Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

September 4, 2012, 2:12 pm
Content Cover Image

Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia is a World Heritage Site located at 44° 44'-44°57’N, 15° 27-15°42'E. The waters of Plitvice Lakes, flowing across limestone and chalk have, over thousands of years, deposited natural dams of travertine which have created a series of beautiful lakes, caves and cascades, in a continuing biogeological process. Its forests are a refuge for bears, wolves and many species of birds. Threats to the site include eutrophication by sewage, and tourist pressure on the lake waters.

Geographical Location

Close to the Bosnia-Hercegovina border in the Dinaric mountains, 20 kilometers (km) northwest of Bihac in Bosnia and 110 km south of Zagreb on the main road to the Adriatic. Approximate coordinates are 44° 44'-44°57’N, 15° 27-15°42'E.

Date and History of Establishment

  • 1928: The lakes originally accorded National Park status, but not developed;
  • 1949: Plitvice Lakes (Plitvicka Jezera) declared public property by law, their boundaries finalized, and designated a National Park in the Official Gazette (Narodne Novine) No.29.
  • 1997: The Croatian Parliament at the suggestion of the Lakes Public Establishment and the State Agency for the Protection of Nature and the Environment, expanded the Park by 10,020 hectares (ha) to include most of the underground catchment basin supplying lakes and streams of the Park.



caption Plitvice Lakes (Source: UC Santa Cruz)


29,482 ha, composed of the original 19,462 ha plus the 10,020 ha extension.

Land Tenure

State; in Lika province, administrative district of Licko-senjska Zupanija. Some 3,500 ha of village agricultural plots, representing 12% of the Park, are privately owned. Administered by the Plitvice Lakes Public Establishment.


417 meters (m) to 1,280 m.

Physical Features

Plitvice plateau lies at 650-700 m between the Licka Pljesevica (1,640 m) and Mala Kapela (1,280 m) mountains and is intersected by the headwaters of the Korana River, the Black and White rivers. The upper end of the Korana Valley overlying the dolomite stratum is a wide basin holding the upper lakes while the lower lakes occupy a narrow limestone canyon. The Plitvice Lakes basin is a formation of biological origin, a karst river basin of limestone and dolomite, with approximately 16 lakes, behind dams created during the last 4,000 years by the deposition of calcium carbonate in solution by encrustation on mosses (Bryum, Cratoneuron), algae and aquatic bacteria. This results in the building, at about 1-3 centimeters (cm) per year, of phytogenetic travertine (calcareous tufa) barriers which have created lakes of various sizes linked by cascades and waterfalls, some up to 25 m in height. These have characteristic strange shapes and contain travertine-roofed and vaulted caves. The carbonates date from the Upper Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous ages and are up to 4,000 m thick. Soil types include humus on limestone, rendzinas and brown soils on limestone, eliminated and brown eliminated soils on limestone and humus, brown soils and the eliminated soils of sinkholes. In order to maintain and preserve the natural characteristics of the lakes from pollution, the whole of the surface and most of the subterranean drainage system has been included within the borders of the Park. The new areas comprise layers of karstified limestone with dolomites of Jurassic age.


The National Park lies on the boundary between a moderately warm lower level rainy forest climate and a higher altitude snowy forest climate. The height of 700 m above sea level or the mean temperature of -3 degrees Celsius (°C) in the coldest month has been taken as the boundary line between the two climates.


There are 22,308 ha of forest which cover 75% of the Park, 6,957 ha of meadow and 217 ha of lakes. The forest comprises pure stands of beech Fagus sylvatica at lower altitudes and mixed stands of beech and fir Abies alba at higher levels. The percentages of species are 72.8% beech, 22.1% fir, 4.7% spruce Picea excelsa and 0.4% pine Pinus sylvestris. One area of 84 ha has never been cut and contains trees up to 700 years old. The forest can also be classified in terms of its underlying dolomite and limestone strata. The dolomite communities comprise tertiary pine, hornbeam Ostrya carpinifolia , spruce and beech-fir forests. The limestone communities have a smaller number of forest types but cover a larger area with communities of spruce and fern, spruce in beech, coppiced hornbeam with sumac Rhus cotinus, Italian maple Acer obtusatum and heather Erica spp. Hydrophytic communities of black alder Alnus glutinosa, willow Salix spp., grey ivy, reeds and bulrush communities. Alpine beech groves grade into fir and beech forests, with juniper Juniperus sp., and in the valleys and on lower slopes patches of sub-Mediterranean vegetation. There is a large mosaic of meadow communities, depending on altitude, geology soils and other factors, in three taxonomic classes: Festuco-Brometea, Nardo-Calunatea, Molinio-Arrhenatheretea and Scheuchzerio- caricatea fuscae. Threatened, endemic and protected plants include Cardamine chelido, Cypripedium calceolus, Daphne blagayana, Lilium bulbiferum, L. carniolicum, Primula kitaibeliana, P .wulfeniana, Ruscus hypoglossum and Paeonia mascula.


