Anyone who has ever looked for a European alternative to the Alps have already come across the High Tatras. In fact, this guarantees an alpine-like panorama with high mountain relief. Most of the mountains are located in Slovakia, but also partly extend over areas in Poland. From a geological point of view, the High Tatras are part of the Carpathian Mountains. The High Tatras are often referred as the smallest high mountains in the world in terms of area. In fact, the area is just 340 square kilometers, but over 100 peaks reach the 2000-meter mark here. Gerlachovský štít is the highest peak at 2,655 meters. Despite the unknown and small size, the High Tatras is in no way inferior to the Alps. Spectacular mountain landscapes, gorgeous glacial lakes, huge waterfalls, and a fascinating animal world await you in the High Tatras. Thousands of hikers come every year to explore the unique nature. As in any mountain range, waterfalls are among the most spectacular natural spectacles. Hrebienok is a region in the Tatras where many waterfalls plunge into the depths. Among other things, the Obrovský vodopád, which means a huge waterfall, flows here.
I don’t want to deprive you of these great travel destinations. That’s why in this blog post I present you my exciting hike to these waterfalls and share my experiences in the High Tatras. I am very happy that you found my travel blog and I hope you enjoy reading my travelogue.
My hike to the waterfalls of the High Tatras in brief
If you click on a link below, you will be taken directly to the corresponding section of the route. This starts in the village of Starý Smokovec, from which a funicular takes you up to Hrebienok with an altitude difference of 255 meters. Here, a hiking trail runs through forest areas in the direction of Dlhý vodopád, which you will reach as the first waterfall on the tour. Shortly thereafter, there is a multi-level waterfall called Vodopády Studeného potoka. From the Studeného Potoka high valley, the hiking trail continues on serpentines up to Obrovský vodopád and then on to Lomnická vyhliadka. This is followed by a long but flat ascent to the Skalnaté Pleso, whose crystal-clear water shines in a beautiful turquoise blue in a fantastic location. A cable car takes you downhill from here to Tatranská Lomnica. There is a train back to Starý Smokovec from here.
The entire hike in High Tatras without the drives is approximately 8 kilometers. Instead of using the cable cars, however, you can also cover the route on foot. Accordingly, the length of the hike increases. The ascent is strenuous, but technically not difficult, as the paths are well developed. Nevertheless, hiking shoes and weatherproof clothing are mandatory, even in summer. I have marked the route and all sights on the map.
8 km (without train and lift travel)
↑ 640 m ↓ 144 m
Starý Smokovec train station
Well-developed paths, no steep incline
If you’re looking for more information and tips on hiking in Slovakia, check out this blog article.
Hotels and accommodation in the High Tatras
The best starting point for the hike to the waterfalls is Starý Smokovec. The residents have adjusted to the tourists and hikers. Accordingly, there is a large selection of accommodation* in Starý Smokovec. Most are family-run guesthouses that are geared towards individual travelers. If you cannot find free accommodation in the village, the neighboring Horný Smokovec is ideal. There are also some places to stay overnight*. Of course, there are other places in the High Tatras where accommodation is available. You can find a selection under the following link.
How to get to the falls of the High Tatras
Travelling by car
The starting point of the hike is the village of Starý Smokovec, which can be easily reached by car via the D1 and road 537. Even with our 60 hp engine, we had no problems going uphill. The journey from Bratislava to the High Tatras takes 3.5 hours. Parking spaces are signposted and readily available. We paid 6 euros for the day, but the prices have certainly risen by now. However, there are also cheaper tickets available on an hourly basis.
Getting to the High Tatras by train
Traveling by train is also very convenient, as the Starý Smokovec train station is also right in the center. For example, trains from Poprad and Štrbské Pleso arrive here. Train tickets are also very cheap in Slovakia. You can find more information on the website of the railway company or in the app cp.sk. I have marked the train station on the map.
If you want to learn more about traveling by car or public transportation in Slovakia, check out my travel blog about Slovakia.
With the funicular to Hrebienok
There is a small cable car station about 200 meters north of the train station. From here a funicular takes tourists from Starý Smokovec to Hrebienok. We pay 8 euros for a single trip. Further information and online tickets can be found on the following website. The train takes about 5 minutes for the almost 2-kilometer-long route. If you prefer to hike, you can also conquer the 250 meters of altitude on foot. A corresponding hiking trail runs along the railway line, but it is not particularly spectacular. In Hrebienok itself there is a restaurant, buildings with ice sculptures inside and a museum with light shows. The settlement is also the starting point of many different hiking routes in the High Tatras. We also start our hike here to the most beautiful waterfalls of Slovakia.
