Europe is a greatly diverse continent - most of it has the 4 distinct seasons and is visited by the travelers either in summer when the weather is great or in winter - for skiing. Autumn colors are also beautiful and attract those who like nature and hiking trails. But where to go in March or April? The winter snow is gone - leaving behind the grey, nearly black and white world, the weather isn't too great either and in the south it's still not hot enough to enjoy the beach. However, there is one place, hidden in Polish Tatra Mountains where the best time to visit is the early spring. For around 2 weeks, when the first, warmer sun rays after the winter months melt the snow lying on the slopes, hikers near Choholowska Valley might have the luck to experience a magnificent wonder of nature - when millions of purple crocuses appear turning the gloomy, post-winter meadows into a bright, colorful carpet.
When and where to see crocuses in Tatra Mountains
Did you know that the world's most expensive spice - saffron is made from the flowers of Crocus sativus? It is very closely related to the wild crocus you can admire in Tatra Mountains.
The main problem with spotting crocuses is that it all depends on the weather and climatic conditions. The flowers can show up as early as mid-March or as late as the end of April. If winter was mild and short, you can expect crocuses pretty early. You have to keep checking the weather conditions online before traveling.
I was extremely lucky to see this natural phenomenon as I went to the Tatra Mountains region very late, at the end of April. The winter was long and cold but usually, the flowers are gone by this time.
Crocuses fill most of the meadows, pastures and glades of the lower parts of Tatra Mountains. To get there, you must reach the resort town of Zakopane (read my post about Zakopane to learn how to get there and what to see). Many foreign tourist come to Zakopane and stay only in the town's center. There's so much more to see around!
From Zakopane, you must take a mini bus (they operate from sunrise to sunset usually near the bus station) and tell the driver you want to get to Dolina Chochołowska (Chocholowska Valley - pronounced "do-lee-nah ho-ho-lo-vskah"). The journey from the center of Zakopane shouldn't take more than 20 mins and the fare is only 3 PLN one way (less than 1 EUR/1 USD).
Trail to Dolina Chocholowska
You'll notice first flowers appearing sparsely here and there when you get off the mini bus at the car park in Siwa Polana. At the gate to the National Park you must pay the fee - 5 PLN (1.20 EUR/1.40 USD) adult or 2.50 PLN student.
Now you have to start walking - the trail is unfortunately very easy - too easy, a bit boring and almost entirely flat. No mountains and no proper hiking - just a long walk. The only difficult parts you can encounter is where the path crosses the forest - there still might be a lot of snow in places (although the air is warm!) So take some good shoes with you.
You just have to follow one trail - the green one - on the way to the main Chocholowska Valley you'll see smaller glades fully "painted" with crocuses. The whole walk takes around 1 hour 40 minutes.
From Dolina Chocholowska you'll be able to see beautiful mountainous peaks. The sheer size of the glade covered tightly in the purple carpet of crocuses is truly impressive. At a different time of the year, it wouldn't be different from any other forest clearing.
The whole scenery is a perfect place for a photographer. The flowers are so bright and distinct that they seem to light the whole glade up with a beautiful, bluish-purple hue. It is difficult to describe, it just must be experienced! The whole impression was similar to the one I got while hiking the trails of Annapurna Range in Nepal - spectacular rhododendron trees bloom with red flowers brighten up the entire valleys.
There is a mountain hostel in the Chocholowska Valley - if you wish to relax for a few days in the mountains and hike other trails. All the trails in the lower range of Tatra Mountains near Chocholowska Valley are easy to hike for everyone.
You also, just cannot miss the other spectacular trails in Tatra Mountains - the most famous Morskie Oko (and Czarny Staw), the less popular, more interesting and absolutely beautiful Dolina Pięciu Stawów (The Valley of Five Lakes) and my favorite, however not for those who are faint-hearted - pretty dangerous trails in High Tatra Mountains (you must use the chains and buckles attached to the nearly vertical rocky walls to climb) - full of crystal clear lakes of different colors and spectacular views of some of the highest peaks. But to hike all those you will have to wait until the summer - the lakes are still frozen in March/April.
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