Plitvice Lakes National Park: Tips & Tricks

If you were a fish, Plitvice would be your paradise. The Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the top nature destinations in Europe, for all the right reasons. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are some hurdles to cross with entrance rules, so I’ll break this down for you in addition to describing the route options.

Accessible Travel Note: If you’re a wheelchair user, head to the bottom of this post for information about accessibility at Plitvice.

Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we’ll make a small commission at no cost to you. This is how we continue expanding the content on A Piece of Travel, so we thank you for your support.

Location of Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice is located inland, about halfway between Zadar and Zagreb. As such, it’s a popular day trip from these two destinations.

Map of the location of Plitvice Lakes National Park.

It’s possible to visit Plitvice in a day in places as far away as Split. However, you’ll be in for a 12+ hour excursion and not as much time to explore the park.

Plitvice vs. Niagara & Iguazú Falls

I’m all about setting the right expectations. It’s my job after all, as a travel blogger, to give you an honest and realistic account of a place.

Plitvice is gorgeous. However, if you’ve been to, or seen photos of, the Niagara and Iguazú falls, Plitvice is not like these waterfalls.

Niagara and Iguazú are immense in size and water volume. Plitvice is like a shorter, skinnier version of them but with shades of blue that more than make up for its smaller size.

Travel Tip: To see the falls when they’re looking their fullest, relatively speaking, aim to visit during, or preferably right after, the rainy season. May and early June are typically ideal times for good water volume and nice weather.

View of the Veliki Slap waterfall.

How to get to Plitvice Lake National Park

Driving to Plitvice will give you the most flexibility. There are two main entrances to the park, and most parking lots around these areas charge an hourly fee. You can read more about parking here.

If you’re among those without a car but don’t want to be on someone else’s schedule with a tour (that was me!), you can opt to take a bus. There are a variety of buses from both Zagreb and Zadar to Plitvice.

Buses go to both Entrance 1 and Entrance 2. Hang tight, because we’re going to talk about the differences between these two entrances soon.

Turquoise blue water at Plitvice Lakes National Park.

A note on bus tickets

If you’re traveling during the high season, buy your bus tickets in advance. A few days in advance should be fine, but if your travel dates are set, there’s no reason to wait to buy them.

Buying your bus tickets in advance is advantageous for two reasons:

  1. You get your pick of departure times. The earliest buses to Plitvice fill up first. Keep in mind the bus ride from Zadar is 1.5 hours and from Zagreb is 2+ hours, so having to take a later bus can really cut into your time at the falls.
  2. When leaving Plitvice, you’ll be the first allowed on the bus if you already have a ticket. So, you won’t have to fight the crowds for a good seat and, of course, you’re guaranteed a ride on the bus.

The bus stop at Plitvice for people departing the park is a scary sight during the high season. There was a shuttle bus sitting nearby the bus stop, so I’m inclined to believe that some who do not purchase their bus ticket in advance may need to pay for a more expensive, semi-private shuttle transfer for their return.

I booked my bus tickets through GetByBus.com. I like their website and use them for much of my Europe travels because they compile a variety of bus companies. This gives you the most flexibility with your time choices.

Your tickets from GetByBus.com will come in e-ticket form so there’s no printing necessary…just make sure to save enough battery on your phone after all your Plitvice picture taking.

Entrance 1 vs. Entrance 2

Stone pathway that leads from Entrance 1.

There are two main entrances at Plitvice Lakes National Park and depending on your situation, the difference between the two can be big. Let’s take a look at them.

Entrance 1

  • Direct access to the viewing area for the Veliki Slap Waterfall.
  • Best option for those with limited mobility.
  • Paths A, B, C and K begin from here.
  • “Green” route.

Entrance 2

  • Fewer people arrive through this point (relatively speaking).
  • Higher chance of ticket availability.
  • Paths E, F, H and K begin from here.
  • “Orange” route.

Unless you or someone you’re traveling with has limited mobility, most likely you’ll be better off entering Plitvice Lakes National Park through Entrance 2. That said, make sure you choose a path that includes a visit to the Veliki Slap Waterfall, as this is an absolute must-see at the park.

