It's hard to shake the mystical imagery of the alpine meadows, waterfalls, deep blue lakes backed by the jagged peaks spanning the High Tatras. This remarkable adventure area was one of the many stops on a road trip through Europe, and despite holding the title as the smallest alpine range on Earth, it remains as one of my favourite hiking destinations on the continent—and that's saying a lot!
I travelled to the High Tatras from Lithuania in the thick of summer. And most of you likely know that in July, Europe transforms into a melting pot of tourists. So I expected the High Tatras to take on a similar crowded, busy vibe, especially after driving near Zakopane in Poland. Flocks of cars, traffic, and people congested the area, dwindling my hope that Slovakia would be an escape from the noise.
Yet, the dense forest bleeding into Slovakia seemingly acted as a barrier to the chaos. Even the more popular destinations on the Slovak side of the High Tatras attracted fewer visitors. Thank goodness! Instead of staying in one of these more well-known spots, I continued driving deeper into the wild and parked my car in Nová Lesná, a quaint mountain village. After settling into my cosy guesthouse, I walked 400m to check the schedule for the electric tram and began mapping which hikes I'd try over the next few days.
The first day: Mlynická Dolina to Furkotská Dolina loop hike and Štrbské Pleso
I decided to start with the Mlynická Dolina to Furkotská Dolina Loop Hike for my first on-foot venture in the High Tatras, and it did not disappoint. The 16.5km hike winds through a mythical-looking Mlynická Valley, where greenery contrasts nicely with jagged, stony peaks and boulders. As I continued walking, I passed by Skok Waterfall and a collection of mountain tarns. The heart really started beating at around 6.9-km of the trail when the switchbacks curved along a steep rocky slope. But the physically demanding section led to Capie Tarn, a stunning lake flanked by Štrbsky Peak and Hrubý Peak. I stopped here to take a break as I had read that the trail increases in intensity from here. And what I read wasn't wrong!
The adrenaline-induced adventure continued with hiking and scrambling onto a pass with a chain section that climbed over a stony boulder toward Bystrá Lávka ridge.
Unfortunately, there was a steep snowy section near the chains, so this part was a bit slippery. After this, the path zigzagged steeply into the other valley, where I came across more tarns: Vyšné and Nižné Wahlenbergovo. This hike was a perfect introduction to the natural wonders blanketing the High Tatras!
My urge to explore more of the High Tatras eclipsed any feelings of tiredness, resulting in a visit to Štrbské Pleso. The gentle 2.2-km stroll around the picture-perfect glistening waters was the ideal way to wind down after a heart-pumping adventure! Admittedly, this was a more tourist-centric location, but it was easy enough to blur out the crowds with the lake's scenic imagery as the main focus point.
The second day: Zelené Pleso hike
Am I insane for taking on a 20.2-km hike after a 16.5-km hike the day before? Luckily, I could take the cable car up, which cut down some walking kilometres. And the scenery that unravelled in front of me on the Zelené Pleso Hike played out like a montage in some epic adventure film, forcing me to forget all about my tired limbs. After stepping off the cable car, I meandered higher up the mountain on foot with a steep switchbacking route followed by a chain section stretching down a canyon. The view overlooking Zelené Pleso (Green Lake) was an intoxicating one. Finally, after hiking through an incredibly charming valley, I reached the shimmering lake, where I kicked back and sipped an inexpensive pint (only €1.40!). The Zelené Pleso mountain chalet at the lake, backed by soaring peaks, doesn't only elevate the already-stunning natural scenery, but they offer pints as well. Talk about an impressive excursion!
When I finished my pint, I continued through an old pine forest before arriving back at the beginning of the hike. Like all trails in the High Tatras, this one was super easy to follow. I completed it by glancing at my one map and following the markings along the path. Side note: it costs €21 for a one-way cable car ticket, but you'll receive €2 back if you give back the ticket card at the top.
The third day: Mount Rysy
The Mount Rysy hike is definitely the most challenging hike I did in the Tatras, but being the highest peak in the area that you can reach without a guide, it was hard to say no to this one (despite my tired legs!). This peak is also the tallest in Poland and seventh highest in Slovakia, and it's accessible from both countries, resulting in keen hikers taking on this epic climb. There’s also the choice of starting from Popradské Pleso or Štrbské Pleso. I started from Popradské Pleso as it's easier on the knees and slightly shorter than the other trailhead. First, the path—the blue trail—led me into a stunning forest surrounded by rows of peaks! Shortly after, I immersed in another forest, which unveiled magical vistas of Mengusovka Valley tucked into an enclosure of mountains, with one being the daunting Mount Rysy. Another 30 or 40 minutes passed by, taking me to a crossroads towards the red trail. This was where the intensity picked up immensely. After a series of switchbacks leading to a lovely valley, I passed by two beautiful tarns and tried to focus on their beauty rather than the slippery, snowy conditions despite the summer weather.
The next part was the most mentally challenging for me as I have a slight fear of exposure. Walking past the tarns led to a mountain wall, requiring chains to hoist me up. It wasn't too difficult going up, but it was harder going down with the slippery conditions.
When I reached the Chalet under The Rysy Mountain, I was tempted to turn around to avoid the climb to the peak as it looked intimidating. But I lucked out by tagging behind a Polish group of students with a guide. It was nice to follow behind the group because I could watch where they scrambled, climbed, hiked.
The trail seemed random, but other hikers knew where to go eventually during the latter sections. At the summit, I took a selfie with a frightened look on my face (and braced myself for the scramble down). I had to slide on my hands and feet toward the chalet, but the momentary fear fused with the pumps of adrenaline created a hyped-up feeling that lasted for days after the hike. The unreal views paired with the chains, scrambles, and switchbacks made for an unforgettable experience!
After three days of incredible hiking, I decided to take a break and chill before taking on more hikes in the High Tatras! I couldn't recommend this area enough when it comes to memorable, adventurous trails in Europe.
Mins Lukas Savela is a team member at 10Adventures Tours, helping people to explore the most beautiful places on earth.