Rysy is a mountain in the High Tatras that straddles the border between Poland and Slovakia. It is the tallest mountain in Poland and the highest mountain in the High Tatras that you can hike to without a guide.
There are two approaches to the summit of Rysy. From Zakopane, Poland, you hike past Morskie Oko lake to the peak, which is a challenging route. From Slovakia, you hike from Štrbské Pleso, which is an easier route to the summit. If you hike to the Rysy from the Slovak side, you can summit the highest mountain in Poland without ever really hiking in Poland.
About Our Experience
We hiked to the peak of Rysy from Štrbské Pleso in Slovakia.
The weather worked against us, at least a little bit, since clouds blanketed the mountain peak all day, despite sunny skies throughout the rest of the Tatras. In fact, the peak of Rysy was hidden behind the clouds three of the four days we spent in the Slovak Tatras.
Despite the clouds, this was a great hike. High mountain views, a rock scrambling section aided with the use of chains and ladders, and a chance to see several alpine lakes all make this hike worthwhile.
Hiking to Rysy
Facts About the Hike:
Distance: 20 km (12.5 miles) round trip
Elevation Gain: 1345 meters (4415 feet)
Highest Elevation: 2503 meters (the main summit), although the northwest summit at 2499 meters is the highest peak in Poland
Length of Time: 7 to 10 hours
When to go: End of May to September. All other times of year snow on the trails can make hiking dangerous or impossible (this should only be attempted with a guide).
Getting to the Trailhead
Štrbské Pleso to Popradské Pleso
Distance: 4 km (2.5 miles) one-way
Elevation Gain: 280 meters (920 feet)
Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
The trail officially starts at Popradské Pleso, an alpine lake with a hotel and several small restaurants. The only way to get to Popradské Pleso is on your own two feet, unless you are staying at the hotel.
If you have a car, the closest parking is in Štrbské Pleso. To get here, there is an access road along the Poprad River. If you get here early in the day, you can park you car right on the side of this road. When we did this, there was a man collecting a small parking fee for each vehicle. Here are the GPS coordinates of the parking area: 49.125661, 20.074609.
There are toilets here as well as a small snack stand.
Continue north along the road, cross over the train tracks, and follow the asphalt road uphill until you get to Popradské Pleso. It’s an easy, uphill walk the entire way to the lake.
Once you get to Popradské Pleso, you have made a serious dent in the hike to Rysy.
On the Trail to Rysy
Once you get to Popradské Pleso, you will see the trail to Rysy on the left hand side of the asphalt road. While you are here, you have the option to use the bathrooms at the lake or even go for a stroll around the lake if you like. It takes about one hour to walk the circumference of the lake, so you may want to save this for after the hike (if you still have energy to spare).
Map of the trail to Rysy
Popradské Pleso to the Summit of Rysy
Distance: 6 km (3.7 miles) one-way
Elevation Gain: 1065 meters (3,495 feet)
Time: 3 to 5 hours
Now, you are on a dirt trail heading through a forest. Finally, it feels like you are hiking.
The first part of the trail is lovely. You are hiking slowly and steadily uphill through an alpine forest.
From Štrbské Pleso, you will take the blue trail until you get to Mengusovská Valley. Then take the red trail to Rysy. The trails are very easy to follow and well marked with signs like this one.
As you gain elevation, the trees disappear and are replaced by shrubs and wildflowers. The views really open up as you hike into Mengusovská Valley.
Then, you get to the switchbacks. Now, you are really gaining some serious elevation. This part is tiring but the views just keep getting better and better. This was one of my favorite parts of the hike, simply because it is so beautiful here. Plus, we still had the sun shining on our faces.
At the top of the switchbacks the trail almost levels out as you walk through a huge field of boulders. To your left are the lakes Malé Zabie pleso and Vel’ké Zabie pleso and in front of you is Rysy.
It was at this point when we really started feeling chilly. We did this hike in mid-July and temperatures on top of Rysy were on the cold side. Even in the summer months, it’s a good idea to pack light gloves, a light jacket, and a hat.