The “K” path being listed at Entrance 1 and Entrance 2 isn’t a mistake. We’ll cover the color coded routes shortly, but let’s first talk about park entrance regulations.

Entrance Rules at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Sunken boat at Plitvice Lakes National Park.

UNESCO is requiring a number of historical sites to revise and crackdown on their entrance polices with the goal of reducing foot traffic through the sites. As such, starting in spring of 2019, Plitvice Lakes National Park rolled out new entrance rules.

Let’s take a look at them.

Official Plitvice entrance policies

  • Tickets are limited to 10,000 a day.
  • Of these tickets, only a certain number are issued on an hourly basis.
  • You can only enter Plitvice within an hour of the start time indicated on your ticket. Example: For a 9:00am ticket, you can enter between the time of 9:00am – 9:59am.
  • You cannot exit and re-enter on the same ticket.
  • Once inside Plitvice, you can stay as long as you’d like, or until closing time, whichever comes first.
  • You can purchase your tickets online, but only up to two days before your visit. Otherwise, you must buy tickets in person.

What the policies are really like

I had firsthand experience with the disappointment of arriving to Plitvice ticketless, only to find out that the next batch of tickets…and the batch after that…were already sold out.

For context, I traveled in June, during the heart of the high season. I took a 5:45am bus from Zagreb, arriving to Plitvice Entrance 1 (first mistake right there!) just after 8:00am. Should there have still been tickets available for the 8:00am time slot, I could’ve marched right in.

Instead, my ticket was issued for 10:00am, since the 9:00am entrance was also sold out. I can’t imagine how long I would have had to wait to enter, if I’d taken a later bus.

However, it wasn’t all for nothing.

I stood by the entrance line listening to people’s questions and issues. Here’s what I gathered for you, dear reader.

Hourly Tickets

Not only are there a certain number of tickets issued for each hourly time slot, but of these tickets, they’re divided up between Entrance 1 and Entrance 2. Since Entrance 1 is the most popular option, there’s a higher chance of ticket availability at Entrance 2. “Hurry, there’s only 90 tickets left at Entrance 2,” is what Entrance 1 ticket guy told a group of visitors with a car about tickets for the current time slot.

Probability of tickets selling out

It isn’t common for the 10,000 entrance tickets to sell out entirely for the day. What is common is for the best time slots to sell out (i.e. The morning and early afternoon tickets). The reason being, of course, is that most people want to spend a full day exploring the park.

Ticket scanner shenanigans

The ticket scanner rules the roost. A man had to exit to get something in the car for his baby and wasn’t allowed to re-enter because the scanner wouldn’t let him. My entrance ticket was valid starting at 10:00am, but the ticket man said, “Let’s give it a try” at 9:50am and the scanner let me through.

Long story short, buy your tickets online and over two days in advance. You can do so here.

Prices vary according to season, with summer being way more expensive than winter.

Bring the voucher either printed or in e-ticket version the day of your Plitvice visit and you won’t have to worry about the information in this section at all!

Travel Tip: If you get in a bind and have to purchase your Plitvice Lakes National Park tickets in person, credit card and cash (Kuna only) is accepted.

Boardwalk with blue water on either side at Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Hiking paths at Plitvice Lakes National Park

If you’ve seen a map of Plitvice with its hiking options, your head may be spinning.

The good news is that the hiking paths were designed to both cater to people of different fitness levels and control the flow of crowds. That said, during high season, you’ll be hard-pressed to see the effects of crowd control.

Entrance 1 and Entrance 2 each have three hiking path options. The fourth option for both is path “K” which covers the entire route.

Paths are marked well with color coded signs according to entrances. Entrance 1 paths are color coded green and Entrance 2 paths are color coded orange. Path “K” is marked both green and orange, since the route is the same for both, just with two different start points.

Sign showing the different path options at Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Below is an overview of each of these routes.

