Zakopane is a small town found in the Tatra mountains, it is an undiscovered gem among tourists and loved by Polish families. This town is completely different than the rest of Poland, and a must visit if you have the time! I would definitely suggest a trip here for anyone who loves the outdoors, hiking and small traditional towns! A highlight of my time in Poland was hiking to Morskie Oko, a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. I have created this guide to help you plan your hiking trip to this amazing place!
Where is Morskie Oko?
Zakopane is a little town on the border of Poland and Slovakia, at the base of the Tatra mountains. Morskie Oko is a famous lake in Poland that locals visit and most tourists have never heard of it. This gorgeous lake is about 2.5 hours south of Zakopane and can only be reached by hiking. It is nicknamed the “eye of the sea” because it is the fourth deepest lake and the largest lake in the national park.
How to reach Zakopane and Morskie Oko?
You can take the bus or train from Krakow, it takes about 2.5 hours and in high season it can be longer since there’s only 1 main highway. I took Flixbus, it was a smooth ride and costs between 5-10 euros one way.
Go to platform 1 at the bus station ( Chramcówki 35, 34-500 Zakopane) you will find a line up of small buses/vans that will have signs on the front saying “Morksie Oko”. The drivers will be announcing their destination and you will hop on to the bus and the drive is around 20-30 mins. The ride costs 10 zloty each way and you pay in cash when you get off. There aren’t any formal schedules, trust me I asked and they weren’t helpful at the bus station. Once the bus is either full or mostly full the driver will leave. I got on the bus at 7am and it was quite full with early morning hikers. If you have rented a car you can drive here “Parking Morskie Oko – Palenica Białczańska” and park for a fee.
What to expect on the hike?
Once you arrive at the parking lot you will need to pay a small fee for entering the national park, for students it’s 2.5 zloty and adults it’s 5 zloty. From the entrance you will walk on a paved road for about 2 hours before reaching the lake. The hiking trail is well marked and fairly flat. About half way through you have the choice of taking a stone path up hill which will save you 10 mins or continue on the paved path. I took the stone path going up and it was hard to walk on and slippery because of the rain fall, overall not worth it.
If you have kids and don’t want to walk 2 hours with them they offer a horse drawn carriage to take you ¾ of the way. You still need to walk another half an hour to the lake, however I don’t think that carriage rides should be supported! It does costs 12 euro per person on the way up and 7 euro back down.
What hikes are possible?
Once you reach Morskie Oko you can either stop for lunch at the lodge or keep hiking to the next lake. Czarny Staw Pod Rysami, nicknamed the “black lake” is another hour from the chalet. The views are even better from here since you get an aerial view of Morskie Oko. Czarny Staw is a lake that feeds into Morskie Oko from a waterfall that runs down the mountain. From the lodge go left and you’ll walk down a stone path around half of the lake and then you’ll see a sign leading up to Czarny Staw. The hike up the mountain is a little difficult since the path is very steep and rocky but well worth it if you can manage! From this lake you can hike another 2 hours to the Rhys peak, which is the point where you’ll cross over into the Slovakian mountains.
Tips for first timers:
- Bring snacks and water because there’s only 2 places to buy food and water. The mountain lodge at the lake serves traditional Polish food and it’s delicious! There’s also a fast food restaurants 30 min from the lake but it’s not always open.
- If you are a solo traveller this hike is definitely do able! I did this hike solo and it was a great experience and everyone is super helpful and speaks a good deal of English.
- Don’t forget your Zloty, they don’t take cards for food, washrooms or transport. Also make sure the bills aren’t to large because they might not have change.
- I suggest taking an early bus around 7am to arrive at Morskie Oko by 10 am, you will be able to enjoy the lake with few people. By 11:30am when I came back down from Czarny Staw the lake was filled with hikers and school groups.
- Staying overnight at Morskie Oko is an option if you want to continue hiking to Slovakia the following day. Stay at the hostel at the base of Morskie Oko, it’s very affordable and book ahead in the summer months.
- Watch out for your safety and know your limits since getting a medical team here would be difficult and there is no cell service.
Hiking in the Tatra National Park was a highlight of my time in Poland. I can’t stress enough how beautiful this place is and it’s totally worth the trip.
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