As opposed to being any singular attraction, the Plitvice Waterfalls (pronounced "PLIT-vits-uh") are really a large network of karstic lakes and waterfalls. Just imagine walking besides and even right over lakes full of fish while displaying a color and clarity that rivals China's Jiuzhaigou.
It's not all that unfamiliar to see a sequence that goes like waterfalls-lake-waterfalls-lake, etc. etc. It's probably one of the more memorable waterfall attractions in the world as Julie and I were pleasantly surprised at how large some of these waterfalls turned out to be once we finally saw them in person.
Apparently, these waterfalls were tourist attractions even since the late 19th century. We learned this from a plaque alongside the Galvanovac Lake (one of the many lakes here) that stated that Plitvice was named after a world famous Croatian opera singer at the time. So, this is hardly a new attraction though it seems to only be coming into its own as a world class tourist attraction recently.
To get a handle on the enormity of the Plitvice Jezera (meaning Plitvice Lakes and is pronounced "PLIT-vits-uh Yez-er-uh"), you can divide the complex into the Upper Lakes and the Lower Lakes separated by a long lake called Jezero Kozjak. Each section is quite easily walkable in a half-day if you choose do each part as its own loop. However, we found that there were numerous criss-crossing junctions and sub-loops so there were many different ways to experience the falls and get the most out of our visit (plus take a lot more time). Indeed, rushing through this place is something we don't recommend.
Since the authorities intelligently made most of the park vehicle free, we had to rely on the public transport options (included in the price of admission). These included a pair of shuttles (one going to the Lower Lakes [stops ST2 to ST1] with the other going to the Upper Lakes [stops ST2 to ST4]) and a pair of boats (one shuttling between the docking areas P1 and P2 and another shuttling across Jezero Kozjak [Kozjak Lake] from P2 to P3).
If you feel like hoofing it without the aid of the public transport, the signs indicated that the full loop of the park takes about 8 hours, I recalled. And I'm pretty sure that didn't include photo stops or other distractions. We managed to experience this waterfall by breaking up this longer hike and spreading out our self-guided tour over about two full days.
There are a pair of dedicated car parks labeled "entrance" or "ulaz" (see directions below for how we got there on our own). There's one near the Lower Lakes and another near the Upper Lakes so you can leave your rental vehicle if you're not staying in the park. However, if you're staying in the park (like we did), you probably won't need to be driving your car again unless you choose to dine in a place that you're not staying at. Of course, if you're on a tour, then you don't have to worry about cars, but you do have a little less control of where you want to go when the public transport options close for the day (which was around 19:30 when we were there in late May).
In my mind, the Plitvice Waterfalls in the Lower Lakes were bigger and more "organized" (for lack of a better word). The terrain here was more of a rugged gorge as the gorge walls closed in the network of waterfalls and lakes so that meant there was limited access between the lower boardwalks (by the lakes and waterfalls) and the upper walkways (on the tops of the gorge banks). The accesses were generally a long series of steps.
The waterfall network began by draining the large lake Jezero Kozjak (Kozjak Lake) in its uppermost waterfall called Milanovački Slapovi, and this waterfall spilled into the next lake called Milanovac Jezero (Milanovac Lake). The Milanovački Slapovi waterfall was fairly tall (I'd say around 20m or so) but was quite wide and photogenic when seen from above, which was possible from both sides of the gorge. The lower boardwalk (i.e. the one meandering within the deep gorge) crossed above this waterfall and linked with the Upper Gorge walk between the P3 boat stop and the overlooks of the bottommost waterfalls in the section (which we'll describe later).
The Milanovac Jezero then drained over the next waterfall called Slap Milke Trnine. This waterfall was also wide, but was quite tiny in height and tended to hide amongst the thick foliage growing within the waterway. I recalled there was also a bench here for chilling out and staring at the falls (assuming if the weather cooperated, which it didn't necessarily do so for us). The Slap Milke Trnine then drained into the Gavanovac Jezero, which was a pretty small lake.
Next, the Gavanovac Jezero drained over a pair of attractive sections known as the Velike Kaskade. Here, the boardwalk skirted alongside the smaller upper tier before going down steps alongside the much larger lower tier (watch your step as there were no guardrails on the walkway!). At the base of the falls, the boardwalk split off where one path crossed right in front of the wide but attractive cascade while another path climbed up a bunch of stairs into the Sulpjara Cave linking.
That cave was one of the limited access routes connecting the lower walkway with the upper walkway. The Upper Gorge Walkway could be taken to either the ST1 shuttle stop or Ulaz 1 Entrance. From within the cave itself, we also managed to get attractive views of the Velike Kaskade as well as check out interpretive signs regarding the formation of the cave.
Continuing further downstream, the Velike Kaskade drained into the Kaluđerovac Jezero, which was a fairly long lake that had many fish. And the waters were briefly interrupted by a small intermediate waterfall (I believe it was called Novakovića though I wasn't sure if really referred to the larger waterfalls further downstream) before passing under a boardwalk spanning the lake and then over the next series of waterfalls.
