The area of the High Tatras is described as "an ideal location for a mountain holiday, and especially for the adventurous walker". Colin Saunders, author of a walking guidebook to the High Tatras, continues: "It is an area that offers enough variety to fill a fortnight, yet small enough to provide the satisfaction of being able to explore it reasonably thoroughly in the same period". But where is it?
Where are the High Tatras?
The High Tatras are the highest and most northerly part of the Carpathian Mountains, a sickle-shaped range, 1200km long, which starts near Bratislava, then passes through Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and on into Romania, to finish at the Kazan Gorge on the Danube. In general, the Carpathians are not very high as mountains go – over half the peaks fail to reach 1000m. But the High Tatras are a notable exception – nearly 100 of their more than 500 rocky summits surpass 2000m, ten come very close to or exceed 2500m, and the highest reaches 2654m.
A miscellany of delights is provided by this compact microcosm of alpine scenery, which has been designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. This designation gives strict protection to a wide variety of natural habitats and an immense diversity of wildlife, through the existence of neighbouring national parks in Slovakia and Poland, which together cover all of the High Tatras, as well as the adjoining White Tatras and most of the Western Tatras.
What about the Western Tatras...
The Western Tatras form the second highest mountain range in the Carpathians, with some 20 summits above 2000m, the highest being Bystrá (2248m). While the slate peaks of the Western Tatras are generally lower and less spectacular than those of the High Tatras, there are some fine ridge walks. These are longer, more numerous and more accessible to walkers without a guide than in the High Tatras.
There are some fine routes in the Western Tatras which are easily accessible, and are included in the guidebook.
And the White Tatras?
The White Tatras are a distinctive, 13km long range of pale-grey, limestone peaks rising from grassy slopes. They adjoin the High Tatras transversely, like a hammerhead, at Kopské Sedlo, and have six summits over 2000m, the highest being Havran (Raven, 2152m).
The official dividing point between the High and White Tatras is Kopské Sedlo, due north of Starý Smokovec. The dividing point between the High and Western Tatras, depending on whose authority you follow, is one or other of two neighbouring saddles on the Slovak–Polish border northwest of Štrbské Pleso. For Slovakia, it is Ľaliové Sedlo (Liliowe in Polish); for Poland, it is Sucha Przełę cz (Suché Sedlo in Slovak). This dichotomy results in the intervening summit, Beskyd (Slovak) or Beskid (Polish), not knowing whether it belongs to the High or Western Tatras. The valley called Tichá Dolina, which runs southwestwards from Ľaliové Sedlo, is generally considered to be in the High Tatras, although on the maps it appears to lie in the Western Tatras. This may seem nitpicking, but for local people it is a matter of some importance.
There's also the Low Tatras?
Tatras is the word used by English-speakers as the plural of Tatra, although in both Polish and Slovak the plural form is Tatry. It applies to several mountain ranges, in total 78km long and on average 10km wide, that straddle the border between Slovakia and Poland. There is also the completely separate Low Tatras range to the south, wholly within Slovakia, and not covered by Colin's guidebook.
Would you like to explore the High Tatras?
Go walking in the High Tatras with Colin's guidebook which also includes routes in the Western Tatras and White Tatras.