Kóscieliska Valleytatra mountains hiking trails
Time to walk: 3 to 5 hours (depending on side trails)
Starting point: Kiry (also our end point)
Entree fee: 5 PLN (2.5 PLN for kids)
Zakopane is a resort town located at the base of the Tatra Mountains, in the south of Poland. It is a popular skiing destination during winter and a good hiking base during summer, with around 275km (170mi) of hiking trails to discover.
After spending a few days in Krakow last year we rented a car and drove down to Zakopane. It is only a two-hour drive, which makes it a perfect destination for a day trip or an overnight trip to explore some of the Polish mountainside.
We booked an appartment in one the beautiful homes in the area, Willa Na Równi, of which the middle floor is entirely used to host visitors. Through the back gate you enter a park from which it’s only a 2 minute walk to Krupówki street, the main shopping and dining area of Zakopane.
The green trail
On our first day in Zakopane we drove to the village of Kiry, about a 15-minute drive, to enter the hiking trail. You can also take a minibus from Zakopane to Kiry (and back) if you don’t have a car.
The trail that we took was marked green. We followed it for about 1.5 to 2 hours, along the Kościeliski stream, after which we returned the same way back to Kiry. It is possible to walk even further to the Ornak Glade and/or explore some side trails during this walk, for example to Krakow Gorge or Mrozna Cave.
The best part about this trail, however, is that you don’t have to walk far to enjoy some of the best views this valley has to offer. The photo on the left was taken only five minutes into our walk.
Mapa Turystyczna is a great app and website to use to plan your hike. It will give you an idea of the distance and ascent/descent of all the trails in the Tatra Mountains. It’s in Polish, but I personally didn’t have any problems using it.
The area and its history and culture
The nearly nine-kilometre long Koscieliska Valley is built mostly from limestones, dolomites, slates and sandstones. The name is derived from the nearby village, Kościelisko. In the nineteenth century the valley was popular among treasure hunters and ore miners for its metals (mainly silver and iron ore).
The valley is also known for its sheep herding. There are several clearings where you will still find sheep grazing about. Some of the clearings turn into beautiful fields of crocuses during spring time. You will also find a few sheep herders huts here and there, which are still in use.
The Tatra Mountains houses plenty of caves, but only a few are open to tourists. One of them is the Mrozna cave, also called Frosty cave. It was formed due to a tactonic fracture in a limestone massif and was originally the underground source of the Kościelisko stream. It is the only cave provided with electricity.
When visiting Zakopane you will most likely end up on Krupówki Street at some point as this is the main street in town and houses many of the stores and restaurants. We were even able to find a place that offered vegan and gluten-free meals.
One of the key attractions of Zakopane and its surroundings is the unique culture of the Goral people, which you will notice especially during local festivities. Many gorals have maintained their customs, dialect and traditional costume. The goral music is one of their most distinctive successes.
Hopping on the Kasprowy Wierch cable car is one of Zakopane’s most popular activities. The cable car will take you up to the peak of the Kasprowy Wierch mountain. You will also be able to cross the border between Poland and Slovakia. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do this, because the cable cars were closed due to maintenance.
If you’re looking for other hiking trails in the area, I would highly recommend the Morskie Oko trail during spring or summer.