Croatia National Parks (Plitvice Lakes, Krka, Mljet)

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.

 

Croatia overall map
Map of Croatia showing the three national parks discussed in this report.

 

Shortcuts to various sections of this article:

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General Information:

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.

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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
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Map of the Programme “K” which we hiked

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

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Map showing the route we hiked through Plitvice Lakes National Park. We largely followed Programme “K”, but made a few adjustments on the fly.
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Elevation profile of the hike shown above. Note that miles 9.7-10.7 are the ferry ride.

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.

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Our AirBnB near the North entrance of Plitvice Lakes National Park.
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Walking from our AirBnB in Rastovaca to the North entrance of Plitvice Lakes (pictured: women’s brown leather backpack)
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Arriving at the North entrance to Plitvice Lakes National Park (pictured: Nike women’s venture jacket)
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Once you get through the gate, you proceed down a fairly steep path to the lakes.
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As you descend you catch the first glimpse of the waterfalls to come.
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When you reach the level of the lakes, you then start walking on wooden boardwalks that are built on top of the water (pictured: Prana stretch Zion pants)
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A view of the turquoise water in the lakes and the vertical rock walls that surround them.
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The boardwalks literally sit atop waterfalls and meandering streams.
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More waterfalls near the boardwalk by the entrance of the park.
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Eventually the trail leads you to the base of a large waterfall.  This is one of the large ones you can see as you descend down from the entrance.
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Near the large waterfall, we headed up a staircase.  We through we were following programme “K”, but this was actually a wrong turn.  The trail led us through a pretty forested area with a few nice views nonetheless.
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After the staircase, the trail went through a tunnel before emerging into a forested area.
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The trail through the forest (pictured: Nike training backpack).
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The trail led to a nice viewpoint of a lower lake, an upper lake, and several waterfalls.
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We decided to continue following the wrong trail until it reached Port 3. At this point we got back on track and continued following Programme “K”.  This is the view from Port 3 with one of the electric boat shuttles in the distance.
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From Port 3, programme “K” heads south along the west side of the largest lake.  You get nice views of the turquoise lake as you hike.
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The trail meaders along the coast and goes in an out of the trees as it navigates the shoreline.
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In the morning, the small inlets in the lake were full of steam as the lake warmed.
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At times the trail went through some swampy areas, but you were able to follow a boardwalk.
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The trail eventually meets up with a small and photogenic waterfall.
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Eventually the trail reaches an opening before beginning to climb from the shore of the lake. At this point you hike away from the large lake and begin heading towards the many waterfalls and boardwalks of the lower lakes.
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As you transition towards the lower lakes you are treated to great views of the large waterfall below.
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At this point the trail climbs up to a viewpoint where you can see the waterfall (pictured: women’s perforated hat)
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View of the waterfall and the lakes above and below it.
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Zoomed view of the waterfall showing the boardwalk in front of it.
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After the viewpoint, the trail goes back into the forest and begins a descent back down to the lakes.
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Along the way you get several nice views of the lakes.
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A view of the boardwalk (far left) and a land bridge between two lakes.
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Waterfall as seen from the trail.
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View of the water when you finish the descent to the shore.
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Programme “K” then takes you along the boardwalk that traverse the lower lakes. The boardwalk meanders above the water and provides some great views.
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Along the way there are many pretty streams and small waterfalls.
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There are several small waterfalls in the distance.
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The trail then goes in front of the large waterfall that you see from the viewpoint earlier.
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You then walk in front of several smaller waterfalls.
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More waterfalls and turquoise water along the trail.
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Small waterfalls falling off a cliff.
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Beautiful turquoise and clear water.
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The trail eventually reaches this beautiful area with many small waterfalls falling into a lower lake.
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At this point we decided to take the boat shuttle from Port 2 to Port 3.  We grabbed lunch at Port 3 and then continued hiking back to the North entrance.
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The boat shuttle ride provides more great views.
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View of the lake from the shuttle boat.
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After lunch, we began walking back on the boardwalk that follows the east side of the lake.
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Ducks and fish in the turquoise water.
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The gray rock walls contrast nicely with the water color.
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The boardwalk leading back to the entrance provides some more nice views.
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On the way back the views are still nice, but the boardwalk can be crowded (see the crowd in the middle right).
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A final view of the lakes before ascending the path back up to the North entrance of the park.

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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.

