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A trail for children? A test of character. The Tatras within the reach of many

Should you go to the Tatras with kids? What trail to choose not to exhaust yourself and your little companions? How to make the stay pleasurable for both the children and the parents? How to avoid crowds? These are all important and frequently asked questions – we asked them ourselves before our first trip to Zakopane. Now, after a few stays in the Tatras with kids, we often glance at the calendar and look for another chance to go south, even for a couple of days. And we're not among those who can wait in a line for five and a half hours to take a cable car to Kasprowy – although, there sure are people like that. Tatra trails are made for avid hikers but there's also no shortage of trails for people travelling with children.

Last week, we had a stroke of luck. Five days in Zakopane, five days of blue skies and beautiful autumn sun, surrounded by the colours of the fall. Breaking leaves, mountains adorned with the most beautiful reds and yellows, within everyone's reach, also price-wise. Because October is already a time of promotions, low season, when every tourist and his "dudki" are worth their weight in gold. No one can predict in advance that the weather's going to be beautiful so you simply need to seize the opportunity.

We’ve already been to the Valley of Five Lakes (Dolina Pięciu Stawów), took the trail via Świstówska to the Eye of the Sea (Morskie Oko), and checked off the Pod Reglami Route (Ścieżka pod Reglami) as well as Białego and Strazyska Valley (Dolina Białego and Dolina Strążyska) with little Żywek in a special backpack. Our son is four years and two months old but he still remembers some things from a year and two years ago – also because he really likes the pictures from those trips. He really surprised me when after he was put in the backpack halfway through our climb to Kasprowy, he said: "Daddy, I remember how you carried me in your backpack and I really like it. But now I'm bigger and heavier so it must be harder for you?". Believe me when I say that after such a conversation with Żywek, we feel like we've grown a pair of wings, and we're not afraid to admit that it’s much easier now when you can talk to the passenger travelling in your backpack.

Nela also did well. Just like Żywek, she reached Myślenickie Turnie on her own legs, and only then hopped in mommy's backpack. Near the top, she cried for a moment but after five seconds, she said: "I wanted to complain but it's a lot of fun, and it's harder for you Mom than for me. I'm fine by the way, I only wanted to complain a little. But I don't want to anymore". This is a quote, really. The logic of our three year old is sweet and it floored us. I have the impression that these are the things that you can experience only in the mountains, in a place that tests the characters and where you can really get to know the other person, also a young one.

The taxi driver who gave us a lift to Kuźnice (you should probably consider if it’s better to go by car to the roundabout, and than waste time and strength on the way to the Kasprowy cable car station as well as money for the parking lot or if it’s better to simply take a cab) laughed saying that when the line reaches a certain post ("This one, panocku!," he gestured) the waiting time is 5.5 hours. Yes, it’s not an error, over five hours. And people often lose half a day thinking that it’s going to go faster, forgetting that many people buy tickets on the Internet for a specific hour and that's when they’re going to arrive... But that’s not our problem – we spent the five hours taking a relaxedclimb with small children, combined with short breaks and admiring the view of the mountain, and not throwing glances at the bar or looking the back of the person standing in front of you in the line.

I don't get how healthy, young people can stand in a line and lose half a day. We can understand the elderly, people with small kids or in bad shape and to those we strongly suggest: buy the tickets on the Internet. And now, it’s time for the tips for the "walking" parents.

ADVIZZES:

  • It’s good to bring along a backpack or a carrier there are shops that rent such equipment in the Tatras and in Zakopone. It’s best when such a backpack for the child serves as a sort of an insurance policy, in case of a serious mental crisis. There was a couple from Krakow who was hiking to Kasprowy with a five- and a seven year old son. In our opinion, they were risking a bit too much, especially, given that their younger one started complaining an hour behind Kuźnice, and he even ended up in his mother’s arms for a while. But they made it, they knew they had to. And they didn't cry.

  • The key to success when it comes to hiking with kids is in your heads. At the very the beginning, Żywek said a couple of times: "I don’t have any strength left"... Then, we used the "picnic method" ("We’re walking to the next cool stop and then have a picnic. Lead the way and choose a cool rock" or the "race method" ("Who’s first at that tree?"). We chatted up the kids about different topics and they went up like the cable cars that sometimes passed us over our green trail.

  • Talking with children is key. They aren’t really tired by the climb, they have lots of energy, they’re simply bored. It's good to look for birds, pretty rocks, colourful leaves on the trees. It’s also worth telling the kids about the mountains they see from afar, teach them to enjoy saying "Hi" to each person they meet walking the opposite way. And also to set, from time to time, concrete and not too remote goals – but also not too close because then they'll multiply beyond count.

  • Don't forget to take provisions in the mountains. Apples will do a great job on the trail, same as juices and small sandwiches. Take the food even if you’re planning to stop by or reach a mountain refuge – you never know when a child’s going to have a mental crisis and how long it’s going to last.

  • Take warm clothes and flashlights, even if you’re leaving in the morning, "just for a few hours", in a good weather. You need to respect the mountains. You don't need to be scared but have respect and be responsible. GOPR and TOPR are not taxi companies, and for God’s sake, do not be one of those tourists who call the mountain rescue on the way back from the Eye of the Sea "because it got dark and there are no horses".

  • How to choose a trail in the Tatras? With small children – even more responsibly than alone. You should multiply the walking time shown on the map by two – it’s better to be surprised by reaching the destination early than by the dark. Start with instilling the mountain bug in your kids: take an interesting, and not too long trail. I recommend, for example, an hour long climb from Kuźnice to Kalatówki Meadow (Polana Kalatówki) and then relax. Optionally, you can walk further to the refuge on Kondratowa Glade (Hala Kondratowa) – you can always turn back. Or take the Pod Reglami Route, which is marked as a black trail (this colour doesn’t indicate the difficulty so there’s no reason to be afraid) and has many path leading down to different Tarta valleys, which aren't very demanding.

  • Strazyska Valley is less than an hour from the parking lot, then, you can got to the Siklawica waterfall, which is a really good option for warming up and assessing the kids’ abilities. A stream running along the trail, a close goal, interesting surroundings – we recommend it without a doubt.

  • Białego Valley – as above. Here, you also have the possibility to reach Ku Dziurze Valley and to have a peek in the cave that’s open to the tourists. That’s what you call an attraction.

  • The kids enjoy the trail in Kościeliska Valley. There are a few caves, available depending on the child's age. Krakow Gorge (Wąwóz Kraków) – you cannot miss the turn from the main trail via Kościeliska – and Dragon’s Cave (Smocza Jama), you might also want to consider going to the Cold Cave (Jaskinia Mroźna) – the only one equipped with an aggregate, and paid. You can walk around Kościeliska with a stroller, there are also carriages – it might be an interesting option for the way back and an additional attraction if the children really don’t feel like walking anymore. On the way back you can negotiate the price down even to 80 zloty