The area is faunistically rich, including European brown bear Ursus arctos, wolf Canis lupus, European otter Lutra lutra, wild cat Felis silvestris, eagle owl Bubo bubo, and capercaillie Tetra urogallus. There are records of 126 species of birds, of which 70 breed in the area.

Cultural Heritage

The area was the cradle of the prehistoric Illarian tribe of Yopuds dating from 1,000 BC. The Yopudic culture was followed by the Romans and from the 8th century AD was occupied by Slavs. Archaeological remains include a prehistoric settlement on the site of the current Plitvice village, fortifications, Bronze Age tools and ceramics.

Local Human Population

The area had 1,100 inhabitants in 1949 and about 2,200 in 1990 in 18 rural communities but there are now only two small settlements of elderly households.

Visitors and Visitor Facilities


caption Plitvice Park walkway for tourists (Source: Stanford University])


Tourism at the lakes started in the 19th century. By the mid-1980s tourists numbered 800,000 of whom two-thirds were foreign, largely German, with peak visitation in July and August. The revenue obtained from visitor fees (US$9.00) and general income from tourism amounted to some US$2.5 million in 1986. With the outbreak of war in 1991 and subsequent occupation of the park, tourism stopped completely and many buildings were damaged. In 1996, a tourism revitalization program began. Existing tourist facilities located within the park include hotels, post office, restaurants, car parks, and sports and information centers. There are now two entries for visitors, with car parks and information offices; visitors move around the park on arranged and marked paths and gangways. Within the Park, hotel accommodation is available at Plitvice, Bellevue and Jezero (currently being removed). During 1996, there were 260,000 visitors, in 1997 320,000, and in 1998 350,000. The visitor reception service has developed a system with various educational sight-seeing programs. Visitors go round the Park with a qualified guide, according to the set program. The visitor reception service also has information offices where visitors can obtain all the necessary information. The Plitvice Lakes Public Establishment collaborates with local and foreign media to promote and give information about the Park.

Scientific Research and Facilities

There has been extensive research on travertine formation, age and structure, and forest structure. Park staff work in collaboration with a number of national universities and a permanent research station has been established, together with extensive meteorological and climatological measuring points. Hydrometeorological data have been collected for 20 years, chemical analysis of rainfall for 10 years and air pollution monitoring data since 1982. Hydrology, soil and phenology are monitored within the park. Specific areas of research include biochemical analysis of travertine formations, water quality (for human consumption), limnology and palaeolimnology, microbiology and soil erosion, ecology of the brown bear and plant community structures. There are five meteorological and hydrometeorological monitoring stations. With the outbreak of war in 1991, many staff were forced to leave the Park, and some facilities were damaged.

Conservation Value

The area of Plitvice Lakes is noted for its lakes, caves and waterfalls formed from deposits of travertine. The forests of the Park are a refuge for bears, wolves and many species of birds.

Conservation Management

The area of the Plitvice Lakes National Park is protected pursuant to the Croatian Constitution and the Nature Protection Law. Economic and any other kind of activity is possible only in line with the regulations concerning the Internal Order in the area. Management is done at a national level. The Council of Management, which consists of seven members, is appointed by the Government. The first General Development Plan of the Park was adopted by the Assembly of the local commune in 1970. From 1972 the Park was run as a company operating on market principles which owned the tourist facilities and was supplied by local farmers. A Zoning Plan dating from 1986 is still valid, but environmental protection measures are not considered to be stringent enough to solve the problems which the Park now faces.