Hike to the Hrebienok waterfalls and the Skalnaté Pleso glacial lake
The many hikers who were just sitting with us in the cable car scatter in all directions to start their route. We stick to the green marked hiking trail that leads us through a region with tall trees. After a few minutes we hear rushing water, but the trees block our view. At a T-junction we can finally see the river. It is worth taking the yellow-marked hiking trail downhill, because from below you have a great view of the first waterfall on the route. Over tree roots and damp soil, we fight our way directly to the Dlhý waterfall (Long Waterfall). Most tourists don’t bother to go here, so we can enjoy a clear view of the lurid river. In fact, the first waterfall in the High Tatras impresses us immediately.
The multi-level waterfall in the Studený river
We return to the green marked route, which then continues along the Studený river. It meanders over stones and rocks through a green valley with tall, slender trees. After 300 meters we see the Studeného waterfall, which translated means something like cold waterfall. Even from a distance, we realize how huge this waterfall is, because the tourists on the shore seem tiny against the falling masses of water.
There are several distant and nearby viewpoints of the waterfall and we exhaust all of them extensively to observe this natural spectacle of High Tatras. The water rushes wildly over the rocks lying in the river and drowns out all ambient noises. Spray is whirled up, causing a cool, damp breeze to blow in our direction. Even the branches of the nearby trees are set in motion by the force of the water. The scene is full of dynamism. In contrast to this is the quiet forest through which the river struggles. The partly bare trees stand there calmly as if they were watching the water masses just as impressed as we were.
Hiking trail Starolesnianska poľana in Hrebienok
We follow the green marked route that runs along the rapid river to the Starolesnianska poľana clearing. The area here is characterized by cut trees, the stumps of which rise between lush green grasses and bushes. Gray clouds gather on the mountain slopes and conjure up a cold, mystical atmosphere. The Rainerova chata, in which drinks and snacks are offered, stands on a meadow. From here, several hiking trails are signposted in all directions of the national park.
Desperate search for the waterfalls in the Studeného potoka valley
We decide to take the blue-marked hiking trail, as we have previously marked smaller waterfalls on the hiking map to which we want to make a detour. A stony path leads us slowly uphill until we reach a point where, according to my map, there is a junction towards Královnin závoj and Siroký lad waterfall. However, we only look at dense bushes and trees, behind which we suspect steep rocks. Exploring the following and previous 100 meters of the hiking trail is also unsuccessful. So, we turn back to the clearing, but the views we made along the way make up for the unsuccessful search. After later research, I found that we were in the right place, but the waterfalls can only be reached by mountain climbing.
Over serpentines up to Obrovský vodopád
This time at Starolesnianska poľana we stick to the red marked hiking trail that crosses the Velký Studený river (Great Studený) and then goes uphill over serpentines. From a distance we can see a stony path winding up the mountain. Even the outline of a waterfall can be seen, the water of which plunges into the Malý Studený river (Small Studený).
The ascent to Obrovský vodopád (Giant Waterfall) does not take long. A wooden bridge crosses a narrow gorge into which the waterfall falls. From the bridge we look directly at a steep rock face, on which the huge masses of water seek their way down. Due to the proximity to the rock, reasonable images that illustrate the extent of the gigantic waterfall are unfortunately not feasible. On the other side of the bridge, we watch the water fall one more time into the valley. Tourists crowd next to me, the masses of water flow with unimaginable dynamics and a damp wind drives the water into my face. It seems as if I draw new energy from this dynamic, but at the same time the natural spectacle also radiates an indescribable calm. The constant curtain of water jets and the firmly anchored rock walls, which oppose the power of the water, have a calming and beneficial effect on me. A free therapy and wellness program of the High Tatras.
If you are looking for a travel guide to Slovakia, check out this book. I personally like this travel guide series very much. The authors give travel tips especially for individual and low budget travelers. Moreover, not only the well-known sights are described, but also more unknown places are mentioned.
From the waterfalls to the heights of the Tatras
Since we couldn’t visit the smaller waterfalls as planned, we still have plenty of time on the clock. After looking at the hiking map, we spontaneously decide to hike in the direction of Skalnaté Pleso. The glacier lake promises crystal clear water and the hiking trail there seems promising. In fact, the stony path continues uphill through forest areas until we reach a wonderful vantage point that lets us look back into the valley. From here the route heads north, where the area becomes bare and stony. Fog drifts over the boulders we have to hike over. Moreover, the ascent becomes more arduous and we overcome a total of 200 meters in altitude on the last section to the lake.
