The Tatras are a range for the hiker far more than for the cycler.
50 km long for 20km of width, but as sharp and steep as the heart of the Alps, they are surnamed the "smallest" biggest mountains of Europe.
They are so compact that there is no road crossing them from one side to the other. All tracks into valleys end in "cul de sac". More than that, all their area is stictly protected, and forbidden to any motorized engines.
However, it was not always like this: during the 2/3 of the 20th century, many roads were built to serve the valleys as high as possible. This, combined with the high popularity of cross-country skiing in Slovakia, makes as many cyclable parts in summer.
The other way to cycle the Tatras is "around". There are diffent ways to make it, depending on your bicycle type. It is possible to cycle around the Tatras only by the roads, or at the closest of the hillfoot. In this case, half of the way remains on the road, but there are fine sections to cycle on trails (allowed trails for bicycles) all around, especially on the western half of the Tatras.
Cycling around the Tatras during 3 days was one of my plans during last summer, but for many reasons I had to give it up. Instead, I cycled only few valleys and places.
However, during all the times I've been around the Tatras for various hikes, I gathered a significant amount of information, having driven many places by car, walked during some hike approaches, or just having parked the car on many spots located on it.
Planning this trip that I finally didn't undertake made me also look for many informations about places I haven't been at all, and these pages are for me a way to summarize them all.
Everyone who has the least significant experience of the region of the Tatras is welcome to add some pieces to the puzzle.
Note: Links to the SP pages about Western Tatras and Eastern (High) Tatras.
Map of the cyclable parts of the Tatras
This map shows the Tatras and all ways and roads circumventing it at the closest. Dark red parts show parts to cycle on the roads (with cars...), bright red show trails. Blue lines the cycleable valleys.
Most of the people who undertake it made it in three days, which cuts reasomably the journey into three days of 60-70km each. Since 2008, the fact that both Slovakia and Poland belong to the Schengen space ease a lot the planification of such trip, and remove all contraints to go through the only (too) few former border points.
Another way to make a very interesting and deep discovery of the Tatras by bike can be to combine the big tour with cycling up and down the dozen of cyclable valleys, which would take at least a whole big cycling week. Or just few of them.
Accomodation is a very good justification for such choice, since most of the cyclable parts of these valleys end with mountain huts, often in very beautiful location, for example a lake, or a glaciar corrie surrounded by jagged peaks.
Such mountain huts in such locations are ready to accomodate bicyles, as most of them have a storage local, whose main purpose is to satisfy the needs of long-distance hikers who want to undertake a single-day walk leaving some of the heavy gear at the hut.
Cycling around the TatrasDespite the only loop around the Tatras can be made in 3 days, I will divide the description in 4 parts, as they all differ by the nature of the itineraries taken:
Podhale (1), Spiš (2), Liptov (3), Orava (4).
These 4 parts correspond to the four historical big regions surrounding the Tatras: Podhale for the Polish side, Liptov, Orava and Spis for the Slovak one (this is a bit a coincidence).
Some of them are on the only asphalted roads, where unfortunately is a big car traffic during the high season. Some are much more interesting, only on tracks, some half-half, some with tricky things...
I will not hide it, the Liptov section is from far the most interesting one with almost only tracks, and obvious itineraries.
And the worse the Spis section, on the roads circumventing the High Tatras, and all tourist cars speeding up...
Coming back to the 3-days planning of such tour, lets's say that the 3 days could correspond approximately to Podhale, then Spis, and then Liptov and Orava together.
Cycling inside the valleys
I will try to append to this page one trail for one valley, taken separately, every time I have the material for it (photos, etc) and accurate information about how cycling it is, thus despite I only walked most of them, during those endless hiking approachs.
Everyone interested in Tatras who joins MBPost is invited to participate to this interesting task. The only rule is that we must keep on the authorized trails.
Both Polish and Slovak national parcs are under very strict regulations, and not all hiking trails can be cycled, you can be fined if you are caught in such situation, especially in popular places.
