If you take away nothing else from this page: please follow the 7 principles of Leave No Trace whenever hiking (and all the time, actually – most are pretty good general life tips, too):
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Now, on to the hike. Here are the quick facts:
- Where: the Polish High Tatras
- More specifically, where: Zakopane, Poland is the closest city. The parking areas are called Łysa Polana and Palenica Białczańska, right near the border of Poland and Slovakia.
- Distance and elevation: there are several variations, but ~17 miles (27 km) RT with ~4,000 feet (1,200 meters) elevation gain if you do the valley, Krzyzne Pass, and Morskie Oko
- Highest point: 6,920 feet at Krzyzne Pass
- Why you should hike this trail: multiple alpine lakes, waterfalls, and a stunning view from the pass overlooking the Valley of the Five Polish Lakes
- Fee or permit? Other than parking fee or reservation, no
- Best time of year: July – September
- Head up to Krzyzne Pass for a stunning view overlooking the valley
- When going up to the valley and the trail splits, take the green trail to see Poland’s highest waterfall
- If you have time, head over to Lake Morskie Oko to tack on another beautiful alpine lake (but expect crowds)
- Don’t forget to pay for parking in advance (more info below)
Many people haven’t heard of Tatra National Park. If you have, there’s a good chance it’s because of its most famous lake, Morskie Oko (“Eye of the Sea”). However, I think the Valley of the Five Polish Lakes (Dolina Pięciu Stawów Polskich) should get top billing. Luckily, they are close to each other so you can see both in a day. If you have time and the ability, also head up to Krzyzne Pass for an unbelievable view overlooking the valley. This hike is broken down into 3 sections:
- Parking lot to the Valley of the Five Polish Lakes (~6 miles one-way from Łysa Polana, 2,275 feet elevation gain)
- Up to Krzyzne Pass and back (4 miles RT from the valley, 1,700 feet elevation gain)
- Valley of the Five Polish Lakes to Morskie Oko and back to the parking lot (~9 miles one-way to Łysa Polana, 2,800 feet elevation loss)
You can do this hike any way you’d like:
- All of it, in the order above (17 miles)
- To the valley and back (10 miles)
- To the valley, Krzyzne Pass, and back (14 miles)
- To the valley, Morskie Oko, and back (13 miles)
We did this as part of a weeklong trip to Poland and Slovakia (see our full trip report here) and spent several days in Tatra National Park. I wouldn’t recommend hitting all 3 areas in 1 day – book a night at one of the best mountain huts in the world, right in the valley if you can!
Parking lot to the Five Polish Lakes Valley
The site to pay for parking is in Polish but can be changed to English: https://tpn.pl/zwiedzaj/e-bilety. Łysa Polana is the name of the first lot, which is right at the intersection of routes 960 (on the Polish side, called Droga Oswalda Balzera) and 66 (on the Slovakian side). You’ll park here if you don’t have an overnight reservation to stay at one of the huts in the park. Palenica Białczańska is the second lot that is closer to the trailhead but be prepared to show your reservation if you want to park here. Take off 0.75 miles each way from the mileage above if you are parking here. If you’re staying in Zakopane, you can buy tickets for a shuttle that will take you to this lot.
No matter where you’re going first and where you parked, you’ll follow a rather boring paved road towards Morskie Oko. You may have to share it with horses, as some people take a ride to get to the lake. After about 2.75 miles from Łysa Polana (2 miles from Palenica Białczańska), take the well-marked trail to the right that directs you with an arrow to Dolina Pięciu Stawów. This is where the elevation gain starts and it’s a steady climb to get into the valley. Eventually you’ll come to a split in the trail with the green trail continuing on and a steeper “shortcut” option on the black trail to the left. Both take you to the same place, but if you take the green trail you’ll pass the Siklawa waterfall.
You’re very close to the valley when you get to the waterfall, and even if you’re not staying at Piec Stawow you can stop in and get something to eat or drink. There’s plenty of scenery to admire and lakes to walk around and you can head up to Krzyzne, down to Morskie Oko, or head back the way you came.
Up to Krzyzne Pass
To head up to Krzyzne Pass from the hut, walk to the second lake, further into the valley, on the blue trail. Those two main lakes are almost connected – it will be very easy to follow and know where you’re going. You’ll see a sign for the yellow trail that only goes one way (to the right) which will take you to the pass. The elevation gradually increases as you’re traversing across the incline. Then you’ll come to an “end” of sorts where the trail shoots straight up to the left.
That’s the way, and it’s nothing but steep and straight from there until you get to the pass and can look over the other side.
Return back down the same way and enjoy the amazing view in front of you the whole way down.
Once you get back to the valley, you’ll see the same signposts directing to you the different points of interest and can either take the green (or black) trail back to the parking lot or the blue trail to Morskie Oko.
Five Polish Lakes Valley to Morskie Oko
From the hut, instead of descending back the way you came, the blue trail curls around in a clockwise direction. There is a little bit of an ascent initially and Morskie Oko will come into view once you’ve fully rounded the curl.
You can see the path towards the bottom of the photo above and it’s very easy to follow from the valley. The views get even better as you get to the lake’s edge, which is about 3 miles total from the mountain hut.
There is a one-mile loop around the lake, and if you’re really ambitious you can take the red trail up to Czarny Staw pod Rysami to get an overlook of Morskie Oko and tack on another lake. We did not do this, but almost exactly halfway around Morskie Oko the red trail heads up along a steep, rocky trail.
To get back to the parking lot, follow the red trail/road the whole way back. Eventually you’ll re-join the same paved road you took on the way in. Keep in mind that the hike to Morskie Oko is very, very popular (read: overcrowded) so you’ll see lots of people of all ages and much more in general on this stretch. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to head to Morskie Oko very early and do this in reverse, to beat the crowds as much as possible. As always, leave a comment below if you have any questions!