Tatra Mountains National Park - mountaineering, wildlife

Tatra Mountains National Park with its close location to Kraków (just 100 km south or 2h drive by a bus or car), breathtaking views on alpine environment, almost 300 km of well marked tracks, wild animals and endemic plants, and the absolutely unique culture of Polish Highlanders (Górale in Polish) is one of the most rewardous tourist destinations in Poland. Together with the national park on Slovakian side of the mountains, the Tatras have a status of the UNESCO Biosphere Resere.

Tatra Mountains are the highest stretch of the Central European mountains called Carpathian mountains that start in Serbia and Romania in the South (beware of Dracula) and continue through Ukraine, Slovakia until Poland in the North, and then head back south through Czech Rebublic and Austria. Actually the large part of the south border of Poland is formed by the Carpathian mountains. You can visit another part of Carpathian mountains called Bieszczady Mountains with a help of our guidebook. The highest peak in the Tatra mountains is Gerlach (2655 m a.s.l.) lying in Slovakia'n Tatras. The highest Polish peak is Rysy (2499 m a.s.l.), which can be trekked from either Polish or Slovakian side (or you can ascend one side and descend the other side). Note that according to the Schengen Agreement, you can freely travel between Poland and Slovakia without passport control. It means that Tatra mountains are all for you, the Polish and the Slovakian side. 

Tatra Mountains offer all types of mountain experience. Start from one-day walks in the lower parts of the mountains, take a spectacular trip by the cableway to Kasprowy Mountain, or go for multi-day trans-mountain trek with overnights in atmospheric and fully-equipped tourist huts right in the middle of the wilderness (beware of bears). The ultimate experience would be to take your climbing equipment and go off-the-beaten-track to explore granite and limestone vertical slopes of Tatra's hills (some well above 2000 m above see level). Spend some nights in the capital of Polish Highlanders - Zakopane to admire small local art museums, botanical garden, and a unique and absolutely endemic architectonic style called Zakopiański styl.    

Tatra mountains can be visited as a one-day trip from Kraków, but with some days to spare you should overnight there (endless apportunities for finding accommodation, you are likely to be approached at the station in Zakopane and asked whether you need a room in a family house). You can easily travel to the Sloviakian part of Tatras and then trek back through Tatras to Poland.

Some ideas for your visit

Meet fauna and flora

It is not uncommon to meet a brown bear on your way. Do not worry, although the close relative of American Grizzly bears, the European brown bear is not so aggressive toward people. Simply, do not ignore the risk and take basic precautions (the most important - do not surprise a bear and keep a distance). Two other mammals are a symbol of Tatras. Chamois are not that difficult to spot, especially in the Alpine zone. Alpine marmots, one of the biggest European rodents, hibernates on average 215 days per year. Can be difficult to see and you will hear a lot of its alarm voices. In the past haunted for fat which was believed to cure many ailments. Tatras are revardous for birdwatching, note that golden eagels nest here. Eagels are an important symbol for Poles. A white eagle is the national coat of arms of Poland. The legendary founder of Poland called Lech (do not confuse with another famous Polish Lech - Lech Wałęsa, the icon of Polish anti-communist movement and the leader of Solidarność) saw a white eagle's nest. He was so delighted by the beauty of the bird that decided to settle there and placed the eagle on his emblem. He called his settlement Gniezno, which originates from a Polish word 'nest'. Gniezno is regarded as the first Polish capital. Note that Kraków was the next capital (now Warszawa).

Tatras are the botanist paradise. Among many other interesting species of plants, you can see a viviparous form of the alpine-meadow grass, the midget creeping willow trees (Salix reticulate, Salix herbacea) and the swiss pine.

Visit waterfalls

Wodogrzmoty Mickiewicza on the way to Morskie Oko Lake (famous for the level of noice they generate).

Siklawa waterfall, the biggest in Polish Tatras, just next to a mountain hut in the Pięciu Stawów valley.

Siklawica waterfall in the Strążyska valley.

Go for trekking

For your trekking, choose between routes with different difficulty level. Considering the steepness of slopes and hights, the West Tatras are much easier for trekking than East (called High) Tatras. There are a lot of different well-marked trekking routes in Tatras. Maps tell you how much time it takes to reach a given point in Tatras, as do the wooden marks on cross-roads of tourist routes, which you will see when trekking. Because this is the National Park, you are not allowed to go wherever you want. Climbers are allowed to climb walls, and they can go off the tourist routes.

Orla Perć (Eagles' Route) is the most difficult and dangerous tourist route in the entire Tatras (located in the West Tatras), suitable for experienced trekkers and climbers (though climbing equipment is not essential). It was established in 1919. At most steep and vertical places there are ladders, chains and metal steps.

Tatras hide beautifull caves, some of them are accessible for regular tourists: 5 caves in a popular Kościeliska Valley: Jaskinia Mylna, Smocza Jama (the one with a ladder and some chains as handrails), Jaskinia Obłazkowa, Jaskinia Raptawicka and Jaskinia Mroźna (the only one with electricity, 4 zł ticket and a guide). Take a light to visit the remaining four caves.

