Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest and largest national park in Croatia. It includes 16 large lakes and a lot of waterfalls as the water moves from the upper lakes, through travertine barriers, and into the lakes below.
We visited Plitvice Lakes National Park as part of our visit to Croatia during our Family Year Out when our kids were 5 and 7. We spent more than a month in Croatia, and Plitvice Lakes was a highlight for our family!
The color of the water here is astonishing- a deep turquoise that has to be seen to be believed. Don’t miss Plitvice Lakes National Park during your trip to Croatia!
In this guide to Plitvice Lakes, we’ll take you through everything you need to know to plan a two-day itinerary at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia with your family. We’ll cover understanding the different park entrances, buying tickets, where to stay, and where to eat.
We’ll also talk about how much time to spend at Plitvice, and how to visit Plitvice on a day trip if you are tight for time.
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What is Plitvice Lakes National Park Known For?
Plitvice Lakes National Park is known for the vibrant turquoise hues of the lake water, as well as its clarity.
It also includes the “big waterfall” Veliki Slap, located on the lower lakes, which is the highest waterfall in Croatia at 87 meters high.
Plitvice Lake National Park is one of the most visited places in Croatia. It was added to the Unesco World Heritage Register in 1979. If Plitvice Lakes isn’t on your family travel bucket list, it should be!
How to Get to Plitvice Lakes National Park
Unless you are renting a car, you will need to take a bus to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Buses run many times daily from Zagreb to Plitvice to Split, and the reverse. Buses leave Zagreb as early as 5:45, arriving at 8:10 am.
Purchase your bus tickets to “Plitvice Lakes”. Once you are on the bus, you can choose between Plitvice 1 (entrance 1), Plitvice 2 (entrance 2), and Mukinje which is a few km down the road, but close to several guest houses.
I found that not all the bus booking sites included the earlier buses- getmybus does. Our bus left on time but hit traffic and arrived about 45 minutes behind schedule.
Please Note: It is standard to pay extra for each bag you check under the bus. We paid about 1 Euro per bag. They only take cash so it’s best to be prepared with small change.
Don’t want to plan it all? Short on time? You can visit Plitvice Lakes on this highly-rated day trip from Split which includes a guided tour through the park, lunch, and transportation. We spent a week in Split and have got all the best things to do in Split, Croatia.
Check Details: Day Trip to Plitvice Lakes from Split
Heading toward Plitvice from Zagreb? This day trip from Zagreb includes a visit to the old watermill village of Rastoke as well as Plitvice National Park. It gets over 600 5-star reviews!
Worried about safety? Croatia is a very safe country, but a little preparation goes a long way. Our tips for keeping kids safe make sure you’re ready to go!
How Much Time Do I Need at Plitvice Lakes in Croatia?
We recommend spending 2 days at Plitvice Lakes National Park. If you arrive early in the morning, you can do Plitvice Lakes in one long day- but you will need to prioritize, and move quickly.
If you allot two days (or 1 1/2 days with travel) you will have plenty of time to explore the park without rushing.
Which Tickets Should I Get for Plitvice National Park?
You can buy tickets (in advance) at the Plitvice website. Children under 7 are free and do not need a ticket. Children 7-18 have a special reduced price.
Start by choosing the date you wish to visit and your arrival time. You will have one hour from the time listed on your ticket to enter the park.
We recommend scrolling down and choosing “Adult 2 Day” and adding to cart, then choosing “Children 2 Day” as needed.
Make sure to pay attention to the green tab at the top of the page that indicates “Entrance 1” or “Entrance 2” as this is the only place that this information can be altered.
You will need to create an account to check out and receive your tickets digitally. Be sure to have your digital tickets available as they are checked several times in the park.
Which Entrance Should I Use for Plitvice Lakes?
If you choose to spend two days in the park, you will probably spend one day exploring the lower lakes near entrance 1, and one day on the upper lakes near entrance 2.
Whichever section you plan to do first (which may relate more closely to where you are staying), should be the entrance you use on your ticket.
We chose to begin our family visit with Entrance 1 and focus on the lower lakes for the first day. Walking at our own pace, with two kids, and in mid-July crowds, we did the lower lakes from the entrance to the boat launch above Milanova Lake in 1 1/2 hours.
We returned on the second day via entrance 2 to explore the upper lakes.
Which Route Should I Take Through Plitvice Lakes?
The park provides routes labeled with letters- you can find maps and signage related to routes A, B, C, etc. We found this a bit complicated, and recommend following the paths described below.
We recommend splitting the park into upper and lower sections and then focusing on one section per day. Some people prefer to start with the upper sections (entrance 2) and save the lower sections (entrance 1) for a day with an early start to avoid crowds.
We visited in mid-July and did not find it necessary to avoid Entrance 1 on the first day. We arrived at about 11:00 after dropping our bags at our hotel and began with the paths around the lower lakes.
