Zakopane is the winter capital of Poland and also one of the country’s most popular resort towns in the summer. Due to proximity of Krakow, the ancient Polish capital, which, after Schengen Agreement suddenly became a popular tourist destination, Zakopane has also seen a considerable rise in foreign visitors for the last couple of years.
Most of people come to Zakopane for its charm, typical for the region wooden architecture with pointed roofs, Krupowki Street with many international stores, and, of course the Tatra Mountains. The best, and easiest way to enjoy the views is to get on the funicular that will take you to the top of the nearby hill, Gubalowka. There, you can enjoy some local, hand made craft items as well as delicious food while admiring the surrounding, snowy peaks. I will write a separate article about the town itself in the future, in this post I would like to focus on both: probably the most beautiful (and popular) place in the region: Morskie Oko lake, and the less visited, however, in my opinion, even greater Czarny Staw lake.
Morskie Oko, which literally means (The eye of the sea) lies 1393 meters (4570 ft.) above sea level, deep in the Tatra Mountains National Park. It is the largest lake in the Tatra Mountains, both Polish and Slovakian. Many believe that the name – the eye of the sea – comes from the fact that it looks like a mini sea surrounded by the mountains. However, this is wrong. The name is related to the legend that Morskie Oko was connected with the sea (Baltic Sea) with an underground tunnel, which, of course, is untrue as the distance is over 700 kilometers (435 miles).
The turquoise water in the lake is perfectly clear, you can spot some fish – indeed, in the past Morskie Oko was named “fish lake” as it was one of the few lakes in Tatra Mountains that had fish.
There are several high peaks around the lake and there are some trails that you can follow to continue your hike to nearby Czarny Staw, Rysy peak and also extremely beautiful Dolina Pieciu Stawow (I will add photos of the views from that trail soon).
Beside the lake, there’s a mountain hostel where you can eat and sleep. It is also possible to set up a tent in the area.
There is only one downside of the place – the number of tourists in the season – while walking up the paved road (I would say that the paved road itself in the high mountains is a terrible idea) leading to the lake you might get the impression that you are in a busy city – there’s so many people going up and down, and, unfortunately, even if you might think you are in a remote area, the level of noise and hustle can be high. So, my advice is, do not make Morskie Oko your last destination in the Tatras.
How to get to Morskie Oko
From Zakopane, you must get to the car park at Palenica Bialczanska (the start point of the walking trail), it’s a 30 minute ride (sometimes even 2 hours due to the traffic). Everything would be perfect if it was not for the number of people visiting Morskie Oko. The facilities are not capable of receiving all the tourists so in many cases, during the summer season, the traffic is unbelievable congested and it’s advisable that you get there as early as possible. Sometimes, there will be no free space in Palenica Bialczanska so you will have to park your car far before and add some extra miles of walking to already long and boring trail.
Another option is to take a mini bus from Zakopane that will take you much faster to Palenica Bialczanska. The fare is around 2 EUR/2.75 USD one way. The only drawback is that the service stops in the evening, and if you don’t get there on time, you might be stuck and unable to return to Zakopane.
From Palenica Bialczanska you can enter the Tatra Mountains National Park. The fee is 5 PLN (1.20 EUR/1.65 USD) per person for one day or 25 PLN (6 EUR/8.20 USD) for 7 days. One day car park fee is 20 PLN (5 EUR/6.60 USD).
Now, you must follow the 8 km (5 miles) walking trail to Morskie Oko. The hike is extremely easy, the road is not steep at all and it is even possible to take a pushchair all the way up. It’s a bit boring as there are no nice views along the way, except the small waterfall called Wodogrzmoty Mickiewicza (Mickiewicz’s Falls).
If you don’t feel like walking, you can take a horse driven cart however I would highly discourage doing it as the horses are often exploited to the point they pass out. The ride will take around 45 minutes and the price should also put you off – 10 EUR/14 USD one way!
Czarny Staw (literally means Black Pond), is a lake just above Morskie Oko. It is smaller and the water in it is not black as the name suggests, but more blueish rather than turquoise, however not less clear. It lies at the altitude of 1583 meters (nearly 5200 ft.) just below the highest peak in the Polish Tatra Mountains – Rysy (2500 meters – 8200 ft. above sea level). Unlike in Morskie Oko, there’s no fish in Czarny Staw.
The nearby rocky edge provides an unbelievable beautiful view of the valley and Morskie Oko lake below. From there, you can follow another trail to Rysy peak.
When I was at the Czarny Staw, the weather wasn’t perfect, the sky was covered by a thick layer of clouds, and yet I was able to see the clarity of blue water easily. It was really quiet, no wind at all, and the reflection of the mountains in the surface of the lake was just perfect.
How to Get to Czarny Staw
To get to Czarny Staw, you need to circle around Morskie Oko (which is a very good idea, less tourists, more views). Halfway, turn towards the trail to Czarny Staw and climb the steep path to the top along the little stream that flows out of Czarny Staw.
The whole hike takes not more than an hour one way however is not as easy as the boring paved road up to the Morskie Oko lake. On the way, you can admire some rare alpine flora, like mountain pine. I, personally, liked Czarny Staw more than overestimated and flooded by tourists Morskie Oko.