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Plitvice Lakes National Park

I am in the early planning stages for a spring 2023 trip to Croatia. We are interested in visiting this park.
Is is better to stay overnight at one of the park hotels, or find accommodations nearby? How strenuous is the hiking? Should we pack a picnic, or are there places to purchase meals? Is this worthy of the detour?

Posted by
6788 posts

The best option is to stay overnight in the hotel in the park itself. The hotel is not perfect, it's definitely a product of the era in which it was constructed (it felt to me like something out of a 1960s James Bond movie, but I have a vivid imagination); it was adequate and comfortable enough, even if lacking any charm. It's all about location location location...and beating the crowds.

The crowds are day-trippers. Your goal should be to maximize the time you have in the park when the day-trippers are not there, and minimize the time you share the park with them. The crowds are worst around mid-day and early afternoon. So, arrive in the park mid-afternoon, and check into the James Bond motel (the one in the park, not outside it). Note the crowds beginning to dwindle as the afternoon wears on. Get out and do half the park in the afternoon and early evening. Sleep in the No-Charm Inn. Get up early, and get out early and do the other half of the park in the morning, before the crowds roll in. Wrap up your park walks by check-out time, get out and hit the road as the park fills up. If you follow this schedule, you will get to enjoy the park at its best, relatively crowd-free; if you are in the park during mid-day and early afternoon, it'll be more of a shared mass-tourism experience.

The "hiking" is anything but strenuous - it's mostly just walking on mostly-level paths and boardwalks. There are some stairs and some slightly hilly spots, but it's a pretty tame, controlled environment. It's very pretty, but you're not exactly doing the Pacific Crest Trail. Easy walking.

The food at the park hotel was not memorable. If you are picky, you may want to pack a picnic lunch, but you go for the scenery, not for fine dining.

Worthy of a detour? Absolutely. It's a cool place, you'll be glad you went.

Posted by
4036 posts

All answers depend somewhat on your interests and time. It was definitely worth the detour for me.

In some cases, staying in park hotels is advantageous. I did not - I stayed in a very nice apartment just down the road from both entrances. Some people say to do half the hike late afternoon and come back for the other half the next morning. Depends on fitness and how long you want stop and look around - I did Route C in a little over 4 hours with a stop for coffee. It could easily take longer with more crowds. You can take a route that is shorter - or longer - than C. Allow plenty of time to stop and rest if you have a question about how strenuous it might be. There is definitely a lot of walking and stairs, along with balance challenges on the boardwalks. So it’s not “a walk in the park” (lol!) but definitely doable and beautiful!

I saw 2 or 3 areas to stop and get food, but also saw people picnicking in those areas. I had a car, which also helps determine your choices.

Posted by
1645 posts

You've had good advice so far. We stayed at Hotel Jezero, and it was very convenient. There is a hill down to the entrance and back up. You can choose to take the stairs or take the path, which is more gradual.

When we were there in the late afternoon/early evening in mid-May, we often had the boardwalks to ourselves. It was busier the following morning, but still not bad.

There was one very, very steep, long climb, and that was from the lower lakes up to Station 1. You may want to avoid this, if you are worried about strenuous hiking. (We didn't have the option, since we had taken the last ferry of the day to the lower lakes.)

Posted by
69 posts

There's one thing that swayed me...the hotels in the park include park admission for the duration of your hotel stay as well as 20% of food there. That's why we have Hotel Plitvice booked for Sept. 25-27 (two nights because we're taking our time with it, and won't get there until late Sept. 25.) I think that's what the above poster means by "James Bond hotel".

Posted by
1596 posts

Plitvice Lakes National park is definitely worth the detour. It is absolutely beautiful and very unique.

We did what most people do. We stayed one night and hiked the upper lakes in the late afternoon on our first day to avoid crowds. Then we were back in the park the next morning by 9AM and hiked the lower lakes. We left the park around noon.

We did not, however, stay in one of the park's hotels. I had read they aren't very nice and/or are very plain, and the food isn't very good. We stayed overnight at Plitvice Miric Inn, just outside the park. It's a lovely place. Our room in 2019 cost about $120, and includes one of the most delicious breakfast buffets I have ever had. We also made reservations to have our dinner there, too, for a cost of $20 per person. It is a full course meal and very delicious. One of the best meals of our trip. We did have to purchase the two-day ticket for the park, but we believe it is well worth it to stay at Plitvice Miric inn.

Posted by
79 posts

Plitvice was beyond memorable, especially with fine weather on 12 Set 22. Hiked, walked, boated throughout the lower then the upper lakes, enjoying the experience, scenery, water and more water falling and flowing. Had an adventure and nearly got stranded in early evening on the lakeside opposite hotel area. but that's travel.

Stayed at Fenomen Plitvice with a terrific late night, post adventure meal, and a luxurious cabin. Expensive, but we didn't travel to this marvelous area in Croatia to save money. We went to experience our blessings of a good travel life.

Posted by
41 posts

Thank you Alan. I will check that out! And I agree that sometimes one just needs to consider the hotel price as part of the “experience”. We did, in May, for our three nights in Venice, and we don’t regret it. I am, however, thinking that we may delay our Croatia trip until 2024, due to the Ukraine-Russia war. Sigh…

Posted by
17835 posts

1 I will be the odd man out on this one.
2 We got an early start from Zagreb, made the 2 hour drive to the Park, did what we wanted to in about 4 hours and then moved on to Split (another 2.5 hours or so).
3 For my taste and energy level and tolerance for tourists (hundreds), it worked fine and it was enjoyable.
4 They have luggage storage in the park
5 And we hired a driver.

Posted by
27041 posts

James, what time did you get to the park and at what time of year? If someone can manage to get there at opening time, it will be fine (other than the likelihood of being pretty sleepy by 3 or 4 PM). The issue is that most daytrippers won't get to the park until 10 AM or later, finding themselves among thousands--not hundreds--of other visitors. I've seen the park uncrowded (two visits during the late 1970s or 1980s, before many people were going to Croatia), and I've seen it with a 10 AM arrival from Zagreb in mid-summer 2015. There was a massive difference in the experiences. To begin with, it took me about an hour to get through the ticket line in 2015. Then I was walking in lockstep with everyone else on the walkways. It was nearly unbelievable.

The park seemed to have a lot of local visitors, so I think vacation periods and weekends might be worse than a random Tuesday or Wednesday, but I'd still do everything I could to manage an early-morning arrival if I wasn't going to spend the night.

Posted by
17835 posts

1 It was August and arrived between 9 and 10.
2 Opens at 7, no way I could get there by then.
3 Driver dropped us off at the gate, then came back to pick us up (actually another driver).
4 All but the David's post were unclear if they spent the night before or the night after and David's post says "The crowds are worst around mid-day and early afternoon" so maybe I was well into the park before the crowds showed up.