October 30, 2019
Vagabonding Day 30
Plitvice Lakes (Plitvička Jezera)
Fog clung to the lake in eerie tendrils as the boat sped across the water. I could hear the rushing sound of water before I saw my first small waterfall on the opposite shore, near the ferry dock. I climbed a set of stairs and suddenly I found myself in a misty watery paradise. The boardwalk led directly over a turquoise pool that was partially obscured by fog. I could hear water running underneath my feet, behind me and in front of me. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
The previous evening, Daniel and and I arrived at Plitvice Lakes in a downpour. Croatia’s oldest and largest National Park, Plitvice features 16 sparkling lakes that are joined together by a series of spectacular waterfalls. In 1979, Plitvice Lakes National Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
As one of Croatia’s Plitvice most popular destinations, Plitvice is packed with visitors in the high season. An endless conga line of tourists clogs Plitvice’s trails and boardwalks in the summertime. I hoped that we would avoid the crowds by visiting in the off season.
I was also worried that sections of the park may close down during our stay. While Plitvice Lakes National Park never closes altogether, areas of the park at higher elevations close during the winter months. This includes Entrance #2, which is where we planned to enter the park, as well as the ferries and shuttle buses. The Plitvice Lakes web site advised that the winter season officially begins on the last Sunday in October.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. The entire country of Croatia had been enjoying unseasonably warm weather this autumn, delaying the snow at higher elevations. I was assured by park staff that the full park would stay open until the snows came, which they didn’t anticipate for another month or so. That being said, the gloriously sunny weather turned to rain the day we travelled to Plitvice. While the change in weather was a bit of a bummer, it did have the advantage of keeping the worst of the crowds at bay.
We chose the Hotel Plitvice as our base of operations since it’s conveniently located near both the #2 Park Entrance and the bus stop. Constructed in the 1950’s by renowned Croatian architect Marijan Haberle, the Hotel Plitvice is a throwback to a different era. With its retro decor, the hotel managed to feel both dated and charming at the same time.
We bought the “full-board” package which turned out to mean breakfast, lunch and dinner were all included. I don’t recommend this option as it was way too much food. Also we felt somewhat chained to the hotel for all our meals and we got bored of the food fairly quickly. But it was certainly convenient.
Plitvice is divided into 3 primary areas: a group of upper lakes, a group of lower lakes, and the largest lake (Lake Kozjak) which connects the two areas in the middle. The park has implemented a comprehensive system of easy-to-follow trails around all of the lakes using a lettering system. The trails are designed to be walked in a single direction to keep the traffic flow under control. Shuttle buses and ferry boats are also available to move visitors around the park at various key points.
Plitvice Lakes – Trail E
5100 meters/3.2 miles
On our first full day at Plitvice, I decided to check out the upper lakes. I planned to do some exploration on my own and left early while Daniel was still asleep. After entering the park, I found the “P1” ferry dock (which is next to Entrance #2) and was on one of the first boats of the day. It’s only a 5-minute ride from the “P1” to the “P2” dock and I had the boat almost entirely to myself.
Trail E loops around the upper lakes in a counter-clockwise direction. From the ferry dock, it heads up a set of stairs and follows a boardwalk across the small turquoise Lake Burgeti. It’s a magnificent beginning to the hike and the sound of rushing water is everywhere.
After walking up some additional stairs, I followed the trail as it left the boardwalk and hugged the curve of Lake Gradinsko. Through the mists, I could see the hint of a large waterfall on the other side of the lake. Autumn leaves crunched underfoot and I quickened my step.
As I approached waterfall Veliki prštavac, the trail turned once again into a boardwalk and meandered near the falling water. The second tallest waterfall in Plitvice, Veliki prštavac was an impressive sight to behold. Water from Lake Galovac cascaded down the side of a ledge into into an array of misty streamlets. I was beside myself with excitement and texted some photos to Daniel.
After following the trail by a few more waterfalls, I climbed up to one of the larger lakes in the upper loop – Lake Galovac. Several benches lined the path along the edge of the lake, making a pleasant spot for a lunch or snack break.
The trail continued counter-clockwise along Lake Galovac and up a hill to the top portion of the loop. Here, the trail was originally routed along the bottom of Lake Okrugljak, but some broken planks in the boardwalk caused a re-route. The detour route went by Lake Prošćansko which, at 638 meters (2093 feet) above sea level, is the highest lake of the group.
Trail E officially ends at the shuttle bus station which connects tourists back to the the #2 Park Entrance. I considered taking a different trail along the other side of the lake to complete the loop on foot, but then my phone buzzed. Daniel had just crossed the ferry and was at the beginning of Trail E. Did I want to join him?
Heck yes I did! So I hopped the next shuttle bus and caught up to him at the beginning of the trail. I love hiking alone, but sometimes there’s nothing better than sharing a trail with someone you love.