When I was traveling in Eastern Europe, I slowly migrated west to check out some countries I haven’t fully explored. Slovakia happens to be one of them. I once visited its capital on a quick 2-day trip when I was living in Budapest. It was alright – I’ve already seen grand European cities like Prague and Budapest. The castles are cool, I even checked one out in Trencin. However, a buddy of mine who’s from Slovakia told me that what makes Slovakia stand apart from other European destinations are its mountains in the High Tatras.
So, what’s an adventure seeking dude supposed to do?
Hike The Tatra Mountains!
After my long stint in Budapest was coming to an end, I booked a one-way ticket for a train to the Tatra Mountains without anything planned and just “wing” it. I looked at the map and determined I will make the city of Poprad my headquarters for all my High Tatras excursions – the city is located in a pretty centralized location with bus and trains going out to various spots in the area.
I booked a cheap pension/hostel on the outskirts of town that were just five minutes by foot from the train station. There, I would converse with staff or random travelers about where to hike and what they recommend. Turns there were many options for hiking but the season was already winding down. It practically rained 80% of the time I was there. I wanted to trek the whole mountain range and summit the peak of Gerlachovský Peak (the highest peak in the High Tatras).
During the times when it was raining, I made a few quick trips to the surrounding attractions, like the castle Spis – which is the largest castle in Central Europe. I took the train and did a few mini hikes around Štrbské Plesso – which is one of the prominent lakes in the region. I explored what little there is to explore in the city of Poprad.
But, my heart was elsewhere.
The mountains are calling and I must go.
As luck would have it, John Muir heard my call because the next morning the forecast was as clear as day. I went over to talk to the receptionist, asked what cool hike I can do for the day and was told there were several connecting trails around the Popradské Pleso.
I took a train to Popradské Pleso got off with a wide grin on my face because I will finally get to check out the allure of the Slovakian Alps. With no real plans, I was just going to wing it the mountains and figure out what trail to tackle. Now, I’m not advocating you do the same – I have enough wilderness survival training and actual real-world experience being out in the mountains that I feel comfortable doing what I was doing. For you guys, safety first!
First, I thought I would just be walking on a boring asphalt street. It was a well-developed road that slowly climbed up to a resort next to the lake. What’s cool about this section is the wild raspberries that lined the side of the road. There were fields of berries and I couldn’t help but detract myself by picking as much as I could and eating as much as I can. I must have spent 2 hours just harvesting berries on the side of the street.
The road eventually ends at a resort overlooking a lake and marks the beginning of an unpaved trail. The trail goes along the resort and the base of a mountain where a rocky outcrop begins where you can see faint signs of a switchback if you looked up. The trail slowly meanders on a rocky switchback with the occasional epic views from steep outcrops of the lake below.
Along the trail I encountered a rare sight, I came across a Slovakian Chamois! It’s sort of like a mountain goat or some kind of mammal, I don’t know. All I know is that it wasn’t shy – it peed just a few yards away from me. I attempted to get closer to it and take a few photos but it ran off into a steep ravine below before I could snap some more.
Eventually, I reached the apex to where Popradske Pleso was still visible. From here you can see awesome views of the Štôlska Valley, I didn’t take many photos because it was a bit hazy that day and I wanted to see what else lay ahead. I continued my trek for another 40 minutes and came across another lake, Batizovské Pleso.
At the time, I didn’t know what lake it was. I only looked it up on Google maps (at writing) so I can give it a name. As mentioned earlier, I didn’t have any plans – I was just going to follow the trail and see where it lead. I was running out of the water so I filled my canteen and took a little break to snap a few pics before heading out. I talked to a few people taking a break along the trail to find out what’s up ahead.
Apparently, there’s a 4-star hotel Horský Hotel Sliezsky dom where I can catch a taxi or hitch-hike back down to Tatranská Polianka where I could catch a train back to Poprad. I took it as good news too because it was already getting dark and I was getting tired.
I noticed some dark clouds building up in the skies as the sun began to set. Getting caught in a downpour during the dark was the last thing I wanted so I picked up the pace towards the hotel, ignoring any possible sunset photo shoots. I reached the hotel just as it was about to turn completely black and caught a taxi to the train station in Tatranská Polianka. I could have walked the whole 7 kilometers back to town but seeing nothing by car headlights didn’t seem attractive. In all, I would have trekked further up towards Bradavica if I had more time. It would have to wait when I return in the future.
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So that’s my little ad-hoc hiking story in the High Tatras. If I was a more prudent hiker I would have done my research ahead of time and not after the fact. So, now that I have done the proper research, you reap the benefits.
HIKE THE TATRA MOUNTAINS!
I only got to hike a small portion of the High Tatras and if I had my way, I would stay for a month straight and hike most of the trails. Hiking season runs during spring and summer but I have seen this in the fall and the weather was still alright with the occasional rain.
The Tatra Mountain range encompasses Poland and Slovakia and offers plenty of hiking opportunities for the outdoor enthusiast. I’ve only covered the Slovakian side and it’s got some awesome views of its highest peak Gerlachovsky Peak (2655m) and its most famous peak Lomnicky.
The Tatras National Park (TANAP) comprises mountain and high-mountain plants like dwarf pine, pine forests, and a terrific flora. Rare animal species like the eagle, bear, or marmot reside here as well. You will have a very high chance of running across a chamois, the emblem of Tatras. It is among the most unique species, as it evolved in isolation during the ice age.
