Should you bring ski or hiking boots to Poland's secret wonderland? - Zakopane
Updated: Jul 16
Most travel guides begin or end with Warsaw and Krakow, but just two hours south of Krakow resides Poland’s ultimate hikers secret – Tarta mountains, Zakopane.
This place is every hiker and skier’s paradise, with the perfect combination of crowd-free hikes alongside accessible and budget-friendly skiing in all of Eastern Europe. With incredible alpine views and lift tickets topping as little as $35, this makes it a too good of a deal not to pass up.
So, get your hiker or ski boots on and explore Poland’s secret winter wonder!
As the only alpine range in Poland, it is situated on the border of the Tatra National Park. With rich and unique flora and fauna of pinewood trees, wildflowers, bears, wolves, wild cats and marmots, there is no surprise in earning the title as one of UNESCO's biosphere reserves. With overshadowing ranges of Beskidy in the east and the Karpacz mountains facing west, they surge like daggers of rock and snow along the border. The trails go all the way to the edge of their Slovakian neighbours, with stunning alpine views you may be tempted to take it further to the Slovakian border.
To get to Zakopane you can either book a Flix bus or https://sklep.szwagropol.pl/, from Krakow Glowny station, taking as little as 2.5 hours depending on the traffic and a ticket can cost around 5 euros per pax depending on the bus company.
The best times to go hike are from July to October when the majority of the trails are ready to explore. In saying this, it is a busy time and can quickly become a hot touristic day spot. My advice would be to time it during September and early October when it’s a lot quieter, allowing you to take in all the alpine beauty to yourself.
When I went during this time for an Autumn hike, I not only got to capture the rich autumnal colours but something better. The snow had fallen early, presenting me with its true winter wonderland - surrounded by pristine frozen lakes, snow-capped jagged peaks and playful snowball fights high up in altitude.
Spoilt for hiker’s choice, it may be nearly impossible to cover all of the incredible trails on offer. Having said this, my two must not miss hikes include the trail to Tatra’s hidden mystical snowy-capped lake Czarny Staw Gasienicowy, hidden in between two mountains higher up.
Another is the infamous Lake Morskie Oko, now you may be thinking to pass it up due to its popularity but as the ‘Eye of the Sea,’ it is the largest in Tatras at 852 metres in length. It’s around a two-hour circuit walk through the area’s seemingly untouched and unspoiled surrounding, it truly is the mother of all lakes in the world – authentic, genuine and breathtaking.
Other must-do hikes include:
Kasprowy Wierch peak - intermediate, 7-8hrs, 16km
Trzydniowiański Wierch peak - intermediate, 7hrs, 18.5km
Grześ & Rakoń peaks - intermediate, 8-9hrs, 23 km
Szpiglasowy Wierch peak- advanced, 9-10hrs, 24km
Giewont – beginner to intermediate, 5 -6 hrs
Zawrat – advanced, 6-8 hrs , 15km
Bystra Lavka - intermediate, 6-8, 15.8km
Green Lake - beginner, 4-8 hours, 8.5km
Hot tip: Download Wikiloc or MapOut app and ask locals their preferred secret hikes!
Now as any solo traveller knows, there is a fine line between loneliness and blissful solitude. Although Zakopane embodies that blissful feeling and even more, there is no harm in residing at a social yet cosy wooden cabin house, Goodbye Lenin. Family run and tucked away in the middle of the forest, it resembles very much of one of those dream eco-houses on Instagram. With a cosy living space to play board games, read books, play music, makes it a highly social yet relaxing place attracting hikers and travellers from all levels and backgrounds.
As soon as I arrived I was invited to go to town to explore local museums and let’s not forget their playful cat that enjoyed curling up in bed beside you. It felt like a home away from home and will likely soon become one of your favourite hostels in Poland.
Although Zakopane may not be able to compare to the challenging terrain of the Swiss Alps, it certainly offers good value for money, not to mention if the perfect place to start for first-timer ski bunnies.
Having said this I have outlined top 3 ski resorts to try out:
Kasprowy Wierch – most popular, 2 chairlifts, 3 black runs
Polana Szymoszkowa – easy access, 2 chairlifts & various runs
Bialka Tartzankska - largest ski field just outside Zakopane, 11 lifts & 22 groomed pistes, more intermediate runs
If you really want to turn your adrenaline up a notch, Zakopane also offers snowmobiling tours one of which is SnowSafari https://www.snow-safari.pl/. Allowing you to explore the wild Polish alpine landscape faster and higher up!
By Alex Morgo via https://www.instagram.com/alex_morgo/
But even if you’re not into any of those activities, Zakopane has a lot to offer. You could take the Kasprowy Wierch cable car taking you up to 1987 metres of Kasprowy Wierch overlooking the charming city. Also, you could visit Koscieliska street, where you’ll discover a lovely wooden house and churches in Zakopane if not visit their quirky upside-down house and unique museums. These locations are easy to get to, thankfully for local minibuses leaving every half hour with fares costing as little as 3 PLN (0.70 euros).
By Alex Morgo via https://www.instagram.com/alex_morgo/
Although Zakopane is slowly gaining popularity you never feel as if you are just another tourist, tucked away in the captivating Tatra mountains it appears somewhat untouched and authentic.
It is a destination that has it all, for young and old, for winter adrenaline junkies and nature lovers and for those wanting to get a taste of Eastern Europe’s most scenic hidden gem.
So remember to mark this Polish alpine wonderland on your bucket list!
By Marika Suzuki