The best day hikes in Tatra Mountains
Hiking in the High Tatras
The Tatra mountains, or Tatras, form a natural border between Slovakia and Poland. Although the majority of this mountain range is located in the territory of Slovakia, the Polish side consists of some picturesque sites and lakes. The High Tatras are located in the Carpathian Mountains, and it is the highest mountain range in Slovakia and Poland. The highest peak, Gerlach (Gerlachovský štít), is located in Slovakia, whereas the highest peak in Poland is Mount Rysy. You should also know that the Tatras is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Tatra National Park was the first cross-border national park in Europe. It is home to some rare species of animals and plants. Keep in mind that to enter a trail in the Tatras, you will have to purchase an entrance ticket to the Tatra National Park.
How to get to Tatra National Park from Krakow?
If you want to experience hiking in the Tatras, you ought to be in Zakopane, the winter capital of Poland. From Zakopane, the mountains are at your fingertips, so you can easily reach many trails. It takes just around 2 hours to get to Zakopane from Krakow. For ultimate comfort, you can book a transfer from Krakow Airport with Mr.Shuttle. We also offer an airport transfer from Katowice, located around 3 hours from Zakopane.
When is the best time to visit?
The Tatra mountains are beautiful all year round so that you can visit them any time of the year. However, if hiking is your main aim, we recommend visiting in the summer and early autumn. You’ll have a much wider choice of trails as many of them are closed during winter for safety reasons. If you decide to go in the summer months, keep in mind that it’s a high season, and trails can become crowded. To avoid the crowds as much as possible, plan your hikes in the mornings.
5 trails in the Tatra mountains that you don’t want to miss
Whether you are new to hiking and need some light practice, to begin with or love more strenuous hikes, the Tatras offer a wide range of trails that are suitable for anyone. With such a wide choice, it may be challenging to pick the right trail. We have prepared a shortlist of the best hikes in the Tatra Mountains for you to consider. Just pick the one that strikes your fancy and fits your level of experience most. If you’re in the area for longer, then you can even do all of them!
The Kościeliska Valley: relish the tranquility
If you and your companions would like something light, then a long walk through the Kościeliska Valley is our favorite. Yes, you’ve read that right. This is more of a stroll than a hike, so this part of the Tatra Mountains can be enjoyed by most, no matter their level of fitness or experience. In fact, this is a perfect place if you’re in the mountains for the very first time.
The Kościeliska Valley is among the most beautiful and largest in Tatra (covers around 35 square km). It is relatively flat, easily accessible, and doesn’t pose a big challenge. There are different trails, so you have a wider choice depending on your time and plan for the day. Let us tell you though that you could easily spend the whole day here.
Start in Kiry (around a 20-minute bus ride from Zakopane) and embark on a leisurely hike. It will take around 1 hour and 30 minutes one way along the green route. You can also opt to change routes along the way and take a detour to see some of its hidden corners. For example, the black route will take you to The Mroźna Cave. You can enter that cave for a small fee, and doing this will add another 1h 30min to your trip. Apart from that, you can take a 30-minute walk to Smerczyński Staw (a lake) to enjoy the peace.
Starting point: Kiry
Distance (one way): around 6 km along the green route, but the Valley is around 8-9 km in length
Duration (one way): 1h 30min if taking the classic green route
Morskie Oko: enjoy breathtaking views
If you’re in Zakopane, missing the Morskie Oko lake (English: The Eye of the Sea) would be a shame. So don’t make that mistake, and be sure to see with your own eyes the biggest lake (around 35 ha) in the Tatra Mountains. At a depth of around 50m, it is one of the deepest lakes in the Tatra Mountains. The hike to the Morskie Oko lake is one of the easiest as most of it is an asphalt road, but it is also very crowded. It’s really not surprising, though, since you can get some spectacular Instagram-worthy shots. Just try to get there early in the morning and don’t forget your camera!
The Morskie Oko lake is best reached from the Palenica Białczańska, where you can park your car. Getting there from Zakopane takes about 30 minutes by car and 40 minutes by bus. Remember that once there, you will have to pay for the entrance to the Tatra National Park. The route is around 8 km and takes around 2 hours one way.
Starting point: Palenica Białczańska Glade
Distance (one way): 8 km
Duration (one way): approx. 2h 20min
Giewont: for beginners who love legends
Giewont is often an introduction for those starting their mountain climbing experience. Although not the highest mountain in the region, Giewont standing at 1894 m, is actually a symbol of Zakopane. Why? Because of its silhouette! From afar, Giewont looks like a sleeping knight. You can imagine why it became the main character of many legends. There are several ways that you can get to the top of Giewont. The most popular start is from Kuźnice, right behind the cable car to Kasprowy Wierch. The hike via this blue route takes around 6 hours both ways. Just be aware that it can be bustling in the summer as tourists from Poland and abroad visit Zakopane.
