waterfalls and streams flow between each body of water. This creates vivid hues of blue, green, and grey in the lake waters that seem to change with every step. A unique boardwalk path winds for miles, allowing visitors to hike over and alongside the lakes while waterfalls flow nearby. 

Plitvice Croatia

In this blog post we will go over all the information you will need to visit this natural wonder. I will talk about the Plitvice entrance 1 (the best way to visit the park in my view) as well as touch on entrance 2. I will also discuss the different walking trails as well as how to get there, best time to go, how much time you will need and more. The official website of the park can be a bit confusing so I will try to simplify everything so you have all the info needed in one, easy to understand article.

A Brief History

While the lakes were formed over thousands of years from natural processes, the discovery and protection of the Plitvice area is more recent history. The lakes were "officially" discovered in the 1700s, though locals already knew of their existence. Scientists began studying the unusual geology in the late 1700s and King Karolj wrote about the beauty of the park in 1778. Enthusiasts lobbied for its protection throughout the 1900s until Plitvice was granted national park status in 1949. Today, over 1 million visitors per year come to marvel at this azure paradise. Whether hiking, boating, or simply admiring the views, Plitvice Lakes is a true gift of nature that every outdoor lover should experience. 

Plitvice waterfall

Place of War

The Battle of Plitvice Lakes In early April 1991 occurred as tensions were rising between Croatian secessionists and the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) which was still controlled by Serbia. A confrontation broke out in Plitvice Lakes National Park that helped spark the Croatian War of Independence. On Easter Sunday, April 7th, 1991, Croatian police moved to take control of the park's entrance from Serbian militants after there were reports of hostage-taking and roadblocks being set up in the area. This led to an exchange of gunfire with Serbian paramilitary groups in what became known as the Plitvice Lakes Incident, or Bloody Easter. Over the next couple days, the JNA sent in tanks and artillery against the Croatian forces attempting to secure the park and surrounding villages. This clashed with Croatian defenses supported by local police and civilians. While specifics are still debated, estimates suggest dozens were killed in the intense fighting around the park before a ceasefire took hold. The Battle of Plitvice Lakes proved to be the first major armed conflict following Croatia's declaration of independence earlier in 1991. Control over the popular national park and its surroundings carried symbolic importance for both sides. For Croatian nationalists, defending Plitvice represented protecting their sovereign territory and touristic heritage from Serb forces. Meanwhile, Serbian leaders saw maintaining presence at the UNESCO site as asserting Yugoslavia's claims over the breakaway republic.While the initial clashes were relatively contained, the events at Plitvice helped accelerate the escalation into all-out war across Croatia over the following months. Both the Croatian government and Serbian paramilitaries began mobilizing more forcefully.

To this day, Plitvice still bears some scars of the conflict on park infrastructure and buildings caught in crossfires. However, the area has bounced back remarkably as a peaceful nature reserve and top tourism draw once again. Walking around this remarkable area, it is hard to imagine it ever being anything but the peaceful and serene place it is now. 


Getting there

Located in central Croatia, Plitvice Lakes National Park can make for the perfect day trip or multi-day excursion from cities like Zagreb, Split, or Zadar. However, getting to the park requires some advance planning depending on your starting point and transportation preferences. 

By Car

Driving is the most convenient way to reach Plitvice Lakes. If you have a car it is an easy day trip from Zagreb taking about 2-hours via the A1/E65 highway. From Split on the Dalmatian Coast, it's around 3 hours heading north on the A1. If you are coming from Rovinj on the Istrian peninsula, it is also about 3 hours using the E65 and the E71.  The state road D 492 passes through part of the park ang goes by the two main entrances. Having a car allows you to explore the different park entrances at your own pace as well as giving you the freedom to arrive and depart on your own schedule. 

There are three main parking lots right next to the entrances - Entrance 1 for the Lower Lakes area, Entrance 2 for the Upper Lakes section, and Entrance 3 as another Upper Lakes access point. Parking fees are around 1 EURO per hour.

Plitvice Lakes

By Bus

Catching a bus from Zagreb to Plitvice is relatively easy and affordable. Buses depart regularly from the Zagreb bus terminal to Plitvička Jezera and take around 2.5 hours each way. You can buy tickets ahead of time online. Bus stops are located close to entrance 1 and entrance 2. 

From other cities like Split, Rijeka or Zadar, you'll need to transfer buses, so it becomes a longer journey of 4-5 hours each way. Once at Plitvice, there are complimentary shuttle buses connecting the different entrances so you don't have to do much walking between sections. The stops look like little log cabins.