Lakes (traditionally called ponds or stawy in Polish). Nearly 200 in the Tatras, most in the West Tatras. The biggest is the Polish Morskie Oko (34 ha). The Wall Street Journal regards Morskie Oko as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Most lakes in Tratras are of glacial origin. Among the most famous ones are the lakes of Hala Gąsienicowa and Dolina Pięciu Stawów (Valley of Five Lakes).

Kościeliska Valley (East Tatras): To get to the beginning of the valley take a mini-bus from Zakopane city centre to Kiry (only 7 km). The route to a popular mountain hut with a restaurant and accommodation ('Na Hali Ornak') is only 5.5 km one way, really flat and accessible for everyone. Poor weather conditions are not an excuse to stay home, for you can trek the valley in all weather types! The main attractions of the valley include 5 caves, spring Lodowe Źródło, Kaplica Zbójników (a small highlander robbers' chapel; rarely used in line with the original purpose nowadays)

Chochołowska Valley (East Tatras): To get to the beginning of the valley take a mini-bus from Zakopane city centre (the valley starts just couple of kilometers past the entrance to the Kościelisko Valley). On the way to the tourist hut "W Dolinie Chochołowskiej", with restaurant and accommodation, yu can admire the springs Wywierzysko Chochołowkie, nostalgic original highlanders' huts and blue fileds of giant crocus (Crocus vernus, syn: Crocus scepusiensis) emerging early in the spring. You can walk 8 km to the mountain hut, take a tourist 'train', horse-carriage (traditional góral-style experience), or rent a mountain bike. Each of these mechanical means of transport terminate at different distances from the valley distance, take the horse carriage if you want to save most your own breath).

Horse carriage rides are a typical góral-style experience in the area around Zakopane. They are available in four valleys. In Chochołowska and Bystra Valleys you can treat the carriages as the way to rich mountain huts. In Kościeliska and Rybi Potok Valley they get you closer to huts, but you still have walk a lot.

Some history

Around the Tatras there are four ethnographic and historical regions: from the south Liptov (nowadays in Slovakia), from the north Podhale (in Poland), Spisz from the east and Orawa from the west (both divided between Poland and Slovakia).

The three last were colonized by Polish people in the early medieval times (12th century), then there was a period of German settlement (in Spisz especially), but a real revolution was made by Vlachs in 15th – 16th century. These sheepards escaping from southern Carpathians (today Romania, so beware of Dracula's background of Polish Highlanders) after Turkish invasion brought here a unique culture connected with seasonal pasturing of sheep (but also cows) herds in the mountains (called transhumance herding). They brought to Tatras their music, clothes, and shepards' tradition. You can still find in Tatras small cottages where highlanders still make cheeses in traditional way (from sheep milk - very tasty). The places where the seasonal sheep pasturing still exist in Tatras include Dolina Chochołowska, Dolina Lejowa, Dolina Kościeliska, polana Kalatówki, Rusinowa Polana, Polana pod Kopieńcem.

From this admixture of Polish and Vlach's culture arose the culture of highlanders (górale, gorals) – the indigenous inhabitants of Polish mountains. You can count on seening their traditional wool dresses, especially on Sunday masses.

Regional food

The most famous local cheese is called oscypek. This cheese is conserved by smoking in smoke from fire in the cottage. You can try also fresh cheese (bundz), salted bryndza and drink żętyca (sauer sheep whey). Typical regional soup is kwaśnica (made from sauer cabbage). Another local speciality are moskole – a type of patato pankakes served with garlic butter, bryndza cheese or speck. Everything delicious!


You cannot mistaken this style with other types of music you have ever heard. In restaurants in Zakopane you can listen to the traditional highlander music played on violin and orginal to Podhale basy by musicians wearing regional costumes. The local music was inspiration to Polish composers such as Karol Szymanowski and Wojciech Killar. Apart from the local music, Zakopane restaurants play slovak and hungarian csardas and polka tunes.

One-day trips from Zakopane


This charming village placed about 18 km from Zakopane and is famous for its original old wooden buildings (called live skansen of Podhale). 

Thermal waters

In a close neighbourhood of Zakopane in Szaflary (on the way from Kraków to Zakopane), Bukowina Tatrzańska and Białka Tatrzańska there were recently built complexes of thermal pools with SPA. The thermal waters discovered in 1980s in the village of Bańska Niżna are used also to heat houses in parts of Zakopane and few surrounding villages.

Further away from Zakopane

Dębno Podhalańskie with its wooden church from the 15th century, built in gothic style, object from the UNESCO list.

Old castle ruins on the former Polish-Hungarian border can be visited in Niedzica and Czorsztyn. They are located on the banks of Lake Czorsztyn water reservoir and in the neighborhood of Pieniny mountains and the Pieniny National Park. Your unforgettable experience will be a rafting with highlanders in the Dunajec River Gorge from Sromowce – Kąty to Szczawnica. Just look up to admire Pieniny limestone rocks when passing white-water rapids in a wooden raft.

How to get there?

Very easy. Go to the main bus station in Kraków and take one of frequent buses to Zakopane (the trip takes 2-2.5 hours). From the point of arrival in Zakopane, take a mini-bus which will take you to the beginnings of mountain routes and main sites in the town (ask for the bus to the right destination). You can take also a train from Kraków to Zakopane, but oddly it takes longer than by a bus.