Short Facts for your Trip
The main season in Hrebienok runs from June to September. We were in Slovakia in July and it was quite busy on the hiking route. So, I recommend coming in June or September. The golden autumn is certainly a good alternative when the landscape shines in a wonderful blaze of colors. You can find the climate of the individual months on the following website.
Crystal clear water and breathtaking views at Skalnaté Pleso
Upon arrival we sit exhausted on a wooden bench and enjoy the wonderful view of the valley. A cable car brings new tourists all the time. Behind us, crowds are sitting on a terrace of the restaurant up here enjoying the good weather. Overall, the travel destination is more touristy than we expected. After a short break, we reach the east bank and are immediately enthusiastic about the Skalnaté Pleso (Rocky Lake). In fact, the water is crystal clear and all the stones on the bottom are clearly visible. The Rocky Lake lives up to its name. On the opposite bank, rugged mountain walls rise up, on which thick clouds accumulate. Deeply impressed by this spectacle, we sit on a rock and let the scene affect us.
Loop around the Skalnaté Pleso
Most people are already turning around here, but we continue our hike towards the north bank. Gondolas ride above us to Lomnický štít, which at 2632 meters is the third highest peak in the High Tatras. Although the red gondola is traveling pretty fast, it takes half an eternity before it disappears completely into the white clouds on the mountain. It is an impressive demonstration of how huge the mountains in the background really are. However, the journey is quite expensive, and we wonder if there is a view at all with the thick cloud cover.
We only meet a few people on the circular route and enjoy the unobstructed view of the Skalnaté Pleso. More and more fog is gathering and the bridge, on which we just took pictures, is gradually being swallowed up. There is an observatory on the slope, which is well worth seeing in the area. We capture the last moments at the lake and make our way back. You can find more impressions here in my blog post about the most beautiful glacial lakes in the High Tatras.
Return to Starý Smokovec
We decide to use the cable car for the way down and pay 16 euros per person. You can find prices and information on the following website. A red gondola, which we have completely to ourselves, takes us towards Tatranská Lomnica. The windows are totally dirty, but they don’t prevent us from enjoying the breathtaking view of the Slovak landscape. If you prefer to hike, you can also conquer the 800 meters of altitude on foot. In Tatranská Lomnica it is about 10 minutes to the train station. From here a train takes you back to Starý Smokovec in 15 minutes. Further information and tickets can be found on the website of the railway company. I have marked the stops and cable car stations on the map.
If you are looking for more hikes in the High Tatras, then take a look at this book. I personally like this series of hiking guides very much. The book is small and handy, offers useful information about hiking and detailed descriptions of the hikes. It has already enabled me to discover great hikes that I would not have found without these books. The book is in German, but I think the hiking routes are understandable even without knowledge of German.
Conclusion on the hike to the High Tatras waterfalls
Overall, I really liked the route. The waterfalls, mountains and landscapes are really unique and breathtaking. Those who appreciate wild nature will love this hike in the High Tatras. The crystal clear lake at the end is an incredible sight and is a nice reward for conquering the route. This is only about 8 kilometers long but requires a few meters in altitude. A good physical condition is therefore essential. However, no relevant hiking experience is required to cope. But there should be respect for the alpine environment. It is also possible to cover the cable car routes on foot. However, this increases the hike enormously. We hiked the tour in July. Accordingly, many other tourists were on the way, but they were well distributed on the route. If you are looking for a little more peace and quiet, you should come in June or September. Moreover, there are countless other ways to explore the High Tatras. Take a look at my other posts, in which I show you great lakes or a hike to the highest accessible peak of the Tatra Mountains.
If you have any tips for the Tatras, please let me know in the comments. I really want to go to the High Tatras one more time. I hope you enjoyed my travelogue about the waterfalls in the Tatras. On my Slovakia Blog I show you other beautiful travel destinations in Slovakia and share valuable tips and experiences for your trip to Slovakia. Did you like my blog post? Was I able to help you? Then I would be happy if you recommend my travel blog, leave a comment, or follow me on Instagram. Thanks for reading and have fun on your vacation in Slovakia.
The references marked with an asterisk (*) are so-called commission links. If you click on such a referral link and buy something, I get a small commission from the provider. For you, the price does not change! I see it as a small thank you for my work and look forward to any support.