Today I’m sharing our tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park with kids.
Our time in Plitvice Lakes, Croatia marked the exact halfway point through our three week trip through Europe with our daughters last month. We began in Paris and flew over to Korčula, Croati. Then drove up through Croatia and Slovenia before spending the last week in Italy. Check out a more detailed breakdown of our itinerary here.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes was very much a bucket list moment for both Tyler and me. Experiencing it with the girls was so special. I’ve never been anywhere quite like it.
In this guide, I’ll walk through some basic information to know before planning a trip to Plitvice Lakes. It includes how to get there, how many nights we recommend staying in the area, and the details about where we stayed. Then, I’ll share the walking route that we chose. Also, a handful of tips for visiting the park with small children.
Plitvice Lakes is the largest national park in Croatia and the second most visited site in Croatia, behind Dubrovnik.
The park consists of 16 interconnected lakes with easy walking trails that run along or over the lakes and waterfalls. There are several jaw-dropping view points in the park, allowing visitors to experience the majestic waterfalls both close up and with a “bird’s eye view.”
In 1979, Plitvice Lakes National Park was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and continues to draw in travelers from around the world and Croatia itself.
The water color is this really vibrant teal, and there are full waterfalls around every turn. The lakes are protected by dense forests, giving the park and surrounding area a moody fairytale vibe.
Plitvice Lakes is located in central Croatia, in the lower elevations of the Dinaric Alps. The area is a 2 hour drive from Zagreb, 2.5 hours from Split, and almost 5 hours from Dubrovnik. We had our own car for the majority of our trip which allowed us to be on our own schedule.
Alternatively, there are public bus routes available from Zagreb and Zadar.
Many private tour companies offer day trip tours to Plitvice Lakes that include transportation.
We had such a good experience with arriving on our own and getting there first thing in the morning that I hesitate to recommend a tour group. The tour groups don’t get there until mid-morning at the earliest which is when most of the crowds arrived that we noticed. But, the option is worth noting if you’re not keen on renting your own car.
We spent two nights in Plitvice Lakes. The ferry and drive from Korčula to Plitvice Lakes took about 5 hours, and we ended up actually adding a little detour over to Mali Ston for an afternoon that day too. We decided to book two nights in Plitvice because we knew that our journey to get there would take the majority of a day. Everything we read online said to plan to get to the park ASAP in the morning, so we wanted to get settled and get a good night’s sleep before heading to the park.
And in terms of the second night, we could have probably moved on to our next stop following our morning in the park, but we knew the girls would need some time to chill and rest before another drive. We ended up spending 4 hours in the park in the morning and then swam, napped, and ate a lot the rest of the day before packing up and heading to Slovenia the next morning.
If you are traveling alone or without kids, I recommend spending, at the very least, one night in the area. If you take one piece of advice from this post, it’s to make sure you arrive at the park at 7am on the dot like we did. So it only makes sense to make your way to the area the day before.
We stayed at Camping Plitvice and had a fabulous experience. Camping Plitvice offers campsites as well as luxury mobile homes–think “glamping.” This was SO much fun. Our unit was really more of a modern cottage, with two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchenette, and a private patio outside.
Our mobile home was clean, modern, and had everything we needed to enjoy a relaxing stay in Plitvice.
Camping Plitvice is just a five minute drive from Entrance 1. This was really convenient with our early wakeup call and allowed us to get to the park easily before it opened.
Camping Plitvice provides guests with luxury amenities like a great playground for kids, a gorgeous pool and deck area, and a gourmet restaurant right onsite. If that’s not glamping, I don’t know what is.
The scenery surrounding the property is lush, peaceful, and perfect for using as a base to explore Plitvice Lakes. It really sets the tone for the magical waterfall wonderland, you know?
This stay really made our time in Plitvice so special. The girls LOVED the pool and playground, and we were able to rest and recharge before embarking on the second half of our trip.
