The Koscieliska Valley is one of the most-visited places in the Tatra Mountains by tourists. This is mostly because of the beautiful views, accessibility, and the trail itself is relatively easy to overcome. You will find many caves in its vicinity, such as Mrozna, Mylna, Raptawicka, Oblazkowa, and Smocza Jama. These caves are available to the public, and you don’t need special equipment. At the end of the Valley, in Hala Ornak, there is a tourist shelter where you can rest.
The most scenic places in the Koscieliska Valley are located in the Hostel vicinity on Hala Ornak, where you can admire the Tatra Mountain’s main ridge. You can see peaks such as Kamienista, Smreczynski Wierch, Blyszcz, and Dolina Pyszna.
Beautiful views await everyone who decides to go to the Smreczynski Pond and a clearing named Polana Stoly. This clearing has the reward for your effort, which is the view of the shepherd’s huts.
Koscieliska Valley is located in the Western Tatra Mountains, at the height of Kiry, which is the part of the village of Koscielisko. Its upper part is surrounded by the peaks of Tomanowy Wierch, Smreczynski Wierch, Kamienna, and Blyszcz, forming a fan-shaped surrounding.
The Western Tatra Mountains, built of sedimentary rocks, It is a place with numerous caves. The Koscieliska Valley is the largest concentration of them in the Polish Tatras. There have been about 200 of them in the main part, and more than 450 in the entire surroundings. Only 5 of them available for sightseeing without specialized equipment. In the lower part of the Valley, there is an illuminated Mrozna Cave. The Raptawicka, Mylna, and Oblazkowa caves located above the Hala Pisana are also available for the public, though a flashlight is required. Smocza Jama is a short rock corridor over the Kraków Ravine.
From the 16th century, there were sheep pastures in the Koscieliska Valley. Even then, the surrounding mountains were searched by metal prospectors. Initially, trace amounts of silver and copper were mined here, and later on the iron. There was a forge in the Stare Koscielisko clearing, which operated until the mid-19th century. A lovely chapel is built by the miners, although it is commonly called the Zbojnicka Chapel.
A trade route to Liptov ran through the Koscieliska Valley, and the merchants who followed it were often attacked by bands of robbers. There are also mentions of attacks on the forge in Stare Koscielisko and in the vicinity of the Valley.
The first tourists started reaching the Koscieliska Valley at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. It was considered one of the most beautiful places for excursions. It was visited by ordinary tourists, writers, and painters. In the second half of the 19th century, trips to the surrounding peaks, such as Blyszcz or Hala Stoly, began. The first daredevils also ventured into caves. The shelter in Hala Pyszna was burnt down during World War II.
The entrance to the Koscieliska Valley is located in Kiry, approx. 8 km from the center of Zakopane. There you will find a large parking lot for cars and coaches by the road. Buses from Zakopane to the Valley depart from the square in front of the railway station.
The Kościeliska Valley is an excellent place for a trip, even with young children. Anyone who has enough strength to hike will overcome the straight, paved, and gently ascending path. Also, there are many places where you can make stops. This route is also suitable for a baby trailer. However, it is better to have wider tires if you are above the Hala Pisana. An additional attraction for children is a shepherd’s hut and sheep grazing.
You can take children on trips to the side branches of the Valley. You just have to remember that in each case, it comes with an approach. If the child is fit enough to go uphill for about 20-30 minutes, they can hike up to the Krakow Gorge, the Smreczynski Pond, or the Mrozna Cave.
The passage of the Smocza Jama cave and the descent to the Raptawicka Cave can be taken with children aged about 6-7, provided that they are not afraid of heights (ladders!) And are not scared of tight and narrow places. A place unsuitable for children is the Mylna Cave, which requires high efficiency and resistance to darkness and tightness.
The Koscieliska Valley is 7 km long. Its entrance is in Kiry, the part of the Koscielisko village. In the upper part of the Valley, on the edge of Hala Ornak, there is a PTTK tourist hostel with a buffet. There you will find the black trail to the Smreczynski Pond (approx. 40 min) and the yellow trail to the Chocholowska Valley (approx. 1h 30 min).
The bottom of the Valley is relatively flat and rises gently towards Hala Ornak. This is where the Koscielisko Stream flows, and then above the Stare Koscielisko clearing, there is the Ice Spring, one of the most beautiful in the Tatra Mountains.
There are two rocky narrowings in the Valley, called the gates. The first one is the Kantaka Gate, named after the independence activist Kazimierz Kantak, is located a few minutes from the Valley’s entrance, while the Kraszewski Gate, formerly known by the highlanders as Miedzy Krzesanicami, is situated in the middle of the Valley, above the route leading to the Mrozna Cave.
About 40 minutes from the exit of the Valley, you will find the Stare Koscieliska clearing. In the 18th and 19th centuries, a metallurgical center operated here. After its liquidation in the mid-19th century, an inn serving tourists was built here. A memento of the miners is a chapel with the pickaxe and hammer symbols and the words Ave Maria above the entrance.
