Although autumn in the mountains can be both sunny and colourful, often there are frosty nights and it may even snow. So if you are planning an autumn trip to Zakopane, you should be prepared for any kind of weather. If, however, you are caught by low temperatures, do not worry, but instead go to the market and buy an inexpensive, hand-made woollen hat, a pair of gloves, a sweater and beautifully embroidered furry slippers, which at the same time also make great souvenirs from your trip to the Tatras.
The Polish Tatras are divided into two areas that are very different – the rather more gentle Tatry Zachodnie (the Western Tatras) and Tatry Wysokie (the High Tatras), craggy and reminiscent of the Alps. I suggest visiting both:
Dolina Kościeliska (Kościeliska Valley) in the Western Tatras – minibuses to Kiry (the entrance to Kościeliska Valley) depart from the bus station in Zakopane located at ul. Kościuszki, 23 and from a bus stop opposite the railway station, which is across the street. A walk through Kościeliska Valley to the hostel on Hala Ornak (Ornak Alp) takes 2 hours if you follow the green trail. It is definitely worth sitting down for a moment at the hostel, ordering a cup of tea or coffee and a piece of delicious apple cake (interestingly, apple cake is served in all the hostels in the Polish Tatras) and having rest before making your way back to Kiry, following the same green trail. En route it is possible to follow the yellow trail for a short time which leads to Wąwóz Kraków (Kraków Gorge). More experienced hikers can continue through the gorge and then climb up the ladder to a cave called the Dragon’s Den (a torch is essential). If you wish to give the cave a miss, follow the path to the left and then take the track through the woods down to Hala Pisana (Pisana Alp). This addition to your walk takes about 45 minutes. You can return from Kiry to Zakopane by minibus – the bus stop is located a few metres beyond the bridge, on the left.
A cable car trip to Kasprowy Wierch – the boundary between the Western and the High Tatras runs through Przełęcz Liliowe (Liliowe Pass). To get there, you can travel in comfort by cable car to the top of Kasprowy Wierch. The lower station of the cable car is located at Kuźnice, 5 km from the centre of Zakopane, which is easily accessible by minibus or taxi. In the autumn the cable car operates from 9.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m.
Morskie Oko in the High Tatras – this is the most popular walk in the Polish Tatras, so you might want to set off early in the morning to stay ahead of the numerous school trips heading there in the autumn. Public transport departures are either from Zakopane bus station or the minibus stop mentioned above. The walk to the hostel at Morskie Oko takes approximately 2.30 hrs and is very easy (a paved road) but, unfortunately, not very exciting. Almost all of it is accessible by horse and cart, but I suggest you use this option only on the way down. After reaching Morskie Oko, which is the largest, and considered by many to be the most beautiful, lake in the Tatra Mountains at an altitude of 1,395 m. above sea level, with an area of 34.93 hectares and a maximum depth of 50 metres, you can either relax in the hostel, take an hour long walk around the lake or climb up to Czarny Staw (Black Pond), lying above Morskie Oko at the foot of Rysy (2,499 m.). Rysy is the highest peak in the Polish Tatras and the climb to its summit takes approximately 50 minutes. To return to Zakopane allow two hours if walking or one hour by horse-drawn cart.
An autumn afternoon can be spent taking a short walk to visit the old church (1847) and its historical cemetery located in ul. Kościeliska. There are many interesting tombstones, often decorated by local folk artists, including the very popular Podhale image of the Sorrowful Christ. It is also worth walking through the market at the foot of Gubałówka. The first part, called
Oscypek Alley, consists of a few dozen stalls which sell local cheeses, mainly the smoked sheep’s cheese known in Polish as oscypki. Further on, you can buy wooden souvenirs and a large selection of sheepskin products.
An autumn evening in Zakopane is best spent in one of the regional highland inns, of which there are several in the centre of Zakopane. Choose one in which a live highland band is playing. As far as food is concerned, I recommend our regional appetizers, either oscypek, smoked sheep’s cheese served with hot cranberries or moskol, a potato cake served with garlic butter. When it comes to drinks, the most popular on cool autumn evenings are either the mulled wine or the Highland tea (black tea with pure vodka or other spirits).