National Parks of Croatia
We found ourselves having an open calendar for two weeks in beautiful Croatia. After consulting the map, we planned a three part skip down to the Southern coast of the country. First stop? Plitvice Lakes National Park in the middle of the country. Plitvice Lakes NP spans over 73,000 acres of forest reserve, known for a chain of 16 terraced lakes, connected by over 90 waterfalls, that extend into a limestone canyon. The outskirts are thick with fir, beech, spruce, mountain elm, oak, pine, wild cheery and many more species of trees. It is the definition of lush, and yet the air is clear and crisp as the water. There is a dryness in the surrounding forest, much more akin to desert forests than rainforests.
While the surrounding forest and rocks are gorgeous, the real draw of Plitvice is its stunning water. Because it is a UNESCO World Heritage protected site, there is no swimming allowed. This disappointment was quickly replaced by awe and understanding. Over 1 million people visit Plitvice each year! On the day we were there (in the off-season), there were thousands and thousands of people walking the designated board walks around the park. (Note: in the height of summer, Plitvice boasts 12,000+ visitors a day!?!!) Luckily, not many visitors chose to do the epic 14+ mile hike, so we were graced with moments of solitude and spaciousness in the vast beauty.
We did not use any filters or change the images we took in any way. The dynamic range of colors portrayed in the water are exactly as it was.
Truth be told, we had planned on doing the 14+ miles of trails over the course of two days, taking the upper lake route one day and the lower lake route the next day. When we arrived at the entrance, we discovered that a one day entrance pass to the park was about $50 US dollars. Cough. Sputter. Re-route. We decided that our two small water bottles and paltry snacks were enough. We would do the entire park in one day.
We did not regret our choice. Taking the longer pathways through both sections of the park meant some time with nature, away from the hoards of people. Having minimal water and snacks meant that we kept a brisk pace during many stretches (we love that). When we did encounter hundreds of people on the tiny boardwalk, we chose a side route that traveled up into a cave and later gave us a spectacular aerial view of the lower lakes.
Even though the word is out about Plitvice National Park, it's not to be missed! If you find yourself in Croatia, make sure to go (hopefully during the off-season). Bonus: the bus system in Croatia is really wonderful. You can take a nice public bus (with air conditioning and wifi) from most any city directly to the National Parks! It's remarkable!! Straight off the bus and onto the trails, with much less traffic than our National Parks in the States. Here are a few more from Plitvice:
Next up, we went to Krka National Park!!! A few hours further South toward the Adriatic Sea, you can find Krka National Park. To locals, Krka is considered to be the "little sister" of Plitvice. Extending along 45 miles of the Krka river from the Adriatic Sea near Sibinek to the mountains of the Croatian interior, the park is a stunning landscape of lakes and waterfalls that carve through a canyon at up to 700 feet deep. There are historical remains that draw people here as well. Monasteries were built hundreds of years ago, due to the remoteness and the magical, mystical feel of the place. Roman remains are also in tact from thousands of years ago. Because it is not a UNESCO world heritage site, you can swim in the waters!
Unfortunately, we discovered that a car is needed to really explore the park. There are boat excursions that travel up toward the monasteries and ruins, but they do not drop you off to hike the trails. To get to the trail heads, you must drive outside of the park through the mountains to another park entrance. Sadly, this was not clear in the NP materials we read, nor when we conversed with the underpaid and bored ticket seller at the entrance. Alas, we did enjoy a lovely walk around the waterfalls, a boat ride to the entrance, and a nice stroll along a dirt path out of the park. Here a few snaps we took along the way:
The takeaway lesson: If you have a car, spend time visiting Krka National Park and all of it's surrounding glory! If you don't, take a day trip to the waterfalls and to swim :)