Above the Stare Koscieliska clearing, you will find the blue trail exit to the right, leading to the Na Stoly clearing, where there are shepherd’s huts. It is one of the largest complexes of such buildings in the Tatra Mountains.
Hala Pisana is a very popular stopping point for tourists going up the Valley. Its name comes from peak Pisana. Above the hall, the yellow trail to the Krakow Gorge and the Smocza Jama Cave turns left. The gorge is a limestone karst valley characterized by steep rocks and a bottom filled with rocky rubble. Above the narrowing, a rock ridge with a ladder leads to the Smocza Jama cave entrance, a short rock corridor, where you would need to squat to overcome it. The cave mouth is on the other side of the rock, from where the trail leads to Hala Pisana. It is not difficult to go through the cave. However, it is worth having solid shoes and a flashlight, and remember that there are mud and puddles of water at the bottom of the cave.
Above Hala Pisana, the red trail turns right to the Caves of Mylna, Raptawicka, and Oblazkowa. All three are suitable for individual excursion and are not illuminated. The temperature underground is less than 10 degrees Celsius. Therefore you will be required a flashlight, warm clothes, and solid shoes due to moisture and puddles of water on the ground.
The most famous cave in the Koscieliska Valley – Mrozna cave, is located in its lower part. The exit of the black trail leading to it is located above the Stare Koscieliska clearing, next to the Ice Spring. The cave is illuminated, and it is the easiest one in the Koscieliska Valley. It has a constant temperature of 6 degrees Celsius, and the tour takes about half an hour, so you should have warm clothes with you. Some of the corridors are low, and you will need to squat. You will be required to pay for the entrance, and you can visit it from 9am to 5pm.
At the end of the Koscieliska Valley, on Hala Ornak, a shelter was built in 1949. For most tourists, it is the destination of a trip to the Valley, but from here, you can hike even higher. A beautiful goal for such a trip may be the Smreczynski Pond, located within 40 minutes’ walk above the shelter.
In the Koscieliska Valley, on Hala Wyznia Kira Mietusia, you will find places where cultural sheep grazing is conducted. There is a shepherd’s hut of Jozef Slodyczek. In the shepherd’s hut, you can buy oscypek, bundz, and sheep cheese.
Koscieliska Valley is located in the Tatra National Park. Therefore the fee is charged for entering the trail. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office at the National Park entrance or online at the TPN website: https://tpn.pl/zwiedzaj/e-bilety.
At the bottom of the Valley, four-person horse-drawn carriages run to Hala Pisana. Carriages can be rented at the stop next to the ticket office.
You will find toilets located at the ticket offices, at the exit of the trail to the Mrozna Cave, in Hala Pisana, and in the shelter on Hala Ornak. Using them is free of charge.
A green tourist trail runs along the bottom of the Koscieliska Valley. From the Valley’s mouth to the shelter on Hala Ornak, it is 6 km long and runs along a slightly ascending dirt road. The Valley is mostly wide, with views of the surrounding peaks. The narrowings, the Kantak Gate and the Kraszewski Gate, are located in two places. Convenient places to rest can be found at the shepherd’s hut in the Wyznia Kira Mietusia hall, in the Stare Koscieliska clearing, in Hala Pisana, and at the Ornak shelter. The whole route takes about an hour and a half without visiting caves or the Krakow Gorge.
Smreczynski Pond is located in a hollow between moraines carried by glaciers falling from the Pysznianska and Smreczynska Valleys. In the past, highlanders believed that it has no bottom and that the water flowing out of it could even flood Krakow. The pond’s shores are covered with mountain forest, and above, you can see the ridge of the Tatra Mountains with Smreczynski Peak. There are several benches by the pond to rest. The approach from the shelter on Hala Ornak goes along the black trail and takes approx. 40 minutes. The trail ascends all the time. You can return the same way in about 25 minutes.
One of the possibilities of making a visit to the Koscieliska Valley even more attractive is visiting the Mrozna Cave. Its inlet is above the valley floor, and a black hiking trail leads to it. It takes about 20-25 minutes to get to the cave, and it goes all the way up. There is a ticket office at the entrance. Usually, people visit it in large groups. First, you listen to the guide’s story and then walk independently along the illuminated sidewalks. In many places, you have to bend down or even squat. It takes about 30 minutes to walk through the cave. The route is one-way and is 570 m. The exit is located in a different place than the entrance, and then return to the Koscieliska Valley takes 10 minutes. You should allocate about 1 hour 15 minutes for the entire trip, plus the waiting time to get inside in high season.
The Stoly Clearing rises above the Koscieliska Valley in the area of the Stare Koscieliska Clearing. It offers a beautiful view of the Valley’s surroundings and a well-preserved complex of shepherd’s huts, one of the most valuable in the Tatra Mountains. The trail to Polana Stoly is marked in blue and starts next to the Ice Spring. It is 2 km long, and in this section, it rises by 350 m, so it takes about an hour and a half to walk. The return is on the same route and takes an hour. The trip takes about 2 hours 30 minutes in total, plus time for resting in the clearing.