Once you hike past the lakes, the trail turns to the right and begins to climb again. It is here that you get to use the chains and ladders.
Expect traffic jams on the cables. Midday these chains and ladders get two-way traffic, once people start hiking back down the mountain. It’s not unusual to have to wait in line, at least for a little bit, for your turn to climb the cables. If you get here early in the day, you can at least climb up the cables before the two-way traffic begins.
As you can see in these photos, crowds weren’t too bad when we climbed up the ladders and cables. Later in the day this section was much more crowded and there was a line of people waiting to start their climb up the cables.
Chata pod Rysmi and Beyond
After navigating the chains, it is just a little more hiking to get to Chata pod Rysmi, a lodge and restaurant that sits smack in a field of boulders along the hiking trail. If you need to take a break, use the bathroom, or warm up, this is the perfect place to do it.
Prayer flags right before you get to Chata pod Rysmi.
There are several goofy things set up around Chata pod Rysmi, like this “bus stop” and bicycle.
From Chata pod Rysmi, it takes about an hour to reach the summit of Rysy. This is the most challenging part of the hike. It’s a rocky, steep climb to the summit with short sections of rock scrambling. Our visibility was very low and we could only see several feet in front of us. We just climbed from trail marker to trail marker.
Looking back down the trail to Chata pod Rysmi.
The summit of Rysy is a small, rocky peak. It felt quite crowded here, and even though there was no view today, there were a number of people lounging on the rocks, catching their breath before starting back downhill.
And here we are, on the highest peak in Poland!
I’m still bummed we missed out on the amazing views, but this was our final day in the Tatras so hiking without the view was better than skipping the hike altogether.
Hopefully you will have clear skies and much better views on the day you do this. From seeing other people’s photos online, the views across the Tatras are incredible!
The Return Hike
Retrace your steps back down the mountain. It’s a lot easier and a lot faster going down.
Chata pod Rysmi is a good place to take a break before hiking back to Štrbské Pleso. It’s warm inside and they serve food and drinks.
How to Have the Best Experience
Bring warm clothing! Even in mid-summer the temperatures on top of Rysy can be downright cold. At a minimum, I would recommend bringing a light pair of gloves and a jacket. We saw many people wearing long pants and heavy jackets on the upper part of the hike.
Check the weather before you go. It’s OK to do this on a cloudy day as long as you don’t mind missing out on the views from the top of Rysy. If thunderstorms are in the forecast, save this hike for a different day. Thunderstorms can be wicked in the Tatras and a mountain peak is last place you want to be during one of these storms.
I was amazed at the number of people on the trails in the Tatras, since the travel sources I read called this an off-the-beaten-path hiking destination. I don’t know where they got their information but on the day we did this, it was a steady line of hikers climbing to the summit. Be prepared for a lot of traffic on the trails and on the chains. If you get here early (8 am or earlier) you can avoid the crowds for at least the first part of the hike.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Villa Meribel in Tatranská Lomnica. This place is awesome! We had a two bedroom, two bath apartment with a small kitchen and living area. From Villa Meribel, it was a 25 minute drive to Štrbské Pleso. Tatranská Lomnica is a great home base for hiking the Tatras. There are several restaurants and a grocery store in town. There is also a toboggan, a great place to take kids if you are traveling as a family.
Are you planning a hiking trip in the High Tatras? If you have any questions, ask us in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to the High Tatras:
- TATRAS: Hiking the High Tatras of Slovakia: How to Plan Your Visit
- TATRAS: Hiking to Vel’ká Svišt’ovka and Zelene Pleso in the High Tatras of Slovakia
- TATRAS: Hiking to Koscielec in the Polish Tatras from Zakopane
- SLOVAK PARADISE: Our Experience at Slovak Paradise
- BRATISLAVA: Top Ten Things to do in Bratislava, Slovakia
Planning a trip to Slovakia? Read all of our articles in our Slovakia Travel Guide.
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