The beautiful Tatra mountains

The beautiful Tatra mountains
Zakopane Day Tripper


Treks from the main street

View of the Tatras from Gubalowka Ridge

Gubalowka Ridge

So, you have arrived in Zakopane want to go out and explore. Where should you go first? Really, this very much depends on your interests, levels of fitness and the time of year. 
Let's assume you have arrived in the summer and want to get into the fresh air. If you have ventured onto the main drag Krupowki street, then you might be feeling a little overwhelmed by the volume of people parading up and down it! Panic not! There are some easily accessible options for you explore and get a handle on the situation of the town.
Krupowki Cheese Seller
The first option will not immediately extract you from the waves of hordes, but persevere, as it will, if clear, let you experience a fine panoramic view of the Tatra mountains (strictly speaking Zakopane mostly sits at the foot of the Western Tatras). It would be a good idea to purchase a map of the Zakopane area such as the one below. These have the key in various languages, and mark out all the local trails in colour. Usual cost is around 12 zl are available at various stalls down Krupowki street.
The trails, like most mountain trails the world over are indicated in reality with regular markers painted on rocks and trees at the side of the paths. Please note, the colour of the trail has nothing to do with difficulty. For example, black trails are not the most difficult!!
Tatra trail marker
The first option for an opening trek is to simply walk in a downhill direction on Krupowki Street. At the foot of the street there is an underpass on your left. Descend and walk towards the huge market area. Keep on the main walkway through the market and you will eventually arrive at the base station for Gubalowka finnicular. Be warned, in summer, it is a tad swarmed, but hold your nerve, and purchase a return ticket from the window on the right inside the entrance. In winter, it is much calmer. At the top of the finnicular you will land amongst some more "tat" stalls, restaurants, inns and barbecues. This is Gubalowka ridge. From the top station, take a left along what is in fact a single track public road. This is hard to believe, since it is sandwiched between various stalls. However, keep striding along this road and things quieten down nicely. To your left you will feast on a wonderful panoramic view of the mountains. 
Views from Gubalowka
Views of Zakopane

Sporadically you will happen upon the odd chalet style Karczma (country inn/restaurant) if you fancy a refreshment. There are also 2 chairlifts along this route (one at Szymoszkowa and the other at Butorowy Wierch). An option could be to buy a single ticket for the finnicular and use one of the chairlifts to descend.
Rural life on Gubalowka
If you are feeling you would like to continue your walk, then there is a black trail that continues along the ridge. This is a wonderful walk, affording great views, and will give you a great feel for rural Zakopane life. A small point to note is that if you tackle this trail in spring just after the snow has melted, the trail itself is very rutted, muddy and flooded in places. However, this can be easily avoided by walking on the outer edges of the track instead. Best place to descend the ridge is when you come to an open alpine meadow called Mietlowka with a ruined chalet in the middle of it. A trail will take you down through woodlands to Kierpcowka. Follow the road until it reaches Koscielisko. There is a very impressive wooden church at the junction onto the main road worth a visit. If your feet are aching, then you can catch a bus back to Zakopane at the stop further down the road. The buses are usually minibuses. Simply hop on and pay the driver when you are leaving. The fares are excellent value (around 3 zl).

Dolina Białego, Sarnia Skała, Dolina Strążyska and Schronisko Kalatówki

Another opening trek option is to venture south from Krupowki along ul J Pilsudskiego towards the foot of the mountains and the ski jumping area Pod Skocnia. En-route, if it is clear, you will be rewarded with open views across meadows to Giewont Mountain. Locally this massif is referred to as the "sleeping knight" who is meant come alive and rise up should Poland ever be threatened. It would obviously have to be some event of apocalyptic proportions, since he never so much as twitched during the Prussian invasion, World War 2 or the annexation of Poland into the Soviet Empire! That said, you really can pick out the face and rib cage of knobbly bloke in the supine position.
Giewont - The Sleeping Knight
The ski jump attracts hordes also, but there are some worthwhile orientation forages along trails accessible from here. Also a lovely cake/coffee/drinkies chalet on the right just before the jump.