In 1996, the Ministry of Tourism and the Park management drew up the Tourism Revitalization Program for the Plitvice Lakes National Park, with the aim of drawing visitors back to the Park, without threatening the site's natural values. This program is part of a broader project called the Programme Basis of the Functioning and Development of the Plitvice Lakes National Park. The strategy aims to increase tourist facilities at the two main entrances, thus reducing the number of through-visitors to the Velika Poljana hotel zone, to keep freight traffic out of the Park, and ultimately exclude all motor vehicles from the Park, and to reduce visitor pressure on the central and most sensitive zone around the waterfalls and lakes. The management is to be restructured into the Park Management Sector and the subordinate Hotels and Restaurants Sector. The short term focus is to rehabilitate the protective and research functions in the Park, and to improve the visitor management system. A State of Conservation report on the Park was submitted to the World Heritage Committee in 15 September 1997.

Management Constraints

In 1991, the Park was abandoned by staff due to civil unrest in the region. The lack of supervision resulted in the destruction of forest and Park facilities, the hunting of bears and fishing with dynamite. Several villages in and around the northern boundary were also destroyed. Consequently, the site was placed on the World Heritage in Danger List in 1992, from which it was withdrawn in 1997. Some of the key threats facing the park before 1991 were never adequately solved. Eutrophication of the lakes is becoming a threat, due to an inadequate sewage system which contaminates the lakes. The water supply for the Park and surrounding area is currently taken from Lake Kozjak, which interferes with the water flow and the travertine formation process. However, preparations for the construction of a new effluent disposal system are under way, damage to the Park's infrastructure is being repaired and there is ongoing monitoring. The main road link between Zagreb and Dalmatia ran through the park along the edge of the lakes with an average of 7,000 vehicles per day. But by 1998 this had been detoured around the Park . The high number and concentration of tourists visiting the most sensitive parts of the park, the lakes and waterfalls, also poses a threat.


In 1990 there was a total of 146 staff directly involved in park management, comprising 66 within the Department of Nature and 80 in National Park Tourism. In addition, there were 100 staff charged with maintaining Park facilities.


The Park is self-supporting with a gross income of US$2.5 million per year, in addition to which the State provides US$150,000 for research.

IUCN Management Category

  • II National Park
  • Natural World Heritage Site, inscribed 1979. Natural Criteria ii, iii
  • Placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1992; removed in 1996.

Further Reading

  • Bozicevic,S. (1998) The Plitvice Lakes National Park - Natural History, Guide, Photomonography. Plitvice Lakes National Park, 96pp.
  • Cetinsky, V. (1996) Progress on the tourism revitalization programme for the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Turizam 44(11-12): 324-330.
  • Dezelic, R, (1996) Guidelines for protection and utilization of the Plitvice Lakes National Park Turizam 44(11-12): 293-304.
  • Frankic, A. (1990). Plitvice Lakes National Park. Report submitted to the IUCN conference on the Management of Protected Areas and National Parks under the Impact and Threat of Atmospheric Emissions. Krkonose National Park, Czechoslovakia. 6 pp.
  • Ivandic, N. & Klaric, Z. (1996) Tourism revitalization in the Plitvice Lakes National Park in the transition period. Turizam 44(11-12): 306-323.
  • Kramaric, Z. (1991) Plitvice National Park - then and now. Nature and National Parks 29(110):12-16.
  • Movcan, J. (undated). Plitvice. Nacionalni Park Plitvicka Jezera, UNESCO.
  • Movcan, J. (1974). Plitvicka Jezera Covjek i Priroda. Nacionalni Park Plitvicka Jezera.
  • Movcan, J. (1983). Development and Economics in Plitvice National Park. European Bulletin: Nature and National Parks 21: 79-80.
  • Movcan, J. (1985). Plitvice Lakes National Park, the World National Heritage Nacionalni Park Plitvicka Jezera, Spektar, Zagreb. ISBN: 8671331482.
  • Movcan, J. (1987). Vorstandsmitglied Nationalpark Plitvicer Seen. Unpublished paper presented at the General Assembly of the European Federation for Nature and National Parks.
  • Pevelak, I. (1968). The Biodynamics of the Lakes of Plivice and their Protection.
  • UNESCO (1993) Two Years of Occupation UNESCO, Zagreb.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Committee (1997) Report of the 21st Session of the World Heritage Bureau, Paris.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Committee (1998) Report of the 22nd session of the World Heritage Bureau, Paris.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.




M, U. (2012). Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia. Retrieved from


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