Dolina Kościeliska - Smreczyński Staw

Dolina Kościeliska valley is a wonderful walking trail for beginner tourists, families with children and seniors. If you decide to extend your walking trip to Lake Smreczyński Staw, even true beginners should have no problems. The entire trail, from Kiry to Smreczyński Staw and back, will take tourists between 3.5 and 4 hours in good weather. Less experienced hikers walking slowly and stopping many times along the way may need up to 6 h to get there and back again.

The route starts in Kiry. Parking is the first hurdle. If travelling from Zakopane, the first car park to the right will charge you PLN 20. If you keep driving, you will see a small car park to the left, right after the entrance to the valley. Parking there will cost you half that amount, i.e. PLN 10 per car.

Before setting out, you will also need to buy a ticket to enter the natural park. The management uses the money collected in this way for trail maintenance. Thanks to ticket sales, we also know that the Tatra National Park is the most frequently visited national park in Poland. In 2012, more than 3 million tourists visited the area. This was clearly a record number.

For some, Dolina Kościeliska is a scenic walking route; for others, it is just the beginning of a wonderful adventure in the Tatras. Beyond the tourist shelter in Hala Ornak, one can begin the Western Tatra trails of various levels of difficulty. The valley extends from the foot of the Tatra Mountains to the main ridge. Right at the beginning of the trail, you can buy sheep and cow cheese in a genuine shepherd’s hut.

Kiry is located at 927 metres above sea level. The shelter in Hala Ornak is situated only six kilometres away, but the elevation there rises to 1,100 metres above sea level. In order to get to lake Smreczyński Staw, we must climb to 1,226 metres above sea level. This is the only section of the route which might be a little more difficult, but on the other hand, I have also seen families with babies and strollers there! Let me make it clear that you might find it hard to get to Smreczyński Staw with a stroller, even if you own a more „off-road” type. The slope is not very steep, but it is full of rocks, which makes it difficult for the stroller to advance.

After 30 minutes of walking, you will see the Thugs’ Chapel in the Stare Kościeliska clearing. The black trail that starts a little later, turning to the left, leads to the Mroźna Cave. Most caves in Dolina Kościeliska are located more or less halfway to the shelter. These include Mroźna, Smocza Jama, Mylna, Raptawicka and Obłazkowa Caves. An extra fee is charged for entering the Mroźna Cave. Read more about it here.

After walking for another 4 km, we finally get to the Polana Pisana clearing. Toilets, benches and tables have been prepared for tourists here. The shelter is located only 2 km away. Right after the clearing, the yellow UNIDIRECTIONAL trail to the Wąwóz Kraków gorge begins. Wąwóz Kraków is the most picturesque gorge in the Polish Western Tatra Mountains. It will take another 50 minutes to walk along it (from Polana Pisana back to the point of departure).

300 metres after leaving Polana Pisana, take notice of the Skała Pisana rock, where you can still see signatures left by tourists a century ago, as well as by well-known people associated with Zakopane.

The Wincenty Pol cross, located almost 5 km from the beginning of the route, indicates that we are almost halfway there. The first cross was erected here in 1852. It was emblazoned with the inscription „Nothing Above God”. Wincenty Pol was fired from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, upon the request of the Austrians, for commemorating the miller of King Sigismud I Augustus with this cross.

The road bifurcates almost right after the Potok Tomanowy stream. The black trail leads to Smreczyński Staw. If you decide to see the lake, which will eventually disappear from the map of the Tatra Mountains, you can first rest for a few moments at the Hala Ornak tourist shelter.

Smreczyński Staw is located 1.3 km away, with a difference in elevation of 120 metres. Everybody, even the less frequent tourists, will be able to get there at a leisurely pace. Just make sure you wear ankle-high boots - it is easy to sprain your ankle when climbing the rocky slopes, especially when they are slippery.

Smreczyński Staw appeared in a hollow area between the moraines of two glaciers. It is more than 5 metres deep at its deepest point. It is overlooked by Smreczyński Wierch (2,086 m a.s.l.), Kamienista (2,126 m a.s.l.), Błyszcz (2,158 m a.s.l.) and the slopes of Starorobociański Wierch (2,178 m a.s.l.). Smreczyński Staw, unlike other lakes in the Tatra Mountains, harbours a variety of life forms. It is home to newts, frogs, Batrachospermum - freshwater red algae, which are very rare in Poland - and bog arum. To protect this diversity, tourists are only permitted to access a small fenced viewing point at the lake. You must not go across the fence or enter the forest. However, there are benches here to let you rest after the climb.

Smreczyński Staw has been under strict protection, making up part of the „Pyszna, Tomanowa, Pisana” complex. A nature reserve was created here in 1948. It was the largest nature reserve in the Tatra Mountains. It accommodates the home ranges of brown bears and the rutting grounds of deer. After the establishment of the Tatra National Park, a strict protection area was set up here in order to safeguard the nature of the Tatra Mountains even better.

Walking back from Smreczyński Staw to the end of Dolina Kościeliska will take you about 1 h 40 min.

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