The Tatra Mountains, Tatras or Tatra, constitute a mountain range which forms a natural border between Slovakia and Poland. They occupy an area of 750 km², the major part (600 km²) of which lies in Slovakia. The highest mountain is Gerlach at 2,655 m, located in Slovakia just north of Poprad. The north-western peak of Rysy (2,499 m) is the highest Polish mountain.
Alpine Landscape in Poland
The Tatras are the highest mountain range in the Carpathian Mountains. Although considerably smaller than the Alps, they are classified as having an alpine landscape. Their high mountain character, combined with great accessibility, makes them popular with tourists and scientists.
Temperatures range from -40 °C in the winter to 33 °C in warmer months. Temperatures also vary depending on altitude and sun exposure of a given slope. Temperatures below 0 °C last for 192 days on the summits. Maximum snow thickness on the summit amounts to around 320 cm (125 in) in March. Peaks are sometimes covered with snow throughout the year. Avalanches are frequent.
Fauna & Flora
The Tatra Mountains are home to many species of animals including Tatra chamois, marmot, snow vole, brown bear, wolf, Eurasian lynx, red deer, roe deer, and wild boar. There is also a diverse variety of plants.
Skiing in the Tatra Mountains
For skiers, the Kasprowy Wierch Peak is serviced by cable-car, and there are chairlifts in the Goryczlowa and Gasienicowa valleys. For hikers, there are 250 kilometres of trails in the park, ranging from leisurely strolls to hair-raising ascents for serious climbers. Entrance to the valleys is possible by bus, but from there you must continue on foot to the heart of the Tatras. Mountain bikes are permitted only on a few paths. Owing to the unpredictability of Mother Nature, there are basic safety precautions which are essential to bear in mind.
Hiking in the Tatra Mountains
With the collapse of the Iron Curtain, border relations are now freer than ever. Thus for dedicated hikers, the opportunity to explore the region in depth is very much an option. Poles are the first to say how wonderful the Slovakian Tatras are, and it’s well worth bearing this in mind if you want to get a full flavour of this wild region.
Probably the easiest way to get to the Polish side of the Tatras is to take a plane to Krakow and then take the train (five hours) to Zakopane. If you want to get to the Slovak side then Bratislava airport is currently rebranding itself as a low-cost hub (Vienna East!). Alternatively, Vienna to Bratislava is only about an hour and-a-half by train. From Bratislava take the train via Poprad to Stary Smokovec. Poprad also has an airport.