Plitvice Lakes

Getting There

After a very pleasant day spent wandering the streets of Old Zagreb, getting over our jetlag, we headed for the bus station and boarded the bus for Plitvička Jezera, the Plitvice Lakes. Our taxi-driver from the Zagreb Airport had told us everyone goes there .... and rightly so. Here, in this valley covered in lush green beech forest, the calcium-rich waters flowing out of and beneath the surrounding karst mountains have (and continue to) lay down deposits of travertine (accretions of calcium carbonate formed by the actions of moss and microorganisms) to build porous barriers. These natural dams have created a series of lakes separated by numerous cascades and waterfalls. The natural beauty of this phenomenon is such that the Plitvice Lakes have been listed as a World Heritage area.

The bus headed quickly down the freeway across the fertile flat plain to Karlovac, where we turned south and soon entered an increasingly hilly landscape, lush with the many shades of green of surrounding forest and field. Passing a string of small villages, we reached our destination of Jeserce-Mukinje, a small village just after the National Park entrance. A short walk up a quiet road led us past a string of houses, all with rooms to rent (I'm definitely getting the idea that this is a popular place), to our accommodation for the next two nights and a welcoming shot of home-distilled plum brandy from our host. It was just after lunch and the sun was shining brightly - time to head off and get our first look at these famous lakes.

Our accommodation in rural Jeserce


The Lower Lakes (Donja Jezera) (9 km - 150m ascent - 150m descent)

Taking the advice of our host, we headed back down the road to Mukinje to find a pleasant path that led us down through a sinkhole pocked landscape beneath the dappled shade of a tall beech forest. Reaching the national park entrance we paid our entry fees and took stock. It seemed such a peaceful spot - hard to believe that only a bit over 20 years ago, the sounds of gunfire would have echoed through this valley. It was the first battle of the war between Serbs and Croats.

The entry ticket covers travel by road-train and boat and, as the fair Nello says, if you've paid for it use it. We boarded the train, only to be joined by a noisy crowd of school children and a large tour group - hmmmmm! The train took us northward to a point where could head off on foot again. We hurried, hoping to get ahead of the crowd, but it was in vain as there were people coming and going in both directions. As our taxi-driver had said - "everyone goes to the Plitvice Lakes". This is not the place to visit if you are trying to escape from humanity. I confess that at times I found myself gritting my teeth, as the lines of walkers bunched up or stopped because someone wanted to have their photo taken in front of a natural feature and needed the entire track to do it (which is one of my pet hates).

Path from Mukinje to Plitvice

Sastavci Falls and the Korana Gorge

First view of the Plitvice Lakes

Cliff-lined Kaluderovac Lake

Despite all this, the natural beauty overcame such disgruntlings, as we followed the well-formed path through the forest high above the blue green lake waters. In the distance, the Plitvica River dropped over the limestone cliffs in a 78m waterfall called the Veliki Slap. This was our target, and we followed a track as it zig-zagged down to the end of the small Kaluderovac Lake, crossing its reed-lined travertine barrier via an old wooden boardwalk. The boardwalk took us around the edge of the water, past a logjam of walkers trying to avoid getting their feet wet where water and board merged, and past a view point where we could look over the tumbling Sastavci Falls and down the gorge of the Korana River. To our left was the deep basin into which flowed the multiple strands of the Veliki Slap. The falls were even more impressive from below, sending out a fine mist of spray across the basin.

78m tall Veliki Slap

Reflections in Ganovac Lake

Walkway beneath the Veliki Cascades

Backtracking a bit, we then continued on along the west bank of Kaluderovac Lake, looking out through the overhanging branches to the limestone cliffs opposite. The boardwalk now took us to the eastern bank, passing in front of the Veliki Cascades, where the water tumbled out of Ganovac Lake. We followed the shoreline beneath the limestone cliffs before climbing up past the rushing waters of the Milka Trnina Cascades, a long set of small falls and cascades over the barrier of Milanovac Lake.

Milka Trnina Cascades

The colours of Plitvice

Path around Milanovac Lake

Here we joined a smooth gravel path around the lake shore. As we walked along the path beneath the green forest canopy, we could watch the fish swimming by in the crystal clear water, while across the lake, the surface sparkled to the rising of the trout. It was a very soothing spot. Another slight climb, took us back over the travertine barrier holding back Kozjak Lake, largest of the 16 Plitvice Lakes, where the path brought us to a wooden boat dock beside a grassy flat.

