When I was planning my trip to Croatia I was a little surprised to read that the most beautiful national park in Europe was in Croatia called the Plitvice Lakes. I thought this sounded a bit hard to believe. I didn’t think anywhere could beat the pristine views I’ve enjoyed in the Swiss alps or my hike around Mount Blanc. So I viewed this comment with great skepticism, but also with curiosity.
When planning the trip I read that the park could become very crowed by mid-day when tour buses form Zagreb arrived. So my travel companion and I chose to spend the night near the park so we could enter early in the morning. We found a lovely cottage on Airbnb near Parking 3. This way we could easily buy tickets away from the crowd and take the boat into the park once it opened.
Upon our arrival, the inn keeper recommend that we take a one mile walk down the road in the opposite direction of the park entrance to get small taste of what we would see the next day. Her directions were to to climb under the wooden fence near the bridge. This would put us at the top of the Big Waterfall. From there we could easily find the path that would take us to the bottom of the Big Waterfall if we desired. All this could be done in an hour or less. We only had a few hours before sunset and thought this would be a great way to kill some time before our other travel partners arrived.
It was cool with a heavy overcast much like a spring day back home in Seattle. We grabbed our lightweight jackets and headed on our way. We easily found the bridge and fence, but we only needed to follow the roaring sound coming from the Big Falls. After snapping a few guarded pictures on the slippery rocks we headed down the path. As we slowly descended, each step took us deeper into a new world surrounded by the sound of falling water, misty clouds and fresh sweet air. Within a few minutes we were admiring the cascading water coming from 47 meters above. At the top we could only see a small piece, but the bottom the Big Waterfall is actually many falls all plunging into a crystal clear pool.
Originally we had planned to only see the Big Waterfall and return, but it was as though fairies or the Sirens from Greek mythology were calling us to enter their mystical world. We began to wander down the long twisting wooden paths surrounded by beautiful turquoise water. Each turn brought us to new specular views with more waterfalls falling into another pond that must be the bath for beautiful maidens. My mind returned to the book I had read back in high school called Lost Horizon by the British author James Hilton. Even though I hadn’t been in a plane crash in the Himalayas, it did feel as though we had entered the Shangri-La mentioned in the book that was mystical and harmonious. I felt that if fairies existed, this must be where they lived. My companion turned to me and said, “Is this real?” Indeed, the Plitvice Lakes are real, but you might feel for one short moment that you have passed into utopia.
The following day we arose early enough to be on the first boat across Kozjak Lake. Even though we still shared the park with many other tourists. It was still magical, and I must now agree, Plitvice Lakes is indeed one of the best national parks in Europe.
- Enter as early as possible.
- Don’t miss seeing the area around the Big Waterfall. It is outside the park down from P3 or ST1. It requires some walking, but worth the time.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes that work well on wet surfaces.
- Bring a light jacket and umbrella if you plan to go in the summer and especially in June.
- If possible, stay nearby. We stayed in an area near the Lower Lakes called Etno Garden, but I’m sure the hotels near Entrance 2 would also be nice.