One of the most popular day trips from Zadar is to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Within a couple of hours from leaving the city you’ll be encompassed by masses of leafy forest and dramatically cascading waterfalls. Want to know more? Scroll down for handy tips for your visit and to hear my experiences of a day trip to Plitvice Lakes.
We’ve all seen the photos of Plitvice Lakes National Park, even if you didn’t realise it. The UNESCO World Heritage protected park is an iconic destination with picturesque, dreamy scenery so of course it’s used in recommendations and inspiration to showcase Croatia’s natural beauty! It’s a not-to-be-missed part of travel in Croatia to experience the expansive national parks that cover 994 km² of the country. For me, the stunning national parks of Croatia are up there with the famous image of Dubrovnik’s city walls!
During our 10 day trip down the Dalmatian coast, it was essential to include a day trip to one of the 8 national parks in Croatia. As we started our trip in Zadar, it was a no-brainer to use this as a base to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park which is only a 2 hour drive away.
Know Before You Go – Plitvice Lakes National Park
Here are a few things you should know before you take a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park to ensure you have the best and smoothest experience possible.
How much is Plitvice Lakes National Park entry?
Entry to Plitvice Lakes National Park costs 300 hrk per adult (£30.50) in summer. Public bus transport to the park cost £40 for two adult return tickets.
Current entrance fees:
- Jan – Mar & Nov – Dec: 80 hrk
- May & Oct: 180 hrk
- Jun – Sep: 300 hrk
You can also book tickets for 2 days at a discounted rate. Children and student tickets are available at a reduced cost.
The entry fee is paid by anyone wishing to enter the park, whether you arrive by tour or are self-driven. There is an online ticket system where you select your date and time of arrival and book in advance.
Book at least 1 day ahead of your intended visit to ensure you can go on the day you choose! You can buy tickets on the day, but only at the entrance itself. As tickets are limited, you might miss out and nobody wants that.
We saw countless offers and deals for visiting the lakes. If you wish you take a tour from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes, you can find a range of packages to suit your budget. We found prices that ranged from £55 for a full day group tour to £240 for a private tour. Note that some tours do not include the national park entry fee which will be paid on the day.
In our research, one thing became clear: you cannot skip paying the entry fee. It’s this money that contributes towards the ongoing upkeep and maintenance of the park. I don’t know about you, but I’m always glad to know what proportion of my excursion goes directly to supporting the land itself!
In total, our day trip to the park cost us £110 including the entry fee, bus, and a couple of snacks at the cafe. For two people I’d say that’s a reasonable full day trip!
Should I take a tour of Plitvice Lakes National Park?
That depends on your preferred style of travel. If you like to sit back and let someone else lead the way, then maybe a tour is for you. Or maybe you like to hear tidbits of information from an experienced guide – then a tour could be a great option.
Alternatively, if you’re similar to us and like to take your day at your own pace, then consider grabbing a map, doing some preparations beforehand, and go solo. I’ll admit, we did get lost on a couple of occasions and thought a tour guide might be useful… But we persevered and enjoyed the freedom and adventure.
Due to the lakes’ popularity, you’ll not often find yourself completely alone. There are plenty of passers by who you could ask for assistance if you do get lost! We even ended up walking behind a private tour for a while and sneakily eavesdropped the guide explaining a few facts. I won’t endorse cheating like that but you can’t help listening sometimes, right?
How do I get to Plitvice Lakes National Park?
Transport to and from the Plitvice Lakes National Park is super easy and the journey car or bus takes around 1 hour 45 minutes.
Unless you hire a car for your trip (which can be pricey), you’ll need transport to get to the national park. We opted for buses to take us between cities in Croatia and used the same online bus system Get By Bus to find affordable tickets to and from the park and Zadar.
We considered other bus booking sites such as Flixbus, but found Get By Bus to be the cheapest and offer the most convenient times.
Our bus cost 348hrk (£43) for two return tickets. Well worth the price considering we enjoyed a beautiful scenic drive the whole way!
The bus left from the main bus station in Zadar at 8.30am and dropped us right at Entrance 1 of the park. We were picked up again at 5pm at the same spot to return to the city. The staff at the bus station and park are happy to help with any questions and the process was very smooth. We simply showed the ticket confirmation on our phone and took a seat.
