Family Abroad

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Winter (and the 2 “Secret Lookouts”!

Introduction

Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Croatia with over 1 million people experiencing the country’s breathtaking treasure. We were sure to add it to our Croatia family travel adventures and thank goodness we did. With over 90 waterfalls, 16 lakes, and serene wooden boardwalks over the water that guide you through pristine nature, it is a place of indescribable beauty.

The wooden boardwalks are chiseled throughout the lush greenery as you are almost walking on water as you travel above the most beautiful emerald greens and turquoise blues you have ever seen. It is truly something from a movie and you wonder how such beauty even exists.

Be sure to get a good night’s sleep before you arrive at Plitvice Lakes National Parks because the park has over 36 km of hiking trails and 22 km of trails just within the lake system alone. Many are marked so you know what to expect before heading out into some of the most unique landscapes of caves, caverns, and forests; However, if you have a chance, we strongly suggest taking a look at the maps beforehand as it can get overwhelming.

We have put together a family travel guide to help you have the experience of your dreams so that you can enjoy the magic of traveling within Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia.

Overview

First, you need to be aware that visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park during the Winter is quite a different experience than visiting during a warmer time of year. There are pros and cons of wintertime in Plitvice Lakes, but we think that the pros definitely outweighed the cons.

Let’s start with the cons. It is fairly cold, but not unpleasant. You will not be wearing shorts or short sleeve shirts during this part of the year. But, you really don’t need heavy ski-type clothing either. Also, you need to be aware that several activities may be closed or limited. We saw several places where there would usually be an open restaurant, but it stood empty due to a loss less people being present in the park. Further, the number of routes to hike through the park were really restricted due to the Upper Lakes area of Plitvice Nation Park being closed during the winter.

Plitvice National Park in Winter

That being said, the closure of the Upper Lakes did nothing to damper our spirits about exploring the Lower Lakes. And while we understand that some bloggers have said that the Upper Lakes were slightly more beautiful (and definitely less crowded during the Summer), we found the Lower Lakes area to be incredibly scenic. Another aspect to know about is that the Veliki Slap (Great Waterfall) might be fully or partially frozen. When we were there in February, the waterfall was partially frozen, which to us, gave us a unique view of the waterfall that few people ever saw.

The Great Waterfall (Plitvice Lakes National Park) partially frozen. Such a unique sight!
Close op of The Great Waterfall frozen!

The biggest pro is that you will have the park pretty much to yourself. There were only a handful of people out and about. Before we went, when I was doing my research, I saw pictures taken during the Summer in front of the Great Waterfall – the walkway was packed with people. It looked like they were waiting in a really long line just to take pictures in front of the waterfall. When we took pictures at that location, no one was around!

The kids really enjoyed playing in the snow at the Mukinje Ski Resort (this is a small resort with one ski lift and is probably best suited for beginner skiers. We rented toboggans and spent the afternoon going up and down the snow-covered hills. The cost was minimal, and they even had a small food shack where you could get hot drinks and snacks.

Overall, I would recommend visiting Plitvice Lakes in the Winter. Our family had a great time and your family will love it!

History of Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park was declared Croatia’s first national park on April 8, 1949, making it the oldest in the country. It is also the largest national park in Croatia with over 73,000 acres of phenomenal nature and beauty.

In 1979, Plitvice Lakes National Park was established as a UNESCO World Heritage site in recognition of its natural creation of lakes through its travertine barriers.

Located in the central part of Croatia, Plitvice Lakes National Park is about halfway between Zadar and its stunning coast and the country’s capital of Zagreb.

Scenic view of the lake, Plitvice Lakes National Park

Things to Do and Know about Plitvice Lakes National Park

Opening Hours

Plitvice Lakes National Park is open every day of the year, so no need to worry about it being closed when you arrive. However, the hours that you can visit do fluctuate based on what season it is as well as the facilities that are available. Visiting their website is the best way to plan to see what will be open before you get there. https://np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/

Best Time to Visit

Deciding on what time of the year to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park can be difficult since there are so many factors to consider but, in the end, any day at Plitvice Lakes National Park is going to be memorable and a fairy tale.