The lower lakes will give you the best views in the park- and I always prefer to hit the highlights first- then if it rains, or someone gets sick on the second day, you’ve hit the best bits first!
Navigation Tip: Make sure to take a photo of the large map at either entrance. There are paper maps available, but they do not label each lake. As you move along the pathways, you will often see lakes labeled with their name and depth. These names can be cross-referenced with your picture of the more detailed map to see just where on the path you are currently.
Day 1 Itinerary
You can easily flip day 1 and day 2. We prefer to start with the lower lakes and the most well-known viewpoints which give us a sense of the scale of the park for day 2.
(approx 1 1/2 hours to reach boat launch)
The loop around the base of the lower lakes is pretty straightforward. There aren’t too many places you can stray from the path.
Along the Lake
From Entrance 1, follow the path down toward the lakes. Stay right to head to the lakes, rather than take the upper cliff path (there are better views of the lakes on the opposite cliffs, see below). Once you are on the boardwalk through the lakes, you will reach a split. Head right to check out Veliki Slap (the big waterfall). After viewing the waterfall, you will double back to rejoin the trail you left.
While you are at the waterfall, look for a set of steep stairs to your left. These lead to the upper walking trails that look down over the lakes. They were closed for repair during our visit.
Once you are back on the main trail, continue along until you reach another decision point- you will see a large cave in front of you. If you like, head left to explore the trail up into this cave. It’s a bit steep and can be slippery, but our kids loved the idea of climbing through the cave (though any side openings are blocked off). If you go all the way to the top you’ll have joined the upper cliff trail, so go as far as you like, then double back to the main trail.
Around this point on the trail, the crowds should thin considerably.
Continue along this trail until you come to the edge of Kozjak Lake and the end of the lower lakes, where you’ll see an information booth, maps, and signage pointing you toward food and bathrooms.
Follow the signs to food and bathrooms. This is also where you’ll find the boat launch. Enjoy your lunch if you haven’t stopped to eat along the way.
Upper Cliff Walk
(approx 1 1/2 hours)
As you leave the lunch area, head back in the direction you can along the paved road. You’ll see most people staying right along a dirt road (which you came in on). Instead, head left uphill on the paved road. When you come to a split, stay left, following the sign “Poljanak Selo Plitvica”. After a bit of walking, you’ll see cars up ahead, and an information booth. You are on the right track!
Just after this booth, start watching for a dirt trail on your right. You’ll find it about 50 feet after a large sign with four different locations listed on it, which faces away from you. Take the dirt path and follow it to find 6 different overlooks with amazing views of the lakes and trails below.
The Last Overlook
Eventually, you’ll come to the stairs leading down to Veliki Slap (which will probably be closed). Keep going on the trail to find Overlook #5. This looks to be the end of the trail- but there’s one more!
Follow the dirt trail to the road, and continue along the paved road, over the bridge, turning right onto another dirt trail just past the restored mill. Follow this to find the last overlook which looks back on Overlook #5.
You can now either take the stairs down to the water (if they are open), or follow the trail back the way you came. We took the trail back to the boat launch and enjoyed a leisurely boat ride across the lake to end our day at Entrance #2.
The wonderful thing about these upper trails is that they are mostly shaded, so perfect for hot afternoons, and they are barely visited, so you’ll most likely have the trail to yourself.
Please note: the shuttle buses and boats are included in your ticket, there is no extra charge.
Day 2 Itinerary
For your second day in the park, try to get as early a start as you can. Most tour and bus groups reach the park at about 10 a.m., so any time prior to this will be more pleasant and less crowded.
We suggest focusing on the upper lakes, which are physically higher (from sea level) than the lower lakes. This section of the park is less awe-inspiring and includes more stairs, as you gradually ascend up through the lakes.
Start at Entrance 2 and take a boat from P1 to P2. It’s a very short ride across the water.
Once you exit the boat, you’ll see that there is really only one path to follow. The goal for the day is to do a loop around the upper lakes, along the lake edge. In general, you’ll want to follow signs for the “E” path, which will take you to the highest point, at Tram Station 3 (St. 3).
Travel Tip: When you reach the first edge of Galovac Lake, there is a wide area with benches and places to sit next to the lake. This is a great place to stop for a snack or just a break, before continuing on.
At the tram station, you can grab a cold drink or a cold sandwich before deciding on your route for the return. We opted to walk back along the lakeside but found little new on the return journey, and had to wait in a line to get back a boat across the water. To take this route, head back the way you came and follow the signs for “P2”.
The alternative is to take the tram ride around the lake and back to Entrance 2.
Alternate Activity: Rowboats
You can rent a rowboat from near the boat launch at P1. It costs 13€ per hour. We considered doing this as it looked very peaceful to be rowing out close to some of the smaller waterfalls but decided against it in the blazing July sunshine.
