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Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of Croatia’s national treasures, where boardwalks and hiking trails wind around 12 upper lakes and 4 lower lakes. Kids of all ages will love walking along wooden pathways at the foot of beautiful waterfalls. Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage site has been on our list of places to visit for so long and we could barely contain our excitement! After a bit of a rocky start, we are happy to report that it is definitely worth the trip. You are virtually guaranteed to fall in love with this place, even though it can be very crowded.
We arrived at Plitvice Lakes National Park by bus from Zagreb. It was a 2 hr ride from Zagreb that was simple to do with our two small kids. We arrived mid-afternoon on our first day and by the time we arrived at Plitvice Lakes we were disappointed to find it was still very crowded.
We started at Entrance 2, hoping it would be less busy, but were immediately faced with a very long line for the boat. The tour groups appeared to be rushing along to quickly get through the park to make it back to their tour bus. This wasn’t the experience we were hoping for. We expected it to be crowded, but we were surprised that people were rushing by with little regard for our two small kids. We also noticed the line up to get back on the boat was extremely long. Despite this, we managed to cover this whole section around the Upper Lakes and tried to enjoy the small moments of solitude we found in between groups.
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How Long to Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park
If you are like us and visiting Plitvice Lakes with small children, then you will need extra time. For us, visiting Plitvice with a toddler and a preschooler meant taking it a little slower. If your kids are small, we recommend planning at least one full day at the park but preferably 1.5 to 2 days.
We prefer to get out first thing in the morning before crowds arrive, so we couldn’t have been happier to have a second day at the park. On our second day, we were ready and at the park before it opened. We were able to walk to Entrance 2 from our Airbnb apartment, so we started there and quickly made our way to what we expected would be the busiest part of the Lower Lakes. The first 40 minutes we enjoyed complete solitude as we walked along the shore of Kozjak Lake. It was stunning first thing in the morning.
As we approached the waterfalls, the crowds from Entrance 1 started to arrive. We knew better this time and put the kids in the carrier for the crowded boardwalks which didn’t have railings. After getting nice and close to the Big Waterfall, we took a route that got us some incredible views from up high (see tips below). We then spent the rest of the time on a much less busy trail on the other side of Kozjak Lake, where we saw very few other people. The kids loved this part of the hike.
After hours of hiking, our toddler fell asleep in the toddler carrier. At this point we were back at the Upper Lakes and it seemed far less busy than the previous day. We decided to redo this section and enjoyed it so much more than we had the day before. We definitely got the most out of trip to Plitvice Lakes and our extremely sore legs were proof after walking 11 miles (18 km) on our second day.
Tips for Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
Here are our 15 tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park:
1) Do not bring a stroller to Plitvice Lakes: If you are visiting Plitvice with a baby or a toddler, bring a baby carrier. Sure, you can bring a stroller here, but it will be a pain in the butt. There are stairs everywhere and most of the pathways are on uneven wooden boards (think wooden cobblestone). The paths are crowded and narrow and your stroller will get in the way. If your little one is too small to walk for your whole visit, we recommend a baby or toddler carrier. We used a Lillebaby CarryOn Toddler carrier for our 4 year old and the Onya Baby Nexstep for our two year old. If you will be going to Plitvice with a stroller, make sure your stroller is a lightweight one for travel. (You can find a full comparison of travel strollers on Baby Can Travel site).
2) Watch your kids carefully: There are very few handrails on the boardwalks and even those are built for adults. The boardwalks can get super crowded and are full of people who are late for their tour bus or aggressively jostling for their Instagram photo, so common courtesy isn’t always afforded to others. If your kids aren’t paying attention (and really, whose kids pay attention?), they will get in the way of someone in a hurry.
We strongly recommend putting your kids in a carrier during the waterfall sections, as you’ll have a much more enjoyable time. We made the mistake of letting our kids walk the waterfall loop near Entrance 2 and we spent all our time and attention making sure they were ok, which really impacted our enjoyment of this really beautiful area.
