Morskie Okotatra mountains hiking trails
Starting point: Palenica Bialczanska
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Entree fee: 5 zł per person
Parking: Palenica Bialczanska, 20 zl for the whole day
The Tatra Mountains are a popular skiing destination during winter and a perfect hiking area during summer, with around 275km (170mi) of hiking trails to discover. The Tatras are the highest mountain range in the Carpathian Mountains and form a natural border between Poland and Slovakia.
At the base of the Tatra Mountains on the Polish side lies the resort town Zakopane, which serves as a base for many wintersport and hiking fanatics all year round.
The most popular hiking trail in the Tatra Mountains is the Morskie Oko trail. This trail leads up to a beautiful lake “Morskie Oko” or “Eye of the Sea” in English. It is the largest lake in the Tatra Mountains.
How to get there
There are busses going from the center of Zakopane to the start of the trail and back. Or you can park your car at the start of the trail at the Palenica Bialczanska parking lot if you are lucky and arrive on time before the crowds. Otherwise you have to park your car a bit further away and you need to walk to the start of the trail.
What to expect
Make sure you arrive early to avoid crowds, especially during the summer. We were one of the first to arrive so the hike up to the lake was very peaceful. This allowed us to really take in the beautiful surroundings. Walking up to the lake takes about 2.5 to 3 hours. Walking back down will take about 2 hours. The hiking trail is mostly just a concrete road, but you can take little short cuts through the woods on some smaller paved paths. Next to the lake is a cafe where you can rest and have something to eat or drink. They don’t offer vegan meals, so all you fellow vegans should be prepared and pack something to eat.
Things to keep in mind
Please refrain from using the horse carriages to go up to the lake. There doesn’t seem to be any weight restrictions and I’ve read several stories about horses struggling a lot to pull the carriages. The road up to the lake is easy to walk, plus it’s cheaper :)
When to go
Be aware that even when you visit Morskie Oko during spring time there will still be a bunch of snow. The photos that are shown on this page were taken in May. The temperature was around freezing point and the lake itself was still frozen. If you want to see a deep blue lake surrounded by green trees then you must visit at the end of spring or during summer.
What to wear
You don’t need to bring special hiking gear for this trail. A good pair of trainers will do, especially if you choose to stay on the concrete roads. Make sure to wear layers though, as it gets noticeably colder the higher you get.
The valley in which the lake lies is called Rybi Potok (Fish Stream). Morskie Oko used to be called Rybie Jezioro (Fish Lake) because of the many fish (trout) that live in this lake. The name was changed to Morskie Oko (Eye of the Sea) because of an old legend, according to which the lake was connected to the sea via an underground passage.
When visiting Zakopane you will most likely end up on Krupówski 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 meals.
Where to stay in Zakopane
We booked a room/appartment in one of the beautiful local’s homes, Willa na Równi, of which the middle floor is entirely used to host visitors. Through the back gate it’s only a 2-minute walk to Krupówski Street.
Alternative hiking trails in the Tatra Mountains
The trail to Morskie Oko leads even further all the way to the top of Mount Rysy (the highest peak in the Polish Tatras) passing another beautiful lake called Czarny Staw. This hike is great for people who are looking for a bit more adventure. Other beautiful, less strenuous hiking trails are the Kóscieliska Valley trail and hiking along the ridge of the Tatras after taking up a cable car from Kuznice to the Kasprowy Wierch summit (although you can also hike up instead of taking the cable car).