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The Pljesevica Mountain trek: A steep and windy path, meandering upwards through countryside, forest, shrub-land and jagged rocks to what feels like the top of the World in the middle of nowhere. This sums up one of the best places for hiking in Croatia. The reward for your efforts, a plateau with stunning panoramic views looking outwards over both Croatia and neighbouring Bosnia & Herzegovina on Croatia’s most famous rock!
Because of where Pljesevica (Plješevica) is located, the hike is smack bam on the border of the two countries, it was a strategic site for a military airbase. The summit is littered with relics from the Yugoslavia war; including derelict bullet hole-ridden checkpoints, storage containers, remnants of an old runway, cave passageways leading into the cliff face and eerie abandoned barracks. Perfect for ruin junkies and history buffs alike.
No doubt if you are visiting this little nugget of Croatia, then you’d most likely be here for the nearby UNESCO site of Plitvicka Jezera (that’s Plitvice Lakes to you and I). However, there’s a lot more to this region of the country than the stunning albeit overcrowded tourist attraction. It’s certainly worthwhile adding a few days to your trip to the lakes and exploring some of the areas off the beaten track around Plitvice. There are tons of activities for outdoorsy and adventurous types in the region, including what arguably has to be one of the best hikes in Croatia and a must for your Plitvice itinerary.
Where is the Pljesevica Mountain trek?
The Pljesevica mountain trek is a 13.6km trail situated in northern Croatia in the Dinaric Alps. It actually encompasses a few peaks, although the main one you’ll be hiking to is Gola Pljesevica at a height of 1646m. It’s on this peak that you’ll find the stage-like rock formation and the perfectly located abandoned Balkan war remnants. Because of the surrounding terrain, there are several other hikes and trails in the region and if you’re an avid walker, then you could spend longer around here adding to your Croatia Hiking itinerary.
No Pain No Gain
Yeah, right! I’m not going to lie, the Pljesevica mountain trek is certainly challenging. Which played a big part in WHY reaching the top was so rewarding. As hikes go, it’s listed as ‘moderate’, whatever moderate refers to. I’d class it as more of a challenging hike. The actual trail is easy enough to follow for the majority of the hike you just need to look out for the markers every 20 metres or so. What makes it challenging are that large parts are steep for long chunks of time.
The Pljesevica mountain trek starts in the little village of Korenica, which is approximately 18km and along the main D1 road from Plitvice Lakes. The start of the trail is just behind the only Chinese restaurant in the village; Kun Lun.
For the first section of the walk, you’ll be glad to hear that it’s through farmland and 100% flat. It starts as a tarmac road and then goes into a gritted road. IF you have a car or bike, you could drive this section and save yourself the 40-50-minute walk.
The upward part of the trail starts near to an old red barn, this is where the incline starts.
What to expect when you hike Pljesevica
Our little group of 4 set off later than planned, at around about 9.30am. As a recommendation, the earlier you start, the better. If you are hiking in the peak of summer, the uphill slog is tough work so take advantage of the cooler hours of the day to tackle this.
One piece of advice we were given, was to never lose sight of the red and white markings – sometimes they are blindingly obvious, other times you’ll be playing hunt the dot, and then when you find said dot, you’ll be baffled as to which direction it wants you to go. I stumbled across these super cute farmhouses (above pic) on one slight detour.
A little heads up!
The Pljesevica mountain trek starts on a gradual incline, first though low lying shrub and a stony path it quickly begins to get steeper and you end up through the forest trail. The trail meanders up through the forest and gets reasonably steep in places. You’ll cross over a couple of old roads, eventually following an old and very overgrown road up for a short distance before heading back into the wooded area. Eventually coming out to a steep and overgrown yet open expanse (look up and you’ll be following the power lines) to the top of the mountain. Here you’ll be met with a single gravel ‘road’ to follow around to the top. It takes about 3-4 hours to reach the top.
Depending on how quick you hike allow a minimum of 7 hours in total – that’s if you are a fast hiker and don’t spend any time at the top. If, like our group, a time frame of about 9-10 hours will allow for both a slower pace and a decent chunk of time at the top exploring and enjoying the view.
Basically, set off early is it will take the majority of a day however fast you hike.
Things to be aware of on the Pljesevica Mountain Trek
Bears and Wolves and Snakes and stuff – so Europe as a whole doesn’t have much dangerous wildlife, however just be aware that Black Bears, Wolves and Vipers do live in this forest. A couple of days before we hiked two separate groups said they had heard rustling and growling in nearby bushes, and although they didn’t see anything, they were adamant it was a bear.
Land mines – we were given this warning during out briefing before the hike, when you reach the top, as you are walking from the communication towers along the gravel road (basically the road which divides the countries) you’ll see red signs with skull and crossbones on the trees. These are on the Bosnia & Herzegovina side of the mountain. There is still the potential for unexploded landmines in the forest left from the Yugoslavia war. Whatever you do DO NOT go ‘off-roading’ over this side
Refugees – Sometimes the path is used as a gateway for refugees to cross over into Croatia. We didn’t see anyone else on our hike but on occasions, they have been spotted on the trail. This leads on to why you need to take your passport or some form of ID with you. Police are aware of the Pljesevica trail being used as an entry point into Croatia, and so Police sometimes patrol the area or the site at the top. To save any hassle as to where you come from take your ID with you. I didn’t fancy a night shackled up in a Bosnian prison.
It’s Isolated – we set off a group of 4, aside from each other we didn’t see anyone else on the trail. I did have phone reception for parts of the hike. As a precaution, if you are hiking alone, tell your accommodation or let a friend/family member know that you are doing the trail. If you encounter a problem, or become injured and are alone, the chances of anyone passing by to help is slim. Better still, do the hike with someone else.
