The final day of the Tatranská Magistrala trail begins on the shores of Popradské Pleso, surrounded somewhat ampitheatrically by sheering 2500m + peaks. The route by which you came down on stage 3 of the trail lies across from you on the eastern shore. Read Englishmaninslovakia’s separate piece on Popradské Pleso here.
Today, under normal conditions, it’s only a 4 to 4.5 hour hike to the official end of the trail at Podbanské from Popradské Pleso, with the additional 1.25 hour road walk to Pribylina (from where there is year-round public transport access, as opposed to Podbanské where buses only run between late June and the end of August). HOWEVER, and it’s a big however (which is why we wrote it in bold and in capitals) spring 2014’s storm damage has severely impeded the trail from Štrbské Pleso and Podbanské. To all but the fit, determined or obstinate (and we ranked somewhere in this category) there is a large section of this path so covered with fallen trees that it is impassable. And for those fit, determined, obstinate hikers out there: allow an extra 1 to 1.5 hours to negotiate the fallen trees. The trees are supposed to be cleared by summer 2015’s high season (as of July 2014 clearing has begun but it’s a long job) so until then the choices for proceeding beyond Štrbské Pleso are:
a) Public transport via the mountain railway back to Poprad and/or alternative transport arrangements home.
b) Continuing by road from Štrbské Pleso to Tri Studničky, then Podbanské, then Pribylina. The road is not too busy and still very beautiful.
c) Forging on the path through the trees from Štrbské Pleso to Tri Studnicky, then continuing by road as before (because the trail is currently impossible to find through the woods just after Tri Studničky)
The first part of the path from Horský Hotel Popradské Pleso is in good nick. Follow the access road up to the crest of the first hill (about 250m) to where the red trail leaves the road and cuts through forest (replete with information boards, because this section is one of the most popular to walk) down to the most touristy place you will encounter on the whole trail: Štrbské Pleso. The trail emerges into the tourist developments just south-east of the access road to Hotel Patria (see top pic), which iconically stands on the north shore of Štrbské Pleso, Slovakia’s most famous lake. The path then takes you clockwise around the lake shore, conveniently passing its most celebrated restaurant and its well-known south shore hotels, including the Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras with its snazzy ground-level wellness centre. There’s a lot to do around the lake here – and despite the previous lines the lake is still a very pretty place to wander; it’s only the village below the lake around the mountain railway terminus that has sadly fallen prey to some ugly development – so do read here all about Štrbské Pleso, which is one of the key tourist destinations within the High Tatras.
Soon after you leave the lake’s shores (the red signs lead off on a steady track from the back of Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras and Hotel Solisko) you see the signs of devastation from the spring storms (one thinks of the Lord of the Rings lines “these trees were my friends”)
Just after this point, from where it would normally be just under 2 hours of hiking to Tri Studnicky (where the trail next touches the road) this happens:
You’ll see the felled red trail marks: and it gets worse and worse. At times, currently, along what would normally be a beautiful trail through wild woods to gorgeous Jamské Pleso and on again to Tri Studničky, trees are so thick there seems no way through. The section to Jamské Pleso is tough but just after this lake it’s nigh on impossible. You’ll have to wriggle, climb and squeeze through the fallen trees and often you lose sight of the path totally. Still, it’s pretty good fun and eventually you come out into lower-lying forest where the falled trees fall back, descend to a muddy path junction where you join a green trail, then descend sharp right to the road at Tri Studničky.
As for Tri Studničky, it’s nothing special: a couple of former forestry rangers houses and the pleasant chata of Tri Studničky. Note that this should NOT be confused with Hotel Tri Studnicky which lies southwest of Lucenec in southern Slovakia. Well, we confused it, anyway; getting excited about the possibility of a spa (as the hotel near Lucenec does have) and finding, um, basic dormitory accommodation and of course, as mentioned above, the total impossibility of finding the path again beyond the forestry ranger’s buildings.
Doing the hike in the other direction from Podbanské it may be possible to find the path but it’s terribly signposted now the storms have destroyed the trail here, and after an hour of trying we gave up and opted to continue along the road to Podbanské.
The road is not such a bad option. It’s a 1-hour walk (6km) through forest along the road to the small lane branching right down into Podbanské. You rejoin the path you should normally have been able to take at the first lane junction (Podbanské is the first major set of houses you see on the right from the main road). Good signposts (before the storms these paths were really lovingly tended, as you now see) usher you down across the river to the car park at Podbanské. From here you can ascend again 100 metres up to the village green which is Podbanské’s endearing little centre and looks quite like a quaint English village. The far side of the green has a very decent restaurant. If you are here in high season (late June to late August) you will be able to stay here, which is the preferable option to Pribylina.
But places in Podbanské do have a long closing season so if you’re outside of peak season you’ll have to continue the hike to Pribylina, back along the main road, which is another 1.5 hours (8km). You pass lots of summer houses hidden away in the woods and eventually, after emerging into meadows, arrive at Pribylina itself. It’s a large village with ample ubytovanie (rooms/guesthouses) available and, of course, buses on to Liptovský Mikulaš where there are mainline trains to Bratislava and beyond. It’s surely time to have one final round of dumplings and beer.
Read more about staying at Horský Hotel Popradské Pleso. If you’re done with hiking, maybe its time to head from Podbanske 113km west to Žilina for some cutting-edge culture. Or, for more on the Tatranská Magistrala, read on to the following:
Stage One: Ždiar to Chata pri Zelenom Plese
Stage Two: Chata Pri Zelenom Plese to Zamkovského Chata
Stage Three (previous stage): Zamkovského Chata to Horský Hotel Popradské Pleso