The Tatranská Magistrala: A hiking guide to Slovakia's best kept secret

All the information you need to cover this epic four-day hike in the mountains
Hike Slovakia's best kept secret

There are hundreds of bucket list treks around the world, but not all great routes have the widespread popularity of the Inca or Appalachian Trails. Many, like the Tatranská Magistrala in Slovakia, are not so well known, purely because they haven't been discovered by the masses yet.

For a hiker that loves to explore, there are few things better than a lesser-known path. An adventure that has all the benefits of world-famous trek, but with the mystery and solitude of something that hasn't been dominated by tourism.

If that sounds like your dream trip then this four-day journey across the Slovakian mountains is an essential addition to your calendar.

What is the Tatranská Magistrala?

Run an online search for its most famous hike, and you'll barely pull up any other results in English. But what it lacks in international marketing, the Tatranská Magistrala makes up for in majesty, taking you into some of Europe’s least-visited mountain scenery – perfect for the adventurer who wants to explore the unknown.

The Tatranská Magistrala: A Guide to Slovakia’s Defining Hike
Credit: Luke Waterson

This high-altitude path is named for the mountain range it traverses, the High Tatras. Boasting 29 peaks over 2,500m in a 26km swathe of stupendous ridges in Northern Slovakia, these mountains are the smallest such chain of this height anywhere in the world.

Here are the highest summits in the 1,500km-long Carpathian range, and some of the highest land anywhere in Eastern Europe. So relentlessly high are the High Tatras, in fact, that they constitute one of the only Alpine terrains outside of the Alps in Europe, meaning some rare wildlife can be found here including three of Europe’s ‘Big Five’, the brown bear, Eurasian lynx, and wolf.

The range may be short in length, but the routes are far from easy to negotiate on foot. The Tatranská Magistrala offers one of the most accessible ways to enjoy it, running 42km in a northeast-southwest direction and taking in the very best of the mountains, from jagged summits to glassy mountain-backed tarns and forested valleys and via idyllic mountain huts to overnight in along the way.

Our guide tells you everything you need to know about this trek, from why you need to hike it through to how to access it and what to expect.


Trek details: Location: Ždiar, Slovakia |Distance: 42km | Highest point: 2,030m | Time to complete: 4 days | Difficulty: 4/5 | Highest temperature: 16C


Overview of the trek

The Tatranská Magistrala: A Guide to Slovakia’s Defining Hike
Credit: Luke Waterson

Threading along from Podbanské, on the western edge of the High Tatras, with the mountain lake of Vel’ke Biele Pleso in the eastern edge, the Tatranská Magistrala is officially 42km long, but there are so many side-trail extensions to the path that you will likely be walking closer to 50km, if not more.

Public transport is scant to Podbanské and non-existent to Vel’ke Biele Pleso, meaning you could easily be walking an extra 17km at the beginning and end of the trail just to get to the nearest places with reliable transport.

Ascending onto the massif from Podbanské, the official start point, or from the pretty village of Ždiar, the best access point on the eastern side is long and arduous. Even once up in the mountains there are some challenging ascents/descents.

Whilst this hike bisects remote country, it doesn’t always feel remote, particularly when the path comes close to the region’s main mountain resorts, where there are a lot more hikers.

One beautiful feature of the trail is the fact it passes through up to five separate topographic zones: the valleys (<800m), forests of pine or beech (<1,500m), the dwarf pine forests known as kosodreviny (1,500-1,700m), open grasslands (up to about the 2000m mark) and boulder-strewn mountainside (from around 2,000m and up).

The Tatranská Magistrala: A Guide to Slovakia’s Defining Hike
Credit: Luke Waterson

Still, deep-blue mountain lakes are scattered throughout all zones to enhance the scenery, and adding further variety are a mix of educational trails, cable cars, cemeteries, and excellent mountain huts, enabling you to sleep and have your evening meal up in the mountains without coming off the trail.

Because there is much to see, and several spectacular places to stop for lunch, to take a side trip or simply gaze at the view, allow four days to complete the hike – although fit hikers could at a stretch complete the hike in three days.

It is better to start at the north-eastern end of the trail, using Ždiar as the start point. Hiking northeast-southwest from Ždiar to Podbanské is 50km. If buses aren’t running from Podbanské you will need to continue 10km further to Pribylina to pick up transport from there.

Getting there

Poprad is the main regional transport hub, connected by air to London and by road/rail in 3.5/4.5 hours to Bratislava and in 1.5 hours to Košice.

Bratislava and Košice have flights to many more destinations across Europe. Poprad has hourly buses to Ždiar (one hour) and regular trains departing on the mountain railway to Tatranská Lomnica and Starý Smokovec, from where a cable car/funicular railway connects to points on the trail, and to Štrbské Pleso a short walk off the trail.