By Train

There is no direct train service directly to Plitvice Lakes National Park. The closest train station is in the town of Zagreb from where you'd need to take a bus the additional 2 hours to the park entrance.

Plitvice water

Guided Tours

If you don't want to worry about logistics, joining an organized tour from major cities like Zagreb, Split or Dubrovnik is convenient. Many tour companies offer single and multi-day guided tours that include round-trip transportation, a guide, park entrance fees, and sometimes meals. Tour buses follow a set route and schedule within the park to see the main sights at the Lower and Upper Lakes areas. While more expensive, tours allow you to sit back and simply enjoy the scenery without any transportation hassles.

Storing luggage

There is a place at both Entrance 1 and Entrance 2 to store luggage free of charge. It is usually kept in a locked room with other luggage. If it makes you nervous that the bags are not in separate lockers, bring a luggage lock. 

Plitvice Lakes National Park croatia

Best time to go

High season is during the summer months of July and August. During these peak times the park can get extremely busy and parking lots can fill up. Spring and Fall are the best times to go as the weather won't be as hot, the crowds will be thinner and prices cheaper. Between the two, I think Fall is the best time to go. The weather is more predictable and you will still have leaves on the trees into October. If you go in March or April the trees may still be bare and the weather is more unpredictable. The winter months at Plitvice are a different and unique experience. During the coldest months the falls will freeze bringing a different beauty. The crowds will be small, making the park peaceful and serene. Some of the hotels and restaurants will be closed plan carefully. Also, make sure to dress warmly and wear shoes with good grip as the trails can be snowy and icy.  

If you are arriving during the peak season, it is a good idea to arrive early in the day to avoid the worst of the crowds. Parking lots can fill up so arriving early will ensure you get a spot if you are driving. Try to arrive in the area the night before so you can be at the park when it opens before the tour buses arrive. 

Just as a reference, the pictures taken in this post were shot at the end of March.

waterfalls in plitvice

Sleeping and Eating

There are four main hotels in the area: Hotel Jezero, Hotel Plitvice, Hotel Grabovac and Hotel Bellvue. Hotel Jezero is the only one that stays open all year round. You can also find air BNBs available in the area as well as a couple of campsites. 

There are a number of restaurants both in the park and in the surrounding area ranging from more upscale to snack bars.  There are restaurants in Hotel Jezero and Hotel Plitvice. Many of the restaurants in the park only take credit cards for payment so make sure to bring one. Packing a picnic is another great option as there are plenty of beautiful picnic spots. 

How much time do you need?

With 13 miles of trails within the lake system, and an additional 22 miles of additional hiking trails, there is plenty in the area to keep you busy, however you can see many of the most popular sights in a day. If you have more time, want to take it slower, or are a big outdoor adventurist, stay for a second day to explore some different routes and hiking trails. If you have even more time in the area, there are many other activities available. Depending on the time of year you are visiting there is horseback riding, rowing, cycling, exploring caves, skiing and sledding.  

Plitvice waterfalls

Tickets and Hours

The park is open year-round, 365 days a year, but hours vary seasonally. From April through October, gates open around 7am and closing times range from 6pm to 8pm but check on the Plitvice Lakes National Park website as the opening hours may change. There are also different hours for the parking lots, entrances, the electric boat and the panoramic train so make sure you understand all of that before you arrive. 

Also make sure to check out the official website to see the latest information as sometimes trails close due to weather conditions or other events.

Ticket prices also vary depending on the time of year. In the summer season (beginning of June to end of September) they are 40 EURO for adults. Entry tickets in the Spring and Fall are 23 EURO and tickets in the winter are 10 EURO. There are discounted prices for students, children and groups. There are two-day tickets available as well. Those are 60 EURO in the summer, 39 EURO in the Spring and Fall and 15 EURO in the winter. Although there is a ticket booth where you can buy tickets when you arrive, I would strongly recommend buying tickets ahead of time online as they can sell out. It will also let you avoid long lines when you arrive. Your ticket includes entrance, and transportation on the boat and panoramic train/shuttle bus. 

You purchase tickets for a specific time slot and entrance (either entrance 1 or 2 - info about entrance 3 further down in this post).

entrance 1 plitvice

Main entrances

To best experience all the park has to offer, it's important to understand the different entrances and the sections of the park they provide access to. Each one offers a different experience. I am going to really simplify these routes because they can be a little confusing at first glance making it difficult to decide which one will be the best option. I strongly advise figuring out your route before you arrive in the park so you don't feel overwhelmed. 

