Would you recommend taking a tour of Plitvice Lakes? Any good tour operators? We are staying in Split so looking for a ride from Split + Tour. Or should we just rent a car and go self guided? Thanks!
More about convenience. The hardest part about visiting Plitvice from Split is getting back and forth. Once you are there, you don't need a tour guide - very easy to explore the park yourself. There are public buses, but the return to Split is probably too early to make a day trip feasible. Renting a car gives you the maximum flexibility, but I'd certainly look at how long a tour would give you there and what it costs. Realistically, you can see the park in a good 6-7 hours in park (once you get tickets - I hear there can be a line just for that at peak visiting times. Maybe a tour operator would handle all of that and save you time.
If you will be visiting Plitvice anytime near the summer months, expect big crowds in the park mid-day which many find quite unpleasant. That's why I prefer to stay over a night at the park and enter it first thing in the morning when it opens at 7am, so you can see it for a few hours before the big tour groups arrive! But that just isn't an option for many, I know!
As an alternative to Plitvice, you might consider Krka National Park which is a lot closer to Split. Get a public bus to Skradin and you can take a boat from there up to the big Skradinski Buk cascading waterfall. It's larger and more magnificent than any one waterfall at Plitvice, though I really prefer Plitvice overall.
There's no need for any kind of "guide" or tour. You just need to get there. Best way is to rent a car. The drive is not difficult (there's just a scarcity of vowels, you'll get used to it). As suggested by Andrew, arrive early afternoon, do a few hours in the park as the day-trippers are starting to peel off, spend the night in the park hotel (in the park) - a little weird but good enough - then get up the next morning to be out when the park opens, do a few more hours, then move on by midday as the crowds return. Easy. No guide needed (or wanted) once you're there.
For those of you who have been, I've read that there is a steep descent from Entrance Gate 1 to the boardwalks. (I'm thinking path B which is designated as Easy). Is this descent steps or is it a possibly slippery trail? Handrails or not? Thanks.
There is exactly two places in the park which involve climbing. Neither are required - both are side trips.