Monday, July 8, 2013

Running in the Plitvice (Plitvicka) Lakes National Park, Croatia

After the West Highland Way race I spent an excellent week climbing in Scotland and visiting friends in England.  Now, my friend Maria and I are on a mini-tour of a few spots in eastern Europe.  This weekend we went to a national park in southern Croatia called Plitvice.  The park is famous for its ultra-clear, green-colored lakes--and rightfully so, it turns out.  I had no idea what to expect but I would never have expected it to be as beautiful as it was.

The park is basically 10 to 15 small lakes chained together by a network of walking trails.  The only real problem is that these can be full of walkers, especially in the summer.  I got a little frustrated at the beginning of our run by being stuck too close to too many people.  But, once you get to the halfway point of the main trail, you have the option of going off onto what the park describes as hiking trails.  This is where things get good!  We didn't see a single other person on the hiking trails portion of the run, and the trails were absolutely perfect for running on.  It was a rainy, foggy day, so we didn't get as many views as we might have on another day, but the woods were very pretty if a little spooky.  We had been reading in our guidebook that landmines are still a problem in some areas of Croatia, including this area, and the warning not to go off the trail didn't make us feel any less spooked!

Map of the Plitvice trails.  Finding this was no small feat!  There were no maps at the park entrance, only a tiny drawing on the back of our entrance tickets.  We found this map about a third of the way through our run.
One downside to the park was that it's an expensive day out.  The entry fee is about $20 USD per person, and you have to pay extra for parking.  A way to avoid this could be to park outside of the park, possibly in the town near spot 3 on the map, and run in (although keep in mind that you can only use the lake ferries if you've got a park entry ticket).

And, even if it's crowded, it's worth a walk around the lakes to see the amazing water (all photos by Maria):

After you leave the lake trails, you run a gradual ascent up a big hill/mountain for about 4 or 5 miles, if you're heading from spot St4 to spot 1 on the map above.  From there it's a steep downhill back to the lakes, and either a ferry ride (for the lazy, including us) or a run back down the other side of the lakes.  All in all, about 13 miles /22k of excellent.

On to the Dolomites tomorrow...