We spent a ton of time researching this, and there is a LOT of info on all of the various route options you can take through the park. Here’s what we landed on:
We started at Entrance 1 and began the lower lakes loop route first (Route B). Then, we took the boat across to the upper lakes to boat stop P2 (this took about 30 minutes and was a lovely, peaceful ride).
Then, rather than continue on route B, we took Route C up to the first big falls (Veliki Prštavac) of the upper lakes route (walked for about 30 minutes) and then turned around and took the boat from P2 to P1, getting back on Route B back to Entrance 1. Follow the signs for the bus, which will take you halfway back to Entrance 1.
The bus will drop you off and you should take the path that runs through the park as opposed to the road itself. This is where you’ll be able to experience the most insane bird’s eye views.
We made it back to our car around 11:30am, putting us right at the 4.5 hour mark. This was definitely the maximum amount of time our kids could have handled. Not only were the trails starting to get much more crowded and harder to navigate, but it was getting hotter. We finished up right as they were really fading and in need of lunch and a nap.
If we didn’t have the girls with us, I think we could have covered Route C hitting all of the upper lakes in roughly that same amount of time. You can see most of the park in a full morning, or at the very least, one day.
You will need to reserve your tickets and time slot in advance of your visit. If you’re planning a trip during the summer, make sure to do this way ahead of time as the park does sell out on busy days.
As previously mentioned, this list could be complete at this tip alone. We followed all of the advice we read online and got there exactly at 7am when the park opened. Tyler was like a drill sergeant getting us out the door that morning, but it TOTALLY paid off.
We had the park to ourselves for the first hour, and I think it was one of the most precious hours of my life. It was like a movie: the morning light filtering through the waterfalls and between the trees, the crisp cool air on our faces as we explored, having the pathways to ourselves, the girls staring in awe up at the waterfalls. It was all too much.
By 9am, the trails were way more crowded, and the vibe became way more intense and touristy. And by 11am when we passed the entrance, it was like a single file line heading down the trails.
I recommend that every person reading this get to the park right when it opens like we did, but especially families with small kids. I can only imagine how stressful it would have been to be shuffling the girls down crowded walkways, worried about someone knocking one of them off. Because we had the trails to ourselves, we could relax and actually enjoy the scenery and views.
I recommend packing tons of snacks, water (even more than you think you’ll need!) and some candy as a bribe for desperate times. Tyler thought of a good idea: when the girls started getting tired (Char of walking and Emmie of being strapped to us), he let them each have an M&M at each trail sign we passed IF they didn’t whine between the signs. Worked like a charm and got us through the last two hours of the morning once it got hotter and more crowded. We packed sandwiches, cucumbers, meat sticks, and pretzels.
It was cool when we got there in the morning, so the girls and I both had sweatshirts on. As the morning went on, it became much hotter. I ended up putting hats and sunscreen on them on the boat ride across to the upper lakes around 10am. I definitely recommend bringing layers, sunscreen, and hats to be prepared for anything.
Emmie has outgrown the carrier stage, but we did bring ours all the way to Europe with us specifically for this day. The pathways really are not toddler-friendly–there aren’t guardrails, and the paths run right alongside and even directly over the lakes and waterfalls at certain points. We wanted to make sure she was safe and secured to us in the more dangerous areas of the park.
Having the carrier was crucial to enjoying the day, and she actually did really well in it! We’d let her get out and walk, of course, when it was safe. There were plenty of stretches where she was able to stretch her legs and walk on her own, but then we’d strap her in again once the path went next to or on top of the water.
This was by far one of the most memorable days of the trip, and I’m SO glad we factored Plitvice Lakes into our time in Croatia. The beauty of this place really can’t be put into words.
If you’re planning a trip to Croatia, I highly recommend putting Plitvice Lakes National Park on your itinerary.
Here is a link to all of the routes you can take through the park.
It’s a pre-weekend pick me up: just a little note with links to the latest blog posts, what I’m reading lately, and products I’m obsessed with. Think of it as a friend dropping off a surprise latte in the morning--you know?