That last series of falls that we saw spilled over some smaller tiers before ultimately spilling dramatically over what might be a 20-25m drop known as the Sastavci Waterfall. We think it was here where the waterfalls were the most photogenic. That was because not only did the Sastavci drain the Kaluđerovac Jezero, but there was also another watercourse joining the action over more waterfalls.
Even though this marked the last of the waterfalls we saw within the Lower Lakes, it was not the end of the waterfalling in this section of the park.
Just a little further downstream, the boardwalk bent around a cliff right above the rushing waters and went right before the tall and misty "Great Waterfall" also known as Veliki Slap. I recalled there were signs claiming that this "Great Waterfall" was 70m tall, and after going up and down the stairs that linked the base and its top, I would concur with that assessment.
Speaking of that walk, once we climbed up the stairs (plus one tunnel), we also got a nice top down view of the Veliki Slap from an overlook perched near the edge of the gorge.
But there was still more! We continued walking over a road bridge traversing the stream responsible for the Veliki Slap and towards a short spur path on the other side of the stream where the shaded path stopped at a dramatic overlook of the Sastavci Waterfall and the lakes upstream from it (see the photo at the top of this page).
Julie and I informally called this vidikovac ("look out point" in Croatian), the "Money Shot."
With a little further exploration from the "Money Shot" (we were given this tip by a fellow tourist though we did have to watch our step and take our time), we saw a couple more unofficial viewpoints - one with a pretty satisfying view of Veliki Slap and another with an awkward and overgrown view of Sastavci (maybe we didn't explore enough?).
Now the official boardwalks didn't continue further downstream, but we recalled seeing maps saying there were even more waterfalls further down there. Since we turned around at this point, it pretty much concluded our self-tour of the dramatic Lower Lakes section of the park. Maybe one of these days, we'll be a little more adventurous and venture further to discover more hidden waterfalls.
The Upper Lakes were more spread out than its Lower Lakes counterpart. That meant, the lakes and waterfalls seemed to be wider though the falls themselves were shorter. It also felt that there were more boardwalks to cover this wider area so there were several options available to us to figure out how best we could get the most of our visit.
The way we ended up doing this part was to take a shuttle bus from ST2 (which was closest to our hotel) all the way up to ST4 (the last stop near the top of the Upper Lakes). We then walked downhill criss-crossing the network of waterfalls and lakes before ending up at the P2 boat stop and concluding our Upper Lakes tour. Even though we saw what we thought was the majority of what there was to see in the Upper Lakes, we must mention that we didn't even walk up any of the hills that might have revealed scenic top down contextual views of the Upper Lakes network (at least according to our map). Clearly, we needed more time to see it all.
Anyways, here's a narrative of the progression of waterfalls and lakes that we saw from the top down.
At the very top end of the Upper Lakes boardwalk near the ST4 stop, the lakes Prošćansko Jezero and Ciginovac both drained over a series of mostly hidden waterfalls and cascades as they spilled into the lake Okrugljak. The falls were mostly concealed due to thick foliage covering them up so that made it difficult to photograph them. However, the boardwalks did pass over and besides quite a few of the waterfalls so we got a sense of the scale of the them even though we couldn't capture that sense in photographs.
Draining Okrugljak was the next series of small waterfalls and cascades with lakes in between them. According to our map, there were three labels - Veliko, Malo, and Vir, but I wasn't sure if they were referring to the ponds between the cascades or to the waterfall sections themselves. There was also the lake Batinovac Jezero, which seemed to bypass most of the waterfall network we were traversing up to this point.
As we walked through this section, we weren't very aware of which waterfall or lake was what (you can probably get this sense just by the vague descriptions of the last couple of paragraphs). Besides, the waterfalls in this section were still merely the appetizers for the larger waterfalls still yet to come.
All of these lakes and waterfalls so far drained into the fairly large lake Galovac Jezero. The size of this lake gave us an opportunity for a waterfall breather leaving the crashing waters for walks alongside the calm and colorful lake (if the lighting's right).
Next, the Galovac Jezero drained into perhaps the most dramatic part of the Upper Lakes.
And if my recollections were correct, there was a connecting trail that went straight from the ST3 shuttle stop to this section. So if you were in a hurry or weren't interested in seeing the uppermost lakes and waterfalls, then the ST3 stop (as opposed to ST4 where we stopped) would essentially "cut to the chase."
Anyways, it was here that the largest waterfalls of the Upper Lakes were located. It was also here that I once again lost track of which waterfall was which. All I knew was that our maps indicated that the waterfalls of note here were named Veliki Prštavac, Mali Prštavac, and Galovački Buk. I think the largest of these falls were about 25-30m in height (though I'm totally guessing here).
The boardwalks criss-crossed this section walking both above and below most of the waterfalls. There was even one switchback where we were able to get almost behind one of the larger drops. Plus, there were also clear and colorful lakes sprinkled in between all the action.
