Nestled in the Dinaric Alps, a unique hydrology of rivers and karst rock create the incredible lakes of Plitvice. Turquoise pools, verdant canopies, stony gray cliffs and glimmering white waterfalls are all hallmarks of Croatia’s premier national park. The process that created them is dynamic, constantly eroding and rebuilding in shifting transient configurations. It was by far our top must-see in the region. For one day in late April, we got to experience a snapshot of this delicate and beautiful place. And we took many snapshots home with us.
Bus tours are usually not our preferred way to sightsee, but in this case we decided that a package deal would be less stressful than renting a car and going ourselves. Three hours of remarkably smooth riding (and a bit of napping) later, we caught our first glimpses of the park. There was no water in sight, but the otherworldly green foliage hinted we were in the right place.
The terrain was saturated. We walked instead on boardwalk, miles of it. The trail wound and bent around a big clearing, our first lake of the day.
We continued on the trail. The shallow water under our feet occasionally vanished into sinkholes. In an unusual twist, the water’s erosive force was also its construction tool. The dissolved minerals were redeposited as travertine, actually building up new dams and basins with each passing drop.
Though our visit fell on a fairly quiet day, our tour group crowded the narrow path and made it challenging to appreciate the tranquility of the place.
At the second lake, the first large cascades appeared; soon water flowed from every available surface. An indented groove in the rock wall reminded us of something out of Metroid Prime. Little caves seemed like the perfect place to stash a secret upgrade. On the other side of the trail, small tree-lined valleys rounded out the scene.
The terrain descended steeply. Water followed its contours, alternating between flat pristine tables and cascading falls. We had trouble keeping our eyes on where we were going – there were too many distractions.
We hung back from the group, forgoing some narration about what we saw for a bit more privacy and an unobstructed view.
It was very different from hiking in Washington. The trees weren’t just endless identical columns, but diverse and strange.
While the group moved on, we stuck around as long as we could to take in the torrent of water and beauty.
Waterfalls just kept appearing. Trail builders made the most of the views, balancing water and forest.
We caught up with our group to board a ferry boat across Kozjak Lake, the largest and deepest in the system. Here, the dynamism of the water melted away as we sailed across the peaceful blue expanse.
Once on the other side, we took a short break for lunch. The path here consisted of branches pounded into the ground like cobblestones. After a quick refueling (and visit to the privy), everyone was ready for more hiking.
A stretch of marshland separates Kozjak and the Upper Lakes from the Lower Lakes system. But soon enough we reentered the world of cascading water, and were surprised to see so many fish despite apparent sterility of the lake.
The boardwalks wound around the last of the falls, then turned to meet the towering cliffs.
The neon-green vegetation guided us back to the surface.
The climb earned us another stunning set of views, this one of the final cascades from high above.
Or so we thought. To our dismay, we found the northern entrance much busier than the one at the Upper Lakes; this vista was one of the first and easiest to see for many visitors. But to our eyes, it gleamed like a trophy.
We settled back in for the long ride back to Split, giddily looking over our bounty of photos and reliving our favorite parts of the adventure.
Our tour seemed timed to catch the sunset at the Krka River bridge. We had a stunning view from the southern bank – the bridge to our right, picturesque village of Skradin behind, and in front, daylight disappearing over the horizon. We lingered to watch the light fade, and even the bus-tour crowd couldn’t sour the tranquil moment.