Plitvice Lakes & Rastoke, Croatia: Water in the sky and on land
From Zagreb, we rented a car from the airport and began a two week road trip through Croatia. The plan was to take mostly local roads and stay off of the Autoceste (toll Interstates) so that we could see the countryside and smaller villages along the way. We arranged a one-way rental from Zagreb to Split through Avis, which we also used in Italy, and the rental process was flawless. For navigation, we had been given directions from our host in Plitvice Lakes and we used the maps on our phones.
To get out of Zagreb, we broke our Autoceste rule and exited the city on the A1 for time purposes. We stayed on for about an hour before exiting in Karlovac to take the smaller 2-lane local D1 road the rest of the way to Plitvice Lakes. As expected, the countryside was lush and beautiful with small towns dotting the roadway. It was also drizzling and by the time we decided to take a quick break, I happened to look up to see signs for the town of Rastoke. I urged Nik to pull over, and as we got out of the car we couldn’t help but smile as we looked over the ledge to see a quaint village of wooden buildings scattered along a river with water flowing and falling between them into the Korana River. We paid for 1 hour of parking and made our way down the path into town. It was everything you imagine a small town that evolved around water mills of the 17th century to be after it accepting its modern fate as a tourist attraction. Small cafe/restaurants with large exterior wooden decks built to accommodate busloads and rooms to rent to accommodate the road-trippers were dispersed between official admission supported tourist sights. While we were there, only two busloads and a handful of road-trippers were walking through in the rain making it seem somewhat abandoned, but the buildings and grounds were maintained just enough to tell you that it wasn’t.
I knew I would be sad if we passed up the opportunity to sit in one of these waterside restaurants because they reminded me of afternoons we spent at Huay Tung Tao Reservoir in Chiang Mai, Thailand back in 2008. So we moved the car, paid for two more hours of parking, and picked a table under cover with minimal railing along the water’s edge next to a group of German motorcyclists. Then, we enjoyed a lunch of homemade cured meat (bear, boar, dear, & pork) and cheese (sheep & cow), grilled potatoes, local beer, Coke, and coffee served by one of the kindest people we have met so far on the trip.
From Rastoke, it was only half an hour more to the cottage for the night. We stopped along the way to pick up groceries and when we arrived we were greeted by Dila, a 2 month old golden retriever puppy and a foggy view of the Korana River Valley. The property and vegetation from the entire drive reminded me of East Tennessee, so that evening I simply sat outside and absorbed the view. The humidity was comforting.
Our next and only full day in Plitvice Lakes area began with breakfast at the cottage and an early start at the National Park. We parked at Entrance 2 and took our time criss-crossing the upper lakes before taking the shuttle back to the parking area around noon (the shuttles around and ferries across the lakes are included in park admission fees). The boardwalks were stunning, the water was crystal clear, rain fell at a steady pace, and the other tourists were few and far between.
We drove to a nearby restaurant for lunch that was mostly filled with a Korean tour group. Afterwards, we went back to the lakes and parked at Entrance 1 to explore the lower lakes. As we descended, the fog was so thick that you hear that waterfalls were close, but you could not see them. It was a little eery, but beautiful because the rain and mist is why the falls exist. Our afternoon path was populated with hundreds and perhaps thousands of fellow visitors decked out in hiking shoes, ponchos and waterproof pants. It was a colorful array that contrasted with the natural beauty, and while it would have been great to see the lakes by ourselves, it was also nice to know that they are being appreciated by so many.
By the time we had seen all the lakes, we were pretty exhausted so we took the ferry back across the big lake. On the walk to the parking lot, the views that had been obscured by fog earlier were now mostly clear and we got a small taste of the vistas that were possible.
The weather for our one day in Plitvice Lakes National Park wasn’t ideal for taking photos because we were both constantly drying off our cameras, but it was a moody experience that I wouldn’t pass up. If I could do it again, I would have planned at least 3 days in the area and I would have come to the park at least twice. I would have done one if not two hikes further afield into the forrest and made sure that we had time for the “money shots” in good weather and in bad. So, if we get the chance, we will be back!