Path A (Entrance 1)

Points of Interest: The easiest path that covers the most popular sites. Veliki Slap, Lower Lakes Canyon, Novakovića Brod Lake, Kaluđerovac Lake, Gavanovac Lake and Milanovac Lake, Kozjački Mostovi, and various caves in the Lower Lakes area (entering them is not allowed).

Time: 2 – 3 hours

Distance: 3,500 meters

Path B (Entrance 1)

Points of Interest: An extended version of Path A. Veliki Slap, Lower Lakes Canyon, transfer by electric boat across Lake Kozjak, panoramic train ride, a walk along the top of the eastern side of the canyon, and various caves in the Lower Lakes area (entering them is not allowed).

Time: 3 – 4 hours

Distance: 4,000 meters

Path C (Entrance 1)

Points of Interest: An extended version of Path B. Veliki Slap, Lower Lakes Canyon, transfer by electric boat across Lake Kozjak, a walk along the Upper Lakes, panoramic tourist train from the farther St3 station and various caves in the Lower Lakes area (entering them is not allowed).

Time: 4 – 6 hours

Distance: 8,000 meters

Electrical boats at Plitvice park.

Path E (Entrance 2)

Points of Interest: The easiest path available from Entrance 2. A walk to the P1 pier, transfer by electric boat across Lake Kozjak, a walk along the Upper Lakes to Labudovac, train from St3 to St2.

Time: 2 – 3 hours

Distance: 5,100 meters

Path F (Entrance 2)

Points of Interest: An extended version of Path E. A walk to the P1 pier, transfer by electric boat across Lake Kozjak, another boat from pier P2 to pier P3, Lower Lakes Canyon, various caves in the Lower Lakes area (entering them is not allowed), Veliki Slap, train ride from St1 to St2.

Time: 3 – 4 hours

Distance: 4,600 meters

Path H (Entrance 2)

Points of Interest: A train ride from the station St2 to St3, Upper Lakes, electric boat across Lake Kozjak from pier P2 to pier P3, Lower Lakes Canyon, various caves in the Lower Lakes area (entering them is not allowed), Veliki Slap, train to station St2.

Time: 4 – 6 hours

Distance: 8,900 meters

Path K1 & K2 (Entrance 1 & Entrance 2)

Points of Interest: The longest hike which will take you around the entire lake zone. The order of places seen will depend on where you start from, but all sites are visited regardless of from where you enter. Veliki Slap, Lower Lakes Canyon, various caves in the Lower Lakes area (entering them is not allowed), western shore of Lake Kozjak, eastern shore of Lake Kozjak by a quick electric boat transfer, eastern side of the Lower Lakes canyon.

Time: 6 – 8 hours

Distance: 18,300 meters

Travel Tip: For any of these routes that take you through Lower Lakes Canyon, make sure to take a detour where the sign reads “Big Waterfall.” The detour will take approximately 20 minutes round-trip and is one of the must-sees at Plitvice.

View of a waterfall at Plitvice Lakes National Park from the "K" route.
View of a waterfall at Plitvice Lakes National Park from the “K” route.

Accommodations

If you’re looking to stay near the park, there are three hotels by Entrance 2.

There’s also Camp Korana, which offers 500 camping spaces. Camp Korana is about 7 km from Entrance 1. Another campsite, Camp Borje, is about 15 km away from Entrance 2.

You can also find other hotels located in towns near Plitvice, which run along Grabovac Street.

And Don’t Forget…

Buy your ticket in advance.

If you’ve found this article helpful, it would mean so much if you use the link below to make your purchase. I’d make a small commission to keep this blog going at no extra cost to you.

Thanks so much for your support 🙂

Miscellaneous notes about Plitvice

Below are some items that didn’t have a particular place elsewhere in this post. I hope they help with your trip planning.

