Most people who visit Poland head to one of its many spectacular cities. And rightly so. From Poznań to Gdańsk, Warsaw to Kraków, Poland left us completely in awe. But, if you have the time, you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice by not heading down south to Zakopane, home to the Polish Tatra Mountains and some incredible hiking.
The Tatra National Park is breathtakingly beautiful, and can offer many days of hiking if the great outdoors is your thing.
At the very least, make sure you add a one-day hike to Morskie Oko Lake (and Czarny Staw for a bonus!) to your Zakopane itinerary.
If Morskie Oko and Czarny Staw lakes in the Polish Tatras look spectacular in the pictures, it’s even better in real life! Honestly, even though the photos look amazing, they really don’t do it justice.
So, yes! Definitely add Zakopane and the Morskie Oko hike to your Poland itinerary! I promise it will be more than worth it.
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How To Get To Zakopane From Krakow
The Morskie Oko hike is most accessible from Zakopane, a medium-sized Alpine style ski village in the south of Poland.
From Krakow, it’s really easy to get to Zakopane. Although train travel in Poland is fantastic, on this occassion I’d recommend going by bus. It’s faster and cheaper than train for this particular trip.
Buses leave Krakow bus station (just behind the train station) every 20 or so minutes. It will cost about PLN 22 per person (€4-6) and take around 2 – 2.5 hours to get to Zakopane from Krakow by bus.
There are multiple bus companies, all of which are more or less the same. During our time in Poland we travelled by Flixbus as well as Maxbus, and both were clean and comfortable.
You can easily buy tickets online, or head to the bus station to purchase a ticket from the counter. Alternatively, we saw plenty of people buy their bus ticket to Zakopane directly from the driver. As long as there’s space, there’s no reason not to do this.
Note: While it is possible to do a day trip to Zakopane from Krakow, and many companies offer tours, I would advise against this option unless you’re extremely short on time. Most of these day trips won’t allow you to do any hiking in Zakopane, which means you’d be missing the best part.
We headed to Zakopane from Krakow at lunchtime. This allowed us to enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in Zakopane and a full day of hiking the next day feeling relaxed and ready for adventure!
Read More: Check out the ultimate Krakow city guide for all the amazing things to do in this incredible Polish city!
How To Get To The Morskie Oko Hike From Zakopane
The rugged Tatra Mountains form a natural border between Poland and Slovakia. In fact, the Tatra Mountain range is shared between the two countries, and covers a massive area of 785km2 in total. There are countless epic hikes to choose from here, but Morskie Oko is certainly the most well known and popular on the Polish side.
Important: The Morskie Oko hike does not start from Zakopane town!
It’s actually another 25 km (40 minutes or so) to the start of the Morskie Oko hike from Zakopane. I say 40 minutes with caution though as the time it takes will depend a lot on the time of day and the season. More on this below.
Even so, unless you have your own car, Zakopane is most likely the best place to base yourself. Here, you’ll have your pick of accommodation and restaurants, as well as a multitude of mini-buses to take you to the start of the Morskie Oko hike.
We found it really hard to find any information about how to get from Zakopane to the start of the Morskie Oko hike anywhere online. But, don’t worry! It’s actually super easy!
Simply head back to the train/bus station where you arrived the day before, and you’ll find rows and rows of white buses ready to take you and the other thousand(s) of eager walkers up to the start of the hike. They’ll all have a Morskie Oko sign displayed in the windscreen and the drivers will wave you onto the first available bus.
Cost | The fee is PLN 10 per person one way. You pay in cash as you get off the bus at your destination. There’s no option to pay by card here, so make sure you have some local currency with you.
Schedule | Buses don’t have a set schedule – they simply go when they’re full. When it’s busy, it doesn’t take long to fill a bus so you’ll be on your way in a few minutes.
Duration | If you go early, the drive will take around 40 minutes. But, from around 8am you should expect the 25km drive to take 1.5 hours.
A Note On Duration;
As we had breakfast included in our accommodation, which didn’t start until 7:30am, we didn’t get a bus from the train station in Zakopane until about 8:30am.
This seems to be a very popular and busy time to go.
When we headed to the bus station at 6:30am the following day to catch an early bus back to Krakow, there weren’t nearly as many people waiting to get onto a bus to Morskie Oko yet. Still, we did see one leaving and another half full so if you’re an early riser and want to avoid the crowds, this might be a good time to go.
For us, it was smooth sailing initially. But with just under 4km to go to the start of the hike, the queues of traffic got insane!
When you read that Morski Oko is a popular hike and it gets busy, they aren’t joking! Thousands of visitors flock to Morski Oko every single day. The last 4km drive took us about half an hour…
But, trust me; Even though it will be tempting to jump ship and walk the last bit, stay the course and stick with your bus.
