We sit on a rocky ledge with a green expanse stretching across the horizon. Lakes of turquoise fill the center, jewels in a sea of forest spilling into each other. Looking down I can see where we hiked earlier, an abandoned part of the park we had to ourselves. We crossed a river far below, balancing in the current with our shoes in our hands. I stopped in the center to stare at the falls rushing towards us not far ahead. The memory lives in my mind and not in my camera that was packed away in case I slipped. We sat on the riverbank looking up at the falls beyond the ones in front of us and caught two tiny tourists waving at us from a bridge high above. I smiled and waved back, happy in the knowledge we were alone and not following the masses. It felt more like an exploration and discovery with no one else about. Before the falls, we stood in a gigantic cave. I making birdlike cawing sounds and he answering with a bark, our noises echoing across the stone.
After trekking below, we end up at this magnificent overlook and the best view in the park. My new friend tells me to let him know when I get bored, because he won’t. Who could? I wouldn’t have seen any of this without a local to let me experience it through their eyes.
Early that morning, I hiked the park from one end to the other. I started at the upper falls, working my way up and over the wooden boardwalks that wind their way through the trails. I did this alone, one step ahead of the other tourists since I entered the park when it opened. I didn’t see another soul for 2 hours and admired each new waterfall and the beauty of the park in silence. When I reached the lower falls, my first views of the teal water were remarkable. The lakes sparkled through the trees and when there was an opening I could gaze down at the ant like people crossing the wooden walkways far below. I soon became one of them admiring the lakes and largest falls from the same point of view.
As I left around noon, large groups of people were crowding the boats and lining up at the entrance. I was thankful I got up early and experienced it on my own. Recharged by nature, I headed back to my hotel, not knowing the best hike was yet to come.
I almost cancelled my trip to Plitvice due to all the negative reviews about the crowds. I’m glad I kept my plans, met a local and was able to see the area in a way that most do not. Nature resets me and fills my spirit with its fresh air and abundance of life. Plitvice is one of the top tourist attractions in Croatia and I can see why. Croatia itself has been a refreshing change of pace full of beauty and bright days. I still have the crown jewel to visit and wonder what treasures Dubrovnik will have in store for me.
How to get there:
I found the Bus Croatia site to be most helpful finding a ride to the park. I left from Split and the buses are on time, air conditioned and affordable. My ticket was around $25 and it took 3 1/2 hours.
Take your time:
I spent 3 nights and found this to be a great amount of time. It allows room if there is bad weather or if your bus is late. The park gets very crowded at times so having 2 days to get up early in the morning will give you the most enjoyable experience.
There are a few hotels right at the entrance of the park. I would highly recommend this option. It allows you an early start and they also will stamp your one day pass allowing you in the park for free the other nights you stay. I stayed at the Bellevue Hotel and was comfortable. It’s a little dated, but the location made it the best fit for me. It’s located right next to Entrance 2 of the park. There is also a general store you can walk to through the woods if you need supplies and a restaurant nearby which is helpful.
Plan your Hike:
It’s good to have an idea of what path you’d like to take beforehand. If you are visiting in high season, you really want to get there when the park opens. Some of the ferries and shuttles do not run when the park opens. I started at Entrance 2, took the ferry across and hiked up Trail E on the right side of the lakes. The Ferry starts early here and allowed me to have the path to myself. Hiking upward gives you a great view of the falls and I felt was the most scenic way to go. The boardwalks are really beautiful and curvy here. I then got on the shuttle and took it past station 1 to station 2 and explored Trail B and the lower falls until I reached the ferry that took be back to where I started. I did all this in the first half of the day and left just as things were getting a bit crazy with all the tourists. So take my advice, arrive early or you will be behind groups like this.