The High Tatras area also offers an unusually rich range of the architectural monuments, climatic spas, and non-mountain organic beauties. They’re represented by open-air museums, manor houses, castles, city monument reserves or thermal spas and caves.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE HIGH TATRAS
I suggest you stay in the bigger town of Poprad and use it as your base for other hikes. It has enough things to do if the weather doesn’t agree for a hike. You could stay in towns closer to the trails but you’ll be bored if you get caught during inclement weather. Poprad is about five hours by train from Bratislava, about eight hours from Prague, and about 10 hours from Budapest – you will change trains in Kosice coming from Budapest.
On the Polish side, there is Zakopane. It’s a fantastic place if you’re into buying tacky souvenirs and running into other tourists. It can be reached by train or bus from Krakow. There is an HI hostel in Zakopane with lots of private rooms if that’s your thing. I have a preference for Poprad as it is quieter and not as busy as Zakopane.
HOW TO GET TO THE TATRA MOUNTAINS
From Poprad, take one of those small trains to Stary Smokovec or a different resort. If you would like to start from Strbske Pleso this takes 1.5 hours though; going there by bus or by changing trains in Strba (online to Bratislava) will probably be a good deal quicker. From Zakopane take a bus to Lysa Polana (on the boundary) or into the Morskie Oko car park – you will have to pay a park entrance fee.
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There are lots of cable cars and chairlifts. The most significant cable car goes from Tatranska Lomnica, among the Slovak hotels, to Skalnata lake, and will save you a tough and boring walk up. From here you may take the red trail down or up, choose another cable car to Lomnicky stit, the second highest mountain in the Tatras. You might end up waiting in line for hours to get the ticket and then waiting some more. It’s better you begin to queue first thing in the morning as it’s not likely that you’ll find another ticket. The better option is to take the chairlift up to Lomnicky hreben because it’s cheaper, faster and the views are better.
July and August are extremely busy, so it is nicest to go in June or September. If you would like to cross the border after scaling Mt. Rysy, bear in mind that this is only permitted until the 30th of September — they do not check this, but it is for your own security; we did it on the last day and there was so much ice it was likely quite risky already.
Average summer weather means clear skies in the morning, and then more clouds appearing (and descending) through the day. It is advised to begin at least one hour after sunrise and get into a city or hut at least one hour prior to sunset. It can be very chilly and sometimes windy from the higher regions throughout the year, so bring warm clothing even if it’s bright and warm in the valley.
You will need a good pair of shoes, a raincoat and a water bottle (water from streams or resources is generally safe to drink). It is safest not to try the harder trails on your own. If you wish to go hiking from hut to hut but not having a huge pack, leave it in the left luggage office in Poprad train station and choose what you need in a backpack.
RECOMMENDED HIKES IN THE HIGH TATRAS
Mlynicka and Furkotska Valley
This is a moderate hike that can take anywhere between 6 to 8 hours to complete round-trip. Some of the coolest things you’ll run across on this trek are Strbske Pleso, Furkotska valley, Wahlenberg lake, and Solisko chalet. You pretty much this from June through the end of October.
Another moderate hike the same as the above. It gets a little more lasting snow so the hike can only be accessed from July through the end of October. Big Hincovo Lake – the deepest lake in the High Tatras and Koprovsky Peak are the main highlights here.
Krivan Peak and Vazecka Valley
This hike is a little tougher the previously mentioned hikes. It can take up to 8 hours or more to complete but offers great views from the of Krivan Peak. You’ll also pass through Jaske Pleso and Furkotska Valley along the way. Accessible from early July through the end of October.
This is a red-marked route that crosses the Tatras from east to west, beginning at Velke Biele Pleso from the east, and continuing beyond the boundaries of the High Tatras map at the west. If you’re doing a hut to hut hike this is the way to go with 6 mountain huts you can choose from along the way. This hike is open all year round.
Strbske Pleso to Tatranska Polianka
A moderately difficult hike lasting 6 to 7 hours. This trek is available year round and gets you through Popradske Pleso as you ascend the Pod Ostrvou pass. Batizovske Pleso and Velicke Pleso lake are also notable highlights.
Velka and Mala Studena Dolina
This is not an easy hike that can easily take 8 hours to complete. You can hike it from July through October. Studena creek waterfall and Tery chalet are notable highlights.
Velicka and Velka Studena Dolina
A difficult hike that’s accessible in early July through the end of October. You can see the Frozen Lake, Velicky lake and waterfall during the 8 hours it takes to complete the trek.
Hrebinok to Slavkovsky Peak
Probably the easiest peak to summit in Tatra range. It’s open all year with cool views from the Slavkovska viewpoint.
Velka Studena and Bielovodska Dolina
This hike can easily take up to 9 hours to complete meandering across Cold Creek, Prielom pass, and the Frozen Lake. It’s open from July through October.
Valley of the Kezmarok White Water
Salviovy spring and Velka Svistovka pass are the notable highlights on this trail. It’s a moderate 8-hour round-trip hike that is available all year.
Tatranska Lomnica to Skalnate Pleso
Generally, a moderate hike that can take up to 8 hours to complete and is available to hike year round. You’ve got White and Green Lake, Zadne Medodoly and Javorova valley to keep your eyes entertained.
Valley of the 7 Springs and Valley of the White Water
Rocky doors and Bujaci mountain ridge is the notable views you get from this moderate hike. The trail is open all year with the Valley of the 7 Springs and Big White Lake as additional destinations.
Mt. Rysy Peak
Climbing Mt. Rysy is a popular thing to do in the High Tatras and marks a border between Slovakia and Poland. The Slovak side is relatively easy to scale while the Polish side is significantly steeper. However, on a sunny day, you will get terrific views from the top.