While I did a small hike in Luxembourg back in May, it was the mountains I truly craved. Having not seen them since my time in New Zealand over a year ago, I made sure to plan a stop in Tatra National Park in southernmost Poland, right near the Slovakian border, during our trip around the country.
Tatra National Park is touted as the best place to hike in Poland and with the streets of the mountain town of Zakopane, the gateway to the park, completely bustling with visitors and every restaurant overflowing, we could see its popularity! While the tourism of the town wasn't our scene, the national park, to which shuttles run regularly from Zakopane to all the various trailheads, is breathtaking. You'll want to base yourself in Zakopane for best access to the park; we stayed in an AirBnB although there are all ranges of accommodation available, including idyllic mountain chalets!
I've never hiked in the European mountains before so I enjoyed the new type of scenery in comparison to the North American and New Zealand trails I have previously frequented. I look forward to many more adventures across the continent's peaks. It was so good to be back in the mountains again, my favourite place.
The most popular and populous hike in the national park is the trail up to Morskie Oko and then on to the lake at Czarny Staw pod Rysami. It's quite an easy hike, as it's entirely walked on an asphalt road. Thus, you may find yourself bored walking on a road for 5-6 hours.
We opted instead to do the hike to Czarny Staw Gąsienicowy, the second most popular trail; it's a hike on a proper trail and thus a bit more challenging in comparison to Morskie Oko, but still quite busy. It leads to a breathtaking alpine lake that even in overcast weather offers stunning panoramic views over clear blue waters. Bring your lunch to enjoy at the peak! There are also options to continue hiking from here to further lakes if you want a longer trek.
Czarny Staw Gąsienicowy HIKE DETAILS
When: hiking is typically permitted in Tatra National Park from June to October annually (due to snow); check which trails are open before you go
Where: Tatra National Park
Difficulty: intermediate for the first half to climb uphill, then relatively easy and flat across the mountain ridge to the lake
Length: 5-6 hours roundtrip for 12.2km
Directions: this hike starts in Kuźnice, at the base of the cable car. You can get to Kuźnice from Zakopane by shuttle. When you get off the bus and are facing the cable car, turn left and walk past the shops and toilets to find the park entrance. Park entrance fees are currently 6 PLN per person to access the trails. From the entrance gate, there are two possible trails, that both meet about half-way up the mountain, and then one trail all the way to the lake. You hike back down the way you came.
Bathrooms: yes, in Kuźnice (you’ll need some coins to use them though)
Public Transit: yes, take the shuttle bus from Zakopane to Kuźnice (currently 4 PLN per person each way, cash only)
POST-HIKE VEGAN FOOD IN ZAKOPANE
After your hike, there are plenty of food options in the mountain town of Zakopane to refuel at! If you're after plant-based goodness, while we found Zakopane to have the least amount of options out of everywhere we visited in Poland, there are four great places to try:
- Bar Górski - we didn't actually get to try this spot because it was temporarily closed while we were in Zakopane, but their menu outside has TONS of vegan pierogi options, the most variety we saw anywhere.
3. STRH Bistro Art Cafe - this place has a handful of vegan options on their menu; we mostly loved this place because it was also an internet café and since our AirBnB didn't have wifi, it was a godsend.