Yesterday was my second visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Croatia’s oldest and largest park. The park is a few hours drive from Zagreb. My first visit was during the summer of 2013. Touring the lakes in summer and winter are two completely different experiences. Exploring Rastoke was a new adventure for me.
There were six in our tour group including the guide, a South African woman and her young daughter, two German students, and me. It was cold and rainy – on the verge of snowing. One word describes the day – waterfalls!!
“Rastoke is called Little Plitvice Lakes.”
We began with a brief tour of Rastoke – a mill village perched on top of waterfalls! The beautiful settlement is part of Slunj, a town in Karlovac County overlooking the Slunjčica River. The Slunjčica River flows on top of travertine rocks into the Korana River, creating small lakes, rapids, and waterfalls.
The “most famous Rastoke waterfalls are Buk, Hrvoje, and Vilina kosa”. Otters live in holes along the travertine hills, but we didn’t see any. We stopped for espresso, and inside a small bistro, saw an exposed travertine wall from the hillside where the building was constructed. I wasn’t prepared for the indescribably beautiful views!
Years ago, mills were built in Rastoke for various types of grinding, including grain. “Baskets” set up next to the mills were used for washing clothes. Sometimes they’re referred to as the “original washing machines”. The first mill dates from the 17th century. It’s described as a “harmony of architectural, historical, and ethnographic heritage”. Tourism has revived in recent years, and there’s local accommodation, tours of the old mills, an art colony event in June, a car camp, and renowned trout fishing in the Slunjčica River.
“The Plitvice Lake system is the result of millennia of ongoing geological and biochemical processes creating natural dams known as tufa barriers. These are formed by the deposition of calcium carbonate from the waters flowing through the property.” UNESCO
Plitvice Lakes Hike
We hiked around the lakes for four hours. The path was easy, with a few steep uphill stone-step climbs. The lakes are only a tiny portion of the huge park, which is over 300 km2 (115 sq. miles) and includes forests, grasslands and heathlands, fens and bogs, rock, sinkholes, and underground water grasslands. The forests are home to brown bears, wolves, lynxes, and rare bird species. The park is “heavily forested with beech, spruce, and fir trees, and a mixture of Alpine and Mediterranean vegetation“.
Despite the rainy weather, the scenery was exquisite and a bit mysterious with steamy bogs and wisps of fog poised over the lakes. I’ve included some of my photos and media shots of summer and winter. During winter, the frozen waterfalls are an incredible site.
We took a small electric boat across the largest and deepest lake, Kozjak, and picked up our hiking path along the limestone canyon on the other side. The 30-minute boat ride was chilly but stunningly beautiful on a reflective winter lake dotted with ducks.
Upper and Lower Lakes
Plitvice Lakes include “watercourses above and below ground”. The upper lakes “formed on dolomites” and are enclosed by thick forests. The smaller, shallower lower lakes are “situated in a limestone canyon with partially steep shores”. There are sixteen larger named lakes, and several smaller unnamed ones.
There are eight hiking trails around the lakes, varying in length from 2 to 8 hours. At this time of year, several were closed. We took the “B” hike from the north entrance, following a circular path through the limestone canyon of the Lower Lakes. We passed the Great (Veliki Slap) and Sastavci Waterfalls, and the “dark blue lakes of Novakovića Brod, Kaluđerovac, Gavanovac, and Milanovac“. If you’re in Croatia, I highly recommend visiting this spectacular area. Hiking it is the best experience.