Click here for information about what we were setting out to see, and how the Plitvice Lakes became the spectacle they are.

Upper Plitvice Lakes
Click the map icon at the right to display a map of the day’s travels. Like some other maps, it will open in a separate window, in case you want to keep it open at the same time as this one.

Short-run ferry and where it was going
Our alarm didn’t go off, and we awoke at 6:50, 20 minutes negative to plan. After eating breakfast in the dining room — a greater success than the previous night’s dinner — and descending a short hill to the information booth, and then a very long hill, much of it a stairway, we reached the electric boat landing on Lake Kozjak still the same 20 minutes off schedule. (This landing is labeled P1 in red on the map.) No tourist hordes were yet evident, and we took the short ferry ride, possibly as the first passengers of the day, to landing P2 directly across a narrow neck of the lake. Our only fellow passenger was a Japanese woman, who quickly hiked off ahead of us. We followed at a slower pace, past and sometimes across the many little streams tumbling downward from a small lake named Burget into Lake Kozjak, then up the western side (to the right on the map) of Lake Gradinsko.

Forest and flowing water
Our plan was to spend this day exploring the Upper Lakes (Gornja Jezera). The Rick Steves guidebook said this would take about two hours, but added that the estimate assumed brisk walkers who took few pictures. We didn’t meet either qualification, and our exploration took twice as long.

Water falling into Lake Gradinsko
After passing Lake Burget, our course took us from the lower end of Gradinsko, where the water was running down into Kozjak, to the upper end, where we could see the water of Lake Galovac (considerably higher than Gradinsko) coming down in many beautiful waterfalls. The park was green and fresh with May (almost June now), and wildflowers bloomed everywhere. There was so much to see and photograph in every direction that we weren’t surprised by how long it took us to notice that we were circling the same lake instead of moving on to the next. We had intended to go up the west side of Lake Gradinsko, then continue up the west side of Lake Galovac, finishing (depending on the time and our endurance) at either station 3 or station 4 (ST3 and ST4 on the map) where we could get a shuttle ride back to the information booth near our hotel. We completed the first half of this plan, but somehow we took a wrong turn near Galovac and, unbeknownst, turned back down the east side of Gradinsko. By the time we figured this out, we were nearly back to the boat landing, so we took our mistake as a heavenly sign that it was our destiny to return to the hotel for lunch and a rest.

Our walk around Lake Gradinsko took two hours, and during the first of those hours we saw no one else. After 9:30 we began to see a few other people, and after 10:00, on our way back toward landing P2, we met a couple of tours coming the other way.

Back on the hotel side of Lake Kozjak, we found the long stairway up from the lakeside quite a challenge after two hours of hiking (even our slow hiking). Like all the lakes, it’s in a deep valley that takes a lot of energy to climb out of. We rested in our room for 45 minutes, drying our sweaty clothes, then went down to the dining room at 12:15 for lunch . No other guests were there — just us and about 198 empty chairs. Our waitress was much friendlier than the one who had served us dinner, and the quality of the food was higher as well. I had bow-tie pasta in cream sauce with flakes of salmon, and cucumber salad (made with fresh-tasting cucumbers that were obviously not industrial products). Dorothea ordered grilled mushrooms and tomato salad, and found both delicious. Not surprisingly, however, the meal was far from cheap.

We took another 45-minute rest in our room before we felt ready to resume hiking. To avoid retracing our steps, we took the shuttle to station 3 just below Lake Galovac, near where we had made the wrong turn in the morning, We planned to pick up the thread where we had dropped it — walk around Galovac and a bit more, and eventually return from the end of the shuttle line: station 4.

All aboard for Stations 3 and 4
Down at station 2, by the information booth, we found a parked shuttle “train” that seemed to be headed in the right direction. The train consisted of linked buses — powered, I think, by electricity, though I can’t swear to that; at any rate, they’re not diesel-powered. The map has little pictures showing three cars in a row, but I remember only two. Either the park wasn’t yet busy enough to yoke them in threes, or (always a possibility) my memory is faulty. Dorothea asked the woman behind the wheel if this shuttle was going to stop at station 3. Without a smile — rather sternly, in fact — the driver said, “Why are you going to station 3? You should go to station 4.” That was, to be sure, the official terminus of the officially recommended hiking route, but we had our own special agenda and we stuck to it. As for the driver, we agreed that she wasn’t being deliberately unpleasant, just official in that peculiarly Croatian way.

