Shared between Slovakia and Poland, the High Tatras (Tatra National Park – Vysoke Tatry) is the only “alpine” region in the Carpathia Mountain range. Think majestic, jagged peaks reaching skyward, turquoise lakes, waterfalls, mountain goats and crisp, fresh air and you have the Tatras. There are more than 100 alpine lakes, the most-visited mountain lake of which are the Strbske Pleso and Popradske Pleso, and several waterfalls. The biggest and deepest mountain lake is the Velke Hincovo Pleso, while the highest one is Modre Pleso.
The Tatras range is made of three parts – the Western Tatras, the central (High) Tatras and the Belianske Tatras. The residents of the Tatra National Park region live along the “Road of Freedom,” which joins the three sections together. You can visit the High Tatras from Poland or Slovakia – here’s your go-to guide for exploring.
What Are the Most Famous Mountains of the High Tatras?
The highest of the High Tatras, as 8,710 feet tall, is the Gerlachovsky Stit. It’s situated in Slovakia and is also that country’s tallest mountain. If you’d like to explore here, it’s best to get a skilled mountain guide to accompany you (in fact, it’s illegal to hike there alone).
The most-visited peak in the High Tatras is the Lomnicky Stit, at 8,642 feet. This one is accessible by cable car, making is easy for just about anyone to tackle its height. Atop this Slovakian pea you’ll find the Astronomical and Meteorological Observatory.
The most popular mountain in Slovakia is Krivan, at 8,182 feet, in the Western Tatras. Most avid Slovak hikers try to summit Krivan at least once in their lifetime. It is a symbol of freedom to Slovaks and traditional national walks are devoted to the Slovak National Uprising and local heroes.
What Can I Do in the High Tatras?
If you’re a winter sports enthusiast, the High Tatras are a fantastic destination for skiing and snowboarding. And if you’d like to soothe your weary muscles at day’s end, there are magnificent thermal pools under open skis, the most popular of which in Slovakia are AquaCity Poprad, Aquapark Tatralandia and Besenova.
Belianski Jaskyna, an impressive cave system in the Tatras, is the only one open to the public. Visits can follow the 4,494-foot-long path through the cave (including 860 steps) to admire flowstone waterfalls, pagoda stalagmites, pools and more, including the Musical Hall, so named for the tinkling sound of the water dripping onto the pool’s survace.
Hiking is obviously a huge draw in the High Tatras, open June 16 through October 31. If you are going off-trail, you are expected to be accompanied by a mountain guide.
Where Can I Access the High Tatras?
Visit the High Tatras from Poland or Slovakia from the access points of Poprad, Slovakia, the resort towns of Stary Smokovec, Tatranska Lomnica or Strbske Pleso, Slovakia. If you’d like to access the mountain ranges of Zapadne Tatry – Rohace, these are best accessed via Zuberec. From Poland, access the High Tatras from Zakopane, a large town in southern Poland near Krakow.
Is the Poland Side or the Slovakia Side Better in the High Tatras?
You’ll find, in general, that the Slovakian side of the Tatras is quieter than the Polish side. Your home base will be one of the smaller towns here – keep in mind, though, that it takes longer to get into the Tatras range in Slovakia.
To get away from the crowds, though, the longer drive is worth it. You’ll find fewer hikers and the lines for the various cable cars will be shorter. While there are many hiking options on both the Polish and Slovakian sides of the Tatras, you’ll find more variety on the Slovakian side – this is partly due to the fact that there are multiple cable cars, providing more access to hikers of all abilities. For instance, you can ride the cable car from Tatranska Lomnica to Lomnicky Stit, the third-highest peak in the Tatras – whisking you up to incredible heights and views you may not have been able to hike to on your own. You’re also able to hike to the peak of Pysy – Poland’s tallest mountain – from the Slovakian side of the High Tatras. And, if you hire a certified mountain guide, you can summit the High Tatras’ tallest mountain, the Gerlachovsky Stit.
Generally, if you want to just get a quick peak of the Tatras, you can take a day trip from the Polish side – Krakow or Zakopane. Public transportation is available from Zakopane.
For a quieter experience, and if you’re an avid hiker, visit the Slovakian Tatras for the small-town vibe, more hiking options and a more off-the-beaten-path feel overall.
How Do I Get to the Tatra National Park?
In Slovakia, you can drive to Poprad from Brastislava along the Vah River, north to Trencin and Zilinia, then turn east. The drive is about four hours. There is also bus service from Poprad to Bratislava, Kosice and Levoca. The bus is often the best way to travel between the smaller towns and villages of the Tatra mountain range in Slovakia. The Tatra Electic Railroad services all the major resort areas, including from Poprad to Stary Smokovec, Strebske Pleso and points in between.
Can I Stay in a Mountain Hut in the Tatras?
On the Polish side of the High Tatras, there is one mountain hike in the Five Lakes Valley. It’s the highest-located hostel in the Polish Tatras and one of the region’s most popular. You’ll need to reserve a bed here (there are 67) well in advance. It’s deep in the High Tatras and accessible only by hiking (no chairlifts or cable cars).
On the Slovakian side, you’ll have many a mountain hut to choose from in the High Tatras. There are hut to hut hiking tours if you’d like to string several together to get the most from your Tatra national park trekking holiday. Favorites include the pretty Popradske Pleso Hut on the north bank of the Popradske mountain lake, the new Majlathova hut and the Rysy hut, the highest hut in the High Tatra Mountains.