Rysy – Poland’s Highest Mountain (Complete Guide to Hiking and Visiting)

Our complete guide to Rysy describes what it's like to hike Poland's highest peak, which is best done from Zakopane, near Krakow.

Rysy is Poland’s tallest peak. It lurches up above the rest of the Tatra Mountains to the east of Zakopane, beckoning with a summit that has 360-degree views of the valleys around Zakopane.

These days, it’s one of the most alluring hiking options for serious walkers. The climb to the top takes over six hours and is very challenging, with fixed chains and lots of scrambling.

Of course, you don’t have to hike to the summit to appreciate the beauty of Rysy. There are also trails that take you to lakes below the peak so you can appreciate the majesty from afar.

This guide runs through all you need to know about Rysy, with a step-by-step guide to the hike to the top and info on how to get there and where to stay.

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This is just one part of our complete guide to Zakopane

What is Rysy?

A view of Rysy through the clouds

Rysy is a truly breathtaking mountain that reigns as the highest peak in all of Poland. Towering some 2,503 meters (8,212 feet) above sea level, it’s part of the High Tatras range and straddles the border between Poland and Slovakia, a little to the south and east of Zakopane.

Rysy is known for its stunning vistas and challenging trails, which represent one of the major challenges for hikers in this region.

Where is Rysy?

Rysy is nestled in the High Tatras, the highest range of the Carpathian Mountains and the peaks that surround the town of Zakopane.

While the highest peak of the mountain is actually over in Slovakia. The northern summit is on the Polish side of the border and is only slightly lower at 2,499 meters above sea level – that’s the highest peak in Poland!

The mountain is situated within the Tatra National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that boasts a diverse range of flora and fauna. It’s on the park’s eastern side, just above the shimmering lake of Morskie Oko and the Valley of the Five Lakes.

How to get to Rysy?

Getting to the Tatras

To begin your adventure to Rysy, Zakopane is the best gateway. From there, you can take a bus or taxi to Palenica Bialczanska, the common trailhead for the hike to Rysy. Buses go from the main station in Zakopane and take about 40 minutes in all. It’s 15 PLN ($3.80) for a ticket.

If you had access to your own car, it would also be possible to get to Rysy from Krakow to hike it in a day. However, that would mean leaving EARLY (like 4-5am), because you’ll need to arrive in time to nab a parking spot, dodge traffic, and leave plenty of hours for the trek itself.

The drive in from Krakow is usually just shy of two hours. Also, remember you will need to drive back after – that might be a slog after over 10 hours of hiking!

Parking for the hike up Rysy

Horse and cart near the parking

The parking for the Rysy hike is called Palenica Białczańska and it’s about 40 minutes from center of Zakopane, on the eastern end of the Tatra National Park.

It’s worth knowing that this is the exact same parking that people use to access the uber-iconic walk (and that really is a walk, not a hike) to the lake of Morskie Oko, and the stunning Valley of the Five Lakes hike (perhaps our overall favorite hike in the Tatras).

The upshot? The parking here is almost always busy, so get in as early as you can, especially in peak walking seasons like summer and autumn. It’ll cost you 35 PLN for a full day’s parking for a single car.

Hiking Rysy – A step-by-step guide

A chain section on the Rysy Hike

There are essentially five steps to the hike up Rysy. The good news is that the whole route is fantastically signposted and easy to navigate. That said, as we’ll mention below, some sections are highly challenging.