Of course, if you’re on a tour then your transport should be included. But it’s always worth double checking!
What’s the best time of day to go to Plitvice Lakes National Park?
You’ll want to maximise a full day visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park as there is so much to see. It’s recommended to get there as early as possible to avoid crowds and see as much as possible.
Aim to arrive at Plitvice Lakes National Park between 9am – 10am if you take public transport. This gives enough time to drive around 2 hours from Zadar and still enjoy a full day at the park. You’ll also beat the mid-morning rush of people arriving on their tours. As you’re restricted by bus times it’s best to give yourself more time than you think.
Plitvice Lakes is VERY popular.
By the time we were finished walking our route at 3pm there were quite literally queues of people walking to the big waterfalls. It looked like a pretty miserable experience being herded around like that, we were SO glad to have visited earlier in the day.
The best time to visit will also depend on the season. The park is open at these times throughout the year:
- November – March: 8am – 4pm (last entry 2pm)
- March – May: 8am – 7pm (last entry 5pm)
- June – Late August: 7am – 8pm (last entry 6pm)
- Late August – September: 7am – 7pm (last entry 5pm)
- October: 8am – 6pm (last entry 4pm)
It’s a bit confusing I know… Check the parks opening hours for specific dates as it’s all dependent on the daylight hours and season.
What should I pack?
- Sturdy, comfortable shoes: Flip flops and sandals are NOT allowed for walking through the national park. And you definitely wouldn’t want them either.
- Jacket: It gets cold at times and is certainly a different climate to Zadar. Ideally bring a waterproof in case the weather changes suddenly.
- Snacks: It’s going to be a long day, so bring nourishment. There is a cafe at the entrance and at the ferry crossing, but they can be crowded and expensive. Bring your favourite nibbles to enjoy throughout the day.
- Water: A lot of hiking and exercise means you’ll be susceptible to dehydration. Combat headaches or tiredness with a big bottle of water.
- Suncream: We didn’t need suncream due to heavy rain and overcast skies. BUT we still had it packed just in case… You never know!
- Map/GPS device: The footpaths and routes are well signposted at the start. If you take a wrong turn or would like to see how far you’ve got to go bring a map or phone with GPS enabled to help guide you. Find the route maps online and save them too as you won’t have access to the internet once in the park.
- Camera: You’ve got to capture the stunning scenery of course!
What’s the weather like at Plitvice Lakes?
There is really no easy answer to this one… The weather at Plitvice Lakes can be very changeable!
We visited in mid September, departing gloriously warm and sunny Zadar but found the national park very overcast and rainy on arrival. It didn’t help that the day before I found myself with quite a bad fever and a truly nasty cold coming on! I had plenty of warm drinks after our walk to feel better.
We were glad to have checked the weather in advance and prepared accordingly. As the park is on higher ground and the thick greenery is all around, the climate is often vastly different from Zadar. We saw several other visitors in shorts and flimsy shoes, definitely not ideal for this kind of weather and I couldn’t help but think they must have had a pretty miserable day.
Definitely take care with checking ahead what conditions you might be facing. As the saying goes:
“There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather, Only Bad Clothes”
Don’t end up stuck inside the cafe all day when you could be out exploring! We read over and over again how incredible the park is in all seasons. Although the chilly air and rain was less than ideal, it gave our experience a truly ethereal atmosphere and when the rain did ease up we appreciated the vivid colours and gushing waterfalls even more.
What To See at Plitvice Lakes National Park
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be desperate to cram in as much as possible on your day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park. BUT you don’t have to see everything in one day. In fact, it’s almost impossible! The park covers 296.8 km² amount of land so it’s a really large space with 16 lakes spread across 2 terraced levels (upper and lower).
Inside the national park you’ll see thick green forests, the clear turquoise waters of the lakes, and mesmerising cascading waterfalls. Even if you’re not the outdoorsy type, I think you’ll agree that the natural beauty here is truly outstanding!
Getting Around Plitvice Lakes
There are 8 different routes and walking tracks to take you around the lakes. Most visitors will start at Entrance 1 at the lower lakes as this is the quickest and easiest place to see the most famous waterfalls and lookouts. Generally, there are 4 main routes that visitors take during a 1 day trip.
