Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It feels like a dream walking over turquoise waterfalls stretching out as far as the eye can see. How could anywhere be this beautiful? Kids will never forget skipping along boardwalks and bridges and discovering waterfall after waterfall. The water is so clear you can see every living organism up close and personal. Plitvice has 16 interconnected lakes, four different trails, seven paths to explore, and two different entrances. This sounds cool but overwhelming, right? I researched our trip to Croatia for many weeks. After reading every blog and travel manual, I figured out what I thought would be the easiest and most enjoyable way to tour this H2O dream. Here is how our family of 6 avoided crowds and ended up having a magical day at Plitvice National Park...
Plitvice Lakes National Park became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979. In my opinion this is like ringing a dinner bell to every wanderlust enthusiast in the entire world. Bring on the bus loads tourists. In retrospect, without the instagram shots and crowds of tourists, I may have never discovered this treasure. It's just important to plan your trip out in advance to beat the crowds.
When looking up Plitvice Lake you will see different paths. We chose path H which involves taking the shuttle from entrance 2 to the top of the upper lakes. You will walk along the upper lakes until you reach Kozjak Lake. There are little boats waiting to take you down to the lower lakes. You will walk through morebeautiful waterfalls until you reach entrance 1. Here you take a shuttle back to your car parked at entrance 2.
Your hike/walk is 9 km and will take about 3 hours. Most people say it takes a lot longer, but kids are less likely to stop for long periods of time to take in the view
Why start at Entrance 2?
You beat the crowds who mostly start at entrance 1. And going from top to bottom means we walked down hill the entire time. The last bit near entrance 1 requires a steep walk up to the parking/shuttle pick up. The majority of the hike is downhill and full of the same stunning views as starting from entrance 1..
How we beat the crowds?
Start your day with the sun. Plitvice opens at 7. Park in Entrance 2. Get there when it opens. Book your ticket in advance and wait for the first shuttle to the upper lakes. We were staying in Ljubljana, Slovenia so we woke up at 5 am to get there when it opened.
Once you get on the shuttle, you will start to see glimpses of turquoise water amidst beautiful trees and your excitement turns into adrenaline.
Do not doddle and look at the map when you first get off he bus. Tourist bus' will be pulling up and everyone on the bus will stop and look at the map and gather their things leisurely. No time for that people! If you've read this blog or done your research, proceed directly to signs for start of lake trail H. I told the kids to run ahead of everyone quickly. Five minutes before getting off, I warned them, "when this bus stops we are going to run and get to the start of that hike." Sound hectic? It wasn't and the kids found it to be a hilarious challenge that they were happy to accept. We ended up with the views and trail mostly to ourselves.
When you see tourists ahead slowly taking pictures, I would tell my kids to speed up and pass them so we could get to a part of the path without a lot of tourists. If you can pass people, pass them. You do not have to wait for every single person in front of you to take 500 pictures.
Starting at the top of the upper lakes we walked over the waterfalls with plenty of time to look back at the waterfalls from the front.
Seeing as the lakes are irresistibly clear, it is very tempting to hop in, unfortunately swimming is forbidden. Our kids loved peering into the crystal clear water and seeing fish, plant life and dipping their fingers in.
Be careful where you step because the boardwalks and bridges are narrow and kids will love to skip and run along them. My children were born with gills, so the hubs and I had to remind the kids several times that they could not go swimming. Because we have to get into a hilarious situation everywhere we go, my husband fell one of the lakes. We stopped to take a picture and the hubs walked backward right into the lake in front of a load of other tourists who weirdly stopped to watch our family take a picture. The good news is he saved his iphone (even in midst of falling I was positive he wouldn't drop his beloved phone). The devastating news is I didn't get any of this on camera or video. It does frequently play in my mind when I need a good laugh.
About halfway through your hike, you will start seeing signs for the boats. The signs will show you that path H takes the boats, so your ticket includes this ride. Getting on the boat is very exciting for the kids and your views will continue to be amazing as you slowly cruise through the turquoise water.
The views continue to be amazing as you get to the lower lakes. You will notice the trails start to get a little more crowded. By this point in our day, the Europeans have started to wake up and a lot start on entrance 1.You will already be thanking me in your mind for starting your day early and not beginning your adventure at entrance 1. Even with crowds, the views are still gorgeous.
If you go in summer, bring lots of water and food. There is not a lot of opportunities to purchase supplies except at the main gates and entrances. It's hot so bring lots of water. Hiking shoes/ sandals, hats, sunscreen, and a light sweater for those early morning chills.
The lower lakes are gorgeous but have a waterfall look all their own
Tickets in the heart of tourist season in Europe are around 45 US dollars or 300 HRK. This was our best time to go, so we sucked it up and paid it. It is completely worth it. This is one of my most vivid memories in Europe...and not just because the hubs fell in the water and I laughed for 2 hours after. It truly feels like a different planet and our kids loved it. If you want to save some cash go during the off season. It's going to be significantly cheaper and you won't have as many tourists to navigate through (even though the kids get a kick out of that game).
I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventure to Plitvice Lakes National Park. If you like our adventures please follow us on more adventures though Europe. Like, share or follow us.