Eating Lunch at Plitvice Lakes National Park
If you can figure out the logistics, your best option is a picnic lunch inside Plitvice National Park. You’ll see many families sitting to the side of the trail, enjoying a snack or a quick lunch.
There is no obvious security check, or restrictions on what you bring with you, so no need to worry about bringing in your own food.
With an early bus ride, we did not have food with us and had to eat lunch at the park facilities.
The main eating area is next to the boat launch at P3. Here you will find two grills, a souvenir shop, a coffee/snack booth, and an ice cream booth, as well as bathrooms.
You will find the same (a bit expensive) options at all the grills and bistros in this section of the park: hamburgers, veggie burgers, ham and cheese sandwiches, etc. Portions are quite large, so consider sharing some items.
In the Upper Lakes portion of the park, there is no hot food at Station 3. There you will find coffee, and cold sandwiches only (ham and cheese, prosciutto and cheese, or just cheese).
Please Note: You cannot use cash at the grill/bistros, only credit. You can ONLY use cash at the ice cream stand.
Where to Stay at Plitvice Lakes National Park
There are two hotels inside the park: Hotel Jezero, and Hotel Plitvice. These are both close to entrance 2. They include free parking and make early morning access to the park very easy. They tend to be more expensive than other location options.
We stayed at Guest House Wolf and enjoyed the family accommodations. It is a great place to stay if you are taking the bus as it’s an easy walk from the Mukinje bus stop. They offer breakfast and dinner (not included), and there is a market and a pizza place within walking distance as well.
The kids had lots of room to run around outside, and our family room included two twin beds on an upper level, a larger bed downstairs, a table and chairs, a small balcony, air conditioning, and a communal fridge just outside the door.
The hotel claims to be a ten-minute walk to Entrance 2 of the park. We found it to be more like 20 minutes going to the park (downhill) and 30 minutes returning. There are places that are closer to the park itself but require lugging your bags farther to and from the bus stop.
We also opted to have dinner their one night and it was absolutely delicious.
Book Now: Guest House Wolf
Can I Swim at Plitvice National Park?
No, you cannot swim at Plitvice National Park, you’ll need to stick to the boardwalks and assigned paths of the park.
What Time of Year is Best to Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park?
We visited in mid-July, which is in the high season for the park. The crowds are highest during the summer months. We also found that the waterfalls were not as full, we’d love to return in the spring when the waterfalls are rushing, and the crowds are lower.
The best times to visit are in the shoulder seasons around the busy months- Spring and Fall. The park remains open all year round, so you can also plan a trip to see the famous Veliki Slap (big waterfall) frozen!
Is Plitvice Lakes National Park Kid-Friendly?
Yes, and No. The boardwalks of much of the park are a bit uneven- they are cut from split logs. There are no handrails on the boardwalks- they are open to the water on one or more sides. Older children are not a problem, but you would need a plan for toddlers and less cautious younger children. Strollers would be problematic on uneven surfaces, so plan to baby-wear younger kids if possible.
Can I Bring My Dog to Plitvice Lakes National Park?
Yes, you are welcome to bring dogs with you to the park, but they must remain on a leash while in the park. We saw a lot of dogs enjoying the park with their families.
What to Bring to Plitvice Lakes National Park
There are several items you should bring to the park to make your day more enjoyable:
- Good Walking Shoes: Since you won’t be going in the water, choose sturdy, breathable footwear. The paths are uneven and sometimes dusty.
- A Cell Phone Charger: You will take a lot of pictures! Be sure to have a charger so you don’t miss any photos near the end of the day.
- A Water Bottle: It is quite hot in the summer months and easy to get dehydrated. You have the option to buy water in the park, but the bottles are small and not cheap. We brought our own larger bottles and found that there are also free water filling stations at P3 near the restrooms.
- Sunscreen: Some areas of the park offer more shade than others, but you will definitely need to protect yourself from the sun.
- Bug Spray: In the shadier areas you may find mosquitos and other bugs. We love this family-friendly bug spray.
- A Picnic Lunch: The park food is limited and expensive. If you can, bring snacks and a picnic lunch to avoid the park food.
- Cash: While some places in the park only accept credit cards, some also only accept cash. Don’t forget to bring euros or you may miss out on afternoon ice creams!
There You Have It: 2 Days in Plitvice Lakes
This guide has everything you need to plan a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia with your family.
We’ve covered what you need to plan ahead, which tickets are best, and how to navigate the park once you are there. We hope you have an amazing trip to Plitvice Lakes!
If you are headed on to Dubrovnik, check out the best budget-friendly places to eat in Dubrovnik, our full list of things to do in Dubrovnik, and consider taking a walking tour of Old Town, or one of Dubrovnik’s Games of Thrones tours! Don’t forget to grab a Dubrovnik Card to save on major attractions.