  • Free restrooms are located at Entrance 1 and Entrance 2. There are also few other public restrooms scattered throughout the park, all of which are free.
  • There’s a free luggage storage facility at the entrances. Careful, though. You’ll need to get the key from the information desk and will then have full, unattended access to all the luggage in the storage facility. Don’t leave anything behind that you aren’t willing to part with.
  • You can grab a free map from the information center, but the path details in it are limited. There’s also a detailed, 20 Kuna map, you can buy at the information center, a free Plitvice Lakes National Park app, or simply follow the (mostly well-marked) signs at the park.
  • There are some small snack stands/restaurants at the entrance and in sporadic areas of the park. Options are limited and expensive. Pack plenty of water and snacks so that you don’t have to rely on them.
  • Be careful on the wooden boardwalks. They aren’t marked where the stairs begin and blend in with the flat surface. I’d be interested in seeing statistics on how many people and cameras go flying into the water each year!
Boardwalk with hard to see steps.

Wheelchair Accessibility at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice has a long way to go with making the park accessible. Whereas the waterfall paths at Krka National Park had signs pointing to designated accessible paths, Plitvice lacks this entirely. The unfortunate reality is that there isn’t (yet) good infrastructure in place to make the paths accessible.

If you’ve got your heart set on seeing Plitvice, it is possible to do in a modified way. I recommend entering the park by means of Entrance 1. You’ll need to be let off on the sidewalk near the entrance to the park. From there, it’s an accessible entry into the park by means of a paved path.

You’ll be able to head to the uppermost lookout area over the famous Veliki Slap Waterfall. The view is stunning and one of the best lookout points in the entire park.

Best viewpoint of the falls.

Unfortunately, good accessibility ends there. There’s an uphill, gravel road that connects Entrance 1 with Entrance 2. However, if you embark on this adventurous path, you’ll get to enjoy more views of the lake.

The entrance for the restroom at Entrance 1 is accessible. However, the doors to the toilet are too small for a chair to pass through. Therefore, the restroom is only accessible for people who are able to get out of their chair and walk a few feet.

When researching accessibility at Plitvice Lakes National Park, I was blown away by Handi’n’Happy’s account of their experience. They tackled steep inclines, cobblestone, and stairs to get right down to the Plitvice boardwalks. I recommend reading about their experience on their blog.

Note: Head over to our post on Wheelchair Accessibility at Krka National Park, if you’re considering a visit to Krka.

Photo Essay

There are too many pretty angles at Plitvice to fit inside the body of a blog post. So, I hope you enjoy this photo essay!

A near empty wooden boardwalk at Plitvice Lakes National Park.
A near empty wooden boardwalk, which is a rare sight during high season.
Boardwalk following one of the smaller lakes.
A boardwalk following one of the smaller lakes.
This wooden boardwalk is used for the "K" path.
This wooden boardwalk is used for the “K” path.
A small waterfall at Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Small waterfalls like these are located throughout the park.
Good balance is required to walk the wooden boardwalks at Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Good balance is required to walk the wooden boardwalks at Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Fish can be seen everywhere at Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Look at the water anywhere in the park and you’re nearly guaranteed to see fish.
You can rent these rowboats to explore the lakes.
You can rent these rowboats to explore the lakes.
A quiet part of Plitvice Lakes National Park.
A quiet part of Plitvice Lakes National Park.
The park is full of boardwalks like this one.
The park is full of boardwalks like this one.
These signs show which lake you're at.
These signs show which lake you’re at.

Public Transportation in Croatia

Plitvice is stunning, but there are dozens of other beautiful destinations in Croatia worth exploring. Buses and ferries are known to fill in advance, especially during the high season for tourism, so I recommend booking your ticket in advance.

For great deals on public transportation in Croatia, I recommend checking out Bookaway. They’ll show you the bus and ferry times you have to choose from and they offer competitive rates.

Conclusion

Plitvice Lakes National Park is very much worth the hype…and jumping through some entrance rule hoops to visit. Do you have questions about visiting Plitvice? Or, do you have any recommendations from your time there? Feel free to leave a comment!

P.S.- If you’re considering a visit to Krka National Park, make sure to check out my post on taking a Day Trip to Krka. Can’t decide between the two? My guide on Krka or Plitvice: The Best Croatian Waterfall Experience can help you out.

Tagged , , ,