In Plitvička Jezera: the upper lakes - Balkan Dreams - CycleBlaze

September 11, 2020

In Plitvička Jezera: the upper lakes

Plitvice Lakes National Park (pronounced roughly as Plit’vitseh, sort of rhyming with Melissa) is Croatia’s first National Park, established in 1949.  It is one of the most popular destinations in the country, attracting over a million visitors in a normal year.  It is a nearly unique natural area worldwide.  The extensive Wikipedia entry  on the park lists only a few similar places, most of which are also in the Balkans: Rastoke; Krka National Park (also in Croatia, and a spot we expect to visit in a few weeks); a few spots in Herzegovina and Bulgaria.  Also Pamukkale in Turkey, a spot in the Hindu Kush, a spot in Sichuan.  I don’t know that there’s another spot like it on this vast scale  anywhere. 

There is so much to say about this area - geologically, culturally, historically and environmentally.  I won’t begin to try, but you’re encouraged to read up on it as background for the photographs from today and tomorrow’s hikes.  Instead, I’ll just give a superficial overview from a visitor’s perspective, and show you something of what we experienced.

The protected area is quite large, covering about 115 square miles.  We’re only seeing the southern end, where the most spectacular features as well as the tourism facilities exist.  In the map below, we’re staying by entrance 2, at a hotel within the park about 100 yards from the entrance gate.  If you’re a biker, this is perfect.  You can bike up to your hotel, leave the bike, and start walking.  You can’t bike within the park itself though - it’s a tightly controlled environment.

We broke our visit into two hikes that together approximate the one hike shown in the map.  It breaks down naturally into two hikes, one covering the area to the left (south) of the second gate, and the other to the right.  Today (the afternoon we arrived), we hiked the southern end, which is known as the upper lakes because they’re at a higher elevation than the ones on the right.

There are roughly fifteen lakes of various size here, all interconnected by waterfalls and underground rivers that flow from the left (south) to right (north).  At the northern end, the lakes form the beginning of the Korana River that we’ve been generally following upriver ever since Karlovac.  Each lake sits at a different elevation, and is separated from the oneS  below and above by travertine ridges that have built up over the milennia.

One more note from the map: the navigation points P1-3 and ST1-3.  The P# points are ferry ports for the two ferry lines that ply the lake to transport visitors.  There’s a short east/west shuttle that crosses the lake between the upper and lower lakes; and a longer line between P1 and P3 that navigates the length of the longest lower lake.  The ST points are bus stops.  So, there’s a lot of choice as to how to visit: you can primarily walk, as we did except for the short ferry ride to the opposite shore from the hotel; or you can take a longer boat ride and save a couple of miles; or you can take the bus.

In practice, nearly all of the visitors cluster in just two areas: at the far right, near Velika Slap (the big fall); or in the dense network of paths in the lower lakes.  In between, the trails (at least this year) are very quiet.  As everywhere else, you only have to walk a mile to lose the masses.

So, today a six mile meander through the lower falls.  Absolutely amazing, ethereal experience.  One of the best natural park visits we’ve had anywhere.  Thinking back on the day at its end, I was feeling like we must have seen the best and that tomorrow might be a bit of a letdown.  But I was wrong.  Tomorrow was to prove even more remarkable.

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An appealing instruction set greets us as we enter the park.
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The park and it’s trails are well signed and easy to follow if you have an overview map. Each of the lakes and each of the significant falls is signed. You can see where you are vertically in the system by the schematic at the top.
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Waiting for the ferry, which is included with your admission (200 kn/day). It’s nearly empty today, but tomorrow (Saturday) the runs are full and won’t always accommodate everyone waiting to board.
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The network of trails (which you are strictly prohibited from leaving) is very well developed and very appealing in its own right. Half of the time you’re walking on elevated wooden planked platforms that flex spongily as you walk along.
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The number and variety of the waterfalls is beyond description. You're constantly coming upon a new one with a different character than the others, or walking above one rushing beneath your feet.
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The lakes are another great attraction. Remarkably varied and colorful. Clear, full of fish swimming near the surface.
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Some of these paths are just a bit disconcerting when there is traffic. There’s not much room to squeeze by, and no railings. Sometimes you’re a fail distance above the land or water,
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Well, I lied. Here and there there are railings protecting you in the most hazardous spots.
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There’s always a scene-stealer.
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It’s not just the lakes and falls. The forest is exceptional as well. We’re at an elevation of about 2,000’, and beech is the predominant species. Below, the forest floor is blanketed with a layer of fallen, decomposing beech leaves.
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The pale blue of this lake was startling, reminding me of the water of the cays in Belize
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I give up. Why would anyone come to a place like this and then sit around with their headphones on?
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This bird startled us, standing inert in the path while we looked at it. We had about concluded it was injured or ill when it suddenly flew away. A chaffinch?
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Bill ShaneyfeltI believe you are correct.
https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/comcha/cur/introduction
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1 week ago
Back at P2, waiting for a ride to P1. Our hotel is out of sight but close at hand, just behind the trees.
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Tricia GrahamWE really feel for you at the moment with all the horror that is going on in that lovely state of Oregon You must feel very torn at the moment to be away from what your friends are going through, hopefully November will bring some sane calmness not to just Oregon but to the rest of the country. In the meantime we obsess by having around 2 new virus cases a day
Ken and Tricia
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1 week ago
Tricia GrahamWE really feel for you at the moment with all the horror that is going on in that lovely state of Oregon You must feel very torn at the moment to be away from what your friends are going through, hopefully November will bring some sane calmness not to just Oregon but to the rest of the country. In the meantime we obsess by having around 2 new virus cases a day
Ken and Tricia
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1 week ago
Tricia GrahamWE really feel for you at the moment with all the horror that is going on in that lovely state of Oregon You must feel very torn at the moment to be away from what your friends are going through, hopefully November will bring some sane calmness not to just Oregon but to the rest of the country. In the meantime we obsess by having around 2 new virus cases a day
Ken and Tricia
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1 week ago
Tricia GrahamWE really feel for you at the moment with all the horror that is going on in that lovely state of Oregon You must feel very torn at the moment to be away from what your friends are going through, hopefully November will bring some sane calmness not to just Oregon but to the rest of the country. In the meantime we obsess by having around 2 new virus cases a day
Ken and Tricia
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1 week ago
Scott AndersonTo Tricia GrahamThank you, Tricia. It is beyond disturbing to read the news from home, in many different regards. Hard to comprehend.
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1 week ago