The winter months have a lower entrance fee and come with fewer people along the boardwalks.  However, it is cooler and you may even see snow during the winter months, turning Plitvice Lakes National Park into a magical winter wonderland. Upper Lakes does close at some point during the winter months.

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Winter

The summer months of June, July, and August come with the larger crowds, taking away a bit of the serenity as the boardwalks can become busier. There is a higher ticket price during the summer and you may see lower water levels. Of course, the temperatures are warmer.

Autumn is a truly stunning time to visit with the picturesque colors of reds and golds throughout the park. The crowds tend to be less during the autumn and spring at Plitvice Lakes National Park and the water flows can be much higher creating picture-perfect waterfalls.

 Plitvice Lakes National Park in Autumn

No Swimming Allowed

As exciting and fun as the waterfalls may look and as serene and tranquil the waters below seem, swimming is not allowed as Plitvice Lakes National Park is a UNESCO declared site.

Panoramic Train

Rest your feet and enjoy the panoramic train that shuttles you and your family to specific areas within Plitvice Lakes National Park as it is included in your ticket. It is a fun twist to the family travel adventure and gives the children a bit of a break, running regularly throughout the day. To be transparent, the “train” was more like a shuttle and the ride was fairly short, but pleasant.

Upper and Lower Lakes

Your entrance tickets allow you to access both the Upper and Lower Lakes. The Upper Lakes is the larger of the two, featuring 12 Upper Lakes, and taking you up close to the waterfalls while the lower lakes have 4 lakes. The lower lakes feature caves and grottos and one of the largest waterfalls in all of the park and Croatia.

The Upper and Lower Lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park in Winter

Riding the Ferry

Set sail across Lake Kozjak on the ferry which is part of your entrance ticket. Plan your day and route accordingly as you are only able to ride across the ferry once as they stamp it upon boarding. It provides spectacular views as you can sit back and relax, giving yourself a bit of a break from walking.

The Ferry in Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Visiting During Summer

If visiting during the summer months, take the time to book your tickets in advance as they do have a set limit that can sell out during the busy months. They can be booked at least one day in advance at https://ticketing.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/. Simply choose your entry date and time. It also displays how many tickets are still available for that date of admittance.

The Upper and Lower Lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park during Summer

Be Careful If You Are With Kids

With waters as clear as glass, you can see below the water. While walking along the wooden boardwalk, we actually spotted an old canoe that had sunk below. It was a very exciting discovery for the kids. However, there aren’t any railings along the long, winding wooden boardwalks at Plitvice Lakes National Park, so be sure to have small ones in your hand and remain alert at all times as it could be a bit stressful if they are running free ahead. Children up to the age of 7 have free admission.

Bethany Walking Around Plitvice Lakes National Park

FAMILY TIP: Be sure to bring some insect repellent and if you are traveling during the rainy season and pack some ponchos. With all the walking outdoors in some of nature’s most pristine and remarkable landscapes, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes along with sunscreen during the warmer months.

Food is Allowed

Pack a picnic for you and the family. Plitvice Lakes National Park allows you to bring in food and it is the most magical setting for a family picnic.

Visit Early

Get there early! This is one of the benefits if you are staying in the area, allowing you to reap the rewards of your local stay, avoiding the large crowds. It will allow you and your family to travel slowly through the paradise known as Plitvice Lakes National Park.

The Secret Lookouts

Be sure to check out the Family Tip below to learn about getting to the two “secret lookouts”!

Don and Edith at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Staying at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park offers the option to stay within the park, but that also comes with the price tag of the convenience as well being right at Entrance 2. The park lodging can be found on the Plitvice Lakes National Park website where they list the hotels and campsites that are open and available.

The villages surrounding Plitvice Lakes National Park are also a lodging option if you were wanting to cut out some of your traveling time and save some money. Plitvice Lakes National Park is the perfect place to experience slow travel with family because there is so much to cover, see and do. It is not one place that you want to cut your time short. It is paradise on earth and you will want to plan at least 2 days to visit if you can.