Choose your route depending on your time allowances and fitness levels. Ideally you’ll want a looping route to take you back to your bus or car!
Although the routes are mapped at the entrance and signposted along the way, we found it surprisingly easy to get lost. We chose to follow our instincts as much as possible and would regularly double back if we didn’t feel like going a certain way. This worked well for us as it meant we saw and did everything we could in the day while also avoiding crowded paths where possible.
Which route should I take around Plitvice Lakes?
Route A is the shortest walking track through the park. It would take 2-3 hours and is largely a return track rather than a loop.
If you have a bit more energy and time, I would suggest route B as this is a longer track taking 3-4 hours to complete the 4km loop. Route B has the advantage of making the most of the included ferry crossing that is part of your ticket, as well as a scenic train ride at the end as you return to Entrance 1.
It goes without saying that you’ll be doing a lot of walking on your visit. However, there are a couple of routes that require you to catch a ferry ride across the lakes to continue your walk. Be sure you know what ticket type you’ve purchased and check that it includes a ferry ride. Our ticket included a one-way ticket on a ferry which we were glad to use for a short break from walking!
We attempted to follow Route B, but as mentioned we tended to stray off the route and divert onto other routes at times. The main difference in our route is that we got lost after crossing the lake (whoops!) and ended up following the lakeside footpath rather than catch the scenic train.
If in doubt, follow the crowds. They will likely be using a tour guide to indicate the best routes to go so you won’t go wrong.
Suggested walking route in Plitvice Lakes National Park:
- Start at Entrance 1
- Follow Route B down the zigzag footpath
- Visit Veliki Slap (Great Waterfall) by crossing the lower lakes
- Follow paths on Route B back alongside lower lakes
- Climb up Šupljara Cave footpath
- Follow footpath to upper viewpoints
- Return down cave path and back onto Route B
- Follow Route B alongside lower lakes until reaching ferry stop P3 (cafe/restaurant and facilities are available here)
- Ferry crossing over Kozjak lake and reach ferry stop P1
- Walk around Entrance 2 area – pause for bathroom or snack breaks
- Walk back to ferry stop P1
- Follow lakeside walk
- Reach St1 train stop
- Follow Route B back to Entrance 1
Top tips for walking in Plitvice Lakes
- No matter how far you walk or what you see, the whole park is magical. From the top of Entrance 1 you’ll already be greeted with the iconic view over the great waterfalls! Don’t feel pressured to go further than you feel comfortable with as the tracks can be steep at times.
- You must take care with walking the tracks. There have been numerous accidents over the years from tourists falling. The boardwalk edges are often without a handrail or barrier, and as they are irregularly shaped wooden boards slipping happens easily.
- Walk slowly and carefully, especially in wet or icy weather. Do NOT stray off the marked paths as this could also lead to slips or falls.
- Be patient with other visitors. We were often stuck behind groups of older visitors which became frustrating at times. We would occasionally hang back taking a break, overtake when safe to do so, or find another route to walk. Everyone is here to enjoy the same thing and don’t let it spoil your day!
- Do NOT smoke in the park. Unfortunately, we encountered a group of people smoking and realised that there is actually no indication that you can’t. HOWEVER, this doesn’t mean that you should… I would really advise not to, not only for the protection of the park and avoiding risk, but also for the sake of other visitors.
- Give yourself plenty of time. With so many visitors you may be walking at a slower pace than you wish. And, with long queues for the ferry it might take a while to cross the lake. Leave room in your schedule to compensate any delays.
- Take your litter with you. There are bins at each entrance and ferry stops but not along the tracks. There is absolutely no excuse for littering.
- Respect the park but not disturbing the wildlife, fish, trees, or plants. But also have fun!
For even more dedicated information about Plitvice Lakes, I must recommend this excellent travel guide website! Here you’ll find information that far exceeds my one day visit experience. We used it throughout our research and even while walking through the park, it became an invaluable source of info.
What do you think of Plitvice Lakes? Are you ready to explore this UNESCO World Heritage park? I’d love to hear about your experiences if you’ve been!
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