Let’s take a look at each in turn…

  1. From Palenica Bialczanska to Morskie Oko [5 miles, 2 hours] – The simplest part of the hike. This is essentially the outward route of the walk to Morskie Oko. It’s on laid road and then on wide track, navigating thick fir forests on a very easy incline. You won’t find this hard and if you do then you should go back!
  2. Morskie Oko to Czarny Staw pod Rysami [1 mile, 1 hour] – Take the trail that weaves around the eastern edge of Morskie Oko. It’s a lovely one, offering fantastic views of the famous lake from between pockets of pine trees. When you reach the south side of the lake, you’ll cross a small stream and then join what looks like a staircase cut into the mountainside. This is typical of the Tatras. The ascent is steep from here on in. It wiggles through dwarf pine forests until you reach a second lake: Czarny Staw (Dark Lake). Often in shadow in the winter, there can be snow up here late into the season. Be sure to look back and see the views across to Morskie Oko before pushing on to the next stage of the Rysy hike.
  3. Czarny Staw pod Rysami to Bula pod Rysami [1.2 miles, 2 hours] – This is where you really gain altitude. After skirting the edge of Czarny Staw lake, the path shoots 30 degrees up and carries on that way for about 30 minutes. That bit isn’t even the hard part, because it’s well laid out using large stones. Later, it basically turns into slopes of scree and rubble, which have various ways plotted through them. Be very carefully along these sections, as rocks can move and things will be slippery, especially if wet. The route bens a little to the west under the Bula ridge, where it’s really dark and cold because the sun can hardly get through. Then it turns south again and creeps up again, zigzagging on path sections again before emerging onto the small col of Bula pod Rysami. Rest here a while and enjoy the views back north into the Morskie Oko valley. They’re pretty special.
  4. Bula pod Rysami to Rysy ridge [0.5 miles, 1.5 hours] – One of the most challenging sections of the Rysy climb takes you above the Bula ridge into a narrow fold on the western slope of Rysy massif. Laid-out path sections are rare here. You’ll mainly be hopping boulders and scrambling up rocks following the red-and-white markers (trust us – they do get you to the right place!). As you get higher, it gets even steeper, and there are long sections where you’ll need to use the fixed chains to get up and over the rocks. One of the worst things about this part of the hike to Rysy is that it’s the bona fide bottleneck of the whole thing. There’s almost always a stream of slow-moving people clogging up the higher chains and, of course, the same coming back.
  5. The final push to the peak [100 meters, 10 minutes] – Once you’ve navigated the ascent, you’ll be spat out onto the knife-edge ridge of Rysy. Don’t relax just yet, because the Polish peak is actually just along the ridge a little. This is probably the hardest bit of the whole climb, as the ridge is barely wide enough to fit two bodies and you’ll almost certainly have to dodge people coming back the other way. There are fixed chains here to help you but it’s slow going. After about 100 meters, the path edges around a large boulder where there’s one last scramble and bingo, you’re at the top.

How hard is the hike up Rysy?

Czarny Staw in summer

It’s hard!

Yep, the hike to Rysy is considered challenging even for seasoned hikers.

It demands a good level physical fitness and hiking experience. The total distance of the hike is about 24 kilometers (15 miles) round trip, with an elevation gain of around 1,500 meters (4,921 feet). The trail is well-marked but involves steep and rocky sections, particularly as you near the summit.

Chains and aids are installed in the steepest parts for safety, but they also signify the hike’s demanding nature. It’s imperative to be well-prepared with appropriate gear, including sturdy hiking boots, weather-appropriate clothing, and sufficient food and water.

A special mention should be made of those two final sections. THEY ARE NOT EASY. In fact, there are sections of this hike that verge on the via ferrata. You’ll need to be comfortable with steep drops on both sides of the trail (not great if you suffer from vertigo) and with using fixed chains for support.

Our advice? Don’t attempt Rysy unless you’ve done several other hikes in the Tatras and are comfortable with semi-technical hiking.

When’s the best time to visit Rysy?

Czarny Staw in summer

The ideal time to hike Rysy is during the summer months, from late June to early September. During this period, the weather is most favorable, with lower chances of snow and more stable conditions. However, this is also the busiest time, so expect more company on the trail.

For those seeking a quieter experience, late September can be a good choice, though be prepared for colder weather and the possibility of early snow. Regardless of when you visit, always be sure to check the weather forecast and trail conditions in advance, as mountain weather can be unpredictable.

Rysy in the winter is a whole other beast. Leave that to only the seasoned mountaineers with experience in ice climbing and deep winter climbing. It’s not for nothing that some of Poland’s most iconic mountaineers used this mountain to train for the Himalaya!

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