Firstly, because you’ll be walking plenty of kilometers on your Morskie Oko hike without the need to add any more!! And secondly, because the queues are for the car park right on the Poland-Slovakia border. Once you get past this queue of cars, the last 1.5km are clear and you’ll fly through it on the bus.
We caught up with people we’d seen walk past our bus earlier on and in the end we were glad to be fresh for our 20+km Morskie Oko hike!!
Morskie Oko Hike Overview
Your Morskie Oko hike starts from the Palenica Bialczanska car park. There will be a queue of people for the ticket counter, as you have to pay a PLN 6 entry fee per person for the Tatra mountains national park.
The line moves quickly though, and before long you’ll be on your way.
Pro Tip: Some counters are cash only (“Platność Tylko Gotówka”), while others take card (karta). Again, make sure you have some Polish Złoty with you for your Morski Oko hike.
During my research, I’d read multiple reviews online about how the 8km walk from the car park to Morskie Oko Lake was boring because it’s a paved road all the way. While I can see why some people might say that, I still really enjoyed the walk between the pines.
And yes, it really is incredibly busy. Like, super, crazy busy!! You’ll be sharing your walk with hundreds, if not thousands, of other people. But, we were prepared for this and actually didn’t find it too bad at all. We set off at quite a strong pace, and it was easy to pass other groups along the way.
The alternative is to take a horse and carriage ride to (almost) the top. It saves you about 7km of walking but honestly, it didn’t seem to be much faster than walking! And after all, you came to the Tatra mountains to go hiking, right?
Pro Tip: There’s a shortcut about halfway up that will lead you off the paved road and up some rocky steps. This cuts quite a bit of time off your walk as you avoid the big swings in the road. It’s steeper but not terribly so. Unless you have reduced mobility, I’d suggest you head up the steps.
Difficulty & Duration
The route up to Morskie Oko Lake (aside from the steps) has a gradual incline, and isn’t difficult. Obviously, how long it takes will depend entirely on your pace. We walked it in 1 hour 20 minutes. Officially, the route markers suggest it takes 2 hours 10 minutes. I think 2 hours is a very manageable time at a slow but steady pace.
Along the way, you’ll see a pretty waterfall about halfway up and pine forests all around. In the distance (if it’s a clear day) you’ll see the jagged peaks of the Tatra mountains.
There are three free toilet facilities on the hike up to Morskie Oko. These are portaloos and may or may not be to your liking…
Near where the horse and carriages stop, there’s a hut with a restaurant and toilet facilities, although these toilets are paid (PLN 3). I didn’t use them but presumably they’re cleaner than the portaloos.
If you decide to get an early start from Zakopane, and/or if your accommodation doesn’t include breakfast, this hut seemed like a good option for a decent looking breakfast at around PLN 20.
Part One: Walk Around Morskie Oko Lake
From the first lodge where the horses stop, it’s about another kilometer to Morskie Oko itself. If you didn’t stop earlier, you may want to pause here for some food and to use the facilities, although it will be pretty packed with people.
Either way, you’ll definitely want to pause to take in the view at this point. Because, my goodness, what a view!!!
Morskie Oko is indescribably stunning!
Note that there are no facilities of any kind after the wooden lodge on the shores of Morskie Oko. So make sure you do what you need to do before setting off on the next part of your hike!
Surrounded by the peaks of the Tatra mountains, and with blue-green water so clear you can see the fish swimming, Morskie Oko Lake is quite simply magnificent.
Once you’re ready, I absolutely recommend doing the walk around Morskie Oko lake. This adds about another 2.5km to your hike and will take around an hour. Although, you’ll want to stop often to take photos, so it might take a bit longer. The scenery is unbelievably spectacular.
Part Two: Hike Up To Czarny Staw pod Rysami Lake
Halfway around Morskie Oko Lake, you also have the option to climb up to the second lake, Czarny Staw pod Rysami.
If you’re at all up to it, do the climb.
Yes, it will likely be the hardest part of your day but I really can’t recommend it enough.
Arguably, Czarny Staw is even more beautiful than Morskie Oko and much less crowded. The added bonus is that you get some truly breathtaking views over Morskie Oko along the way (a good excuse to pause for breath!).
The walk up the rocky steps will take about half an hour, although it took us less than 20 minutes on the way down.
Full disclosure – I’m terrible with steep climbs!!! I’m pretty slow uphill at the best of times, and go bright red in the face. So yeah, I took my time but 30 minutes is certainly manageable.
Once we reached the top, we enjoyed a nice break and picnic on the shores of Czarny Staw.
