Trip overview: Croatia has several beautiful national parks that provide ample opportunities for hiking and photography. In this report, we describe our visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park, Krka National Park, and Mljet National Park. Each park has its own unique scenery and hiking experience. Highlights of parks include countless waterfalls, turquoise and blue waters, and vast green forests. The hikes we took range from 2.5 to 13 miles long and had only modest elevation gain. We visited these national parks in September of 2017.
Shortcuts to various sections of this article:
Fees: Visitors must pay an entrance fee in order to enter each of the national parks in Croatia. The fee can be paid on the day of the visit at the entrance of the park; no advance permits need to be reserved. For 2018, the entrance fees for the parks are as follows. Note that there are higher fees during the high tourist seasons.
For Plitvice Lakes, the fee for adults is 55 Kuna in the off seasons (Jan 1st-Mar 31st and Nov 1st-Dec 31st) and 150 Kuna during the high seasons (Apr 1st-Jun 30th and Sep 1st-Oct 31st). More details on prices and ticket types can be found on the Plitvice website. Your Plitvice entrance ticket will also give you access to the electric ferry that allows you to follow the suggested routes through the park.
For Krka National Park, the fee for adults is 30 Kuna in the off seasons and 110 Kuna in the high season. More details and ticket types can be found on the Krka website. The entrance ticket to Krka includes transport to and from Skradinski Buk (via boat from Skradin or bus from Lozovac), where the hiking begins.
For Mljet National Park, the fee for adults is 70 Kuna from Jan 1st-May 31st and from Oct 1st-Dec 31st. Tickets cost 125 Kuna from (June 1st-Sep 30th). More details can be found at the Mljet website. The entrance ticket to Mljet includes a a round trip boat ride to a Benedictine monastery on the Isle of St. Mary.
Transportation: Plitvice Lakes National Park is located inland in Croatia, near the Bosnia and Herzegovina border. Thus, this park is best reached by car or bus. The drive is roughly 2-3 hours from either Split or Zagreb. The road from Split to Plitvice is very well maintained, though the tolls are a bit expensive. Renting a car is the most expensive option but provides great flexibility. To maximize your time within the park you can book one of the Airbnb rentals within walking distance of the park entrance. This allows you to walk to the park in the morning and beat many of the crowds that show up on tour buses later in the morning. There are public buses and tour buses that drive to Plitvice for a lower price, but you will likely not be able to spend as much time in the park.
Krka National Park is about 1-2 hours north of Split. It is most common to either drive from Split in a rental car or to take the bus. Taking a bus to Krka is not a bad idea since the park is relatively small and you probably do not need a full 8 hours to explore.
Mljet National Park is located on the island of Mljet and must be reached by ferry or hydrofoil. The Krilo line of boats stops at Mljet on its way between Dubrovnik and Korcula. Take the boat that drops passengers off at the town of Pomena and then you can walk to the national park entrance from the boat dock.
Supplies: When exploring in these parks, you will not need much traditional hiking gear. The hikes are modest and can involve walking along boardwalks and maintained trails. A modest-sized day pack is useful for holding a water bottle or camelbak, your camera, and some snacks. You may also want a travel tripod if you are serious about photography. The streams and waterfalls make for some great long exposure shots of running water.
At Plitvice, temperatures can be cold in the morning, so you likely will want to bring a lightweight down jacket or some other easily removable layer. At Krka, you may want to stop and go for a swim at the Skradinski buk after your hike. Some lightweight water shoes are good for walking around in the water. Mljet also has a lot of areas for swimming so water shoes are great there as well.
Difficulty: Most of the trails at these parks are of moderate length and are not difficult. At Plitvice and Mljet, there are some longer trails you can choose to hike, so just plan to hike within your skill level.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvices Lakes is one of the more famous national parks in Croatia. Plitvice is incredibly unique and is home to countless water falls and an abundance of sparkling turquoise water. This park is great for serious photographers, but you should arrive very early in order to get pictures of the park before it fills with tourists. This park becomes very busy quickly and can have lots of visitors within 1-2 hours of the park opening.
At Plitvice Lakes, there are several planned routes you can follow. These routes take you along the wooden boardwalks that have been built over the many streams and waterfalls throughout the park. You do not need to follow a set route, but the routes provide a good way to see the highlights of the park without needing to backtrack very much. The different routes throughout the park are as follows and you can find more detailed descriptions and maps of each at the Plitvice website.
- Programme “A” – starts/ends at North entrance, ~2.2 miles, no boat or train transport
- Programme “B” – starts/ends at North entrance, ~2.5 miles, boat and train transport
- Programme “C” – starts/ends at North entrance, ~5 miles, boat and train transport
- Programme “E” – starts/ends at South entrance, ~3.2 miles, boat and train transport
- Programme “F” – starts/ends at South entrance, ~2.9 miles, boat and train transport
- Programme “H” – starts/ends at South entrance, ~5.6 miles, boat and train transport
- Programme “K” – starts/ends at North entrance, ~11.5 miles, boat transport and hiking
We wanted to hike through as much of the park as possible, so we chose programme/route “K”. We did not follow the itinerary exactly as described in the map above because we took one or two wrong turns and then decided to take the electric boat to one of the stops to buy lunch. However, we saw pretty much all the main attractions in the park and hiked a little over 12 miles.