Ski jump with jumper in action
In low season, the trails from here are wonderfully refreshing and reasonably quiet and would satisfy those who are reasonable hikers. There is a black trail named Droga Pod Reglami that skirts along the edge of the forest, and what is also in fact the foot of the mountains. After about 10 minutes from the ski jump, the trail hangs left and passes the opening for the Dolina Białego (Dolina means valley).
If you are looking for a walk which is reasonably strenuous and would take around 4 hours, then pay your national park entrance fee at the wooden hut and venture up the valley following the yellow trail. This trek is rejuvenating, as the rushing river it crisis crosses provides a soothing accompaniment. You could simply walk as far up the valley as you feel capable of and return back out the same route. However, there are two rewarding hikes as you progress further up. 

Trekking Dolina Białego in winter
Dolina Białego

The trail starts to ascend fairly steeply and winds its way eventually to a col named Czerwona Przelecz. From here you have the option of climbing up Sarnia Skała which is signposted at the saddle, and literally takes 10 minutes. It affords great views of the Zakopane area and the imposing rock walls of Giewont.

Sarnia Skała views
From Sarnia Skała, retrace the trail back to the col, and progress downwards following the signs for the Dolina Strążyska. The trail is a fairly steep descent. Be warned, in early spring, the rocks can be ice coated and treacherous. Bring crampons if possible or ice grips/studs.
Easter at the shepherds hut
The steep descent ends at a small hut at Strążyska Polana (meadow) which contains a few old shepherds shelters, one of which is now where refreshments can be bought with a number of picnic table outside. It can be very atmospheric huddled inside on a winters day when the snow is flying tippling a gluhwein (wino grzane in Polish)!
Serving hatch in shepherds hut
From the hut, follow the red trial out down the Dolina Strążyska. Again, a lovely valley with rushing river. You can then simply walk down ul Strążyska into town. An alternative appetiser day walk could be to do the same route but reverse it. The benefit of this would be that the approach towards Giewont up the Dolina Strążyska gives lovely views over shepherds shelters to the dramatic cliffs of Giewont beyond.
Dolina Strążyska
Another option in this same area would be if hiking up the Dolina Białego, instead of continuing to the col and the Dolina Strążyska, opt to branch off the trail when you reach a black trail to the left signposted to Schronisko Kalatówki. This route gives a nice sense of elevation and good views down to Zakopane or to Kasprowy Wierch. However, this trail should not be attempted in winter since it crosses a number of chutes which avalanche regularly.

Route to the Schronisko Kalatówki

This trek will eventually lead you to the Kalatówki mountain hotel. Here you can enjoy nice food, or a lovely cool beer. After refreshments you will need to descend to the village of Kuznice following the blue trail down a wide, cobbled road. At Kuznice, return to Zakopane using one of the many minibuses. Fare should be 3zl.

Dolina Małej Łąki to Kościelisko Dolina

Giewont Massif

Another really lovely country trek from town, with nice views, is to follow the red trail up the Strążyska Polana to the little wooden huts. However, this time take a right over the small wooden bridge continuing to follow the red trail signposted for Giewont. Pretty soon you will start hauling yourself up a strenuous ascent that zig-zags its way up through the forest. This is a total, sweaty pull but please persevere. I promise you it is worth it. Presently you will arrive at a ridge (still in the forest). Take a left, still on the red trail and shortly you will arrive at a black trail on your right.
Head down this. Eventually it opens out into pleasant meadows. Keep walking until you reach the Dolina Małej Łąki and the picnic area. This is a wonderful viewpoint up the valley to the Giewont Massif. To be thoroughly recommended is to hike here just as spring snow melt is happening, as the valley floor becomes wonderfully carpeted by thousands of purple crocuses.
Giewont Massif from Dolina Małej Łąki
From here, continue westwards along the black trail. There is a small ascent, nothing major, to yet another open meadow. This time your vista is towards the Czerwone Wierch Massif of the western Tatra. This can be impressive if still snow covered.
Czerwone Wierch Massif

Czerwone Wierch Massif in spring
Keep following the black trail and eventually you will descend down into the Kościelisko Dolina. Take a right and you will presently arrive at the road head where there is an ever present set of minibuses waiting to shuttle you back to Zakopane (cost about 6zl). The total time for this yomp is about 3-4 hours.

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