Hourly Bratislava-Košice trains call at the town of Liptovský Mikuláš (3.5 hours from Bratislava and two hours from Košice) from where buses run year-round to Pribylina (45 minutes) and between June and August to Podbanské (one hour).

Podbanské is the Tatranská Magistrala’s western trailhead. The eastern trailhead is Vel’ke Biele Pleso, a four-hour hike above Ždiar.

The Tatranská Magistrala: A Guide to Slovakia’s Defining Hike
Credit: Luke Waterson

Route description

Although you can hike the path in either direction, this description is given in our preferred northeast-southwest direction across four days.

Ždiar is an attractive village full of prettily painted log houses, and one of the main population centres of the Goral people who preserve many century-old mountain traditions in a few communities here and in neighbouring Poland. It has an interesting museum explaining more about Goral culture.

The Tatranská Magistrala: A Guide to Slovakia’s Defining Hike
Credit: Luke Waterson

Day 1

The first day of hiking from Ždiar follows signs down to the river from and to the Hotel Magura. The path keeps level with the river on the other side of the Hotel Magura access road to climb gently at first and then steeply up through the forest – eventually leaving it to climb onto the mountain at Siroké Sedlo (1,825m) and then Kopské Sedlo (1,900m).

This is almost a 1,000m ascent and one of the most grueling and scenic climbs of the entire hike: all before you reach the official Tatranská Magistrala at Vel’ke Biele Pleso, a beautiful ice-blue lake a 30-minute descent from Kopske Sedlo and 4.5 hours’ hike from Ždiar.

This lonely spot, once a notorious smuggling route, is the point at which the White Tatras meet the High Tatras, and is open, rocky moorland with occasional patches of forest. You now walk through forest for 30 minutes to reach the dramatic green-hued tarn of Zelene Pleso, surrounded by high craggy peaks. Hikers usually overnight here at Chata pri Zelenom Plese.

The Tatranská Magistrala: A Guide to Slovakia’s Defining Hike
Credit: Luke Waterson

Day 2

The next day of hiking is just as tough. The path continues skirting the lakeshore of Zelene Pleso, then climbs steeply up the shoulder of Sedlo pod Svišt’ovkou, a tougher climb than the previous day’s and not one for those with vertigo, or one to be attempted outside June to August because of hazardous snow cover on the path.

The ascent, which zigzags up for 400m, sometimes with scrambling necessary over crumbly sections of scree and slippery streambeds, has chains for support (one person per chain). At the top (2,023m) expect mist and abrupt weather fronts. The slightly higher summit of Vel’ka Svit’ovka (2037m) is worth the short walk from the path. It is a three to four-hour climb from Zelene Pleso over the summit and down to Skalnaté Pleso on the other side, allowing for long waits for other hikers to ascend/descend on the chained sections.

The Tatranská Magistrala: A Guide to Slovakia’s Defining Hike
Credit: Luke Waterson

There is an alternative path that descends from Zelene Pleso then climbs on green and blue trails through forest and then on a rocky mountain path to reach Skalnaté Pleso in a similar time. Around the boulder-scattered lakeside at Skalnaté Pleso are an observatory, a cable car/gondola terminus (with rides both up to the high peak of Lomnický štít and down to the resort of Tatranská Lomnica possible) and, just below, a mountain hut, Skalnata Chata, where you can stay/get refreshments.

It’s a one-hour descent back into the forest to reach the pretty Zamkovského Chata after four to five hours of walking, where many hikers stay overnight. From Zamkovského Chata it is a two-hour one-way climb away from the Tatranská Magistrala to many hikers’ favourite mountain refuge of all, Téryho Chata, the highest elevation mountain hut in the High Tatras at 2,015m, with great views of Lomnický štít.

The Tatranská Magistrala: A Guide to Slovakia’s Defining Hike
Credit: Luke Waterson

Day 3

The next day, it’s a straightforward woodland walk for about 45 minutes to Hrebienok, crisscrossing the gurgling mountain stream of Vel’ky Studený Potok several times over some impressive waterfalls. This section has interpretive boards (mostly in Slovak) telling you about the history of the landscape here. You'll also find the terminus of the funicular railway to the historic resort of Starý Smokovec and a mountain hut, Bilikova Chata, which is another overnight option for night two.

Continue uphill for two hours, through forest that was significantly felled during bad storms, then up into wild moorland to arrive at Sliezsky Dom (where you can stay) on the shores of Velické Pleso. A waterfall crashing spectacularly into the lake off the surrounding mountains caps the view here.

One of the tougher, wilder sections of the trail now begins, twisting on a gradual climb through patches of dwarf pine before ascending to Batizovské Pleso (a lake at 1,879m) and then Sedlo pod Ostrvou at 1,966m, with the summit of Ostrva (1,984m) just above – this is the second-highest point on the trail.

