Croatia has incredible natural treasures and luckily many of them are protected as national parks. The oldest and the most visited is Plitvice Lakes National Park (Plitvička jezera) in Lika region somewhere between Dalmatia and Croatia’s mainland.
This year Plitvice Lakes NP celebrates 70 years birthday and also 40 years since it was added to UNESCO list of natural heritage.
I’ve been to this park regularly even before I started run photo workshop in 2008. During all these visits I got to experience some of the best conditions in all seasons of the year.
If you are looking for an answer when it is the best time to visit the park, there is no simple answer. So let me explain a little bit what you can expect from different seasons.
First, avoid Summer! There is the least water in the park and some waterfalls can be dry. Also, this is a busy season with tourism and there will be the biggest number of visitors in the park.
If you do visit in Summer, rain is your ally. In rain, there will be much less tourists in the park and weather makes it atmospheric – especially just as the rain is approaching or sun is starting to come back. Be willing to get wet.
Spring is a joyful season! Fresh green colour is everywhere, forests are full of blossoming wild garlic, waters are abundant and there is a lot of life, birds, insects… Great macro photography opportunities. Best time to visit is May to mid June – before school holidays. April is usually still dull, because of high altitude and mountainous climate spring arrives late. Days are long which means you can enjoy early mornings and late afternoons in the park without usual tourist crowds.
Autumn is completely different story. More melancholic atmosphere, often misty and hopefully full of muted fall colours. My favourite season. Days are shorter which means you can actually visit the park in best morning light! My suggestion is to take the first boat to the upper lakes and photograph the first sun hitting the waterfalls. Autumn is best for reflections too. Variety of colour will give you interesting patterns on the water – if not windy. It is hard to guess when the colours will be at their peak – every year is different. A rule of thumb would be to visit between October 10 – 20 for the best chance to get colours. Even if you are early or late in the season there will be very nice photo opportunities waiting.
And what about Winter? This can be a lottery as there is no way to predict snow and ice long term. If you can, plan last minute, follow weather reports and webcams if there is snow or/and ice in the park. One of the best things in winter is that there is the least amount of tourists visiting the park. This said, the upper lakes are usually closed – especially if there is snowfall. It is still possible to visit the upper lakes – if you are willing to do some strenuous walking. If heavy snow, snowshoes are the only way to get in. The boardwalks covered in snow can be perilous – it is too easy to slide off into the water and you cannot see if the boardwalk is damaged or fine.
To sum up, spring, autumn and winter can all be rewarding for photography. If you have a chance, visit the park in different seasons and allow enough time to get to know it. It is one of the most beautiful places in Europe and relatively easy to photograph.
Here are some additional tips that will help you photograph Plitvice Lakes in best possible way:
Avoid shooting during the day – focus on the early morning and late afternoon. At about 10 AM it is nearly impossible to photograph from the boardwalks – there is constant flow of tourist groups. It becomes calm again sometime after 4 PM.
Plitvice Lakes national park is not only waterfalls and lakes. It features pristine forests and hiking trails as well. Photographing forest here is a good way to get away from tourist crowds. And these are some of the most amazing forest I’ve ever seen. Check out the trail maps at the park gates.
Spend at least two nights at the park. This will allow you to have two mornings and two evenings when you can photograph in relative peace. And during the day you can either go for a hike in the park or explore some of the nearby attractions of Lika region. Some ideas, Rastoke at Slunj, a deer ranch, Željava airbase near Bosnian border, or some outdoor activities like horseback riding, ATV drives or adventure parks…
Plitvice Lakes NP is always under pressure of the huge number of visitors. Some days there can be up to 15,000 visitors in a single day! Because of this it is even more important to respect the rules when visiting the park. Photographers will be tempted to leave the boardwalks to find better angles or to use a drone for aerial views – both is illegal and let’s respect that – there are so many amazing shots we can create in an acceptable way!
Check out Nature First initiative for guidelines how to be responsible in nature.
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And if you are interested in photographing Plitvice Lakes national park (and elsewhere in the region) check out my PhotoHound photographer’s guide where I’ve described the best photo spots of Plitvice Lakes in great detail.