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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Poland's Tatra National Park

Updated: Dec 8, 2021

During our time in Poland we had been looking forward to our time in the Polish Tatra Mountains, which is part of Tatra National Park near Zakopane. This is a popular destination for Polish tourists to visit as well, but we didn’t realize how crazy the busy season would be there! We lived near one of the busiest mountain towns for the past 10 years – Banff, AB. However, we NEVER experienced anything like the crowds or traffic that we did in Poland's Tatra National Park.

Sheep in the fields on the outskirts of Zakopane, Poland

Traffic was Insane

The biggest volume issue was the traffic! A simple drive that was only 20-25 km would take twice the amount of time that it normally should. I feel like we spent a significant amount of our time in the car just trying to get from place to place or out to a hike. One day we thought we’d head away from Zakopane and go to Chocholowskie Termy in Chocholow. However, we got to about 6 km away and we were basically at a snails’ pace for the next 15 minutes. Later we figured out the congestion was just the vehicles trying to turn into the parking lot.

The next day we decided we would try a hike that originated from the Morskie Oko parking lot. Bad idea – it is the most popular hiking trail in all of Zakopane. Instead, there was congestion for about 6 km back and we were at a full standstill around 4 km out. The GPS was estimating that it would take about 35 minutes to go that last 4 km. At that point, we decided it wasn’t worth it and headed to a different hike. This was all traffic during the weekdays in July (not even weekend traffic).

Our GPS telling it will take us 34 mins. to go just less then 4 km to Morskie Oko

Easy Hiking Trails are Packed

We did three hikes while in the Polish Tatras; and all 3 hiking paths were packed with people hiking. (Even when it was raining!) Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate for us for the majority of our trip and it was rainy and foggy for 3 out of the 4 days we where there. Therefore, the first two hikes we didn’t get the views expected (albeit mysteriously foggy ones) and the third started out crowded, but then ended up being a rewarding hike.

These are a brief break down of the hikes we did with kids at Poland's Tatra National Park:

Dolina Strazyska Trail

This is a great little trail for young kids as it is pretty easy and quick for them. The trail goes through the valley (Dolina means valley) and it is mainly a gravel trail along the stream. It is 1.3 miles to the waterfall and is an out and back trail. There is only paid parking surrounding the park and cost 30 PLN (Approx. $8 USD). The National Parks in Poland also differ from North American parks, as you pay to hike at the entry of the trail but there is no overall entry fee to the park. The hiking cost is only 5 PLN (about $1.50 USD) per adult and 2.50 PLN per child. There is also a little hut just before the path continues straight to the waterfall that sells refreshments and other snacks. The hike should only take about 40 mins there; however, our kids like to play along the way so we probably took closer to 50 mins. to reach the end before heading back down.

We thought we had just dodged the rain, when as we were just starting to see some clouds clear at the mountain tops it started to rain. Connor wasn't too impressed and swore he would never do a hike again....until the rain stopped and he thought it was fun again! Lol.

Heading back in the Rain from Dolina Strazyska

Wielki Kopieniec Trail

We definitely picked the wrong day to do this hike, as the weather was foggy and rainy. If you're looking for the views of the valley below, definitely try do this hike on a day when it is not raining, as we could barely see 30-40 ft. in front of us at the summit. However, it provided a mysterious element to it with the fog.

Our view from the summit of Wielki Kopieniec on rainy Day

When we arrived and park there was actually no parking fee related to this hike, so that was great. The cost for the hike was the same as the others - same for all hikes in Tatras National Park. Although the summit was not visually appealing for us due to the weather, the trail was quite scenic on the lower portion and also follows along the river for portions of the trail. The run-off from the mountain also trickles down the rock trail, so the kids enjoyed that part skipping from rock to rock.

There is the option to do a full loop, but just doing the hike to the field with the sheds in them and hiking up to the summit was enough for the kids. Right before you get to this field there is quite a steep section that was pretty steep for little legs. Plus, with the rocks being wet, it added a slippery element to it for added difficulty.

