Tatra mountains are the most beautiful range in Poland, visited by thousands of tourists each year. Situated in the south, the majority of these mountains belongs to Slovakia (including the highest peak Gerlach - 2654 metres). Fortunately, there's loads of great trails in Polish Tatras too.
These mountains are also the most geographically interesting region in Poland. Despite unfavorable climate conditions (low average yearly temperature and short vegetative stage) there’s enormous diversity of plant species. Alpine edelweiss, halny buttercup, alpine bearberry, alpine eryngo - those are just a few rare flowers which grow in Tatra National Park.
In Tatra mountains there’s level vegetation – in higher parts we’ll find unique plants which are nowhere else to be found in Poland. We see the same situation with animals – brown bears, lynxes, wildcats, golden eagles, eagle owls, black grouses – they’re all rarely seen outside Tatra mountains.
Also, Tatra National Park offers the best views – you won’t see such dramatic landscape elsewhere in Poland. They resemble Alps – steep and soaring peaks falling into deep valleys, numerous glacial gullies, cirques, hanging valleys, cols – they all create truly breathtaking sceneries.
Characteristic feature of Tatra landscape are high waterfalls and lakes created in trims. The most spectacular spot with such ponds is Five Lakes Valley (Dolina Pieciu Stawow) – 1665 metres above sea level. It’s hidden rather deep in the mountains and is a true natural wonder.
However, the most popular trim lake is Sea Eye (Morskie Oko) – located on 1395 metres is easily accessible by horse chaises (there's asphalt road leading from the valley up to the lake).
Morskie Oko is visited by thousands of tourists each year. This lake is amazing – smooth surface of the water surrounded by steep peaks creates impressive views, but, unfortunately, there’s so many tourists these days that it won’t provide you peace and quiet which you may look for in the mountains.
If you decide to hike there, prepare yourself for crowds - loud shrieks and noisy music coming from the phones is Morskie Oko's standard. Also, take your own food and drinks, as there will be immensely long queue in Morskie Oko hut.
But there’s one more eye-catching lake in Tatra mountains – Black Pond under Rysy peak (Czarny Staw pod Rysami) – 1583 metres. It’s less popular that Morskie Oko, but also very beautiful, so it’s worth hiking there.
The most popular valleys.
There are lots of wonderful valleys in Tatra mountains, but there are a few trails which are especially popular among tourists:
→ Koscieliska valley – length: about 5.5 km, height difference: 168 m, trail color: green, starting point: Kiry, end point: mountain hut on Ornak alp.
Very easy trail, it’s almost flat. Great for families with children (baby carriages are OK). The path is wide, perfectly safe for lively youngsters. Koscieliska valley is actually a long gorge where big stones come together in few places creating so called gates. Along the trails we’re accompanied by relaxing sound of flowing stream.
In Koscieliska valley there’s some interesting cave open for tourists: Mrozna cave, Smocza Jama and Mylna cave.
There are also portable toilets along the trail. They aren’t the most beautiful element of the landscape, but are absolutely necessary taking into consideration huge number of tourists who hike this valley every year.
→ Chocholowska valley - length: about 8 km, height difference: 241 m, trail color: green, starting point: Siwa Polana, end point: mountain hut on Chocholowska clearing.
Chocholowska is the longest valley in Tatra mountains. It’s nice and easy, recommended for families with children and elderly people. Along the valley we can admire fantastic landscapes of Tatra peaks and vast clearings – it’s definitely must-see when you’re in Tatra National Park.
→ Strazyska valley – length: about 2 km, height difference: 141 m, trail color: red, starting point: Strazyska valley parking, end point: Strazyska clearing.
This charming valley is part of Western Tatras. This trail is short and easy, so hikers usually treat it as an initial part of their hike to Giewont peak. It also leads to Siklawica waterfall located on 1129 metres – great spot to take photos.
The most popular peaks.
When it comes to mountain peaks, the most popular are:
→ Giewont (1895 metres): the most recognizable massif in Tatra mountains with enormous cross at the top. The other name used for this mount is “Sleeping Knight” – its shape resembles a person in horizontal position.