The Krakow Gorge is one of the most beautiful karst valleys in the Tatra Mountains, and the Smocza Jama guarantees an adrenaline rush after a leisurely stroll through the Koscieliska Valley. The route through the Krakow Gorge is marked with yellow signs. The entrance is above the Pisana Hall. Initially, the route runs through the forest, slightly uphill, and then enters a narrow, winding gorge. At its end, which is reached from the bottom of the Valley in 15 minutes, a vertical rock wall with the Smocza Jama cave’s mouth is visible above. You can approach it via a ladder and rock steps secured with a chain. The cave is narrow, cramped, and you have to go through it mostly squatting. The bottom is wet with puddles. The passage of the cave takes 10 minutes. The exit is located in a different place than the entrance, and the return to Hala Pisana takes approx. 20 minutes. In total, you should allocate about 1 hour for this trip, plus time to wait in the line to enter. In high season, it is a very crowded place. You should also remember that the rock is slippery after rain and it is easy to get involved in an accident. When planning the cave trip, you should have sports shoes with hard soles (sandals will not be suitable for this). It’s good to have a flashlight.
The Mylna Cave is the most challenging cave open to the public in the Polish Tatra Mountains. To think about visiting it, you should have a strong light source in the form of a flashlight, warm clothes that you won’t regret getting dirty, and strong shoes on a hard sole. A spare flashlight is useful because the cave is damp, and sometimes it stops working when it gets wet. Darkness combined with a lack of coverage and a large number of corridors can result in dangerous situations.
The Mylna Cave is the most challenging cave open to the public in the Polish Tatra Mountains. To think about visiting it, you should have a strong light source in the form of a flashlight, warm clothes that you won’t regret getting dirty, and strong shoes on a hard sole. A spare flashlight is useful because the cave is damp, and sometimes it stops working when it gets wet. Darkness, combined with a lack of network coverage and many corridors, can result in dangerous situations.
The Raptawicka Cave is located in the upper part of the Kościeliska Valley, in the vicinity of Mylna Cave. At first, entree to it leads along the red trail to the Mylna Cave. After crossing a steep peak with chains towards the Raptawicka Cave, black trails start. The ascent takes place on a steep rock secured with chains, and the descent to the cave is by a 4-meter ladder. The main chamber of the Raptawicka Cave is illuminated by naturally falling light. To penetrate side corridors that are blind, you need a flashlight. Return to the Valley takes the same route. Descending steep rock, especially after rain, can be dangerous. The entire trip takes approximately one hour.
The Koscieliska Valley is located in the Tatra National Park. According to its regulations, dogs and other pets are not allowed here, even if they are led on a leash.
In winter, the Koscieliska Valley is available for tourists. The route is safe, and there is no risk of avalanches. The paths to the Smreczynski Pond and Polana Stoly can be covered, provided that the safety rules comply. Although the caves in the Koscieliska Valley are open all year round (except for Mrozna, which is closed between October and the end of April), visiting them is associated with the risk of an accident. The paths leading on the slippery rock require small-crampons to overcome.
When going out on the trail in winter, especially when there is snow, it is worth remembering that the hike in such conditions takes longer. It is good to have non-slip pads or small-crampons and trekking poles. It already gets dark in winter around 3:30 pm – 4:00 pm, so you should leave the trails early enough to be able to return. A flashlight is a helpful accessory because the one on the phone usually drains the battery very quickly.
In winter, you can go cross-country skiing in the Koscieliska Valley. There are also popular ski-tour routes in Grania Ornaku with a descent to the Chocholowska Valley, through Polana Tomanowa to Czerwone Wierchy, or from Wyznia Mietusia to Czerwone Wierchy.
At the end of the Koscieliska Valley, on the edge of Hala Ornak, there is a PTTK hostel. It was built in 1947-1948 as a successor to the shelter in Hala Pyszna, which was burnt down by the Germans. It is a large stone and wooden building, covered with a shingled, sloping roof. Currently, there are 49 beds and a restaurant.
When going to the Koscieliska Valley, you cannot miss the scenic surroundings of the Ornak Hostel. Despite the approach, it is also worth going to the picturesque Smreczynski Pond. An incredible landscape attraction is the Krakow Gorge, with its karst sculpture and steep walls.
Walking along the valley floor, it is worth paying attention to a small work of folk architecture, the Zbojnicka Chapel in the Stare Koscieliska clearing. Also, visit the shepherd’s hut in Wyznia Kira Mietusia, where you can taste traditionally made cheeses.
Visiting caves depends on individual predispositions due to the darkness, a small amount of space, or the need to squeeze through tight spaces. Nevertheless, a visit to the Mrozna Cave or Smocza Jama cave is a fascinating experience that will be remembered for a long time.