Here at Outbound Adventurer, we’re always looking for moments and places that not only awe us, but teach us. One of our favorite places for these particular adventures are national parks. We’ve toured quite a few in the US, including Rocky Mountain National Park and Big Bend National Park, and we didn’t see any reason why that trend shouldn’t continue while abroad. During our recent travels we managed to squeeze in four different parks: Vesuvius National Park in Italy, Triglav National Park in Slovenia, and both Mljet National Park and Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. Each of these parks offers a unique experience. Vesuvius has a volcano, Triglav has the Alps, Mljet has lakes.
Plitvice has waterfalls.
And not just any waterfalls. Some of the coolest waterfalls you’ll ever set your sights on.
Thanks to the porous limestone rock (also known as karst), the clear water flows freely here, bubbling in and out of the rock, weaving intricate paths around the trails and through the trees in ways I didn’t know was possible. The effect is magnificent, and it isn’t hard to see why this is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
We visited the park from Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb. There are numerous tour companies offering trips to Plitvice, but we decided to forego the official offerings (which had prices soaring as high as 90-100 euros a head) and instead took the public bus. The trip took us a little over two hours, with a few stops on the way, and saved us a significant amount of money in the long run. Arriving in Plitvice around midday, we had just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat before heading out to the park. Our trail options were pretty limited. As it turns out, there are only five main paths at Plitvice, and the trails follow a pretty linear path through the lakes (or jezera). We didn’t have a ton of time, so we opted to take trail ‘E’, which was one of the shortest hikes.According to the map, we would be walking for 2-3 hours total. In truth, we finished in about an hour and a half and could have completed it much faster. We’re pretty sure that the times listed on the maps are taking into account the primary slowdown. The crowds. This was Plitvice in the middle of July, the height of tourism season. And the pathways aren’t exactly wide. At Plitvice, staying on the path is crucial. There are some side trails that amount to the ‘back-country’, but since much of the park is waterlogged, the main trails are wooden boardwalk-like structures, designed to keep you dry. Often times the path is all that is keeping you from a chilly (and illegal) dip.
On crowded days this can become quite frustrating, especially when an entire group stops to take twenty different pictures in front of the same waterfall. On this particular trip, my inherent dislike of crowds did get the better of me, and, feeling slightly claustrophobic, Tara and I did our best to weave through them and find moments of solitude.
I’m glad we managed to get away, because once we distanced ourselves from the constant cacophony of other visitors, Plitvice turned out to be an amazing place. Even pictures don’t truly do it justice, but that didn’t stop us from trying! The water is completely clear, which makes it easy to spot finned friends under the surface. On a larger scale, the effect of the clear water and limestone rock gives everything a blue-green hue. The main reason to visit Plitvice is, of course, for the waterfalls. The park is literally full of hundreds, appearing out of nowhere and creating scenery like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The water followed no discernible pattern, other than finding the quickest pathway down. To my eternal amusement, the trail map followed a similar pattern. Unlike the topographical maps that we’re accustomed to, the trail markers were incredibly straightforward. No twists and turns here. You start at the top lake and work your way down. The arrow lets you know how far you’ve descended on the single path. At least you won’t get lost? Honestly, the single-path setup worked great for us (minus the crowds), given the limited amount of time we had. We didn’t want to worry about finding our way and potentially missing something. This allowed us more time to marvel at the beauty of the park, literally right beneath our feet.
By the time we reached the end of the trail we had seen a total of half of the park. This, plus the fact that I’m sure it is a completely different experience during the fall and winter, gives us plenty of reasons to return. As it stands, even seeing only half of it, Plitvice is probably one of the most striking places we’ve ever visited, and is a stunning example of the fascinating role of geology in our world.