However, this peak is considered to be one of the most dangerous spots in Tatra mountains:
- There’s lots of tourists climbing this summit – the peak is one-way, so in high season there might be queue to get to the top.
- At the final part there are also chains to support the hikers – the ascent is rather difficult.
- There’s not much space at the top – one needs to wait until the others leave.
- Huge cross at the top attracts lightinings.
- Significant exposure – there’s 500 metre vertical wall going down from Giewont.
All those factors make Giewont a bit infamous, but trail leading to this mount is definitely worth the hike!
→ Kasprowy Wierch (1987 metres) – part of Western Tatra mountains. Tourists can get there either hiking (nice trails!) or taking cable car which goes at the very top of the mountain.
If you’re not an early bird, I’d strongly advise against the latter – this cable car is literally besieged by tourists. In high season you’ll have to wait for about 4 hours in the queue!
However, it’d be pity not to visit such amazing mount, so the best idea is to buy tickets online or get to the cable car as early as possible (it opens at 7:30 AM) and then explore the trails high up on the mountain ridges.
→ Gubalowka (1126 metres) – also available by cable car. Not very high, but still offers fantastic panorama of Tatra mountains. Great views attract tourists – there’s lots of souvenir stalls and restaurants, so it may not be the best place for someone who seeks silence and solitude.
→ Czerwone Wierchy (about 2000 metres) – for me hiking number 1 in Tatra mountains! Absolutely amazing!
There are four peaks which form part of this massif:
- Ciemniak – 2096 m
- Krzesanica – 2122 m
- Malolaczniak – 2096 m
- Kopa Kondracka – 2005 m
The name of this massif means „Red Peaks” and relates to specific vegetation which covers those mounts – in late summer and autumn those plants become red-brown.
Trail leading along Czerwone Wierchy is very rewarding – the views on Western Tatra mountains will make you want to stay there forever!
Main tourist resorts.
The biggest tourist resort in Tatra mountains region is Zakopane. You'll find there accommodation suited to everyone's taste - from cheap mountain hostels to 5 star hotels. There's loads of pubs, restaurants and tourist attractions.
Convenient location and attractive infrastructure makes this town immensely popular among tourists - it's rather crowded and there's a lot of traffic jams. However, there are fantastic places in Zakopane which aren't so crowded - e.x. Cyrhla. It's located close to hiking trails and far from Zakopane centre.
Anyway, there are about 33 thousand of Zakopane residents and close to 3 million tourists visiting this town every year, so the best idea is to avoid Zakopane in high season. High season is in summer, as in winter tourists like to visit other villages in the region - Bialka Tatrzanska and Bukowina Tatrzanska would be their typical choice.
Bialka Tatrzanska - picturesque village located close to Tatra mountains. It's especially popular for its skiing infrastructure. Slopes there are mild, so it's perfect resort for beginners and families with children.
There's also Terma Bania aquapark - modern water park with indoor and outdoor thermal pools, saunas, steam rooms and SPA - nice place to relax after day spent skiing or hiking.
Lots of restaurants and hotels makes Bialka Tatrzanska great spot for tourists who appreciate nice views and cosy atmosphere.
Bukowina Tatrzanska - another popular village located at the foot of Tatra mountains. Besides hiking trails and ski lift, the most popular attraction there is Termy Bukovina aquapark. There are indoor and outdoor pools with mineral water from mountain hot springs, saunas and water slides. Bukowina Tatrzanska offers full tourist infrastructure, so it's great spot for outdoor enthusiasts.
Just to wrap up this article, here are a few hints:
→ Tatra National Park admission is paid - you'll be charged a few Polish zlotys at the beginning of the main trails.
→ mapa-turystyczna.pl is great tool for planning your hiking trip. It's in Polish, so you'll need to translate it with Google. This website is very helpful and convenient, I use it before every trip.
→ Trails are well marked, but it's essential to have a map. Your electronic devices may refuse to cooperate, but good old map will always come in handy in the mountains.
→ Weather is very unpredicted - it's indispensable to carry some additional pieces of clothing, even if it looks like sunny day.
→ There are parking lots and restaurants at the beginning of major trails - tourist infrastructure is well developed in Tatra mountains. However, better safe than sorry - take with you water and snacks, even if you plan just a few-hour hike.