Hiking in Dolina Koscieliska (Koscieliska Valley), Zakopane
Smreczyński Staw is a picturesque small lake located within Koscieliska Valley
Located outside Zakopane in the western Tatra Mountain range, Dolina Koscieliska or Koscieliska Valley is a nice and easy hiking trail popular with locals and tourists. The valley is around 6 kilometre in length from Kiry to Ornka, making it the second largest valley in Tatra Mountain range.
Best time to Visit: Though a hike in Koscieliska Valley can be done year-round, the summer months are best o fully appreciate the beauty of this lake. However, summer months also attract big crowds of nature lovers. Weekends are especially busy as local tourists flock the mountain town of Zakopane for weekend getaways.
How to go: The starting point of the Koscieliska Valley is from Kiry which can be reached easily by bus or by taxi from Zakopane main bus stand outside the Zakopane train station. For our trip to Koscieliska Valley, we took the local minibus that runs all day between the main train station of Zakopane to Kiry and costs around 10 PLN (around £2) and takes around 25 minutes (depending on traffic) each way. There is no fixed timetable for these minibuses to operates, all run by the principle of ‘we leave once the bus is full’. It’s easy to spot these minibuses in the main parking area of the train station. The buses are typically white in colour with ‘Kiry’ sign at the front.
Kiry where the hiking trail starts The Hiking path cross over the river Koscieliski Potok as few number of times
The hiking trail: The Kiry ticket office is situated at the start of the trail. As Koscieliska Valley is located within the boundaries of the Tatra National Park, an entry fee of 5 PLN (around £1) for adult, and 2.50 PLN (£0.5) for children over the age of 7, retirees and disabled people is applicable. Entry for children under the age of 7 years is free of charge. The hike from Kiry to the mountain hut of Hala Ornak takes around 2 hours depending on your fitness and how fast or slow you prefer to walk! The entire length of the hiking route to the mountain hut of Hala Ornak is a well-maintained gravel road which makes the hiking relatively easy. The entire trail is ‘Green’ (easy hiking) and follows the river Koscieliski Potok which runs through the Koscieliska Valley.
The start of the hiking path at Kiry
Along the entire length of the trail there are quite a few spots/attractions for hikers to enjoy. The spots are in the following order from Kiry to Hala Ornak;
Kapliczka Zbójnicka or the Chapel of robbers
Niżnia Pisana Polana or Pisana Clearring
Jaskinia Mylna or Mylan Cave
Wawoz Krakow or Krakow Gorge
Smreczyński Staw or Smreczyński Pond
Mountain hut of Hala Ornak
Kapliczka Zbójnicka or the Chapel of robbers
Kapliczka Zbójnicka or the Chapel of robbers is a small chapel next to the hiking trail which according to legend was founded by the robbers or Bandits. Though in reality the chapel was founded by the miners and steel workers who used to work in the Tatra Mountain for mining irons once upon a time. Now the settlement of the workers has long gone but the chapel has stood the test of time.
Pisana Clearring - a clearing in the Koscieliska Valley
Niżnia Pisana Polana or Pisana Clearring is a clearing in the Koscieliska Valley which offers a scenic view of the valley. You can see the pine trees and the mountain in the backdrop and grassy meadows with vegetation and wildflowers in the forefront. We stopped at this spot to enjoy this beauty and capture it through the camera lens.
Pawlikowski Window of Mylan Cave (Picture taken from Wikimedia)
Jaskinia Mylna or Mylan Cave is located just next to the trail and to reach the cave you need to take a red route (difficult /challenging route) and navigate through a stiff climb by holding onto the iron chain clamped on the rocks. The cave has a very interesting feature called Pawlikowski Window which is an opening at the end of the cave with a scenic view of the mountain. The day we were hiking in the Koscieliska Valley, it was raining heavily, making the climb to the cave even more challenging and somewhat risky so we decided against it.
Wawoz Krakow or Krakow Gorge is a beautiful and small gorge on the right-hand side of the hiking trail. We decided to not go, and instead use our limited time to visit one of the most beautiful attractions of the valley, Smreczyński Staw
Picturesque Smreczyński Staw
Smreczyński Staw or Smreczyński Pond is a picturesque small lake located at an elevation of 1266 meters above the sea level in the western Tatra Mountain. The path to the staw is clearly signposted at the end of the hiking path just before the mountain hut of Hala Ornak. As some stretches of the path to the staw is quite stiff, majority of the hikers on this path avoid going to this staw. From what we saw most likely only 10% of the hikers from the main hiking path venture out to this path to the staw. However, it is doable for an average physically fit person and children that are used to hiking in general.
Hiking path up to and from Smreczyński Staw
The hike to the staw from the main hiking path is around 30 to 35 minutes. The path ends up at the bank of the lake where a wooden deck has been made by the park authority for nature loves to take in the beauty of the surroundings. There are also some logs to stop and sit for lunch after a long and tiring hike. We sat there for quite some time and enjoyed our packed lunch in the lap of nature.
The mountain hut of Hala Ornak
Mountain hut of Hala Ornak is a mountain restaurant located at the end of the Koscieliska Valley hiking route. The hut serves hot drinks and local food for hikers. When we visited Poland in the month of August, a high tourist season in the Tatra Mountain region, it was no surprise to find the hut packed with people and a long queue to get a table inside. So we just took a bio break and continued our journey.
Hiking path towards the mountain pass of Siwa Przełęcz
There are further hiking paths that goes beyond the mountain hut of Hala Ornak towards the mountain pass of Siwa Przełęcz and Iwaniacka Przełęcz. However, majority of the hikers return back to Kiry from the mountain hut following the same hiking path that runs through the valley.
River Koscieliski Potok runs alongside the hiking path in the Koscieliska Valley
Our overall experience of hiking in Koscieliska Valley was mixed considering the weather. The view and the natural beauty around the hiking route is indeed beautiful, however the hiking route leading to the mountain hut of Hala Ornak is crowded with hikers, which is expected during summer and considering Tatra Mountain region is very popular and picturesque part of Poland.
We found the hiking route to the Smreczyński Staw more scenic, with relatively smaller groups, which gives the feeling of wilderness that you crave for when you are in the middle of nature. If you can look beyond the busy routes, the magnificent Koscieliska Valley does deserve a visit!