The Tatras are Poland’s only alpine-type mountains, indeed forming the highest part of the huge transboundary arc that is SE Europe’s Carpathian chain. They cover just 785 km2, being only 57 km long in a straight line, and as little as 19 km wide. Yet they have a true mountain feel about them, rising to their highest elevation at 2654m Gerlach, on the Slovakian side. The Tatras are (...) conventionally divided into the Western Tatras, High Tatras and White Tatras. As has been implied, they form part of the state border between Poland and Slovakia that leaves just one-fifth (175 km2) on the Polish side, albeit with several fragments of extreme beauty and a highest summit – the north-western apex of Rysy – at an impressive 2499 m a.s.l.
The climate here is that of mountains in the temperate zone, and there are marked high-mountain features. Snow covers the higher slopes, ridges and peaks for 7-8 months of the year and a strong (warm) föhn-type wind called the halny blows at regular intervals. (...)
But perhaps the most characteristic feature of the Tatra landscape is the vertical zonation of vegetation types. This promotes biological diversity, such that the Polish part alone supports over 10,000 plant and animal species. Around 1000 of these have their only Polish sites here. The best-known animals are the brown bear, chamois, alpine marmot, lynx and golden eagle. While spruce is the dominant tree, there are also beeches, firs and arolla pines. A typical Tatra plant, uniquely forming its own vegetational layer here, is the dwarf mountain pine, while besides it we may find various gentians, edelweiss and crocuses.
1954 brought the establishment of the Tatrzański Tatra National Park, tasked with the protection and preservation of the area’s nature. Facilitated access for responsible tourists is a further goal, and the visitor has some 250-km of marked trails and 8 huts shelters to choose from.
by Maciek Krupa for mini-guide
A TRIP INTO THE TATRAS
While in Zakopane, it is a must to take the cable car to Mount Kasprowy (1987 m asl), both in summer and winter this is one of the most popular local attractions for both the adults and especially the kids. In winter time, there are two chair lifts operating in Mt. Kasprowy and two skiing pists for advanced skiers and snowboarders.
Strążyska Valley, can easily be reached from the centre of Zakopane. Those who are not that fond of hiking, or with kids, will make it to the end of the valley after some 40 minute's walk to see the Siklawa waterfalls and taste tea in the local shelter, to rest at the foot of the imposing Mount Giewont. I recommend this trip also in winter time, it is then worth renting sleighs for the kids, as on the way back to the town they will have a great fun slipping down the valley.
Nordic Walking in the Strążyska Valley - click to see the offer >>>
Other places worth recommending and easily available to less experienced and keen hikers are Morskie Oko lake (as beautiful as popular, it is recommended to start your hike quite early in the morning (in July and August even before 8.00 am!) to avoid enormous crowds later on in the day), Kościeliska and Chochołowska Valleys. There are horse carts, carriages and sleighs available for transportation in all of the above making it even more accessible for almost everyone.
Worth to know:
The Tatra National Park (TPN) was founded on 1954, has a surface of over 21.000 ha and is one of the largest national parks in Poland.
Worth to know:
the world's first statue for the protection of particular animal species was initiated to protect Tatran mountain goat (kozica) and Tatran marmot (świstak). In 1968 Regionail Parliament in Lwów passed an act prohibiting hunting of these animals.