We stayed at Ethno House Plitvice Lakes Hotel and I HIGHLY recommend this place, especially if you bring your children. Because we were there during the off-season, we were the only guests at the hotel (which was more like several multi-person houses spread about the property). The staff were amazing and gracious, and the on-site restaurant served wonderful food.

Ethno House Plitvice Lakes Hotel
Bethany Walking to the Ethno House Plitvice Lakes Hotel

Edith had a relaxing message at their spa while the children and I played pool and darts in the playrooms below our residence. They also have a children’s petting zoo that was much enjoyed by my kids.

The Petting Zoo at Ethno House Plitvice Lakes Hotel
Nathan and Bethany at the Petting Zoo
Nathan Petting a Pony at Ethno House Plitvice Lakes Hotel’s Petting Zoo

The hotel was close to Entrance Number 3 for the park, which is kind-of on the back side of the park between the Lower Lakes and the Upper Lakes. Reading several blogs, I was concerned about actually entering the park through this entrance, but since I had paid for my tickets online, I did not have any issues. We walked from the hotel down to the Ferry, which we took over to Entrance Number 2. And from there, we walked towards the Great Waterfall. The walking path to the waterfall is a series of wooden planks making up a boardwalk. It really did feel as if you were walking right on top of the water. After taking pictures in front of the waterfall, we went up a steep series of steps, through a small tunnel, which brought us to the road that led back to our hotel. One note – Don’t do as we did because the steps were actually one way – which was supposed to be down and not up. I loved doing the loop, but I would have done the loop in the opposite direction if I had known about these stair steps.

FAMILY TIP: At the top of the steps, there are two “secret lookouts” at the top of the waterfall steps. The first is the closest to the top of the steps. If you are approaching the stairs from the top, look to the left and you will see a path that leads to a lookout platform. From this location, you have a great view of the waterfall below.

After enjoying the waterfall view, look across, and slightly to the right, and you will see another platform. At first, I wondered why anyone would go to that platform because you couldn’t see the waterfall. But, what you do see is the postcard picture of the lake and waterways that you see all over the internet when you search Plitvice Lakes! You can also drive up to this spot and park near a small bridge.

Dining In and Around Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park has you covered when it comes to dining options and, after so much walking and exploring, you are sure to be hungry! Lička kuća is an onsite restaurant that evokes a cozy and traditional atmosphere with its open fire pit. The restaurant uses locally resourced foods with their own butcher shop and an in-house bakery. This means that everything is fresh, authentic, and delicious.

From 7 – 3, the Slap Buffet is open so you can refuel and have the energy you need for your family adventure of exploring. It is located at Entrance 1. The Kozjačka Draga bistro is spread out at the shore of Kozjak Lake where you can relax at their picnic tables amongst the serenity of nature with the lush trees and mesmerizing colors of the water. Kozjačka Draga bistro only accepts payments by card.

Prices will be a bit higher since you are in a national park, so if you have a chance, be sure to have a good meal before arriving and bring lots of water.

And, finally, if you stay at the same hotel we stayed at, be sure to plan on eating at least one meal at their restaurant.

Transportation In and Around Plitvice Lakes National Park

Renting a car is by far the easiest and most convenient method of reaching Plitvice Lakes National Park. If you are wanting to make it a day trip from where you have set up, Zadar is the shortest drive only being 1. 5 hours of travel, Zagreb is about 2 hours, and it takes 2.5 hours to arrive at the park from Split.

Many of these locations will have day tours as well if you don’t have a rental; However, if you are coming from Dubrovnik, you will want to have a rental and stay in the area with your 5-hour drive.

Conclusion

Drowning you in postcard-worthy colors and visions, Plitvice Lakes National Park is a destination that is so remarkable that you and the family will be amazed that such beauty exists.  The contrasts of the paradisical waters, against the vibrant lush greens, the trails of forests, cliffs, and cascading waters is not something to be missed while visiting Croatia.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is what dream family vacations are made of, taking you and the family into one of the most memorable storybook settings you could ever imagine.

The McClure Family in Plitvice Lakes National Park

 

Like this post? Pin it on Pinterest!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.