The Tatra Mountains are the highest mountain range in the Carpathian Mountains.
The Tatra Mountains are Poland’s only alpine-type mountains forming a natural border between Poland and Slovakia and covering 785 square km. The highest summits are Gerlach (2655 m, Slovakia) and Rysy (2499 m, Poland). Thanks to the relatively small area of the Tatras compared to the Alps, there’s a cosy atmosphere, but you can also feel like you’re in really high mountains. The lower parts are covered by a beautiful and dense spruce forest. The upper parts are wide meadows with steep, rocky crags above them, where you may find a lot of caves. The landscape of the High Tatras is very interesting and is dominated by alpine-type ridges, towering walls and rocky peaks, which is a testament to the strong action of glaciers.
In the Tatra Mountains, you can do many activities but for the obvious reason, I will focus only on winter climbing and mountaineering, skiing and ski touring.
The most famous area is Morskie Oko Lake, in the Rybi Potok Valley. It is located in High Tatra and has a hut called “Morskie Oko” (http://schroniskomorskieoko.pl/pl) situated on the bank of glacial moraine. The peaks that surround the lake rise about 1000 meters above its surface. One of them is Rysy (2499 m), the highest peak in the Polish Tatra Mountains. Beside Mięguszowiecki Summits, including Mięguszowiecki Szczyt Wielki (2438 m) and famous rock spike Mnich (2068 meters). The area is only 2 hours away on foot from the main car park and therefore, is a good and very popular place for winter mountaineering and ski touring as well as an excellent base to reach the longest winter climbing routes.
The best area for the winter climbers in Tatra is Hala Gąsienicowa – an extensive valley in the middle of the mountains with few small and picturesque ponds. It’s only 3 hours away on foot from the main town in the region – Zakopane. In the valley, there’s a hut called “Murowaniec”(http://murowaniec.e-tatry.pl/). This hut is an excellent base to reach the best winter climbing routes in the Tatras. Most of them are located in the area of Kościelec (2155 m) and Świnica (2301 m). Hala Gąsienicowa is also a good place for mountaineering and ice climbing. Here is a starting point for many trails with the most famous and the most difficult called “Orla Perć” (“Eagle’s Trail”). Another highlight is the summit of Kasprowy Wierch (1987 m) the best ski area in the Tatra. You can reach the top after 2 hours of trekking from “Murowaniec”. You can also take a cable car from Zakopane and enjoy the stunning views. Obviously, ski touring in Hala Gąsienicowa is amazing due to the varied difficulties and the length of the trials.
More about climbing can be found here.
The Tatra Mountains are also unique places for wild nature lovers. You may find here about 1300 species of flora and a few hundred species of animals like mountain goats, deer, lynxes, marmots, eagles, crows and vipers. Meeting eye to eye with a wild bear is not rare as well. The bear usually runs away, but in such a situation you should always be careful and slowly withdraw without annoying the animal.
Just at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, there is one of the most famous holiday destinations in Poland – Zakopane. This city is a centre of Polish mountain culture and is a popular destination for mountaineering, skiing and qualified tourism. You can enjoy local food, culture, music and art in many restaurants and museums. If you are looking for good fun after outdoor activities, this is the place for you. Hundreds of bars and pubs will meet the needs of the fussiest party-lovers. There are also many hotels and guest houses in the area of Zakopane and surrounding villages.
I recommend staying for skiing! Gubałówka is the most famous ski area. There are many others in close range. You can ski from early morning to 22:00 on some of the slopes!
How to get to the Tatra Mountains?
Flights to Kraków in Poland are at the average price of €120 return (check budget airlines Wizzair and Ryanair). Zakopane town – “the winter capital of Poland” lies in the southern part of the Podhale region at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. The town can be reached by car, train or by bus from Kraków, which is about two hours away. Zakopane is a busy resort and traffic jams occur very often despite very good transport. I recommend calling a mountain hut to book your place. When staying in Zakopane you can easily book many hotels online.
Import rules and information about the Tatra Mountains
The Tatra Mountains is National Park therefore, you should respect the area and behave accordingly. You can trek alongside marked trials without a guide. You are also allowed to climb all year round but only in the designated area. You should report your chosen climbing route in a special book located in the hut. Ski touring becomes very popular as well. You can rent all the necessary equipment in many shops. Mountain Rescue Service is free of charge and is called TOPR (phone +48 601 100 300). The biggest risks are avalanches and quickly changing, demanding weather. Using the English language should not be a problem 🙂