There’s nothing quite like some dramatic mountain scenery to remind you of nature’s immense Earth-shaping force – and Zakopane boasts plenty of majestic peaks. The crumpled folds of the Tatra Mountains loom large, making the town a big hit with hikers, nature photographers, and city slickers wanting to sample the great outdoors.
Whether you want to book a guided tour or go solo, we’ve picked some of the best areas to trek through. So, grab your backpack, pull on your hiking boots, and let’s get going!
Shhh. Beware of sleeping giant: Mount Giewont as seen from Strążyska Valley
A stroll in the Strążyska Valley feels like wandering through a fairy-tale land. One of the easiest walking routes in the Western Tatras, its flat stony paths are shielded by giant firs that hide shepherd huts, babbling brooks, and pretty cascades like the gently tumbling Siklawica Waterfall. There’s even a cute teahouse in the main forest clearing, where you can sip on refreshments while admiring the hefty sight of Mount Giewont. Resembling the profile of a sleeping knight, the rocky peaks are connected by a marked mountain pass that’s hugely popular during summer months.
Tatra National Park
The Polish Tatra Mountains: easily traversed on foot and endlessly photogenic
Only one fifth of the entire Tatra mountain range encompasses Polish territory (the rest lies in Slovakia), but this national park squeezes a lot into 20 hectares. UNESCO-listed for its biodiversity, the undulating green expanse is home to 10,000 plant and animal species. So, don’t be surprised if you spot lynx, marmots, and chamois while traversing the seemingly endless hiking trails, which lead you up rugged ridges and round picturesque lakes. You can also explore Wielka Śnieżna, a humungous limestone cave that stretches for 824 metres beneath Mount Małołączniak.
Can’t get enough of peeking at those peaks? Villa Nova pairs chic interiors with tantalising balcony-views of the Tatra Mountains.
Morskie Oko Lake
Morskie Oko flow: the Tatras’ largest lake makes a pretty day trip from Zakopane
Morskie Oko is the undoubted star attraction in the Valley of the Five Lakes. You’ll understand why once its glistening surface comes into view after an easy two-hour hike from Palenica Białczańska bus stop. Shielded by steep mountainsides and towering pines, the moraine lake suddenly appears before your eyes like a heavenly alpine oasis. This body of water has inspired countless Polish painters and poets down the centuries – not to mention the gaggles of summertime visitors that frequent its shore. For a smaller, oft-overlooked gem, carry on for another hour to the placid Czarny Staw.
After a day of trekking outdoors, the hot tub at the chalet-style Czarny Potok will have your name written all over it.
From Rysy with love: the snow-capped High Tatras or a Bond villain’s secret lair?
Two of Rysy’s three peaks lie across the Slovakian border, but the north-western summit is actually Poland’s highest peak. Although it’s 2,503 metres tall, you can scale its rough-hewn top on foot without a guide, as the trail is clearly mapped out. It does get trickily steep in parts, but this doesn’t seem to deter many ramblers – there’s always a steady stream of hikers clambering up the craggy route in search of ever-more epic views of the High Tatras.
Kasprowy Wierch Mountain
Kasprowy Wierch’s summit boasts heady vistas of the Tatra Mountains and Zakopane
With snow draping its slopes up to seven months a year, it’s no surprise that Kasprowy Wierch is Poland’s premier skiing spot. Come summer, though, the mountain draws flocks of day-trippers angling for a gawk at the panoramic views from its summit. Hiking up to the near-2,000-metre peak from Zakopane takes about three hours – which is as long as the cable-car waiting time – but with a gentle incline all the way, it’s very doable for most visitors. Plus, you’ll get to fill your lungs with fresh alpine air while wandering the rugged gravel trail.
Where to stay? Ski resort during winter, hiker’s hub in summer: Rezydencja Nosalowy Dwór provides slick family-friendly facilities and easy access to Kasprowy Wierch Mountain.