Morskie Oko. The most beautiful Polish lake
Location and surroundings
Morskie Oko, a lake with an area of 35 hectares, is located deep in the Tatra Mountains, at an altitude of 1,395 m above sea level, in the upper parts of the Rybi Potok Valley, which is part of the Białka Valley. The length of the lake is about 860 metres, width about 560 metres, and its depth reaches up to 51 metres, which places Morskie Oko fourth among the Tatra lakes. According to legend, Morskie Oko is connected to the Baltic Sea, and a monster lives in its depths .... But has anyone seen him?
Morskie Oko Lake is surrounded by the vertical walls of the Mięguszowieckie Peaks, majestically reflected on the surface of the water from summer to late autumn. In winter, the lake surface is covered with a thick layer of ice and snow. The main peaks towering over Morskie Oko Lake include the Czarny Mięguszowiecki Peak, the Wielki Mięguszowiecki Peak, Cubryna and the characteristic Mnich. Its unique beauty, popularity and relative ease of access make the Morskie Oko region one of the earliest known parts of the Tatra Mountains. Initially, the area attracted miners looking for veins of gold and ore in the Tatra rocks, and later mountaineers, artists and, increasingly, tourists began to appear here. Today, Morskie Oko Lake is one of the most popular places among tourists visiting the Tatra Mountains. What impresses most is the changeability of the colour of the water’s surface depending on the time of day and season. In winter, it is an unspoilt island of snow powder.
How to get there
Due to its convenient location, Morskie Oko Lake is relatively ease to access. The starting point is Palenica Białczańska, which can be reached by car or bus from Zakopane. When choosing your own private car, it is necessary to remember about an earlier reservation for a parking space, which the Tatra National Park conducts: https://tpn.pl/zwiedzaj/e-bilety. Booking a space in advance guarantees a parking place for the whole day, while those who do not make a reservation are sent back and must look for other parking places. It is worth remembering to start a trip to Morskie Oko Lake smoothly.
From Palenica Białczańskiego to Morskie Oko Lake, there is one red trail. The whole route is about 9 kilometres and can be covered in about 3 hours. The road is mainly asphalt (in winter, covered with thick snow); in places, shortcuts lead through the forest, which cut off the most extensive bends. An alternative is available in Palenica Białczańska - a horse-drawn carriage ride, which takes tourists to Włosienica (about 1,700 metres before Morskie Oko Lake).
A long but exhilarating route
Although the 9-kilometre climb seems like an endless road for many people, it is worth taking the effort and testing one’s strength. However, the hardship of the climb is compensated for by phenomenal views and other attractions. Educational boards of the Tatra National Park informing about natural curiosities and describing the most exciting panoramas are placed along the entire stretch of the road leading through the forest. The first of the most remarkable places on the route are the Mickiewicz Waterfalls, picturesque cascades created along the current of the Roztoka stream. Undoubtedly, they are the greatest attraction of the route to Morskie Oko Lake - a wonder of Tatra nature, with the deafening noise and roar of rushing water. Interestingly, the Waterfalls owe their name to the bard Adam Mickiewicz, as their discovery coincided with transporting the writer’s corpse from France.
The Mickiewicz Waterfalls are an essential point on the route, from where one can also descend to the climatic Roztoka Valley Hostel and have a snack before continuing their walk. Further on, the route ascends gently through the forest, with panoramas of the highest Tatra peaks surrounding the Biała Woda Valley on the left and the steep gorges of the Wołoszyn Mountain on the right. The route bites into a forest, and gentle ascents shorten the biggest serpentines in several places. When one reaches the Włosienica Glade, they can rest at the refreshment point, and the last section of the trail remains before them. This amazing but equally dangerous section should be traversed with caution and without long rests, primarily in winter. It must be remembered that there is a danger is posed by the Żandarmerii Gully and the Biały Gully, through which avalanches slide from Opalony Wierch, especially after significant snowfalls. It is worth noting the old hostel located on the left side of the route, while after about 15 minutes from the Włosienica Glade, the outline of the building of the Schroniska PTTK Morskie Oko and a breath-taking view of the lake appear in front of the walkers’ eyes. We are at our destination!
The return route follows the same road and takes about 2 hours. It is worth remembering that buses run in winter until dusk.
The PTTK Morskie Oko Hostel and a walk around the lake
Everyone who arrives at Morskie Oko Lake must visit the hostel for a longer or shorter rest. Situated right on the surface of the lake, the over 100-year-old New Hostel invites guests to its restaurant, which offers delicious snacks and lunch dishes. Inside, there is also a cosy dining room with a view of the surroundings of Morskie Oko and a shop. Everyone should try the delicious apple pie! The glassed-enclosed veranda often displays works by artists connected with the Tatra Mountains. The mountain hostel also offers equipment rental, which is necessary especially in winter, and the Morskie Oko Mountain School, which offers, among other things, training and guided tours. There is a path leading around the lake, which is worth a walk to look at Morskie Oko from all sides. A memorable experience is a winter walk on the lake when it is covered with ice and snow. However, one should bear in mind that it is only possible to cross the lake when there is adequate ice cover and when the temperature is very low. Those willing to walk further may approach Czarny Staw below Rysy and look at Morskie Oko Lake from above. In winter, this walk may require additional equipment and handling skills.
Trails and beginnings of mountain tours
The vicinity of Morskie Oko is also the beginning of other trails, intended chiefly for persistent and experienced tourists. It is here that the most famous route to Rysy (2,501 m above sea level) starts, crossing Czarny Staw below Rysy. An alternative is a challenging ascent to the Pod Chłopkiem Pass (2,308 m above sea level). On the opposite side of the lake, there is a trail starting at the Szpiglasowa Pass (2,110 m above sea level, leading further on to the Pięć Stawów Valley) and at Wrota Chałubińskiego (2,022 m above sea level). Nevertheless, it should be remembered that these places are very demanding, impossible to reach in winter without the appropriate equipment and skills. The trail leading from Morskie Oko to the Pięć Stawów Valley via Świstówka, which is closed from 1 December to 15 May due to avalanche danger, is extremely charming.
While walking to and around Morskie Oko, one must remember that they are in the Tatra National Park, one of the most valuable natural areas in Poland and a world biosphere reserve.
When comparing the peculiarities of the Tatra Mountains with the precious stones in the crown of beauty of the Polish lands, then Morskie Oko Lake should be called a sapphire, as it distinguishes itself with such a deep and shining colour from the whole of the surroundings (...) it never becomes ordinary, even if viewed many times.