Hiking in Poland: the most beautiful trails in the Polish Tatra Mountains and Zakopane area for children, seniors and all who love nature
The Tatra Mountains (‘Tatry’ in Polish) – the highest mountains in Poland, located in the south of Poland and protected as national parkland – are part of the Carpathian Mountains. The town of Zakopane is in the heart of the Polish Tatra Mountains, serving as a starting point for hiking trails for amateurs as well as experienced hikers. The highest peak in Polish Tatras (Rysy) is 2,499 m but the mountains are rich in trails suitable for families with children (including toddlers), seniors and all those who love nature.
The Polish Tatras are covered by the Tatra National Park – one of 23 national parks in Poland – offering 275 km of marked hiking trails (click here to download a map of trails developed by the Tatra National Park) of varying difficulty: from very easy to extremely demanding and equipped with devices like chains, buckles, and ladders. You will find in the Tatra Mountains many well-marked trails of easy to moderate difficulty – perfect for beginners, usually half-day to one-day tours. Hiking trails in the Tatras are marked with five colors: black, red, green, blue, yellow. The colors do not indicate the difficulty of the trail.
Table of contents:
- When is the best time of the year to visit the Tatra Mountains and Zakopane for hiking?
- Do I need to buy a ticket to enter the Tatra National Park?
- How to dress for a trip to the Tatra Mountains?
- What time is best to go on the trail in the Tatras? And why is it early morning?
- Tips for hiking with children in the Polish mountains
- The top 3 hikes for beginners and families with children (stroller-accessible trails) in the Polish Tatra Mountains
Like every other main tourist attraction, Zakopane is crowded during high season (basically, summer break at Polish schools – from the end of June until August 31 as well as all so-called ‘long weekends’ in Poland, eg. May 1-3). If you choose to visit the Tatra Mountains during high season, there is one option to avoid crowds – set out on the trail early in the morning.
Although April is considered in Poland as a spring month, in the area of the Tatra Mountains it’s usually colder and on the majority of trails (even in the valleys), there is still snow, which makes hiking much harder and not so pleasant (muddy and slippery trails). Sometimes even at the beginning of May, the ski lifts at the Kasprowy Wierch Mountain still operate. The second half of May and the first half of June are good options – it is warmer, flowers start blooming, usually, in the lower mountains, there is no snow on the trails. On the downside, it’s also a season for school trips (it is difficult to pass them on the trail, if you come across a school trip in a mountain hut, all places will be occupied, etc.). Summer holidays (end of June until end of August) in Zakopane area mean usually long lines, packed restaurants and hotels, crowds of tourists in the most popular places.
September can be a nice option – it’s not so hot anymore and the autumn nature is beautiful. However, compared to May and mid-June, you will probably meet more people on the trails – school trips (as in May and June) plus university students (in Poland, students return to universities in October). The weather in the Tatra Mountains in October and November differs each year and is the great unknown – one weekend you can enjoy sunny weather and the other there is so much snow that it’s impossible to hike.
To enter the trail, you must have an admission ticket to the Tatra National Park. The ticket is valid for the whole day and gives access to all the trails. A regular ticket costs 5 PLN, reduced 2,50 PLN (students, seniors, people with disabilities), children up to 7 have free entrance. For longer stays, it is worth buying a weekly ticket. It costs 25 PLN (reduced – 12,50 PLN). Its main advantage is that you do not need to stand in line every time to buy a ticket. This is especially important with crowded trails (eg. Morskie Oko Lake) or during high season (if you have a weekly ticket you don’t need to stand in the line, it’s enough to show your ticket). Another option to skip the line is to buy tickets online. There is not always an internet connection in the park area – it’s recommended to buy online tickets before heading to the mountains. Ticket control at entry points can be done “offline”.
At the entrance to the most popular trails, you will find small ticket offices. When there is no ticket office at the entrance or it’s closed you can enter the park without a ticket (the Tatra National Park doesn’t have opening hours).
Of course, shoes are of key importance. And although you may not need super professional hiking gear, trekking shoes with thick soles will certainly facilitate walking and help avoid slipping or soaking your socks. Considering the variable and often rainy weather in the mountains, be assured that shoes can be muddy or even wet after the first trip. You need to have a spare pair of shoes if you plan a second, afternoon trip or if your shoes do not dry out until the morning. Sneakers, sandals or wellies are not recommended on the trail (even in the valleys) – you could stumble, feet get tired quickly in this kind of shoes, on stony trails it is too slippery for this kind of shoes. It’s good to have a rain jacket (very often the sunny weather in the morning changes into heavy rain, and the opposite) and a hat (many trails are not shadowed).