If you don’t mind a slightly more difficult route, you can choose to reach Giewont from Kasprowy Wierch. You can get to the last one via the cable car or scramble there (this will add around 3 hours to your hike).
You should also be aware that Giewont is a magnet for thunderstorms in the summer because of a metal cross on the top. It is vital to check the forecast and turn back at the first sign of a storm.
Starting point: Kuźnice
Distance (one way): around 6 km
Duration (one way): 3h 30min
Rysy: set your foot on the highest point of Poland
If you’re not new to hiking or mountains, you can try to get to the top of Mount Rysy. At 2499 m above sea level, Rysy is the tallest mountain in Poland and attracts many daredevils. Interestingly, hiking Mount Rysy is possible either from Slovakia or from Poland. Those who are interested in the easier and shorter trail can choose Slovakia as their departure point. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more challenging hike, do it from the Polish side. This Polish trail is also more picturesque as you have to hike past the previously mentioned Morskie Oko Lake.
Once you get to the lake, you can decide to spend the night in a mountain hut (make sure to book in advance) or continue your trip. Just be prepared that from here, the hike will gradually get harder. The trail to the Rysy Mount passes the Morskie Oko on the left and takes you to Czarny Staw, another beautiful lake. You can expect to get there in about an hour, and once you get to a wooden cross, you have to follow the red trail that marks the route to Rysy.
From Czarny Staw, expect a good 3 hours to get to the top. Although the first part of the 3 hours will not be technically challenging, it will likely be exhausting. The second part will be the most exciting and the most difficult as you’ll have to use numerous steel chains to get to the top. If you’ve never had the chance to climb with the aid of chains before, then this trail is not recommended for first-timers. For those that opt for this route up, you can always consider going back via the Slovak side, which is easier.
Starting point: Palenica Białczańska
Distance (one way): 12,4 km
Duration (one way): approx. 6h
Kościelec i Czarny Staw: not for the fainthearted
If you’re interested in a day hike and want to challenge yourself, consider Kościelec. It is one of the most popular and tempting peaks in the High Tatras located in the Gąsienicowa Valley. The hike is full of charm, and you can expect to see a mountain hut or two on the way. The initial part of the trail is rather easy. However, Kościelec is one of the more dangerous peaks, and many give up before reaching the summit. Make sure to assess your experience and preparedness before deciding to attack it.
If you want to challenge yourself, start from Kuźnice and head towards the “Murowaniec” mountain hut in the Gąsienicowa Valley. From there head to Czarny Staw Gasienicowy. This green lake is a great spot to take a break while enjoying the surrounding views of the mountains. After recharging your batteries, you’ll need to hike up to the top of the Karb pass, where great views of the lakes will greet you. From there, you can expect the most challenging part – the climb to the top of Kościelec. We won’t lie, it will be exhausting and challenging as in parts you will have to climb with your hands, and there are no chains to help. However, the view you’ll get from the very top will be worth the effort. Once you’ve had your fill of the views, be extra careful when going down, especially if there’s rain and the rocks are wet.
Starting point: Kuźnice
Distance (one way): 8,6 km
Duration (one way): approx. 4h 20min
A few essential things to remember
Analyze the trail
When deciding on the trail, check its level of difficulty and distance. Be honest with yourself about your physical condition and experience to avoid unnecessary danger. Check the map in detail and logistically plan your whole hike, from start to end.
Weather in the mountains changes frequently, so make sure to check the forecast a day before and in the morning before embarking on the hike. Important: don’t only check the weather in Zakopane, but rather in the actual mountains as the difference can be drastic. Snow in the middle of the summer is not unheard of in the mountains. Lastly, don’t bet on the forecast. Observe the weather throughout the day.
Shoes and clothes
Wear comfortable trekking shoes with thick soles and dress appropriately. We recommend many layers as the temperature can change frequently, and it gets colder the higher you go. Think also about wind and rainproof jackets.
Depending on the difficulty and length of the trail, make a list of things that you’ll have to bring with you. Apart from the obvious equipment and clothes, it won’t hurt to take a first aid kit. Remember to pack a bottle of water and some snacks.
Enjoy the views and breathe in the mountain air
Finally, enjoy the views and all the activities. Once you get to the destination of your choosing, you’ll certainly feel delighted with your achievement. And if for some reason you can’t go hiking, or you want to see this part of Poland from a different perspective, you can always take a tour to Zakopane with Mr.Shuttle. We’ll be eager to take you there!