3) Plan your route: Anywhere there is a waterfall, you will find 25x more people than anywhere else. When planning your visit, look at the map and look for waterfalls. Brace yourself for some insanity at these spots. The small loop near the P2 boat dock and near the big waterfall (Veliki Slap) near Entrance 1 are the worst.
4) Be flexible: If the line to take the boat back from P2 to P1 is huge, you can walk back to Entrance 2 on the same road the scenic train takes. It takes about 30-40 minutes, but that might be less time than you wait plus you get the benefit of some bonus exercise and scenery. Just listen for the train coming around the corner on the road and stay far to the side.
5) Get to the park as early as you can: In a place as busy as Plitvice Lakes, it pays to make an effort to get to the park right when it opens and go straight to the most popular waterfalls. Your experience will be so much better. Even better would be to stay in the area overnight, so you don’t have to get up ridiculously early taking a day trip from Zagreb or Split.
6) Buy a 2 day ticket to Plitvice Lakes: If you are visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park for multiple days, you can buy a 2 day ticket at a discounted price vs. 2 single day tickets.
7) Set your expectations accordingly: We’ve all seen the amazing pictures of Plitvice Lakes National Park, and this place is truly as beautiful as you dream it will be. But what the pictures don’t prepare you for are the crowds. Think Disneyland busy – at least it was the first afternoon we visited in late April (which is still shoulder season).
8) Enjoy the non-waterfall paths too: Some of our favorite moments in the park were walking along the nearly deserted paths which don’t have any waterfalls on them. Many of these paths are incredibly beautiful in their own right, being lakeside or high above with views of the waterfalls below. Yet, incredibly, these paths are largely ignored! If you need a break from the crowds, seek these beauties out. We loved them! Three of our favorites are:
– A lakeside stroll, walking north on the east side of Kozjak Lake at Entrance 2. It is especially beautiful at opening with the reflection of trees, mountains and clouds in the still, glass-like water.
– The upper trail heading south from Entrance 1. There are several lookout points along this trail of the waterfalls and boardwalks below that are epically good.
– The lakeside hike on the west side of Kozjak Lake. This is a real hike on a real hiking trail, so be sure to wear proper footwear. We had to take off our shoes and wade through the water in spots, or hop from log-to-log to avoid big mud puddles, but most of the trail was in really good shape. The seclusion and the scenery are what makes this trail special.
9) Watch and listen for wildlife: You can see fish everywhere in the water and ducks are plentiful, but keep your eyes and ears open for frogs (you can hear them by reeds), water snakes, large snails, etc.
10) Bring Fido: If you travel with your dog, you can bring it along to the park. We were surprised at how many people do.
11) Believe the suggested duration of the walks: The official Plitvice Lakes webpage offers many lake tour programs (walking trails). At first I didn’t believe the suggestion duration of each walk as I knew I can walk at a much faster pace than they state. But their times are more accurate as they bake in the delays due to crowds and the fact you’ll be taking tons of pictures.
12) Walk against the flow: When you walk with the flow and get stuck in a large group, it’s nearly impossible to break free and find spots to take pictures without anyone in them. When you walk against the flow, it’s much easier to find breaks in the hordes of people and you’ll be taking great pictures a lot easier.
13) Limit your coffee intake: There are very few toilets within the park and there is rushing water everywhere; a bad combination if you just finished a Vente latte. Don’t think you can just duck into the trees either, as the paths are really busy and the slopes are steep, making it tough to find a spot to water the flowers. It’s a little easier for small kids as people will forgive you if they need to pee next to the trail.
14) Bring a garbage bag: There are surprisingly few garbage bins within the park. This is a special place and is surprisingly clean and litter free considering how many people visit there. Bring your own garbage bags to cart out any garbage you generate during your visit.
15) Bring plenty of water and snacks: There are some restaurants, but it’s best to have plenty of your own water and snacks with you.
Suggested Walking Routes (with maps)
How to Visit Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb
How to Visit Plitvice Lakes from Split