Tatra mountains are the highest Polish mountain range and many outdoor enthusiasts consider Tatras the best place for hiking in Poland. I think that Tatra mountains are one of the best places to hike in Europe.🧡
The majority of hikers who visit Tatra mountains want to climb Rysy peak. There are many reasons for it:
- It’s the highest mountain in Poland (2499m).
- It’s so beautiful.
- It's considered to be one of the best hikes in Poland.
- So many other hikers have already climbed it.
- The trail starts at the most popular place in Tatra mountains - Morskie Oko lake.
However, it’s good to gather some information about this trail before we set off.
Table of contents
Is it difficult to climb Rysy?
True, Rysy is one of the most exciting hiking trails in High Tatras, but a lot of caution is needed during the hike.
Unfortunately, many hikers decide to climb Rysy peak without any preparation or knowledge about the trail. This often results in difficult situations. Best case scenarios are panic attacks, stress and traffic jams on the trail.
If we decide to hike to Rysy, we need to be aware of a few threats:
- The trail leading to Rysy is long and there’s a lot of height difference to do. Good physical condition is necessary.
- Hiking trails in High Tatras are not suitable for beginners.
- Rysy trail is well secured, that’s true, but if we don’t have experience in high mountains, it may just turn out to be too difficult. Rysy isn’t the best option to get familiar with chains and exposure.
- The trail is crowded. It not only decreases pleasure from admiring breathtaking mountain landscape, but it also makes climbing harder. It creates traffic jams, hinders passing by, and makes some other fellow hikers annoyed. In such conditions, we may feel a pressure, especially when we’re hurried by impatient people. This may lead to dangerous situations, like slipping or knocking off loose rocks.
- The trail leading to Rysy peak is located in high mountains, which means:
→ There can be snow even in the summer - slipping is one of the leading causes of accidents in Tatra mountains.
→ Weather in higher parts of the mountains may differ significantly from the conditions on Morskie Oko lake. It’s possible that it’s rainy and windy on Rysy, but it’s sunny in the valley.
→ Weather can change abruptly during our hike. It’s extremely dangerous to be high in the mountains during the storm with bolts of lightning. It’s easy to lose the trail when it’s foggy. The trail itself is steep and stony. Fall from the trail will most likely result in death.
I know it all looks like I want to discourage everybody from climbing Rysy, but actually, I wish to emphasize the fact that this trail requires good physical condition and high mountain hiking skills. It’s definitely not suitable for people with a fear of heights.
Before setting off to Rysy, make sure you avoid these frequent mistakes made by hikers.
Rysy hike - description of trail
OK, now that we’re aware of the difficulties on the trails, it’s time to take a look at the route. Here's a High Tatras trail map:
Route: PALENICA BIAŁCZAŃSKA → MORSKIE OKO LAKE → CZARNY STAW POD RYSAMI LAKE → BULA POD RYSAMI → RYSY
Average hiking time: 6h 30min
Height difference: 1520m (!).
PALENICA BIAŁCZAŃSKA → MORSKIE OKO MOUNTAIN HUT - red trail 2h
We start our hike in Palenica Białczańska - Morskie Oko parking. There's a big parking lot which costs 25 PLN per car. It’s open 24/7.
It’s worth to note this parking lot is extremely popular - when we got there before 7 AM it was already half full. The earlier you leave your car there, the better.
The trail leading to Morskie Oko lake is nothing exciting. Just a long asphalt road, which can make walking rather unpleasant, especially if we wear hiking boots. There are lots of people on the road, even early in the morning.
What surprised us on our way to Morskie Oko was a wild deer which was grazing about a metre from the trail. 😮 The animal didn't give a toss about the people - it was just having breakfast and everyone was taking a photo of it.
I guess the deer is more used to crowds on the trail than I am. 😉
There's one interesting spot on this trail - Wodogrzmoty Mickiewicza (1100m). Those are picturesque waterfall cascades which make a lot of noise and are an excellent spot for taking a photo.
If you hike fast and don't take many breaks, you can get to Morskie Oko lake in less than 1.5 hours.
Near Morskie Oko lake there's a mountain hut, which offers a variety of food and drinks. But let's not stay there for too long, as we need a lot of time for our hike to Rysy.
MORSKIE OKO → CZARNY STAW POD RYSAMI - red trail 50min
It gets better after we pass the mountain hut and follow the red trail, which turns into a classic Tatra pavement made with big stones. We get to admire amazing Morskie Oko lake and High Tatra Mountain peaks.
After about 20 minutes of relaxed walking the trail gets steep. This part is rather tiring, but the trail is technically easy to hike.
We start our climb to another picturesque lake - Czarny Staw pod Rysami (1583m). It’s surrounded by majestic soaring peaks of High Tatras. Fantastic place that is!
There's a lot of space near the lake to take awesome photos and contemplate nature's beauty.
CZARNY STAW POD RYSAMI → BULA POD RYSAMI red trail 1h 30min
The plateau next to Czarny Staw pod Rysami is a great spot for taking a break, but let’s move on before crowds of hikers come.
We walk along the left side of the lake. This part is nice and easy. I loved that stony pavement, so typical for Tatra mountains!
After about 15 minutes we get to the bottom of a very steep trail - in 1.5 km we need to do about 900m of height difference, which gives an average slope gradient of 30 degrees. That’s a lot!
The good thing is there are no other difficulties - the path is built from big stones which create steps. It’s easy but steep and strenuous.
After about 30 minutes of climbing the surrounding changes - it becomes more challenging to hike because of stone rubble.
The path leads between big rocks and then turns left - we get to the rim of Kocioł pod Rysami (Rysy Cauldron) located on 2054m. Kocioł pod Rysami is one of the most shadowed places in Tatra mountains. There might be snow even at the beginning of summer.
Over Kocioł pod Rysami rises Bula pod Rysami. Getting there from Black Pond takes about 1.5 hours. It’s a great place to take a break - almost flat terrain invites to rest before a further climb.
When the weather is favorable, we get to admire amazing Tatra peaks: Mięguszowieckie, Wołowy Grzbiet, Żabi Koń, Tomkowe Igły, Kazalnica and Żabi Mnich.
Hike to Bula pod Rysami (2054m) should be OK even for inexperienced hikers (when the weather is nice, that is). The most challenging part starts just here.
BULA POD RYSAMI → RYSY - red trail 2 h
The path gets steep again. We see the first chains. Those artificial facilitations will lead us practically up to the peak.
The trail leads us along the left side of the gully. It winds a little along steep stony plates. On exposure points there are chains. It’s medium difficult, but rather tiring because of the constant gradient.
In some spots, those chains didn’t seem very useful to me, but there were also places where the iron facilitations were more than welcome. One is for sure - when the trail is slippery each one of those chains comes in handy.
The higher we hike, the better view we get to admire. Black Pond and Morskie Oko lakes together with majestic sharp peaks give a truly astounding landscape.
If I went there alone, I’d probably climb all day - I’d turn around after every step to admire one of the best views in Tatra mountains. 💙
Our ascend on stony slope ends near the gap from which runs a deep crevice. The trail turns right and leads along ledge shelf, secured with chains.
Let’s not let amazing landscape of Slovak Tatra mountains distract us because this part is highly exposed - we get to hike over a 500-metre abyss. This gap is the most difficult part of the whole trail!
When we pass this terrifying gap we climb a rather easy ridge and get to the highest peak of Poland - Rysy (2499m).
To be precise, Rysy mountain isn’t just one peak which reaches 2499m (if only school teachers knew about that!). Rysy is actually a mountain massif which consists of 3 peaks. The highest one reaches 2503m and belongs to Slovakia (together with the lowest peak which reaches 2473m).
Hard to say why this mountain massif is divided between two countries, but never mind that.
Getting to the highest peak takes merely a few minutes, so it’s worth to hike there. Technically it’s not difficult, but it’s not secured with chains. Because of the exposure, we need to pay attention to our steps.
We hiked there on Saturday at the beginning of September, and there were crowds of people at the top. I have to say that most of the time I was too busy with bypassing other hikers to have time to admire the astonishing landscape of High Tatra mountains.
So, we’ve just climbed Rysy mountain top, and now what?
There are 2 options:
- Difficult - descend on the same trail to Morskie Oko lake.
- Easier - hike down to Štrbské Pleso or Popradské Pleso in Slovakia.
We decided to choose the easier option and climb down on Slovak trail leading to Štrbské Pleso.
- Palenica Białczańska parking lot is very popular among tourists. It’s open 24/7, so try to get there as early as possible, as there might not be space available after 9 AM.
- One day parking costs 25 PLN per car.
- Rysy mountain belongs to Tatra National Park. Entrance is paid (5 PLN for an adult).
- Rescue missions in Poland are free of charge, but in Slovakia they are paid.
- Remember to buy insurance before you go hiking in the mountains.
- Trails in Tatra mountains are marked with 5 colors: black, red, green, yellow and blue. They don’t indicate the difficulty, it's just identification.
- There are many signposts, usually placed at the beginning of a trail, on the forks, and at the end of a trail.
- Signposts show destination and average hiking time. If we take long breaks or the weather is very unfavorable, our hike may take longer than signpost states.
- Mountain huts in Tatras are crowded, even in low season. It’s recommended to book a room/bed a few months in advance (I know, it’s not compatible with the idea of mountain shelter, but Tatra mountains are very popular).
Mountain huts in Tatras
Here is a list of mountain refuges in Polish Tatra mountains.
We need to remember there are not many mountain huts High Tatras. The closest mountain shelter in Slovakia is Chata pod Rysmi (2250m). It is open only in summertime from June 16th to October 31st.
→ Chata pod Rysmi
tel. +421 903 181 051, +421 52 442 23 14
→ Morskie Oko
tel. +48 18 20 77 609, +48 602 260 757
→ Roztoka Valley
tel. +48 18 20 77 442
→ Hala Kondratowa
tel. +48 18 20 19 114
→ Chochołowska Valley
tel. +48 18 20 70 510
Rules in Tatra National Park
- Camping in Tatra National Park is forbidden.
- The only place where we can spend the night in is mountain shelters.
- There are wild animals. If you meet one, try to retreat calmly. Don’t get too close to take a photo of the animal - it may be dangerous.
- Don’t feed the animals - they may lose their self-sufficiency.
- There are no rubbish bins in Tatra National Park - we take all our litter with us.
- From March 1st until November 30th all trails in Tatra National Park are closed at night (from dusk until dawn).
- For Tatra tourist information you can call: +48 18 20 23 300, or send an e-mail to [email protected]
- In case of emergency:
→ in Poland call 601 100 300 or 112
→ in Slovakia, High Tatras call 0903-624-869
Where to stay?
One of our favorite places to stay in Zakopane is Toporowa Cyrhla district. It's a quiet area, close to trailheads. It's about 6 kilometres from Zakopane center, but for us, it's an advantage.
We managed to find there nice accommodation - Willa Bartek. Comfortable and clean rooms, the kitchen is very well-equipped. Billiard, table football, ping pong table.
However, Zakopane tends to get crowded, especially in high season. If you're looking for a quieter place to stay close to trailheads, you might want to choose Murzasichle. It's the highest located village in Poland (but the prices are a bit lower than in Zakopane 😉).
You may check available hotels in Murzasichle here:
If you're planning on climbing down to Slovakia, you have 2 options to stay in: Šrbske Pleso or Popradske Pleso.
→ ŠTRBSKE PLESO
A popular Slovak mountain resort located over a picturesque lake in High Tatras. Štrbské Pleso is amazingly beautiful and I think it's one of the best places to visit in Tatra mountains.
There are many places to stay in, but lots of travelers consider Hotel Panorama Štrbské Pleso as one of the best hotels in High Tatras.
You may check the prices here:
→ POPRADSKE PLESO
If you prefer to stay near Popradské Pleso lake, there is just one option - Horsky Hotel Popradske Pleso. It's located deep in the forest right over a beautiful mountain lake. Some people say it's a comfortable hotel, some consider it a mountain hut, but for me, it's just one of the best hotels in High Tatras 🙂.
You can check it here:
Tips to climb Rysy successfully
- The best time for climbing Rysy mountain is September. There are just too many tourists in the summer. Besides, weather is more stable than in July or August (low chance of storms in September), and there’s still a low probability of snow.
- The best days for Rysy hike are weekdays. Avoid going there on weekends - you will get stuck in traffic as we did.
- It's better to climb from Morskie Oko lake and descend on the Slovak side. I'd not enjoy climbing down on the Polish trail.
- Don’t count entirely on your mobile phone - take a paper map with you.
- Get yourself a comfortable backpack which will make the hike easier.
- Don’t hesitate to retreat if the weather gets bad or you don’t feel very well.
- Weather in Tatra mountains is unpredictable - remember about good hiking boots, warm clothes and waterproof accessories.
- Try to start hiking as early in the morning as possible (weather before noon is usually more stable).
- Make sure you have complete hiking gear necessary to explore high mountains.
- If you want to climb Rysy peak, but you don’t have experience in high mountains, hike a lot, increase your skills, and graduate difficulty of the trails. If you don’t have much time for gaining experience, you can climb the mountain from Slovak side, although keep in mind that this trail is also long and strenuous.
- Check High Tatras weather forecast before you go into the mountains. Here are some useful websites where you can check actual weather conditions in Tatra mountains:
Some people say that trail leading to Rysy is overrated, that hiking there isn't outstanding, because of crowds of tourists climbing it. To make the matter worse, a lot of those tourists are unprepared and not aware of the difficulties on the trail.
However, this doesn’t change the fact that Rysy remains the highest mountain in Poland, and the panorama from this peak is the most beautiful in this part of Europe.
Here is a short video presenting our Rysy summit hike:
Day trips from Zakopane
If you would like to take a break from hiking and try other things to do in Tatra mountains, you might be interested in the below options:
→ CHOCHOLOW THERMAL BATHS
The biggest waterpark in southern Poland. Opened in 2016, it offers numerous indoor and outdoor pools with hot thermal water (there are about 30 of them!), many different kinds of saunas, slides, kids zone, SPA facilities, sports centre, restaurants and pool bar.
We especially liked the spacious infrared sauna with big windows from which we admired the panoramic view on Tatra mountains.
If you would like to visit this modern water park and not wasting time in lines, you can get a full access ticket in advance here:
→ BIALKA TATRZANSKA THERMAL BATHS
It's a smaller waterpark than Chocholow Thermal Baths but also a fun place to visit. It offers a few thermal water pools with a beautiful mountain view and several saunas, outdoor. Bialka Tatrzanska Thermal Baths are divided into the quiet and loud zone. The latter one offers water attractions: waterslides, kids fun zone, outdoor pools, waterfalls, etc.
You can get a skip-the-line ticket along with hotel pick-up here:
→ CASTLES IN SLOVAKIA
Slovakia is famous for its medieval castles. One of the most impressive Slovak fortresses is the Bojnice castle. This fairytale-like castle was built in the 12th century and is visited by travellers from all over the world.
If you would like to visit this castle, you can book a tour with a professional guide and hotel pick-up. This day trip includes also visit in Bojnice castle gardens and zoo, and Beckov castle ruins.