One of the joys of having a car when you’re traveling is the flexibility to go places on a whim. That freedom allowed my friend Elaine and I visit one of the most beautiful places in Europe.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest national park in southern Europe, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located southwest of Zagreb and 10 km from the Bosnia-Herzegovina border, there are no regular bus schedules, so having either a car or tour group transportation is important. The lakes and waterfalls are formed by the confluence of rivers over a limestone/dolomite base.
The rock dissolves and deposits; algae and plants build up on the rock, creating new formations which redirect the water, and underground rivers carve new pathways. The size, shape, and number of lakes changes over time. Currently, there are 16 lakes spanning a drop of over 425 feet from the upper to lower lakes, creating a series of waterfalls that flow, separate, combine, and murmur musically over the rocks. We spent a day wandering through the trails, peering into caves, crossing the boardwalk that snakes across the lake boundaries, and marveling at the changing blue-green waters, colored by the minerals and bacteria. The park abounds with birds and other wildlife, and is a haven for bears (which fortunately were shy this day!)
The park is a popular attraction. Even in September, we frequently ran into some crowds at the more scenic viewpoints. Undoubtedly the crowds are larger in summer months. In winter, the park turns into a fairy land of ice and snow, sparkling ice-fringed trees and frozen waterfalls. I’d like to visit during that time of year, some day.
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