Plitvice Lakes in January: A Wintery Fairyland!
A few days ago, Miloš and I went to Plitvice Lakes National Park. If you recall, we visited Plitvice last year on a particularly warm day in late March. (CLICK HERE TO READ THAT BLOG POST.) But we had also seen pics of it covered in ice and snow, and we simply had to see it that way in person!
Initially, we planned on going for my birthday, but the forecast showed warm temperatures and a chance of rain. Not a flake of snow would be in sight. (And who wants to go hiking in the rain?)
However, we kept an eye on the forecast and saw that the weekend would bring that area of Croatia a nice coating of snow, with temperatures cold enough to keep it on the ground.
Plitvice is a little over two hours away. It’s further inland and at a higher elevation than Miloš’ seaside town. Because of that, we rented an SUV with four-wheel drive – just for the day. We wanted to make sure we didn’t get stuck anywhere. Plus, Croatia (and many other European countries) have strict regulations when it comes to tires during the winter. We needed something that would be compliant with the law and get us there safely.
We set out in the late morning – a little later than expected due to some other unforeseen circumstances. When we left, it was a mild sunny day in Crikvenica. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best!
Part of the drive involves going over the mountains; navigating sharp turns and tricky roads. (Miloš drove there and I drove back. Needless to say, I took those curves on the mountain road VERY slowly.)
We got a bit past the mountain and were feeling a tad discouraged, as there wasn’t really a lot of snow. I mean, there was a dusting on the ground, but nothing on the trees. We decided though, that even if the park didn’t look exactly like we wanted it to, we’d still have a great day together at a wonderful place.
As we got closer to the Plitvice area, there was more and more snow. I’m talking SNOW. We didn’t want to jinx it, but we were feeling pretty good about it…
Well, let’s just say that EVERYTHING we had hoped for as far as snow at Plitvice, we got! And then some! I don’t even know how to describe it. Photos do not do it justice. It was quite honestly and truly a winter fairy land. Simply magical!
Time was of the essence, as it was already past 1:00pm and the park would be closing at 4:00pm. We were informed when we bought our tickets into the park that the last boat was at 3:00pm, and the last “train” at 3:30pm. (At Plitvice, the main trail takes you past some of the most amazing well-known falls and lakes. Then you catch a boat that takes you across the lake to another section. If you have more time, there are other trails to explore from there. (And even more sections of the park are open during the warmer months.) There is also a “train” vehicle that picks you up near the boat drop-off and drives you back near the entrance of the park.
Let me first just show you some of the sights that awaited us when we entered the park…
We hiked down the first section of trail that leads down to the first main water level. There are then wooden walkways that lead you right across the water. Because of the snow (and some ice), sections of the walkways were a bit slippery. We had to move very cautiously, as there was no way either of us was going to fall in! We even trekked over to the main high falls. The walk way here was even more treacherous, as the waterfall actually flows over parts of the walkway. Someone had laid down some rocks to help people avoid getting wet feet in the freezing temperatures.
Once we got back on the primary trail, only amazing sites awaited us. Plitvice is breathtakingly beautiful in the sunny warm weather, but it’s just as stunning covered in snow and ice. All afternoon, a light flurry fell upon us, adding to the juxtaposition of still quiet areas interspersed with rushing water falls. We couldn’t have asked for better. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. (And for the record, all photos were taken by either my iPhone 5S, Milos’ Samsung Galaxy S4, or my Canon point and shoot camera. All photos are original files with no filters or editing applied. What you see is the real deal!)
We made it to the boat dock around 2:40pm, well in advance of the 3:00pm sailing.
The boat ride takes about 15 minutes. We could see layer after layer of snow covered trees. There were loons swimming on the lake, and even more clustered on two of the trees next to the water. We really wished we had had time to get over to the other section that we started to explore last year, but there just wasn’t time on this visit. We had to continue on with the rest of the folks and make our way up the hill to the “train” stop.
Instead of a tram looking vehicle like in the summer, we boarded something that looked like a small bus on super sized tires. We were driven back to the trail above the lake for the final twenty minutes of our hike.
This upper trail gives you amazing views of the lakes and falls below, with strategically placed look-out areas where you can take in the sights and get some fantastic photos. We were able to have someone get our pic for us at the first look out.
Once we got to the second look out area, we started to have a visitor who got closer and closer. At first, we were just excited that this little bird was flying and hopping right near us. He had no fear and seemed genuinely friendly. He seemed to be getting closer to check us out.
I guess we passed his test because before long, this happened:
It was unreal! I felt like I was a princess in a cartoon Disney movie! It hindsight, we should have gotten video. But in the moment, we were just so taken aback by this adorable little bird!
After hiking along past that point, our happy mood was lifted even higher to pure giddy elation! What an experience! What a day this was!
We took more photos along this hiking trail area. Here are some more of our pics from this last stretch…
As we approached the end, we could see that late afternoon sun trying to peak a bit through the clouds. As a result, it cast a rosy glow over all of nature’s white canvas.
But alas, it was time to head back home for the day. We came across this charming little snow family as we walked back to the park’s main entrance.
Overall, our day was just about perfect. We got just the exact snow cover that we had hoped for, and an amazing visit from one of the park’s little residents. Our goal is still to return to Plitvice and stay overnight, so that we can have more time to explore the park and all of its trail and waterfalls. There’s so much more to see – I can’t wait!
***A few tips for your own visit to Plitvice:
Dress accordingly. In the winter, it gets cold. I also advise bringing some supplies – some water and snacks and dry clothes to keep in your car just in case you get wet. Your footwear should also be adequate enough to keep your feet warm and dry, and help you navigate slippery and uneven terrain. Also, it’s not the USA – there aren’t safety railings next to the pathways – travel at your own risk.