Unfortunately, this part was also prone to serious overcrowding as tour groups practically overwhelmed this area so it definitely got a bit tight. Considering that that most of the boardwalks didn't have rails, we were certainly trying to be very careful when walking through this section so as to not fall into the water!
Admittedly, the crowd factor didn't exactly make for a peaceful experience, but then again, the tourism industry does rely on the steady and relatively stable income from mass tourism so for independent tourists (like us), we just had to take the good with the bad.
I'd say that of the half-day we walked from ST4 at the top all the way to the P2 stop at the bottom, most of the time was spent in this stretch where it was one big waterfall after another and one clear, colorful pond or lake after another.
By the time we were finally through walking this stretch of the Upper Lakes, waterfall fatigue had set in. However, there were still more waterfalls further downstream!
The large waterfalls draining the lake Galovac spilled into the next lake called Gradinsko Jezero. There was a brief calm section before this lake drained into the last series of waterfalls as they all drained into the Jezero Kozjak (remember? The long lake segregating the Upper and Lower Plitvice Lakes?).
After having gone through the main waterfall stretch, this last series of waterfalls didn't quite have the same appeal. However, it further illustrated to us just how extensive and plentiful waterfalls and lakes were at Plitvice. That alone made this experience very unique and memorable.
When we had our fill of this bottommost section of the Upper Lakes, we followed a path that ultimately descended to a docking area at P2. From this boat stop, we queued up and hopped onto a boat that shuttled us back to P1 (where the hotels and the Ulaz 2 Entrance were).
In addition to shuttling back to P1, the P2 stop also had the option of shuttling across the Jezero Kozjak to P3 at the head of the Lower Lakes.
So as you can see from this fairly exhaustive digest of what we have to say about the Plitvice Waterfalls, there are indeed lots to see and do here. The crazy thing is that there were still parts we didn't get to see due to lack of time. I guess that leaves us room for a return visit.
In any case, we have yet more photos and videos to share, which you can check out below.
Directions: We devoted a page for transport logistics including driving directions, which you can read here.
I recalled we didn't have much difficulty arriving in the country with respect to Visas, fees, or other issues when arriving in the international airport in Zagreb (we flew in from Greece). So we didn't do an in depth writeup about the logistics concerning immigration, customs, and other administrative things.
Walking along one of the Upper Gorge tracks towards Veliki Slap (Great Waterfall) in the Lower Lakes of Plitvice. Heavy rains dominated the first day of our visit so Veliki Slap was a bit bigger than what we would end up seeing a couple of days later.
Looking down into the gorge at the Velike Kaskade
Looking towards Velike Kaskade and accompanying lakes and mini-cascades as we descend down to lake level
Boardwalk traversing the Kaluđerovac Jezero with lots of fish in the water; an indication of a relatively healthy ecosystem
Walkway climbing alongside one of the Plitvice Waterfalls
The misty base of Veliki Slap
Bad weather, but still beautiful
Sometimes the boardwalks go right over the waterfalls. In high water conditions like on this particular day, some parts of the Plitvice Waterfalls even flow over the walkway
The boardwalk going right before the Velike Kaskade
Looking back at Velike Kaskade from the other side of its width
A bench for chilling out and checking out Slap Milke Trnine if it wasn't so rainy
Looking down into the gorge when the sun finally showed itself; too bad it was at the end of the day!
Looking straight down at Velike Kaskade and boardwalks
Milanovački Slapovi and boat headed to the P3 stop on the Jezero Kozjak
Boardwalk alongside the banks of Ciginovac
One of the first significant-looking waterfalls we saw that morning
Line of waterfalls spilling into Okrugljak
Boardwalk going around some very clear lakes with submerged trees
Closer look at some of the uppermost of the Upper Lakes waterfalls
Boardwalk descending alongside cascades spilling into Galovac
Looking back at another section of the Galovac Waterfalls
A calm part of Galovac as the boardwalk goes around it
Descending below Galovac and looking towards more ponds and lakes
Another attractive waterfall in the main section
Sometimes the boardwalk goes above these waterfalls
Boardwalks frequently go in front of long waterfalls like this in the Upper Lakes
Angled look at one of the main waterfalls
A close look at one of the main waterfalls
Looking over submerged branches towards yet another waterfall
The next calm part
Boardwalk fronting some of the waterfalls comprising the lowermost of the network of falls in the Upper Lakes
Waiting patiently alongside lots of fish for a boat to take us to the Lower Lakes
One of the lowermost of the Upper Lakes network as seen from a boat; note the self-hired canoers providing scale
Looking back at Milanovački Slapovi at the start of the Lower Lakes
Looking straight down at the colorful and clear lakes
Veliki Slap from the top
Looking down into Sastavci with a rainbow this time
Incoming bad weather
Closer look at the Milanovački Slapovi
Profile view of the Milanovački Slapovi
Back at the Money Shot Overlook the following morning. This time it was cloudy providing even lighting though not quite the same colors as yesterday.
Another look at Veliki Slap but now with more typical flow
Unusual view of Sastavci from nearby the Money Shot