We left the incredibly scenic Croatian coastline and headed inland to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Founded in 1949, Plitvice is the largest national park in Croatia and one of the oldest in SE Europe.
Staying within the park was a little outside our budget, so we opted rent a room on Airbnb in the small village of Poljanak, about a two mile walk from the park. The hike to the park took us past rolling countryside and dense forests of beech, spruce, and fir.
Plitvice Lakes is famous for its vividly colored cascading lakes and waterfalls. The 16 cascading lakes are separated by travertine dams, which grow at the rate of about one centimeter per year.
Once in the park you can walk miles and miles of wooden plank boardwalks and dirt trails that navigate through and over the lakes and waterfalls.
We tended to visit the park in the early morning hours just as it opened. We visited once in the afternoon and were shocked by the overwhelming crowds of people lining the narrow pathways as seen in the video below.
What most people do not realize is that the park covers an astonishing 73,350 acres. Tourists usually just plan day trips from Zagreb to walk the boardwalks and trails around the lakes, but few seem to explore the many trails that extend outwards, deep into the national park.
We spent a day hiking northwest of the main lakes. The national park has a wide variety of plant communities due to its range of microclimates and varying levels of altitude. We found an incredible number of mushrooms!
On Lake Kozjak, one of the 16 cascading lakes, we rented a row boat to escape the crowds and to tour the lake by ourselves. Dan showed off his rowing skills as he rowed us back and forth across the lake for an hour.
The only downside of staying two miles away from the park was when we had to catch a 6 am bus to Zagreb in order to board a train to Slovenia. We woke up at 4 am to start our hike in the dark. As we stepped outside, we discovered that it was pouring rain. We miserably trekked in the dark and soon became drenched from head to toe. Fortunately we made it to our bus and Zagreb, albeit soaking wet.