Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park is home to stunning waterfalls and unreal turquoise waters. In April 2019, I went as a solo female traveler during my two weeks in Eastern Europe. The park is a lovely destination for everyone, though: families, friends, couples–even dogs are allowed!
If you’re planning a visit (or just want to look at some pretty pics of waterfalls haha), here’s my complete guide to Plitvice Lakes–including when to go, how to get there, where to stay/eat, and which trails to take.
What to Know Before You Visit Plitvice Lakes
- To fully enjoy the park, I’d recommend spending at least one night there, giving you an afternoon/evening and the next morning.
- The popular trails in the park are relatively easy, and many sections are wooden bridges rather than uneven rocks/dirt. The trails in Plitvice are more of a “walk” than a hike, though you can actually do some hiking with elevation gain on the less-frequented trails. Regardless, you should bring some good walking shoes.
- You can’t swim in the park, as this is a UNESCO World Heritage site. If that’s a huge bummer for you, you might want to check out Krka National Park instead. It’s also home to lovely waterfalls (though allegedly less impressive), and you can swim there.
- You must pay for an entry ticket that is $9-37 per day based on the season (60 kunas November-January, 100 kunas April-May and October, 250 kunas June-September before 4pm and 150 kunas after 4pm). See full list of prices on the official website. There are discounts for students, children, and groups. This entry fee covers free transport in the park via boat and shuttle, and generally helps keep the park running.
- As of May 2019, they introduced an e-ticket system. You are strongly encouraged to buy tickets online 2 days in advance, as there are also new hourly and daily limits on the number of guests, to prevent overcrowding. You can still buy tickets at the park, but you run the risk of not being able to get in.
When to Visit Plitvice Lakes
Shoulder season is April-May and October, and it’s the ideal time to visit. The weather was lovely in late April (70°F/20°C), the park wasn’t too crowded, and accommodation + entry fees were also cheaper. In October, you might even get to see the colorful leaves framing the waterfalls. That said, buses to/from the park are less frequent outside of the summer, so you do have to be more careful in planning.
How to Get to Plitvice Lakes (without a car)
Trains aren’t really a thing in Croatia, so you’ll either have to take a bus or rent a car. As a solo traveler, I didn’t want to deal with driving in a foreign country, so I took the bus (public transport is greener too!).
I was going from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes, so it was easy to get a 2.5 hour direct bus, which cost around 80 kunas (12 USD). Leaving Plitvice Lakes to go to Split was not as simple–buses are 4-6 hours and around 140 kunas (21 USD). Many of them go through Zadar, a seaside town that’s only 2 hours away, making me wish I had broken up this trip and stayed in Zadar for a couple days.
If you’re traveling in a group, it may be more time and cost-efficient to rent a car, but keep in mind that you will have to pay for parking in the park and that there may be highway tolls.
It is also possible to go on a day trip with a tour group, but this would be very rushed, so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Where to Stay in Plitvice Lakes
Disclaimer: there are Booking.com affiliate links in this section, meaning that I earn a small percentage of any reservations you complete. Rest assured this doesn’t cost you any extra!
There are 3 hotels in the park itself: Hotel Bellevue, Hotel Jezero, and Hotel Plitvice. They’re all located near Entrance 2 of the park, near the Upper Lakes (I’ll explain the layout of the park in a later section).
There are also several hotels and Airbnbs around the park, but staying in the park is most convenient, especially if you don’t have a car. There’s a free shuttle system within the park, but you’re on your own outside it, and the road to the park is not made for walking/biking (too many cars driving too fast).
If you need another reason, these three hotels will extend your day pass to the park for free (since they’re owned and operated by the park). That can save you some serious money, especially if you’re visiting in high season.
I stayed in Hotel Bellevue, and paid around 55 USD for a night in April. I had a double room with an en suite bathroom, and free breakfast. Hotel Bellevue is the cheapest of the 3 options at (55-90 USD), Plitvice is the next most affordable (65-110 USD), and Jezero the most expensive (110-150 USD). Hotel Bellevue doesn’t have the greatest reviews, but I found it perfectly fine. There was a bit of a damp feel/musty smell, but it wasn’t that bad. The bed was comfy and the bathroom was clean, so that was good enough for me. Breakfast was not exactly vegan-friendly, but there was lots of fruit, and I had some plain oatmeal with it. Omnivores will have plenty to eat, from sliced meat to cheese to eggs.
Where to Eat in Plitvice Lakes
When I arrived, I was super worried about food, as I visited a couple cafes in the park and couldn’t find any vegan options, other than fries. Luckily, the park-operated hotels are right next to a park-operated restaurant called Poljana. The place is run cafeteria style, where you grab a tray and move through a line. There were many vegetarian options (what I ate appeared to be non-dairy, but since I’m not strictly vegan, I didn’t bother asking). The setting was also pretty nice, and the food was surprisingly affordable for a national park. I paid 35 kunas (5 USD) for a main dish and three sides with a glass of water.
There are cafes near the entrances to the park, but there’s not much (if anything) actually along the trails, so you should bring lunch if you’re planning to be out all day.
My yummy and inexpensive veggie meal at Poljana
When the water is the same color as your shoes haha
Where to Go in Plitvice Lakes / Which Trails to Take for the Best Views
There are two entrances to the park, Entrance 1 and 2. Entrance 2 is near the Upper Lakes, and Entrance 1 near the Lower Lakes. These names are based on the elevation of the lakes. The Upper Lakes have smaller (but still lovely) waterfalls, and the Lower Lakes are known for being the most impressive.
There are several trails/hikes in the park, organized by letters. On the first day, I went to the Upper Lakes and did Trail E. This hike is 5.5km (3.5mi), pretty flat, and is supposed to take 2-3 hours. It includes a boat ride to the start of the trail, and a shuttle/train ride back to Entrance 2. There are specific hours for the boat and “Panoramic Train” service, so be sure to verify them before leaving–you don’t want to get stuck! The hours are usually daylight hours, so you shouldn’t have a big issue.
On the second day, I did Trail A in the Lower Lakes, which is 3.5km (2.2mi) and takes 2-3 hours. The Lower Lakes involve more hills than the Upper Lakes, but the trail is still relatively easy. Instead of taking the shuttle, I walked along the main lake to reach Entrance 1 from Entrance 2. This path was pretty quiet in the morning (I was the only person), but there aren’t any waterfalls along the way. If you have some extra time, it’s a peaceful and flat walk that’s around 3km (2mi). If you don’t have the time, the shuttle is just as good. The only major plus of using this path would be to start your day before the shuttles are running (8-8:30am), allowing you to beat the crowds.
These trails allowed me to see the most iconic parts of the park, and I felt that this was just the right amount of time to spend there.
An example of the sights you might see in the Upper Lakes
More Upper Lakes falls
The iconic Lower Lakes view
Hopefully you found this guide to Plitvice Lakes helpful, and that the photos inspired you to visit if you’re in the area!
If there’s anything I didn’t cover that you want to know (or think others should know), leave me a comment. I’ll also leave you with some resources that might be useful, including my post on my two-week trip in Eastern Europe.
Plitvice Lakes Hours of Operation / Shuttle Schedule
Map of Plitvice Lakes and Suggested Trails (there are many more, but this is just a start)
14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro