The Tatra Mountains may not be as famous as the Swiss Alps or the Italian Dolomites, but I personally consider them as one of the best mountain ranges in Europe.
Much of the Tatra Mountains rises over 2,000m above sea level, offering experienced hikers with a multitude of challenging, diverse trails delivering incredible views – and it won’t break the bank getting to, or staying in the region.
The Tatra Mountains straddle the border between Poland and Slovakia and can be approached from either country with dozens of hiking trails to choose from in the summer months. You could be roaming the trails for a month and still not do it all!
When to go
The best time to hike in the Tatra Mountains is during the European summer months from around June to September. Outside of summer, you may encounter snow on high altitude peaks requiring specialist gear such as crampons and the weather is likely to be less stable. I was in the Tatra Mountains one September and it rained most days.
The summer months offer long hours of daylight, handy for hikes spanning more than 10 hours, and the most stable weather – although thunderstorms are always possible so be prepared and keep an eye on the weather. While the summer months are busy, you’ll see the crowds thin out the higher you go and the earlier in the day you start.
Where to stay
If you love hiking, you will probably want to spend some time on both sides of the Tatra Mountains. Slovakia is home to more than 75 per cent of the Tatra Mountains, so you are likely to spend more time hiking on the Slovak side than the Polish side.
If you’re wanting to hike on the Polish side, base yourself in Zakopane – but don’t expect to be alone in the town or on the trails. The tourist town is teeming with people during the summer months – but don’t worry, there’s plenty of guesthouses to choose from at very affordable prices, as well as a couple of hostels.
In Slovakia, you have a few more options to base yourself. You can stay in Zdiar, a sleepy but beautiful town or stay in one of the High Tatras towns, such as Stary Smokovec or Strebske Pleso. A number of trails starts from these mountain villages.
If you would prefer to come back to a city each night, you can also stay in Poprad. An electric train leaves the Poprad main train station for the mountain towns once an hour during the summer months. The cost depends on how far you go along the line, with prices starting from a bargain €3 return.
What to know
The majority of the hikes listed below are suited to experienced hikers only. People have died while hiking in the Tatra Mountains so it’s important you are suitably experienced and have the right gear such as proper hiking boots and warm clothing. Even in summer you can experience below zero temperatures on some summits in the Tatra Mountains.
All the hikes below are full day hikes, and you should expect to be hiking between 6-12 hours depending on your fitness and ability. Trails are rugged and rocky, can be slippery in wet conditions, and many involve rock scrambling supported by chains. Many sections of trails are also very exposed and narrow with steep drop-offs.
The majority of mountain summits or passes in the Tatra Mountains are located above 2,400m, and many hikes involve an elevation gain of between 1,000m to 1,500m.
Entry to the national park on the Polish side costs 7 Polish Zloty (PLN) (equivalent to about €1.50) per day, cash only, or you can buy a seven day pass. Entry on the Slovak side is free.
What to bring
My equipment list below is only for hiking in the summer months.
- Hiking shoes are highly recommended for all hikes, and hiking poles will aid ascent and descents on the steep and rocky slopes.
- Snacks such as nuts, fruit and chocolate
- A minimum of 2-3 litres of water (there are minimal water sources on all routes, sometimes none)
- A hat and sunscreen.
- The weather can change quickly in the mountains, and cloud cover is possible on the high altitude summits so a rain/wind jacket is recommended.
- You might also want to bring gloves to tackle the chains on some routes.
- I recommend obtaining a map of the Tatra Mountains before you start heading out on the trails. Look for maps showing the colour of the trail markers, and also the timings for each section. Maps are readily available in many souvenir shops and book stores in Zakopane or at some trailhead ticket counters.
- The Maps.me mobile app will come in very handy. Make sure you bring a fully charged phone and a battery pack.
Check the weather forecast before you go. If rain is forecast, consider postponing your hike. All of the hikes listed below will be slippery and can be dangerous in the wet.
Below I’ve listed my pick of the hikes in the Tatra Mountains. It’s not even close to an exhaustive list, but it provides you with a good starting point for a week in the mountains.
Minibuses and a local bus service the region around Zakopane. Buses leave at least every 30 minutes from the bus station at Zakopane to Morskie Oko.
Bus 11 services the area around Zakopane centre and Kuznice. Kuznice is the starting and end point of many trails.
Many minibuses also service the area around Zakopane. Schedules can be found at some bus stops.
Fares are 5 PLN (€1) for the local buses, 15 PLN (€3) for the Morskie Oko bus.
On the Slovakian side, buses run at least once hourly between Zdiar and Poprad, stopping at Stary Smokovec. Stary Smokovec is the starting point for many trails. From here, you can also hop on a train that takes you to Strebske Pleso, which is also the start of many trails. Slovakia is on the Euro, and fares range between €1.50 and €2.30 depending on distance.
As mentioned earlier in the blog, an electric train departs Poprad hourly in the summer months to take you to the High Tatras villages.
Day hikes – Poland
Duration: 5-6 hours return
For many visitors to Zakopane, 1,895m Giewont is the only peak they will hike up. It’s not as high as some of the other peaks in the area and it’s accessible from Zakopane itself. But this makes the trail extremely busy so be sure to get an early start to beat the crowds.
The trail is well marked and starts on a dirt trail before getting more rocky as you wind your way up the peak. The last section is supported by chains to help you up the very smooth and slippery rocks. Don’t attempt this one when it’s wet.
Starting Point: Trailheads are located in several locations off Krzeptowki Street on the western end of Zakopane. You can see the trails on Maps.me
You can do this one as a loop track or return the way you came. If doing the loop track, follow the signs back to Kuznice from the saddle below the peak. You will finish in the carpark for the cable car and it’s possible to take a bus back to Zakopane, or take the easy one hour walk back to Zakopane.
You can also choose to do a longer version of this hike. Hike to Giewont and then follow the signs to Kopa Kondracka. From there, you can return the way you came or head along the ridgeline to the peaks of Malolaczniak, Krzesanica and Ciemniak and then head down through the Koscielisko Valley. This undulating ridgeline route via Giewont and over the four peaks will take around 8-10 hours and offers great views of the surrounding mountains on a clear day. Minibuses make the journey back to Zakopane from the trailhead at the end of the valley and depart when full.
Lake Morskie Oko and Rysy
Duration: 10-12 hours return
Rysy is the highest peak in Poland standing at 2,499m high. It straddles the border between Poland and Slovakia, and can be approached from both the Polish or Slovakian side.
The Polish side is considered to be the harder, but more beautiful approach, but it is also very long.
Rysy should only be undertaken by experienced hikers. Many people have died on this mountain.
This very challenging hike starts from the carpark of Morskie Oko and I recommend starting no later than 8.30am. The start of the hike involves a long 8km hike to the lake along a road, however cars are not allowed so you either go on foot or pay to go on a horse drawn cart. I walked, and it took just under two hours.
Once at Morskie Oko, take the path along the left side of the lake, and then follow the signs to the next lake Czarny Staw pod Rysami, which involves a short but steep uphill section.
Head around the left side of the second lake and then it’s the really hard uphill slog from here for 3-4 hours to reach the summit of Rysy. There’s great views on the uphill so there’s plenty of places to take a rest and enjoy the scenery.
It does get very exhausting during the stretch up to the summit of Rysy, as you negotiate the slippery gravel trail, snow patches, and a long rock scrambling section aided by chains. This section is very steep and exposed, and you must be comfortable with rock scrambling and heights.
Once on the summit, return the way you came as going back down the Slovakian side will pop you out at Strebske Pleso. The route back from here to Zakopane would include the electric train, and then a bus from Stary Smokovec, however buses are infrequent after 7pm. If you want to tackle the Slovakian side, it’s better to stay in Slovakia either in one of the High Tatra villages or in Poprad.
Starting Point: Palenica Bialczanska (Carpark for Morskie Oko). Buses leave regularly from the Zakopane Bus Station to the carpark and the journey takes about 30 minutes. The bus costs 15 PLN one way. Buses run frequently until sunset from the carpark for the return journey back to Zakopane.
Duration: 6-8 hours return
The hike to the 2,159m Zawrat peak is only for experienced hikers due to very steep, exposed sections aided by chains.
The trail begins at Kuznice in Zakopane and the first 90 minutes of the hike is on a gradual uphill trail first through forest, then an exposed dirt path.
You will reach a hut, and then continue another 30 minutes to Lake Czarny Staw Gasienicowy. Stop here for a break and enjoy the views.
From the lake, head around it’s left side and then start heading uphill along a rocky path. Pay attention to the trail markers and follow the signs to Zawrat, which will gradually lead you up the right side of the peak.
After about 30-45 minutes uphill, you will reach a series of chains to aid the rock scramble up to a viewpoint. Return the way you came unless you are then heading out on the Eagle’s Path, a via ferrata style hike and scramble up and down ladders and along chained sections. Read more about this hike below.
Starting Point: The hike to Zawrat starts from Kuznice, which is the starting point for many trails. Buses depart Zakopane regularly from the bus stop near the Lidl to Kuznice. The trip takes about 15 minutes. From Kuznice, follow the signs to Gasienicowa, then to Czarny Staw Gasienicowy. From the lake, you head around the left side and then follow the path to the right leading to Zawrat.
Eagle’s Path (Orla Perc)
Duration: 6-10 hours
The Eagle’s Path hike is said to be one of the most dangerous hikes in the Tatra Mountains – and it’s certainly not for the faint hearted. Many people have lost their lives on this route, so you need to have a good head for heights, be sure-footed and confident, and be experienced in rock scrambling and traversing narrow rock sections.
It took me three attempts for me to complete this hike. The first time I hurt my knee on the first section and had to retreat, the second time I was caught in a very scary rockfall and got out of there quickly. But third time lucky, I managed to complete the path over two separate days. It was very challenging but rewarding, with stunning views along the way.
Eagle’s Path is not a normal trail – it’s basically a via ferrata as the route is secured with ladders, steel rungs and chains. But most people don’t use a via ferrata kit to traverse the route, although it’s possible to use one and also a helmet is also a good idea in case of falling rocks. There’s a lot of rock scrambling involved and the route is very tiring as you constantly go up and down, negotiating steep cliff faces along the way.
This hike is only for very experienced, fit hikers that are very comfortable with heights as there’s many steep dropoffs along the route. I’m comfortable with heights but also felt a little uneasy along some parts of the route.
It’s also important to have good weather for this route – do not attempt in wet weather. Any areas that were a bit wet on the route as they were in the shade were extremely slippery.
The route extends from Zawrat to Krzyne peaks. It looks like it’s not a long way on the map but don’t be fooled – it’s slow going especially if the route is busy as you may have to wait for people to go up or down ladders or wait for people to pass at certain sections. There are a few areas where you can exit along the way if you don’t want to do the entire route. Red flags painted on the rocks mark the Eagle’s Path trail but you will spot yellow and green flags on the way which mark the exit points leading to other trails.
Starting Point: Eagle’s Path is one-way only between the Zawrat and Kozi Wierch peaks. To reach the start of the Eagle’s Path, you first need to reach the summit of Zawrat. You can reach Zawrat peak hiking in from Kuznice, or you can book to stay the night at the mountain hut at Five Lakes and approach from that side. Once you’re on Zawrat, continue following the red markers towards Kozi Wierch.
From Kozi Wierch, it’s possible to descend back to Czarny Staw Gasienicowy (Black Lake), or you can continue onto the Granaty – three peaks also on the Eagle’s Path. This section is much easier than the first section but extreme care is still needed.
From the third Granat peak, you can also descend down to Czarny Staw Gasienicowy or you can continue onto the Krzyne peak – which is the end of the Eagle’s Path. As I ran out of time on the first day, I did Eagle’s Path from Zawrat to Skrajny Granat and descended from there, and then returned a couple of days later to complete the section between Skrajny Granat and Krzyne peak. From Krzyne peak, you can descend down to the Hala Gasienicowa (a mountain hut) and then return to Kuznice and back to Zakopane from there.
Day hikes – Slovakia
Big & Small Cold Valley
Duration: 10-12 hours
The Cold Valley is made up of two valleys – a big one and a small one. The hike traversing both these valleys is a beautiful, but long and exhausting day so make sure you have an early start.
The hike starts from Stary Smokovec, but you can shorten the hike by taking the funicular to and from Hriebeniok. Cost is €11 return and the funicular runs frequently throughout the day. I highly recommend this option as it saves you an hour each way and I guarantee you will be exhausted at the end of the hike.
The trailhead for this hike from Hriebiniok is shared with many other hikes and it is likely to be congested at the start as you head into the valley, past a series of waterfalls which are well worth a quick stop.
First you need to follow the green trail to Teryho Chata hut. The trail starts off with a steady uphill for about 90 minutes, and is pretty easygoing up to the first hut, Zamkovskeho. The trail gets much steeper as you start the approach to Teryho Chata. Take a break at this chata and enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains and the lakes.
From here, you’re going uphill again, then it flattens out briefly, before a couple of snow patches and a rock scramble aided by chains to cross from the Small Valley into the Big Valley. If you’re scared of heights, this is not the hike for you.
Make sure you stick to the chained area, as going off track may cause loose rocks to fall on hikers below.
The highest point you’ll reach on this pass is 2,352 metres.
From the pass, you head downhill slowly on a scree slope, before a slow descent over a very rocky path to Zboinicka chata.
This chata is another great spot for a rest (you will need it) before another two hours on a rocky trail back to Hriebienok.
Starting Point: The trail start and ends at Stary Smokovec following the green trail up and blue trail down from the Zbojnicka chata back to Hriebienok. You can shorten the hike by taking the funicular to and from Hriebienok.
Duration: 6-8 hours
The Bystra Lavka trail is a beautiful, diverse hike serving up a waterfall, deep blue lakes, a mountain pass and gorgeous views of the Tatra Mountains from 2,314m up.
The hike starts from the town of Strebske Pleso on the yellow trail. First you head up through beautiful forest, and then you enter a valley. Head to the waterfall and scramble up the left side of it and then you’ll be treated to picturesque lake views. Continue past the lakes, and then it’s a steep hike up to get a view of the lakes.
You’ll climb up to a saddle via a short section of chained rock to cross from one valley into another. From the top you get amazing 360 degree views including across to the Polish side of the Tatra Mountains. It’s a slow, slippery descent from the saddle due to a gravel path, then you move onto a rocky trail, before heading onto a narrow dirt trail.
Follow the signs back to Strebske Pleso and you’ll pass the town’s lake on the way back into town – which offers up more amazing views of the mountains.
Starting Point: You’ll need an early start to do Bystra Lavka as it takes some time to get to. The trail starts at Strebske Pleso, which is one of the last stations on the High Tatras train line. The train is very slow. The train starts in Poprad, and passes a number of stations, including Stary Smokovec and Tatranska Lomnica.
Duration: 6-8 hours return
The hike up to the top of the 2,452m Slavkovsky Stit is not as technical as some of the other peaks in the area, but it is steep.
The hike starts from Stary Smokovec up a dirt path, before entering into a short stretch of forest. After you exit the forest and a fabulous viewpoint, it starts to get steep as you wind up the mountain.
The final stretch is the most difficult up a very steep but gravelly path, and care is needed.
The views from the top make it worth it as you look out onto the surrounding mountains and down to Stary Smokovec.
Starting Point: The trailhead starts from Stary Smokovec on the blue trail. Return the way you came.
Duration: 6-8 hours return
The hike to Koprovsky Stit is a beautiful trail filled with lake views, some small waterfalls, and panoramic views of the many surrounding mountains. It’s an alternative to the busier Rysy trail, although still sees its fair share of hikers.
The hike will take you past several picturesque lakes on a slowly winding ascending trail, before a steep ascent to reach the summit via scree slopes and rockhopping. At the summit, there’s a beautiful view of several lakes below in the valley.
Starting point: The hike to Koprovsky Stit starts from the Popradske Pleso train station. It starts off sharing the same trail as the hike up to the Rysy peak from the Slovakian side, before branching off to the left and follow the signs up to Koprovsky Stit. You return the same way. You can reach Popradske Pleso on the electric train that starts from Poprad and stops at all the High Tatras mountain villages.
Duration: 4-8 hours depending on your route
The hike to the Green Lake (Zelene Pleso) is one of the easier hikes in the Tatra Mountains and can also be done in winter.
The hike is up a rocky path that winds gradually uphill, with the latter path leading you adjacent to the river, and takes you to the Chata pri Zelenom plese opposite the Green Lake.
The return hike takes 4-5 hours.
A harder alternative to this hike starts from Zdiar, and takes you across ‘The Saddle’.
From Zdiar, you walk uphill for about three hours to reach the saddle, and over to the highest point of the hike, 1826m Siroke Sedlo. Here you’ll get spectacular views of the Tatra Mountains. Continue another 40 minutes and you’ll reach Kopske sedlo, before heading into a meadow, a lake and along a rocky path to the chata.
From the chata, you take the yellow trail to the Biela Voda carpark.
The longer trail will take about 6-8 hours.
Starting Point: If you want to only do the hike to the Green Lake and back, start and finish at the Biela Voda carpark. All buses going to Poprad or Zdiar/Zakopane pass this carpark.
To do the longer hike via The Saddle, start from the abandoned hotel near the Zdiar – Tatry bus stop in Zdiar.
Duration: 8-10 hours
This hike is a variation on The Saddle hike as it also ends at Green Lake.
The hike starts from Stary Smokovec. First you head up to Hriebienok, then follow the red trail past a couple of waterfalls towards Zamkovskeho chata, a mountain hut. Just before you reach the chata, you’ll turn right to keep on the red trail.
You’ll follow this rocky trail for about an hour, before reaching Skalnata chata and the cable car that takes you to the top of Lomnicky stit.
After you pass the chata, the trail winds uphill sharply before winding more gradually towards the top of 2,037m Vel’ka Svist’ovka. As you head uphill, you’ll get fabulous views of the surrounding mountains even on a cloudy day.
But hopefully you’ll get a clear day and score epic mountain views at the top of the peak. Once you reach the summit, you head off the mountain towards Green Lake. The trek down is narrow, steep, rocky and can be slippery – it’s more of a scramble in parts. There is also a chain section in one part of the descent over slippery rocks.
Once you reach Green Lake, enjoy the views, have a beer and a hot meal at the Chata pri Zelenom Plese, then follow the yellow trail back to Biela Voda. Buses depart about every hour from the bus stop towards Zdiar/Zakopane or Stary Smokovec/Poprad.
Starting Point: This hike starts at Stary Smokovec and follows the green trail to Hriebienok. From Hrebieniok, the trail continues on the red trail to the Green Lake.
2 thoughts on “The best day hikes in the Tatra Mountains”
Thank you for the very informative post! When you refer to the colour names for the trails, are you referencing a specific map? Thanks!
Hi Anna, many trails are marked with a flag like symbol, the colours correspond to these markers on rocks or trees. So if you want to do the green trail for example, follow the green coloured markers.