Don’t panic, these are all precautions and just things to be aware of. The chances are slim for any of these eventualities, but you’d be naive to ignore them.
Hiking in Croatia - Essentials to pack
This is from the voice of experience, from things I WISH I had packed.
Decent shoes – so I hiked up in pair of very old, battered and treadless tennis shoes – WTF was I thinking?!? So granted, aside from flip flops, they were the only shoes I had. Usually, I’m a big fan of tennis shoes, lightweight, go with most clothes and perfectly fine for 90% of the stuff I do when I’m travelling. However, on this trip, it was a seriously BAD idea. It was mildly amusing seeing people’s reactions after the hike back at the hostel saying ‘you hiked in those! Wow!’. Some parts of the terrain are super slippery and other parts are full of rocks – which I could feel each and every single one of the rocks through the bottom of my shoes. Come to the end of the hike, my ankles and soles of my feet knew I wore crap shoes.
Water – 2 litres minimum – I’d based my water intake on regular days out, where I was mostly fine on my 750cl bottle. I wished I had taken double of this. Even though the day we hiked was about 20C the effort to go up is like doing a 3-hour solid step-up class. It’s intense. I’d nearly finished my water by the time we got to the top, and from there it would be at least another 3 hours before I could refill it. There are NO FILLING STATIONS on the trail, not even a river. So take what you think you’ll need, and then some!
Plenty of snacks – I’m not a big eater while I’m hiking, so would usually be perfectly fine on dried fruit, nuts and cereal bars to graze on throughout the day. For whatever reason on this hike, I had turned into the hungry caterpillar and was ravenous for the latter part of the journey, particularly after I had munched my way through all the food I took with me. Take ample food!
Passport – I talked about this in the section about things to be aware of on the hike. The Pljesevica mountain hike is right on the border between Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, and at times refugees will be trying to cross. Take your passport just as a precaution to show officials if needed.
Layers of clothing – hiking uphill is sweaty business, so sportswear and layers are a must! For a lot of the hike you’ll be going through trees and shrubland but at the time of hiking, it was humid here. You will sweat! At the top it’s quite exposed, so depending on the weather, you’ll want the layers to either put on or layers to take off, as there is no shelter.
Windbreak clothing – see the previous point. If you happen to hike on a windy day, you’ll be thankful for your windbreaker – trust me!
Sunscreen – no one wants to go wrinkly prematurely! Parts of the trail are shaded by trees, but at the top, you will be out in the full brunt of the sun. In the history of mankind, no one looks good donning a shade of lobster pink.
Bug repellent – a big proportion of the hike is through woodland and shrubbery; this means lots of bugs. Unless you favour being on their al-la-carte menu for these little critters, then spray up.
The reward for your efforts - The Pljesevica Mountain Top
At the top, there is a double whammy of rewards. The first is the iconic, stage-like rock formation which looks out over the Croatia side of the valley below. To get to it, a steep scramble down loose rocks and boulders and a grassy embankment will lead to the foot of the formation. There is only one route up, but it’s fairly easy to climb up.
It does feel like being on top of the world up here. On a clear day, you can see the small villages down below, with mountains in the distance and a sky that looks like it could go on forever. To feel this tiny in a massive expanse of landscape, it’s humbling, to say the least.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I have a penchant for ruins. Scattered all over the top of the peak you’ll find plenty of abandoned buildings and relics from the Yugoslav war. I was in my element with the slightly eerie and derelict army barracks and a peek inside was something I couldn’t resist.
Wandering through the crumbling hallways, into living quarters with rusted remains of sofas, kitchens with their upturned cookers and up the stairs to what would have been the bedrooms, evidenced from the abandoned beds and mattresses. This truly is a little place of wonder for anyone into abandoned places.
My love-hate affair with Pljesevica Mountain
The Pljesevica mountain hike is probably one of the toughest trails I’ve done in recent years. It’s also one of the most rewarding.
During my time in Croatia, (especially in July) I was frustrated with how hectically busy everything was. I was keen to find more off the beaten track places in Croatia. In doing this hike I found a gem!
On the way up, my lungs hated me, on the way down it was my ankles and knees that were angry. But the overall feeling of accomplishment and what we experienced at the top made every bit of the pain and effort more than worthwhile.
Where to stay near Plitvice
Falling Lakes also arrange shuttle bus transfers to Plitvice Lakes for a small fee. They also organise a string of things to do near Plitvice lakes, such as white water kayaking near Plitvice, the nightly hike up a nearby Mrsinj Grad hill to watch sunset, have regular evening activities such as quizzes and campfires to sit out and watch the stars (there is next to no light pollution here) as well as giving a detailed briefing for the Pljesevica mountain hike. Don’t believe me? Check out their website and reviews!
Getting to Plitvice
You’ll have no problem in getting to Plitvice due to a string of buses pretty much every hour going to Plitvice from Zagreb, the nation’s capital. FlixBus is one of the cheapest and most convenient ways to get around Croatia. They also offer services to Plitvice from Dubrovnik, Split and Zadar.
Plitvice and Korenica are approximately a 2 hours drive from Zagreb heading north and 1.5 hours drive from Zadar heading south.
The FlixBus also drops off directly in Korenica (the village where Falling Lakes Hostel is situated, and the Pljesevica Hike starts).
An alternative to FlixBus is Get By Bus who also serve this route with several connections a day, starting in Korenica, which then go from north Plitvice to Zagreb.
Check the pages for the most up-to-date information on travel.
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