The Tatranská Magistrala: A Guide to Slovakia’s Defining Hike
Credit: Luke Waterson

A sheer corkscrewing path now makes the toughest east-west descent of the entire path down to the lake of Popradské Pleso, laid out below you. Hikers usually overnight at Horský Hotel Popradské Pleso. Visible on the lakeshore for about an hour before you reach it, this will not come soon enough at the end of a tiring six to seven hours of hiking.

Popradské Pleso is one of the prettiest lakes in the High Tatras, and deserving of a stroll. Around its shoreline, the Simbolický Cintorín cemetery remembers hikers and mountaineers that met their deaths in the mountains here.

Day 4

The final day of hiking (4.5-6 hours in total) descends over one hour via a tumbling brook to Slovakia’s most famous lake, Štrbské Pleso, where upmarket hotels photogenically surround the lakeshore with a quintessential High Tatras mountain backdrop. From here it’s 2.5 hours on a slight descent through the forest, much of which was felled by storms, to Tri Studničky where there is basic accommodation. Finally, it’s a one-hour walk along a lane to Podbanské, and 1.5 hours’ walk further along the road to Pribylina.

The Tatranská Magistrala: A Guide to Slovakia’s Defining Hike
Credit: Luke Waterson

What are the options for hiking?

You can hike the Tatranská Magistrala northeast-southwest or southwest-northeast. Obvious points to break the trek if walking just a section are Štrbské Pleso, connected by mountain railway to Poprad, and Hrebienok, connected by funicular to Starý Smokovec. There are also several memorable side-trips combinable with the path such as the four-hour out-and-back path to Téryho Chata.

Weather and terrain

Weather is changeable, particularly in the High Tatras where the relatively small area is exposed to all kinds of differing weather systems from across the middle of Europe. Even in the short summer season (basically July and August) weather changes rapidly from clear skies to torrential rain.

Mornings are often better, with rainfall in the middle of the day which clears again by evening. Snow is present on the higher peaks year-round, and snow cover restricts access to some sections of path such as Zelene Pleso-Vel’ka Svit’ovka to late June-August. When wet, higher elevations can seem bone-chillingly cold. March and April bring the highest risk of avalanches.

Vertiginous summits of 2,000m+ are visible for most of the hike, but the trail itself mostly sticks between the 1,200m and 2,000m contours, only briefly cresting 2,000m at Sedlo pod Svišt’ovkou.

The Tatranská Magistrala: A Guide to Slovakia’s Defining Hike
Credit: Luke Waterson

What to know in advance

You need to allow at least three, and ideally four days to complete the hike. Camping is not permitted outside of official campsites in the High Tatras, so accommodation will invariably be in the mountain houses described.

These should be booked in advance in busy periods (June to August). Outside of June to August, the path from Zelene Pleso to Vel’ka Svit’ovka is officially closed.

What to bring

Bring everything you would need for a multi-day wilderness hike, minus the tent. A sleeping bag is still a good idea if spending the night in a mountain hut dorm room. Dinner and breakfast are available at mountain huts but bring food supplies for the day.

The Tatranská Magistrala: A Guide to Slovakia’s Defining Hike
Credit: Luke Waterson

What to wear

You have to allow here for intense sun and torrential rain. Because the weather is changeable, opt for light layers that can be taken away or added easily. A good base layer to wick away sweat whilst keeping you warm is important: especially when you pause along the route and start to cool down quickly. Carry a lightweight but reasonably warm mid-layer for when the chillier weather comes, and bring a good waterproof.

Overall, it is best to opt for a mid-level hiking boot that offers good cushioning and support over long distances on the often hard-going stony ground, but still retains comfort and stops your feet from getting too sweaty in the heat. The Tatranská Magistrala shouldn’t really be hiked in the snow, so a snow boot is not necessary.

Who can do it?

The path can be broken into sections that can be walked from the nearest village or resort, and combined with a cable car or funicular railway up or down make for a fun family day out. However, you do need to have a reasonable level of hiking ability.

To attempt the whole route, you need to be a fit and regular hiker. For one section, you have to be accustomed to sheer, exposed stretches of mountainside and to chain-aided ascents.

Who to book with

There are a number of hotels at the starting location of the hike in Ždiar. TripAdvisor gives excellent reviews of the Ginger Monkey Hostel which costs from €14 for a bed in a dorm and €34 for a double room for the night.

Lodge Sileo is rated as one of the best locations to stay in Pribylina at the end of the hike, with rooms available from €40.

It's likely that you will need to book a stay in the various mountain huts on the route, especially in June through August as these get very busy. It is best to do this by phone rather than email, although a few huts do have websites and/or are bookable through sites like booking.com.

The huts featured on this guide are:

Day 1: Chata pri Zelenom Plese – reservation by email only

Day 2: Téryho Chata – reservation by email only | Starý Smokovec | Bilikova Chata

Day 3: Horský Hotel Popradské Pleso

Tags:   Trekking
Tagged   Trekking