The area near Krka is really remote, and in turn incredibly peaceful. After one of the most tranquil nights of sleep we had in ages we were on the road bright and somewhat early the next day. It’s hard to get out of a comfortable bed after days of sleeping on a floor. The drive from Krka to Plitvice is about 2 hrs if you take the toll roads. If you’re a cheapo like us and don’t want to pay the toll there is a mountain road you can take but it’ll add another half hour or so to your trip. Since we weren’t in the mood to continue our catch up game we opted to take the shorter, albeit more expensive, route to get to Plitvice National Park.
There are two main entrances, aptly named Entrance 1 and Entrance 2, located right off Hwy 1 that runs parallel to the Park. Depending on when you chose to visit it’s worthwhile to check the opening times and prices since they vary during the year. For example, only Entrance 1 is open from November to mid-April and the electric boat is closed for the season. If you have some extra time in the area I’d highly recommend purchasing a two-day ticket so you don’t have to rush, and that way you can try to avoid some of the day crowds. Since this is one of the biggest attractions in Croatia there are TONS of tour groups, coming from as far away as Dubrovnik for the day, and they generally swarm the Park about mid-morning until mid-afternoon. If you can try to time your visit for the early mornings (it opens at 0700) or for the late afternoons (it usually closes around 1900) it can make for a more enjoyable trip there.
The Park is divided into two major regions, the Upper Lakes and the Lower Lakes. The Upper Lakes portion is a series of 12 lakes and the Lower Lakes is a series of four lakes. The waterfalls, underground karst rivers, and a confluence of small surface rivers into pools connects the two regions. These are also what makes the area so famous. The science behind the formation of the exceptional landscape of Plitvice National Park is a surprisingly complex, but elegant, natural system with a whole slew of variables involved. To keep an explanation of that process simple, the famous falls are the result of the surrounding karst landscape, algae, moss, and some highly carbonated water. If you’d like to know more about the science involved in the process we’ve provided more details in the captions of our Gallery. In short these factors combine to create the tufa barriers which create the lakes, and in turn the cascading waterfalls you see in the photos.
After a few stops and lunch along the way we arrived at Entrance 2 around 1300. After purchasing our 2-day tickets we began our exploration of the Upper Lakes. The parking lot is on the side opposite the boardwalks and to reach the trails you take a short boat ride across the upper section of Kozjak Lake. The boardwalks criss cross uphill all around the lakes and we couldn’t wait to check out. Unfortunately, we didn’t take our own advice and we found ourselves stuck between about 10 excited tour groups. Between the pushing, waiting, and at times actual shoving, our first time on the boardwalk was a bit less enjoyable than we had hoped for. As the boardwalks are only wide enough for two people in most places it doesn’t take a lot to feel crowded either. We weren’t in a hurry so we found a place to wait out the groups and around 1500 they had more or less run through and were gone. The difference hiking around after that was like day and night.
With hardly any other people and we enjoyed leisurely hiking about with completely unobstructed views of the many falls and lakes. We even had the birds come back out which brought the surrounding forest to life. With a cornucopia of species calling the Park home you’ll never know what you’ll find. During one of the waits for the tour groups we saw a snake sunning itself on a rock. Since reptiles are pretty uncommon in the Park we felt pretty lucky.
It is hard to describe what it felt like walking around Plitvice sans crowds, but I’ll try. If you don’t do much hiking this may not be the most familiar feeling, but if you do you’ll know what I mean. Normally, when we go hiking during the middle of the day the landscape feels almost empty. Not a lot of birds are active and most of the bigger mammals have hunkered down for the day giving the place a somewhat sleepy feeling. The boardwalks surrounding the lakes in Plitvice on the other hand pulsed with life all day long. The flowing, falling, surging water created an atmosphere of constant activity and vibrancy that I have never experienced before and it was absolutely incredible. One minute you would be walking by a serene, placid looking lake and the next starring at a waterfall rushing past. The Park has done a fantastic job placing the boardwalks over, and at times basically through these falls connecting you directly with them. It is one of the most spectacular natural landscapes I have ever visited.
All too quickly it was time for us to leave as the Park was closing up for the night. We met a young British man on the trails and chatted with him on our way out. That night we were staying in a village about 20 mins north of Plitvice called Slunj. There are a few hotels and rooms for rent around the Park, but we wanted to visit its neighboring town of Rastoke. We had seen photos of Rastoke during our research and it looked like a step back in time. So we opted to stay closer to it. Historically the town took advantage of the Korana River that runs through it with water mills. Most of the old mills are now closed, but a few are still open today as tourist attractions. None are still commercially operated.
The drive to our lodging in Slunj took longer than we anticipated so we were once again late to meet our hosts. When we arrived outside the house nobody was home but a neighbor popped over to see if he could help. Luckily for us he spoke impeccable English and called our hosts to have them come let us in. We chatted with him while we waited and he explained how he was visiting his father who lived across the street and he told us all about the history of Rastoke, from what he remembered in his childhood. He mentioned how his brother had moved to America and that his family lived in San Diego. When we told him that’s where we were from, he got so excited and asked if maybe we knew them (unfortunately we did not). He was a true delight and we were sad to end our chat once our host arrived. After checking in we ventured back out to find dinner, and when we went to the car he waved us over once more. He had gone to his home and found two wood carvings of the water mills made in Rastoke and gave them to us because we were from San Diego. It was so unexpectedly kind and thoughtful, we couldn’t thank him enough for his generosity. These are two carvings we will treasure once we can finally unpack them somewhere. A quick dinner at nearby Fenicks restaurant and we were done for the day happily looking forward to some sleep.