The list of the cyclable Slovak valleys is here (high Tatras only, but difficulty indicated) and here (all the Tatras, without levels). The Polish ones here (if broken link, go to tpn.pl, section "turystyka" and "rower", unfortunately in Polish only). Al of these trails have very different levels of difficulty, from the almost flat asphalted road, to some very technical tracks made cobbled with granit stones.
Here are the few of these valleys described on MBPost :
- Dolina Chochołowska
- Dolina Suchej Wody
- Kežmarská dolina
- Vel'ka & Mala Studena Dolina (Bilíkova)
- Mengusovská Dolina
- Tichá & Kôprová Dolina (do do !)
- Žiarska Dolina
- Roháčska & Látaná Dolina
- Kvačianska Dolina (SP link)
Cycling the valleys of the Tatras and leaving the bike in the local of a mountain-refuge the time of a day-hike, especially to reach a remote peak in a reasonable time, is an excellent way to spend a fantastic moutain-day, combining two different sporty efforts, and "feel the mountains" two-hundred per cent.
This is another reason for me to describe these trails. In every cycleable valley, I will place links to every popular hiking destination which can be reached this way (links to SummitPost pages).
Here are links to some moutain huts located in the cycleable valleys of the Tatras (not all huts in the Tatras are served with a cycleable trail, also not all cycleable valleys have a hut in their upper end) :
High (Eastern) Tatras:
Chata pri Zelenom Plese
Chata Popradské Pleso
There are many ways to get to the Tatras.
First, it all depends of the place you plan to base yourself.
By plane, prefer flying to Cracow for the Polish side. For Slovakia, and especially the South-East side, fly to Kozice, or even Poprad, now served from London by Ryanair. You can also try from Bratislava, but it involves a lot of train in between.
By car, if you come from France, Germany, UK, or Northern Europe, the best is to arrive by the motorway A4. In order to avoid the possible (and frequent during nice week ends) traffic jams between Cracow Zakopane, you can use the following shortcut: Katowice - Bielsko Biala - Korbielow - Rabca - Bobrov - Lipnica Wielka - Jablonka - Czarny Dunajec - Nowy targ - Jurgow - Podspady.
From South-East Europe (Austria, Italy, etc) you can drive in the direction of Bratislava and then reach the South side of the Tatras.
Not all hiking trails in Tatras, even those who look like bike-convenient, are allowed by bike.
In some unpopular areas you might cheat a bit, but in touristic places you will be fined for sure, so please keep on the marked trails for bicycles.
Offtrails walking, wild camping, fires, rubbish, etc, are also strictly forbidden in both National parks, Polish and Slovak.
All along the circumference of the Tatras are touristic localities, ski resorts and spas. In most places, just by asking people around, you will manage to find some cheap guesthouse and a place to leave safe your bike.
Always prefer this approach than looking systematically for hotels, the guesthouses ("noclegi" in polish, pronounce "notsledjee", "ubytovanie" in slovak, pronounce "oubytovanie") are much more sympathic and better way to chat with people and have interesting contacts all along the trip.
If you don't speak those slavic languages, don't worry, many of the people in those places speak a basic english and if not, will look for someone who does. Often, young people do speak english.
In the few areas of this 4-stage long distance trail where finding an accomodation can be tricky, I am giving few indications where to look.
And if you cycle the valleys, as mentioned above, try to sleep in those mountain huts !
If you are really a though cycler, you can also consider camping, if you have some gear to carry a tent and a duvet.
Here are a list of campsites :
- One campsite lead by the PZA (Polish alpine club) near the entrance of Chocholowska valley
- 2 or more campsites in the city of Zakopane
- One in Zuberec, "ATC Oravice"
- One in Pribylina, Račková Dolina (a very good one)
- 2 or 3 in the surroundings of Tatranska Lomnica, on down the road going to Poprad
Note: Campsites are commonly called "Autocamp" or "ATC" in Slovakia
As for the currencies, Poland uses the Zloty (10 zl = 3 Euros), and Slovakia the slovak Korun until the end of 2008 (10sk = 1 zl more or less). From 2009 Slovak joins the Euro zone. Poland not before 2012.