Sunday, May 19, 2024

The story behind the waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes

Let us tell you a story, the most precious and beautiful, a true fairytale. This is a story about the value and beauty of the waterfalls of the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Water moves us – it is an integral part of us, so it is no wonder that we enjoy the sight of a lake or the sound of a waterfall. There are countless waterfalls in the park, some small, some large, with the highest being the Veliki slap waterfall cascading down a 62-metre cliff.  The beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park is nestled in the very heart of Croatia . It is known for its stunning series of waterfalls, cascading lakes and luscious forests.

The story about water

Water is one of the most important and most fascinating natural resources on our planet. It is the fundamental phenomenon of the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It flows from the highest peaks down to the lowest valleys, shaping the landscape and spilling into breathtaking waterfalls. How does water exactly create these magnificent natural wonders?

The sixteen named larger lakes and a series of smaller lakes are divided by tufa barriers and connected into a single water system, forming a cascading line of lakes fed by the Black and White Rivers. The water flows over the rocky barriers, offering breathtaking sights. When water comes across these obstacles, it picks up speed, falls over the edge, forms a waterfall and enters crystal clear lakes flowing one into the other. Water takes up less than 1 percent of the surface of the Plitvice Lakes National Park. The amount of water we see in the lakes is the result of tufa barrier deposits, raising the water level.

Water is not only valuable for creating waterfalls; it is vital to all forms of life on Earth. Species found in our aquatic habitats require water of a high quality, and their very presence is proof of the quality and conservation of our aquatic habitats. There is also a great diversity in flora and fauna, and the surrounding nature is made up of beautiful forests, meadows and pastures, adding to the natural beauty and tranquillity of the area.

Rainy days might seem a nuisance, but they are essential to maintaining the water level. For example, rain brings the extra water amounts to the Plitvice Lakes National Park that help maintain the delicate balance of the park’s ecosystem. On rainy days, the park turns into a land of magic, with the raindrops dancing on the surface of the lakes and the waterfalls bursting with life.

In the end, water is a fascinating and essential resource, and the Plitvice Lakes National Park is a testament to its beauty and power. From awe-inspiring waterfalls to supporting life on Earth, water is truly one of nature’s greatest gifts. In order to maintain the abundance of water in the park and across the world, we need to keep in mind that every drop of water and everything we do to conserve it, however small it may seem, counts.

Black and White Rivers

The legend of the Black Queen tells the story of the Black and White Rivers and how they came to be: …“My tears will pour out in streams: right eye for the black source of the Black River, and left eye for the white source of the White River.”

The legend shows the significance of these sources for the region and for the waterfalls and lakes themselves.

The Plitvice Lakes are fed by the Black and White Rivers, whose source can be found in a small village nestled deep among the forests of the area, by the name of Plitvički Ljeskovac. The White River got its name after its pebble and sandy bed covered with rocks, with the light reflecting off their beautiful white colour.  The river gently winds through untouched woodland, flowing by hills and forming picturesque smaller-sized waterfalls.

The Black River got its name after the dark moss covering the riverbed and after its faster flow. It makes its way through thick forest hiding its mysterious waterfalls. The gradient of this 2-km-long river is not that steep, but is enough to allow a faster flow than that of the White River. The two rivers give life to highly valuable ecosystems whose value can only be surpassed by their beauty.

In the village of Plitvički Ljeskovac, the two rivers, so different and yet so alike in their cleanliness and clarity, merge to form the Matica River flowing into the first lake – Prošćansko Lake.


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The rivers tell the story of the days gone by in the region of the Plitvice Lakes with their hidden waterfalls and abandoned mills. The silence of the untouched forest is disturbed only by the playful murmur of the rivers skilfully winding through rocks and shrubs covering their bed. The clean air entrances with its fullness and the scent of wild, untouched nature. The smaller waterfalls found here, nestled in nature’s hidden embrace, tell the century-old stories of times gone by.

Difference between the Upper and Lower Lakes

A total of 16 beautiful lakes form the Plitvice Lakes National Park, split between the Upper Lakes and the Lower Lakes. The difference in altitude between the Upper and Lower Lakes enables a natural flow of water through the tufa terrain of the national park, creating spectacular waterfalls, minor waterfalls and cascades, which have become the symbol of the park.

One of the highlights of the park are the Upper and Lower Lakes, each with their own unique characteristics. The Upper Lakes are located in the north part of the park, and their striking turquoise colour is a sight to behold. The high mineral content gives the water its vivid blue colour, while the lakes are surrounded by tall trees and picturesque waterfalls. The walking trails meander around the Upper Lakes, offering visitors a chance to have a closer look at the stunning landscape and beautiful waterfalls. Thanks to the trails, visitors can see up close some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park. On the other hand, the Lower Lakes are located in the south part, scattered around the tranquil limestone canyon of the national park. They have a greater depth, which is why they are of a different colour compared to the wooded Upper Lakes. A relaxing boat ride across the largest and deepest lake of Kozjak enables visitors to enjoy the idyllic fairytale landscape. The Upper and Lower Lakes offer a glimpse into the natural beauty of the park, and visitors are sure to be mesmerized by the stunning landscape and unique features of each of the lakes.

Tufa – The creator of waterfalls and lakes

There are several different ways to define tufa, and understanding how it is formed might prove a bit of a challenge. What first comes to mind when we think of tufa is a loose and porous rock. It is formed through the deposition of calcium carbonate dissolved in water, aided by moss, algae and micro-organisms. Tufa formation also depends heavily on water dynamics. In some parts, the flow rate of water is faster, while in others the water level decreased. All of this significantly affects the formation of tufa barriers, and they change over time. While walking through the park, you will come across tufa in various forms: from tufa in its full glory, to that in the process of forming, and finally tufa that has dried up due to a change of watercourse. Nature is the greatest painter and the shapes carved by the force of water are sure to leave you in awe. In some parts you can even see a tree once “trapped” inside tufa. The largest lake of Kozjak hides a fascinating secret – a submerged barrier that separated it into two smaller lakes around 400 years ago.

The active tufa barriers are estimated to be between 6,000 and 7,000 years old, while the barriers outside the watercourses are estimated to be 250,000 to 300,000 years old.

The lost lake

As we have already seen time and time again, nature has its own rhythm, a rhythm that we, too, influence. Sometimes it stubbornly decides to surprise us, creating new conditions and leaving us in awe when something just magically “disappears”. That is exactly what happened in the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Milino Lake experienced great changes brought about by (bad) weather conditions. Visitors who visited the park prior to 2018 can surely remember the joyfully cascading waterfalls found at the Milino Lake. Due to extreme weather conditions, rapid snowmelt, a sudden warming spell and the resulting sudden rise in water levels and increase in water flow, the tufa barrier of the Milino Lake broke on two occasions. This led to the disappearance of smaller cascading forest waterfalls that were fed by the lake. However, water always finds its way. It changed its course and now, even though there are no more waterfalls on one side, the other side is flowing more intensely, again leaving everyone in awe of its power.

If you are looking for some peace and tranquillity, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, you can try finding a small waterfall somewhere around your area. You will be surprised at how much beauty and wonder you can find in this hidden natural gems. The beauty of waterfalls lies in their pure strength and splendour.

There is something awe-inspiring in standing at the foot of a waterfall and feeling the spray of mist on your face. The sound of water streaming down rocks can be soothing or invigorating, depending on the intensity of the water.

Come for the lakes, stay for the waterfalls.

Tomislav Kovačević is General Manager at Plitvice Lakes National Park . Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest and biggest national park in Croatia.

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