This is a crucial question you need to ask yourself and your companions;) The answer and your decision will affect the comfort and experience of the hiking expedition. Why? Tatras are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Poland and attract thousands of visitors each year. In the middle of the day, the trails are already crowded, which obviously impact the standard of hiking. If you set off on a trip early enough there is a chance you will see just a fraction of the people you will later in the day. Imagine you have the trail to yourself! How early? Set out on the trail when the rest of the tourists sit down to breakfast (obviously the sooner the better, realistically – aim for entering the Tatra National Park where all the trails begin, at about 7-8 am).
Select a trail ending with a hut (schronisko in Polish). You will have a chance to recharge your batteries there and offer your kids an incentive, eg. a famous apple pie (szarlotka) available in every Tatra hut.
With bigger children, it’s good to set an interesting goal of the trip – for example, a trail with caves (the Kościeliska Valley) or ending with a waterfall (the Strążyska Valley). Also, it’s a nice option to estimate your expeditions (time, mileage, elevation) with a smartphone application – kids will love to compare the trips and will want to break the record!
Pack plenty of light snacks (sandwiches, fruits) and lots of water (you will probably need more water than you think;) With smaller hikers and long ambitious trails – try to forget for a moment about healthy organic food for you kids and spoil them on the trail with some snacks they usually don’t get (it may be the only incentive working on a long monotonous trail…). Small treats like for example Tic-Tacs can do their magic and bring you to your destination (our little tip – keep it to yourself that you have them, otherwise your kids will ask for them the minute you start the hike. Use the magic goodies once the whining gets serious and give away rewards after passing a certain distance).
At the tickets offices, the huts and some of the souvenir stands in Zakopane, you will be able to buy a stamp book/passport. Children can stamp it at the ticket offices at the entrance to the trails and in the huts (different stamps at different trails and huts).
Take the pictures and watch them together in the evening – it will motivate the young hikers for the next day trip.
Start your hike early in the morning – it will allow you to take advantage of the energy kids have in the morning and to avoid the crowds as well as the heat of the day during the summer season.
Pay attention to what your kids want to wear and be brave to say no to shorts or skirts – long trousers are a must, otherwise, your kids will probably end up with a scraped knee. Another thing – dress in layers, like an onion (in Polish – ubrać się na cebulkę). In the Polish mountains, we can experience weather from all seasons in one day – be prepared for any weather in the Polish Tatras, especially in the spring and autumn. It’s a good thing to equip your children with small backpacks – let them carry their own stuff.
With smaller children, it’s worth having a carrier in the mountains. You do not need to buy a backpack carrier – you can rent them in Zakopane for a day or a week (in Polish: nosidełko turystyczne). Some of the hotels in Zakopane will rent it for you or you can Google the nearest rental in Zakopane (in Polish: Zakopane wypożyczalnia nosidełek). A backpack carrier will allow you to select more challenging longer trails. Make sure that there is a rain cover in the pocket of your carrier (it can come in handy with the unpredictable mountain weather).
The top 3 hikes for beginners and families with children (stroller-accessible trails) in the Polish Tatra Mountains
The Kościeliska Valley is one of the most picturesque valleys in the Polish Tatra Mountains. The trail leads along a comfortable wide path, very gently climbing up. It’s rather a long walk than hiking in the mountains. It’s suitable for everyone in fair hiking condition, including children and seniors. However, you need to take into account it’s a relatively long walk – it takes about 90 minutes one way. The Kościeliska Valley is a stroller-accessible trail (preferably with bigger wheels or air-filler tires).
The Morskie Oko trail leads to the largest lake in the Tatra Mountains called Morskie Oko. The route to Morskie Oko runs along an asphalt road (only at the end, there is a stony but passable road with strollers). It’s a relatively easy trail in terms of little elevation gain, a difficult trail in terms of mileage (16 km total, about 2 hours one way). Morskie Oko itself makes a very big impression, also on children – it’s a truly stunning lake.
The Strążyska Valley is the best trail in the Polish Tatras for a trip with children, for seniors or for beginner hikers. It is not very long, it stretches along the swift creek, on the way you will encounter a lot of bridges, boulders, small waterfalls where you can soak your hands – a lot is going on for a little (or bigger) weary tourist. The Strążyska Valley is an easy trail, especially in terms of the length of the trail (the whole trip back and forth takes a little over an hour). Compared to the flat Kościeliska Valley, the trail has a moderate elevation gain. At the end of the trail, the route gets a little steeper but the finishing-line (the Strążyska Glade/Polana Strążyska) is really close (depending on the model of your stroller, it may be necessary to carry it on a path with larger stones at the end of the trail).