Hiking Programme “K” at Plitvice Lakes NP – ~12 miles round trip; +/- 2,100 feet elevation
This hiking route started at the North entrance of Plitvice Lakes National Park. We stayed at an AirBnB the night before near Rastovaca, which was only a 10 minute walk from the park entrance. This allowed us to easily wake up early and walk to the park, entering just after the park opened at 7:00 am. I suggest arriving early, heading straight to the ticket counter to buy your entrance ticket, and then head quickly to the trail. If you make it down to the lakes quickly, you can get pictures of the walkways without other tourists on them.
After entering the park, we slowly hiked the first ~9 miles of the trail in 4.5 hours (we took plenty of picture breaks along the way). At this point, we were quite hungry and decided to take the electric boat from Port 2 to Port 3. This is the main deviation we took from the Programme “K” route. Note that we also took a wrong turn at one point and part of a trail was closed on the boardwalk, so our route does not match “K” exactly. When the boat got to Port 3, we exited and then bought some food and drinks at the food stand there. The food was surprisingly affordable and tasted good, so we were quite pleased. After lunch and a beer, we continued our hike back onto the boardwalk and headed back to the North entrance and then our AirBnB.
While we were visiting Plitvice we ate dinner twice at the nearby Restoran Degenija. We thought the food there was great (although a little greasy and heavy). There are not too many options near the park, so we went back two nights in a row. The restaurant is a 15-20 minute drive north from the entrance to the park. Our AirBnB in the area cost us about $80 per night. It is quite easy to find nice accommodations in the area from between $60-120 per night.
Krka National Park
Krka National Park is home to many waterfalls, including the famous and large Skradinski buk falls. The main hiking/walking trail in the park starts from the area near Skradinski buk. We entered the park via the entrace at Skradin and then took the park ferry from Skradin to the Skradinski buk. The ferry ride covers about 2.5 miles and takes 20-25 minutes. This area of the park is the most popular. The second most popular area of the park is Roski Slap, which will be briefly covered at the end of this section.
Official map of Krka National Park showing the hiking trail (yellow) that guides visitors around the park. This map shows only the Skradinski Buk area of the park.
After you get off the ferry, the Skradinski buk waterfall is a short walk away. Morning is the best time to take pictures of the falls because there will be fewer people in the water. In the afternoon there are lots of swimmers at the base of the falls.
When we arrive at the falls, we took in the views of the waterfall and took some pictures. We then decided to follow the Educational hiking trail that leads around the park. This trail ended up being about 1.5 miles long. Along the way you cross several boardwalks and get some great views of the different waterfalls in the park. It took us a little over an hour to complete the walk. When you finish the walk, you can then go take a swim in the shallow water at the base of the Skradinski buk waterfall! To get back to Skradin you head back to the ferry terminal and jump on the next available ferry.
Hiking on the Skradinski Buk Trail – 1.5 miles; +/- 400 feet elevation
Another attraction at Krka National Park is the Roski Slap area. This area is reached by an additional ferry ride from the Skradinski Buk area or can be reached by road from some of the other park entrances. In the Roski Slap area, you find more waterfalls, a restaurant, and a few hiking trails that range from 1-4 miles in distance.
Mljet National Park
Mljet National Park is located on the west side of the island of Mljet, which is in the Adriatic Sea north of Dubrovnik. This park is known for its green lush forests and its two saltwater lakes. The lakes are filled with warm buoyant water that is great for swimming. Around the lakes and the park there are several hiking and bicycling trails. To get the best views of the park you will want to hike up in elevation so that you can look down on the lakes.
Most visitors take the ferry to Pomena. From the dock, you are just a 10-15 minute walk from the park. Once you get to the park, enjoy the lakes and walk around. Then, you can take the boat ride to the island of St Mary. There is a Benedictine Monastery on the island which has some great views and history.
We spent two days on Mljet. The first day we arrived by ferry and spent the afternoon swimming in the saltwater lakes and relaxing. We also took some time to explore the small town of Pomena. The next day we spent more time in the national park and took the boat to the Monastery and then went on a hike to a viewpoint in the hills.
Mljet exploring and hiking – 1.5 miles from Pristaniste to the viewpoint and 4.5 miles from the viewpoint to the park entrance; +/- 1,200 feet of elevation.
During our day of exploring, we walked to the park and headed to the boat/ferry station located where the big and smaller lakes meet. We took the boat to the island and then explored the monastery. From there, we wanted to take the boat directly across the big lake to Pristaniste (where we were to start the hike). We got on the wrong boat, however, and headed back to the original boat station. At this point, we convinced the boat driver to let us get back on the boat and get a ride to Pristaniste. From there, we started our hike up to the viewpoint. After taking in the view and eating a snack, we hiked back down to Pristaniste. We just missed the boat and decided to just hike all the way back to the park entrance instead of waiting for the next boat to arrive.
After we finished exploring the Island of Saint Mary, we decided to take the boat to Pristaniste and begin out hike. Pristaniste is one of the boat/ferry stops in Mljet National Park.
From this viewpoint, which is known as Veliki Sladin Gradac, you can either turn around and head back or continue further to another viewpoint called Montokuc. From Montokuc, you get a better view of Mljet and are able to see where the lake outlets into the ocean.