Over the brink
From station 3 we went down some stairs to the trail, and by 3:15 we were following the west shore of Galovac as we had meant to do in the morning. Like Gradinsko, it had high waterfalls at the southern end where water from the higher lakes upstream was pouring in. The trail skirted one of these lakes, a small one named Malo (which means ‘little,’ in fact) and turned eastward, crossing between Galovac and the other lakes that feed it. At the east side of the valley, we came to a fork from which we could go downhill to station 3 or uphill to station 4. We chose the second route along the east side of Lake Batinovac rather than follow the shore of Galovac back to our starting point. We were alone for the most part, though we did meet a few people coming toward us, and made way for a few others coming from behind us to pass. As before, we progressed slowly and stopped often to take pictures. Dorothea noted that bugs were amazingly few in the forest, and none of the ones we met seemed to be biters. For a little while the sky was overcast, but it remained pleasantly warm and the sun was soon out again.

We came to station 4 a few minutes before 5:00. After using the loo there, we went to buy some water at the refreshment stand, but the man inside closed it practically in our faces — 5:00 was 5:00, and he didn’t have to stay open for another second. So we sat around for a quarter-hour until the shuttle arrived. Only one other couple, and a man hiking by himself, were there to get on with us. But when the shuttle stopped at station 3, the equivalent of two tour buses full of people got on. Their cheerful chatter was a jarring contrast with the quiet of the forested lakeside where we’d spent the afternoon. I said to Dorothea that she must feel as if she’d just been yanked out of a retreat at the Insight Meditation Center and set down on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Although we had no idea of this at the time, we may have been on the last shuttle of the day: the schedule on the park’s website says that shuttles between stations 2 and 4 don’t run after 5:30pm. If so, we were very lucky that we caught it; it would have been a miserable three-mile hike, downhill or not.

Flora — doesn't belong here, but isn't it pretty?
Back at station 2, we had a comparatively short climb to the hotel, although it could have been even shorter. The road to the information booth and station 2 ran between the hotel and the lake, but for some reason the paved walk and stairs that connected the hotel’s rear entrance with the road slanted in the opposite direction. Anyone coming from the bus stop had to walk an extra 50 yards up the hill and then double back on the walk to get to the hotel door — either that or scramble up a slope and through some thick shrubbery. Possibly the general starting point for tours and hikes had been located in the uphill direction back when the hotel grounds were laid out half a century before. Regardless, I’m happy to report that we survived the climb, and had time for another good rest before dinner. The sun shone brightly through our west-facing windows, but they also let in a breeze that was almost cool.

Both guidebooks had recommended a restaurant named Lička Kuća, near entrance 1. It serves food native to this region, Lika, which is partly in both Croatia and Bosnia (and is usually rendered in English as “the Lika,” though I’m not sure why, since Croatian, like other Slavic languages, has no definite article). The Rick Steves book described the restaurant as having “a wonderfully dark and smoky atmosphere.” But, alas for us, Entrance 1 was a mile away, and the shuttle, which went only halfway there, didn’t even do that at dinnertime; it had stopped running at 4:30. So we settled for the Poljana, a restaurant attached to the less expensive Bellevue hotel next door to the Plitvice. The Steves book scorned its atmosphere, but said that it had the same wood-fired grille, menu choices, and even prices as Lička Kuća. We decided that, however wonderful and smoky that restaurant’s atmosphere might be, it wasn’t worth a two-mile hike (which, in any event, we were in no condition that evening to undertake).

The Poljana had an outside deck where it was warm enough to sit, and the meal we got there was good if not sensational. We shared an appetizer of pršut, olives, pepperoncini, and cream cheese, served with bread. From the grill, I got pork on a skewer and Dorothea a turkey cutlet. The pork kebab kept company with French fries and ajvar salad, the turkey cutlet with French fries and a mixed salad (half cabbage). I drank Ožujsko, and we shared a bottle of Jemnica.

That night it required little will power to go to bed early. Once again, we set the alarm for 6:30.