Steep Section with big rocks.

They say it should take about 1 hr. 30 minutes on the way up, but for us it was probably closer to 2 hrs, same on the way back down.

Dolina Koscieliska & Szlak Pieszy Zolty Trail

The rain and fog finally let up for our final day in the Polish Tatras and we decided to conquer the Dolina Koscieliska hike. This was actually our second choice of a hike that day, as the line up to the hiking area of Morskie Oko was insanely backed up. The parking here was 30 PLN and there were several lots to choose from. While it was definitely less busy than Morskie Oko, it was still very busy. After paying our admission to hike, we started up the gravel trail through the valley. We were able to see the surrounding mountains which was great, but the trail was quite crowded. They also have a horse and carriage that people can hire out to take them up or down the trail. There are a few points along the way that you can stop at the river that runs along the trail to throw rocks, have a snack, etc.

Dolina Koscieliska Hike

The second part of the hike took you on some bridges and pathways through the gorges, which were scenic. If you just hike this portion, they say it should take about 1 hr. 40 mins. to walk the 5.5 km and then same for the way back. It took us longer than that.

Szlak Pieszy Zolty - Side Trail of Dolina Koscieliska

However, on the way back we took the side trail of Szlak Pieszy Zolty. Up until this point, the kids had been complaining about the hike being boring (plus this was their 3rd hike in 4 days), but as soon as we reached the canyon beds their attitudes completely shifted. They were climbing, exploring and having a good time!

Hiking through the Canyons of Szlak Pieszy Zolty

We climbed through the canyon and then came out on the other side and saw a ladder that we’d have to take to continue on with the trail. We had never come along a ladder on a hike before, but we thought we'd give it a try.

Approaching the ladder portion of Szlak Pieszy Zolty

Once we got to the top of the ladder, there were chains we had to use to get to the cave at the top. This wasn’t too bad, but then we had to take another set up chains to go up and around the cave. Clara (7 years old) did great climbing on these rocks. It was a little tougher for Connor (4.5 years old) as the rocks were still slippery. However, we kept a hand on him at all times and told him to hold onto the chains and he made it up! We later discovered that you could also take the chain up through the middle of the cave.

The hike back down was a little muddy because of the recent rain, but once you reached the meadows it was very scenic.

We would highly recommend leaving the main trail and headed off on one of these side hiking trails. It greatly decreased the crowd as well.

Chocholowskie Termy - Thermal Hot Springs Park

On one of the rainy days in the Zakopane area, we spent the afternoon at Chocholowskie Termy - a thermal hot springs park in Chocholowskie. It was a great idea in theory, but I think everyone else had the same idea. Not only did we wait in the car line up to get into the parking lot, but then we ended up waiting in line for probably about 30 minutes to even purchase our ticket. They have different price options based on how long you think you stay, we ended up purchasing the 4 hour ticket and stayed for almost the whole time.

The complex is quite large! They have many, many different little hot thermal hot tubs, and then several larger pools as well that are all heated water. There were also indoor and outdoor pool options, as well as upstairs and downstairs. However, the pools were still full despite the large number of them.

They also had 2 full sized water slides, as well as a couple of slides for younger kids and then a splash zone area for the really young kids. However, 4-year-old Connor wasn’t able to go on hardly any of the slides because he wasn’t quite tall enough (I believe it was at least 120 cm); so that was a bit disappointing for him because he loves slides. The larger slides also used tubes, but because of the amount of people it took about 50-60 minutes to wait in the lines – first to get the tube and then second to line up to go on the slide.

Beautiful views on our final night at our Airbnb after the rain clears up.

I can see why the Polish Tatras are very popular – they are very BEAUTIFUL and it is very green. However, I would highly recommend to visit in the off-season or pack your patience as Poland's Tatra National Park brought lots of waiting in lines.

Stay tuned for our experience on the Slovakian side of the High Tatras - it was a very different experience. And in our opinion, a better choice to see this beautiful mountain range.

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