There is a map of each of the different routes on the park website. When you are looking at the maps, the STE1, STE2, and STE3 indicate the stops for the panoramic train and the P1, P2 and P3 indicate the boat terminal. The trail routes on the map go counterclockwise from entrance 1 and clockwise from entrance 2 but you can go either way. Both the panoramic train and the boat rides carry passengers both ways. 

Plitvice Entrance 1 ​(Entrada Sjeverna): The North Entrance

Entrance 1 is located close to the nearby villages of Rastovaca and Plitvica Selo. In my opinion this is the best entrance into the park. This entrance is closer to the start of the trails providing easy access to the sites but still gives you options to see all the different parts of the park. It is only about a two minute walk from the parking lot to the entrance. There is also a great viewing platform to see the largest waterfall and look down on part on the park.

Plitvice waterfall

Routes from Entrance 1

From Entrance 1, you'll have a few routing options to explore the park. All trails are very well marked and maintained, many with wooden plank paths. From the entrance you will have the choice of 4 walking routes that will be marked in green. 

Program A is the first option. Taking 2 to 3 hours, this is the shortest route available at entrance 1 and the least demanding. This is a loop that lets you see the Great Waterfall or Veliki Slap which is the largest in Croatia, before it takes you through the lower lakes canyon and by many of the most visited sites. Just a side note. To get to Beliki Slap on any of the routes you have to take a short detour. It is well marked though so it is easy to find. 

Program B will take 3 to 4 hours. This is a popular route in the park. It begins with the lower lakes section of program A but then adds an electric boat ride across the largest lake in the park, a panoramic electric vehicle ride and a walk along the edge of a canyon. This route takes you by many of the main sites and is doable in a day without being overwhelming.  This is the best route if you want to see as much as you can but don't want to be in the park all day.

My favorite route - Program C will take 4 to 5 hours. It begins the same as program B with added hiking trails and panoramic vehicle rides showing you the upper lakes. In my opinion, this is the best route. I would advise you not to miss the upper lakes as they are truly gorgeous and have a number of falls to see. On this route you will be able to see all the main falls, the lower lakes and upper lakes and enjoy relaxing on the public transport.  This  train ride most of the way back so don't worry about going too far and having to walk back to the entrance. 

The K1 program is the 4th trail available at entrance 1. This route is basically Program C (slightly different) but instead of the boat and panoramic rides, more of it is done on foot. This route will take 6 to 8 hours. 

boat in Plitvice

Plitvice Entrance 2 Entrance 2 (Hižoljeska): The Upper Lakes south entrance

This entrance is slightly quieter and gives you more direct access to the upper lakes. You can still access all of the park but you have to walk a little bit to get to the routes. It is about a 15 minute walk from the parking lot to the entrance. This might not seem like a big deal when you start, but after a long day of walking you might not want to walk farther to the parking lot. This entrance is closer to most of the hotels though, so it may be more convenient if you are staying in one of those. There are 4 different hiking trails or routes from this entrance as well which are marked in orange.  

Program E just takes you around the upper lakes. If you are staying more than one day this might be a good option. You could do program E one day and program B from entrance 1 a different day. This would also be a good option if you don't have much time or have mobility issues.  Program E will take about 2 to 3 hours to complete. 

Program F is pretty much the same as program B but you start from entrance 2 instead. Again, this just means you have to walk a little further to begin the route. 

Program H is mostly the same as program C (slightly different), just beginning at the different entrance.

Program K 2 is the same as K 1 but starting from entrance 2.

There is another checkpoint available at entrance 2 called the flora auxiliary entrance. It is closer to the hotels but is still considered entrance 2 when purchasing tickets. 

view of plitvice

Entrance 3 (Pokupska): The Backdoor to the Upper Lakes

While not as popular as Entrances 1 and 2, Entrance 3 provides another way to access the Upper Lakes region from the southwestern side. This entrance is quieter and makes for a different perspective for hiking the trails compared to starting from Entrance 2. This entrance isn't even specified on the official website. If you are wanting to use this Plitvice Lakes entrance, purchase your ticket for either entrance 1 or 2 as entrance 3 will accept either. 

There is a small parking lot at Entrance 3, but no other major facilities.

Plitvice is a unique and fascinating place that you will not forget. The vibrant colors, interesting formations and beautiful falls are truly remarkable. Make sure this stunning national park makes it on your Croatia itinerary.

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May 24

This is such a good, informative overview for visiting this World Heritage Site! It answers all the hows, wheres, whys and whens you need to know for an uncomplicated experience in Plivice National Park. Thank you for this!

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