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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

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GPS track from our trip in Krka National Park.  To get from Skradin to Skradinski Buk, we rode on the park ferry.
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Approximate elevation profile for the journey above. Note that only the section from ~2.7 miles to ~4.7 miles was on foot.  The other data was taken while riding the ferry.
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The Krka National Park ticket office at Skradin. This is where you will by your entrance ticket and can check the schedule for the ferry to Skradinski Buk.
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Watching the ferry come into dock before boarding.
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The views along the ferry ride are very nice and the ride is pleasant.
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View from the ferry looking forward towards Skradinski Buk.
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The view as well are about to dock at Skradinski Buk.
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After a short walk, you reach Skradinski Buk, a beautiful waterfall and swimming area.
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The bridge across the water is the start of the hiking trail that goes around the Skradinski Buk area.
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View of the Skradinski Buk waterfall from the pedestrian bridge.
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Alternate view of the Skradinski Buk waterfall in Krka National Park (credit: John Maxwell)
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The view on the other side of the pedestrian bridge.
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A school fish can be seen swimming through the crystal clear water.
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Up close view of the Skradinski Buk waterfall from along the hiking trail.
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Looking back after climbing further up the hiking trail.  The body of water seen is where the ferry ride takes you.
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Two more waterfalls as seen from the hiking trail.
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More waterfalls along the Skradinski Buk hiking trail.
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Trying to capture the great views of the waterfalls (pictured: women’s brown leather backpack)
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Several sections of the Skradinski Buk hiking trail go over boardwalks similar to those at Plitvice Lakes.
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A meandering boardwalk at Krka National Park.
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View of waterfalls from the Skradinski Buk hiking trail in Krka National Park
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Panoramic view of waterfalls from the Skradinski Buk hiking trail in Krka National Park
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View of the Skradinski Buk waterfall from the hiking trail in Krka National Park.
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Panoramic view of the Skradinski Buk waterfall from the hiking trail in Krka National Park. Swimmers and the pedestrian bridge from the beginning of the hike are seen in the water pools.

 

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.

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Map of the Roski Slap area in Krka National Park.
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Looking down at the necklaces waterfall in Roski Slap in Krka National Park (credit: rolleiflomo)
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Part of the hiking trail in Roski Slap goes up and down wooden steps providing great views of the necklaces falls. (credit: Joseph Lilly)
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View of the hiking trail (on left) that meanders along the side of the necklaces waterfall (credit: Google streetview).
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View of the falls from the hiking trail (credit: Google streetview).
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Another view of the necklaces waterfall at Roski Slap (credit: Bogatic Kroatien).

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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.

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Overall map of Mljet National Park.  There are several trails in the park that offer some nice viewpoints.
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Zoomed in map showing the region where we hiked. We started at Pristaniste followed the red road along the lakeshore to the right. Then we hiked up the yellow trail and turned onto the pink trail to the Veliki Sladin Gradac viewpoint.  At this point we turned around and headed back to the main park entrance.  One could also continue on the pink trail further to the Montokuc viewpoint.

 

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.

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GPS data from our Mljet exploring.  The paragraph below explains the route.

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.

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A view of the bay and port in Pomena on the island of Mljet. This is the popular area to take a ferry to the island and national park.
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Another view of the bay from the shore of Pomena on Mljet island.
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You buy tickets to Mljet National Park in town at Pomena. Then, you can walk from town to the national park and the two saltwater lakes. Follow the trail that is marked with red circles with white dots in the middle (pictured: KEEN women’s hiking sandals)
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After a short walk uphill, the sidewalk descends down towards the first saltwater lake.
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The saltwater lakes have turquoise blue water and are warmer than the surrounding water in the Adriatic Sea.
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The trail continues around the first lake and reaches the small canal that connects the two lakes.
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From here, we set off to look for a nice place to go for a swim (pictured: women’s brown leather backpack)
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Swimming in the warm and buoyant saltwater lakes in Mljet National Park.
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We then hopped on the boat/ferry to explore more of Mljet National Park. The boat takes you to the Island of Saint Mary (pictured: men’s North Face Venture 2 rain jacket)
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There is some great scenery along the way while riding to the island.
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The Island of Saint Mary with its monastery in the distance.
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The Benedictine Monastery on the island is one of the highlights of Mljet National Park. One can easily spend an hour exploring the island and the grounds around the monastery.
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Exploring the monastery grounds.
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Exploring the monastery grounds (pictured: women’s Venture 2 rain jacket)
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Exploring the monastery grounds

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.

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The port and ferry stop at Pristaniste. You will get off the boat here and the begin hiking down the road the following a long the lake.
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The beginning of the hike follows the road and has some great views of the trees and the lake.
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Eventually you find a trail on the left and begin heading up the trail (pictured: KEEN women’s hiking sandals)
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The trail meanders through the woods before it begins to climb.
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After some initial climbing you begin to see the first views of the lakes and surrounding island.
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Towards the top, the trail narrows in sections as it makes its way to the viewpoint.
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Near the viewpoint, you hike through a tunnel of trees.
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When you get out, you eventually see the trail lead to a pile of rocks.  The viewpoint is located on top of the rocks.
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Once at the viewpoint, you can meander around and try to find the best stop to sit and have a snack.
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We enjoy a beer while taking in the views.
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Looking out towards the Island of Saint Mary from atop the viewpoint (men’s seersucker swim trunks).
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Zoomed in view of the Island of Saint Mary and the monastery.
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The view looking to the left where the large saltwater lake ends.
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Panoramic view of the large saltwater lake as seen from the viewpoint.

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.

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View from Montokuc viewpoint looking towards Pomena and the Island of Saint Mary. (credit: Bruno)
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View looking the opposite direction showing the lake flowing out into the ocean (credit: Simon Marin).

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