The route to the most famous tourist attraction in the Tatra Mounatins region - Morskie Oko lake may be the most popular and the easiest (and also quite boring), but the most spectacular views and real alpine, mountainous scenery are available to those who decide to hike the trail to Dolina Pięciu Stawów (The Valley of Five Lakes) and onward. No crowds (comparing to city-like traffic on the path to Morskie Oko), unspoiled nature, amazing landscapes and freshest air. It is also possible to reach Morskie Oko valley itself through the Valley of Five Lakes. This route is both: so much better than the normal, paved, road trail to Morskie Oko and and also pretty easy to follow.
How to Get to Dolina Pięciu Stawów
If you want to know how to reach Zakopane, read my post about the town here.
Although a day trip from Zakopane, which is the base for all mountainous trips, is possible, it would be quite hectic and it's better to stay overnight in a beautifully set mountain hostel, right in the valley Dolina Pięciu Stawów. This will allow you to explore the area more and hike more trails (which can be more adventurous and difficult - I will describe them in future posts). You will also be able to return peacefully through the Morskie Oko valley - do it this way, don't go back the same way you got up!
To get to the start of the trail from Zakopane, you need to drive (or take a public mini bus) to Palenica Bialczanska car park. I have described it in detail in the article about Morskie Oko (you must follow the same, first part of the boring paved route to Morskie Oko).
Hiking the trail to dolina pieciu stawow
After around a 40 minute walk, you notice a small waterfall called Wodogrzmoty Mickiwicza. Go past the waterfall and turn right into a small, steep path (there will be a sign pointing to 'Dolina Pięciu Stawów). Follow the green trail. After another hour you will get to a little crossroad and you will be able to choose between turning left and following the black trail or staying on the same, green trail. It doesn't matter which one you hike, they both lead to Dolina Pięciu Stawów. The black trail is shorter and easier but I would recommend to stick with the green one. You will see beautiful views of the nearby peak Orla Perć and have a chance to admire the Siklawa waterfall. Don't miss it!
When you've passed the Siklawa waterfall, you are already in the valley. You can visit the mountainous hostel, drink some coffee, stay overnight or keep going and hiking other trails to higher peaks (like Świnica or Kozia Przełęcz). It takes more than 2 hours to complete the whole trail (from Palenica car park to Dolina Pięciu Stawów).
The 5 lakes are: Wielki Staw Polski (The Great Polish Lake), Mały Staw Polski (The Little Polish Lake), Przedni Staw Polski (The Foremost Polish Lake), Czarny Staw Polski (The Black Polish Lake) and Zadni Staw Polski (The Rearmost Polish Lake). The adjective "Polish" is added to every lake's name to distinguish similarly named lakes in Slovakian Tatra Mountains. You can easily see the first four lakes walking around the mountain hut area. The last one, Zadni Staw, requires a longer hike on the blue trail towards Świnica - one of the highest peaks in Poland, 2300 meters (7550 ft.) above sea level. I will describe both in a separate article.
Alternatively, you can reach Dolina Pieciu Stawow via Dolina Gasienicowa - my favorite, the most beautiful (but quite dangerous) trail in Polish Tatras - have a look here.
The way back
If you are planning to return to Zakopane, don't go the same way you came here. Choose the blue trail through Świstówka to Morskie Oko. The views over the Dolina Pięciu Stawów valley and Morskie Oko valley are breathtaking as you can see them both from the top. You'll have also a chance to visit Morskie Oko (don't miss the Czarny Staw lake nearby!) if you haven't visited it before. It takes 1 hour 30 minutes to walk the whole blue trail. Then, from Morskie Oko, you have to walk down the paved boring road until the car park in Palenica (which will take another hour and 30 minutes). From there, you can drive or take the mini bus (the fare is really cheap, not more than 2 EUR/2.50 USD) back to Zakopane.
You can also reverse the trip and start from Morskie Oko, follow the blue trail to Dolina Pięciu Stawów through Świstówka and walk back down to Wodogrzmoty Mickiewicza waterfall. However, this way is slightly more difficult as the blue trail is pretty steep and it's easier to hike it down rather than up.
Of course, there are more trails that will lead you to Dolina Pieciu Stawow, from other, more remote places in the Tatra Mountains. The one described here is the easiest and quickest to follow from the town of Zakopane.
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