I know I keep repeating myself, but the scenery here is indescribably beautiful. You could spend hours gazing around at the jagged peaks and the crystal clear, mirror like water of the lake.
We decided to walk part way around Czarny Staw Lake as well, to get away from the (admittedly smaller) crowds here.
But unfortunately, at some point you have to head back down.
The return is definitely faster as it’s essentially all downhill. Again, you could opt for the horse and carriage and we saw numerous people do this. It’s been quite a hike already after all!
Additional Hiking Options
From Czarny Staw, there is a further option to hike up to the peak – Rysy, which sits right on the Poland – Slovakia border. But, this is an additional 2 or so hours and not something I’d suggest doing in a day unless you had an early start, and you’re super fit!
Another option is to hike to the Five Lakes first, and then head to Morskie Oko and Czarny Staw after that, essentially doing a loop. Again though, this would be extremely tough to do in one day.
For both of these options, you’d want to look at booking an overnight stay in one of the mountain huts. There is some information online although it’s mostly in Polish. From what I understand, these book up well in advance so plan ahead if this is something you’d like to do.
Tips On What To Wear & Bring On Your Morskie Oko Hike
- Cash | You’ll need cash for the bus for sure (PLN 10 pp), and possibly for your entrance fee (PLN 6 pp) depending on which booth you end up at. Some places that sold food and drinks took card while others had signs saying cash only.
- Wear layers | The weather in the mountains can change quickly. The day before our hike, there’d been heavy rain and it was quite cool even down in Zakopane town (in mid-August). But once the sun comes out and you’re climbing those last steep steps up to the second lake, you’ll be very hot.
- Proper hiking shoes | While most of the way is tarmac, if you take the shortcut, and if you walk around Morskie Oko and up to Czarny Staw, the route is rocky and uneven. Although it had dried up by the time we got there, I can imagine these paths are slippery when wet! Good shoes are a must.
- Face Mask | Currently, because of COVID-19, you have to wear a mask on the bus and when you go into restaurants.
- Water | Bring plenty to stay hydrated. We didn’t see any refill stations along the way although I had read that they do exist… Of course you can buy more at the huts at the top but bring more than you think you’ll need.
- Food | We did stop for a late lunch at the lower hut on our way down but were glad to have some fruit, breadrolls and snacks to enjoy on the lakeshore while we took in the views. It’s a long hike so make sure you keep your energy up.
- Sun protection | A hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses are all a must.
- Camera | Of course… I’m sure this one is obvious. Even though it’s hard to capture the true beauty of the Tatra Mountains and the lakes, you’ll want to try!
- There’s no need to bring swimwear as you’re not allowed to swim in the lakes! Besides, even in the height of summer it’d be too bloody cold for any sane person anyway!!
Hotels In Zakopane
To make the most of your time in the Polish Tatras, you’ll want to stay overnight in Zakopane for at least 2 nights. It’s a lovely area, with a cute Alpine ski village feel (although it does get super busy!)
Accommodation in Zakopane is comparatively expensive though. You definitely get less value for money here than in other parts of Poland. But, it’s a necessary evil in order to be in the Zakopane mountains and have easy access to the hike to Morskie Oko.
We opted to go cheap and basic at OW Jaskółka, which still set us back €43 a night, including breakfast. The location was good though, as it was halfway between Zakopane town and the train and bus station. There are certainly much fancier options too, but we decided it wasn’t worth it as we’d be spending most of our time hiking anyway.
Where To Eat In Zakopane
The main drag in Zakopane, Krupówki Street, is definitely not the place to go to eat! This busy main street felt very touristy and seemed to have multiple chain restaurants. Our meal at one of them left a lot to be desired.
On our second night, after a bit of research, we opted for the independent restaurant at Helios Hotel – Zakopianski Smak.
(Side note, this hotel looks like a good mid-range accommodation option as well).
As it was our last night in Poland, we wanted to enjoy a final “proper” Polish meal and Zakopianski Smak delivered this for sure! We thoroughly enjoyed our potato pancake with beef ragout, and the spinach and cottage cheese pierogi dumplings. Prices are very reasonable and the food plentiful and tasty.
All in, we walked about 20km on our Morskie Oko and Czarny Staw hike. To say I was tired at the end of the day is an understatement and I slept like a log! But, it was 100% worth it.
Hiking in the Polish Tatra Mountains far exceeded my expectations.
If you have any doubts at all about whether it’s worth the trip to Zakopane, let me tell you now that there is absolutely no need to hesitate. The Tatra Mountains are one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and you definitely won’t regret it.
If you have any questions, or if you’ve been and have anything more to add, please leave me a comment below!
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