Sunlight on Milanovac Lake

White water - blue water

View towards the travertine barriers holding back Kozjak Lake

Rapids on the Korana

Lower lakes waterscape

A quiet inlet in Kozjak Lake

One of the flat-bottomed boats was waiting, so we climbed aboard for the pleasant trip back up the lake, the cliffs of the lower lakes giving way to green-clad hills as we slowly headed up its length in the afternoon sun. The boat docked and a short climb brought us back full-circle to the park entrance - time for a Velebitsko beer on the deck of the park cafe before heading back up through the forest to Mukinje and our B&B. Despite the crowds, we had enjoyed our first walk in the Croatian countryside and we were beginning to see why these lakes attracts so many people.


The Upper Lakes (Gornja Jezera) (13 km - 120m ascent - 120m descent)

The clouds that had begun creeping in yesterday, had taken over the sky and we were greeted by a grey and not-so-inviting morning. Still, I had a suspicion that the Plitvice Lakes could brighten up any day, so, after a hearty breakfast, we put the wet weather gear into our packs and set out to explore the other end of this watery wonderland. Quickly retracing our path of yesterday through the beech forest to the park entrance, we headed down to the boat dock and made the short crossing to the far side of Kozjak Lake. As we did, raindrops began to fall softly, creating circles on the deep green surface of the lake.

Disembarking, we put on our ponchos and headed off - our plan being to do a twisting circuit that would allow us to circumnavigate most of the upper lakes. One good thing about walking in the rain is that that it keeps the crowds away and we were enjoying the solitude, as we climbed up through the travertine barrier holding back Milinovo Lake. Here we could see just how porous a barrier it was, as we passed by a myriad of cascades, rivulets, mini-falls, seepages, trickles and pools, as the water poured over and through the vegetation-covered limestone beds.

Ferry across Kozjak Lake

A string of falls at the head of Kozjak Lake

A symphony of water

The tranquility of beech

The leaky travertine barrier of Milinovo Lake

Gradinsko Lake and the 25m falls of Veliki Pristavci

We continued on around the western shore of Gradinsko Lake, looking across its still reflections of forest trees and waterfalls. A series of large and impressive falls lined the high barrier holding back Galovac Lake and the track wound around beneath them - Veliki Pristavci, Mali Pristavci and Galovački Buk - foaming streams of water tumbling 25m into reed-lined dark blue-green pools to percolate down a series of channels and pondages to the next lake. The gentle rain and misting spray created a special ambience and it was certainly a place to linger.

Veliki Pristavci

The big falls of the upper lakes

Mali Pristavci

Galovački Buk

Eventually, we pushed on climbing up to the level of Galovac Lake and following its eastern shoreline around - beneath the green beech canopy and towards the travertine walls holding back the higher lakes. This was the highest visible travertine barrier and it was an impressive sight, with its line of braided, occasionally lace-like, waterfalls.

The highest travertine barrier in the upper lakes

The deep turquoise waters of Galovac Lake

Track through the beech forest

Climbing again to the barrier level, we crossed to the east side on an old boardwalk that wandered through the reed-covered fringes and across the fast-flowing outlet channels of a cluster of smaller lakes - Batinovac, Veliko and Malo.

Boardwalk across Batinovac Lake

Another short climb brought us up to Okrugljak Lake and its small but powerful waterfall below the exit channel of Ciginovac Lake. We were now reaching the last of the upper lakes and the start of the Plitvice system.

Water, water everywhere

A lacework of waterfalls

Waterfall from Ciganovac Lake to Okrugljak Lake

Looking down on Galovac Lake

Passing Ciganovac Lake, we began to cross the marshy swamplands that lay at the end of Prošćansko, the second-largest and highest of the 16 lakes. A cold wind swept down the length of the lake to greet us and we were pleased that the track headed back through the reedy swamp after skirting the end of this bleak-looking water body.

Reed-fringed Prošćansko Lake

We found ourselves quickly back in the beech forest and on our way back down the lake system - this time doing reverse crosses to walk the opposite shorelines to those we had walked on the way up. It was a good way to see the upper lakes from every aspect - a view from high over Galovac and its backing wall of waterfall lined travertine, a close-up look at the powerful Veliki Pristavci falls and a chance to experience a second time the delicate beauty and colour of pond and cascade, fringing reed and overhanging branch.

Travertine steps between the lakes

The face of Veliki Pristavci

Green pools and beech

A channel in the Koruna

After a bite of lunch in a shelter, watching the raindrops spread their circles on the lake water and the mayflies flitting erratically upwards, we returned to the boat dock just in time to catch a boat back down the length of Koszak Lake for a cup of coffee and apple strudel at the cafe at its far end - after all, we are on holiday. However, even with a bit of rain, the tour buses from Zagreb had arrived and crowds were picking up - it was time to head back through the beech forest, where the sound of school children yelling was replaced by the sound of forest birds singing, to our B&B at Jeserce. Talking about it over dinner, we declared the Plitvice Lakes one of the top waterscapes that we had seen - up there with Iguassu and the Victoria Falls, but offering a delicate beauty rather than sheer primal power.