Plitvice Lakes is one of the most amazing places we've ever been. It is located well inland from the Dalmatian coast, close to the border with Bosnia. While not entirely accurate you can think of the park as a long gorge with a descending series of lakes through it. We started at the north entrance (closer to Karlovac) which meant that we would generally be traveling upstream. This does mean that you'll be walking uphill more than downhill but if you're considering the different routes don't let that deter you. The altitude gain is gentle and spread out over distance. Other than climbing back to the rim it really isn't noticeable.
If you start at the north entrance, you'll get hit with this absolutely stunning view almost immediately. Veliki Slap (the big falls) is actually falling into the main gorge from the side and isn't part of the series of lakes. If you look closely just above the second tier of falls is a curving line of people (with umbrellas) walking on the boardwalks to the base of Veliki Slap.
This is the base of Veliki Slap. It was raining on this part of our hike but with all the mist from the falls it may not have made a difference. We choose to roughly follow hike 'C' through Plitvice Lakes, there are a wide variety of hiking loops with different letter codes. The C hike comes out to around 8km (5 miles).
The boardwalks snake along the edges of the lakes and the waterfalls and occasionally cross them. This view from the rim gives a good idea of the tiered sets of waterfalls and the lake crossings, as well as the stunning water color.
This is the same area from boardwalk level. Our trip was in late September and there were tour groups around mostly here in the lower lakes. It has been extensively written that passing tour groups on these boardwalks is difficult. It is, although generally we let them pass us as they seemed to be in more of a hurry. For the record, our four-year old son had no problems covering the entire 8km hike although we took it slow and had several snack breaks.
The signage in the park is pretty good. The trail segments are not named but at each junction the assorted letter-code loops are indicated. The trail 'map' for Plitvice is located on your entrance ticket which leaves a little something to be desired. At each lake these signs exist to show you the size, depth and name of the lake. The little arrow shows where you are in the lake system.
Many of the lower lakes have a plaque or monument to explain their name. This area for instance is Milke Trnine which our Croatian is not good enough to do anything with. There are websites out there for more detail but mostly the lakes are named after individuals who have been important in the history of the lakes.
As mentioned earlier we found there was a definite ebb and flow in the tour groups. Except for a short section in the upper lakes, the boardwalks and trails are not one-way so we can see how this could be a huge issue in the popular summer months.
The waters are remarkably clear. You can see this a few pictures back with the downed tree limbs in Gavanovac. In most places it is notable because of the fish (mostly trout). It is illegal at Plitvice to enter the water although it seems like it must happen by accident fairly often with the slippery, oft crowded boardwalks. If you really want to swim in a karst lake, Krka National Park (further south) is the place for you.
By the time you reach the top of the lower lakes, you've seen hundreds of waterfalls and an equal number of lurking trout. Here the landscape flattens out at the elongated central lake (river, really) that separates the upper lakes from the lower lakes....
We intended to spend a bit longer here but after about 10 minutes there was an inexplicable gap in the large tour groups and we had the chance to have a nearly empty ferry boat so we took it. The ferry connects to both sides of the river at the upper lakes. They leave about every five to ten minutes. It is possible to hike along either side here and skip the ferry if you're trying to make a longer loop or if the ferry lines are ridiculously long in the summer.
The upper lakes has a different feel to it than the lower lakes do. There is a lot more hanging moss, smaller lakes with more parallel falls into them (if that's possible) and the trails left boardwalk to meander into the forest more often.
You also get a lot of this effect in the upper lakes. There is a lake up there and the water seeps through in many places to create these parallel falls. The boardwalks in the upper lakes are often barely above lake level (the lake level must be incredibly consistent). The wood is slippery and it's easy to lose track of where you are while staring at all the waterfalls.
If you are wondering how this all happened, geologically the Plitvice basin is all karst. Mostly limestone which is water-soluble so the flowing water has carved all sorts of fascinating paths through the gorge.
Another amazing set of waterfalls. We couldn't help thinking while we hiked here that nearly every turn revealed a view that would be the centerpiece attraction at most National Parks. All of these pictures are of different sets of waterfalls and we've edited out several dozen more to try to keep this page at a manageable size.
Near the upper portion of the upper lakes you can hike on the far side (away from the edge with the road) and it travels up above the lakes giving nice views like this one. This and the section between the two park entrances were the only places we hiked here that were not primarily boardwalk.
Even in the forest though the water is seeping through the rock and creating new falls. This is a slope beneath the trail set back from the lakes a little ways.
It was back here in the (very) damp forest that we saw this fire salamander. He (or she?) was the only real land animal we saw in the park although the gift shops are strewn with bear, deer and otter images. It does not appear any of these animals are commonly seen in the gorge portion of the park.
This is not a dramatic image to end with but it was quite misty when we reached the upper end. We took a bus back from here to the south entrance and then hiked back to the north entrance from there. The bus and ferry are included with your entrance to the park.