I think communism, Yugoslavia, and Bosnian conflict when I hear this country mentioned. Certainly not beaches that rival Italy’s (they share the same gorgeous Adriatic coast line) or pristine waterfalls and immaculate national parks. Croatia was appealing because we found cheap flights. I didn’t expect to be blown away be a truly beautiful country. But that is exactly what happened within 24 hours of arriving in Croatia. We visited Krka National Park on our first afternoon in Croatia and then spent the following day exploring Plitvice Lakes National Park. Perfect weather combined with breath-taking scenery equalled the perfect weekend getaway for our family.
Krka and Plitvice don’t need lots of words on a page to describe their beauty. Our photos speak volumes. Croatia may very well be Europe’s best kept secret. If you live in Europe, it deserves to be up their with Greece and Italy on your list of must-see countries.
Krka National Park
Krka proved a breeze to navigate. You can easily see the highlights in as little as two hours, and the main viewing area for it’s major waterfalls are even made accessible for the elderly and handicapped. After spending hours on a plane and then driving from Split to Krka, my kids were thrilled for the opportunity to finally stretch their legs. And, they saw waterfalls. Win-win all around.
While we’d researched Plitvice, I wasn’t prepared for just how huge this national park actually is. Hikers spend weeks here exploring it. We had a day. Thankfully, Plitvice has multiple day trips/routes pre-planned for visitors that you can choose from. We chose a 4-6 hour endeavor that included a short bus ride to the highest point on the lake, a couple mile hike down around the lake, followed by a ferry ride across part of the lake, another couple miles of walking, and a bus ride back to the parking lot. I exceeded 30,000 steps on my Fitbit that day. I’m guessing that’s somewhere between 5-7 miles we walked all said and done.
We may have pushed it a little too hard with the kids. There’s no way you can bring a stroller on a hike through Plitvice, so we came prepared with our hiking backpack. Being pregnant, I did not want to wear the toddler, so the 20-month old went in the backpack and the 4- and 5-year olds walked. It’s an easy hike with the route we chose, no steep inclines and you follow a well-marked path. We planned to stop multiple times as needed along the trip to allow for baby-wearing dad, pregnant mom, and the little legs to rest.
All was going according to plan. The trail was easy for the kids to navigate. They enjoyed running on ahead and leading the way, and their overly trusting parents were confident they wouldn’t veer too near the water.
That proved a bit misguided. If there was a steep drop or the path got narrow, we were right their to hold their hands and keep them away from the edge. And then we stopped to rest at a calm point along the lake. Sure enough, as we snapped photos while they tossed rocks into the lake, the middle child bent over too far trying to grab a bigger rock and tumbled into the waist-deep water. He was safely out within seconds, and relieved the “alligators” hadn’t eaten him. But other than that—and the fact that he was soaked—he was completely fine. But we were less than a third of the way into our hike and his change of clothes were in the car. Face palm.
We did what any seasoned parents would do: improvise. His sister shared her pink sweatshirt. His little brother donated his socks. And, randomly, we had a fitted crib sheet in the hiking backpack that became his “skirt” for the next few hours. His wet clothes and shoes were attached to the backpack to dry as we continued our hike. Since he had no shoes to wear, my son, who just minutes before his “incident” had started whining to be carried, would now be getting his way. We continued on our trek. Grinning oldest child leading the way, piggy-back riding 4-year old on pregnant mommy’s back, and toddler-wearing daddy with drenched clothes and shoes dangling from his backpack. We were a sight.
But the day was not ruined. It just added to our adventure. We stumbled upon waterfall after waterfall. It was stunning. My kids had a blast and we left with a great story to go along with the breath-taking scenery.