Nízke Tatry, trail to Špania Dolina

The Veľká Fatra and Malá Fatra mountain ranges

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Banská Bystrica
  3. Veľká Fatra mountain range
    1. Špania Dolina, December 24
    2. Vyhnatová, December 25
    3. Tour to Zvolen, December 26
  4. Žilina
  5. Malá Fatra mountain range
    1. Minčol, December 28
    2. Chata pod Kľačianskou Magurou, December 29
  6. Conclusion

1. Introduction

My Christmas vacation was a welcome opportunity to spend a couple of days in Slovakia to visit my friends in Bratislava.

Bratislava (Eurovea shopping mall entrance, next to M. R. Štefánik Square)
Bratislava (Eurovea shopping mall entrance, next to M. R. Štefánik Square), two days before Christmas Eve

But I also planned to make a few short hiking tours in the Veľká Fatra and Malá Fatra (two mountain ranges in Central Slovakia and part of the vast Carpathian Mountains), provided that the weather conditions would allow this.

For me, the Fatra mountains were unknown terrain until now, and it was even more challenging as I wanted to hike through those mountain ranges in the winter months.

2. Banská Bystrica (central Slovakia)

I stayed in Banská Bystrica, a medium-sized city with around 80.000 inhabitants, throughout the whole Christmas holidays.

The most important city of Central Slovakia has a noteworthy history of copper-, silver- and gold-mining. German mining know-how had a considerable impact on the town’s development since the very beginnings of mining in this region (12th century) and in the course of the following centuries.

The fast train connection to the capital Bratislava is convenient: three and a half hours, and the ticket price is around ten Euros.

The Nízke Tatry (Low Tatras) as well as the Veľká Fatra (Great Fatra) mountain ranges are easily accessible from Banská Bystrica.

3. Veľká Fatra mountain range

The Great Fatra (veľký, -á, -é is the Slovak adjective for “big” or “great”) is one of several mountain ranges in Slovakia, and stretches over a larger area than her western sister, the Little Fatra, which is obviously the origin of both distinctive names.

The highest peak in the Veľká Fatra National Park (that covers a large part of the densely forested Great Fatra mountain range) is Ostredok (1592 meters AMSL, i. e. Above Mean Sea Level; every stated height in this article is AMSL).

Špania Dolina, December 24

Four hours took this tour from my apartment in the city center to Špania Dolina in the north of Banská Bystrica, which was quite perfect for Christmas Eve.

Nízke Tatry, trail to Špania Dolina
Nízke Tatry, trail to Špania Dolina (view towards the Great Fatra)

Špania Dolina (which is also the name for the nearby valley) is situated at the western foothills of the Low Tatras.

It was an important mining settlement in the Middle Ages, as most of the towns in this area used to be. And so you can spot remnants and reminiscences of this era pretty often when you stride along the roads and narrow streets.

Nízke Tatry, trail to Špania Dolina
Nízke Tatry, trail to Špania Dolina

From Špania Dolina it is just a few kilometers to Staré Hory (“Old Mountains”) as one entrance point to the Great Fatra mountain range.

Steps to the church (Kostol Premenenia Pána) in Špania dolina
Steps to the church (Kostol Premenenia Pána) in Špania dolina

Vyhnatová, December 25

I started my tour1 in Králiky, a small town around three kilometers westwards of Banská Bystrica.

1 technically speaking, the below described hiking tour doesn’t lead through the Veľká Fatra National park, but through the Kremnické vrchy mountains that are factually the southern continuation of the Great Fatra

From there I followed first the blue marked, then the red marked path towards to highest elevation on my route: Vyhnatová (1283 meters).

Near Králiky (Mútne)
Near Králiky (Mútne)
Bystrické Sedlo (1190 meters)
Bystrické Sedlo (1190 meters)

The weather was okay on this day, though a thick layer of snow made orientation difficult at times (I highly recommend having a compass and a hardcopy map in your pocket on such trips, in addition to your smartphone – my battery did not make it to the end).

So I had slight troubles to reach the finishing point of my hiking tour, just in time before the sunset: the small town Kordíky.

Midway between Bystrické sedlo and Sedlo Tunel (Skalka)
Midway between Bystrické Sedlo and Sedlo Tunel (Skalka)
Kremnické vrchy mountains: Vyhnatová (1283 meters)
Kremnické vrchy mountains: Vyhnatová (1283 meters)

From Kordíky one can take the bus to Banská Bystrica, or hike back on the green marked path.

Tour to Zvolen, December 26

Thirty kilometers is the distance between Banská Bystrica and Zvolen on a mostly flat blue marked trail, whose trailheads are located directly at the train stations of both cities.

You can hike this distance in around eight hours, or, if you have no inclination for such activities, spend twenty minutes in the train that departs at least hourly (the price is one Euro).

Midway between Zvolen and Banská Bystrica
Midway between Zvolen and Banská Bystrica, view towards the Great Fatra mountain range

You won’t regret it, because Zvolen is a lovely little city with a noteworthy castle (Zvolenský zámok) and a castle ruin (Pustý hrad)1 , as well as other notable sights.

1 zámok means “palace” more or less, whereas hrad is the Slovak word for “castle”

Zvolenský zámok
Zvolenský zámok
Zvolen, Christmas market in the city center
Zvolen, Christmas market in the city center

4. Žilina (north-western Slovakia)

The first appearance of Žilina as the most important city in northwestern Slovakia traces back to the 14th century.

In the course of the subsequent centuries, Žilina became a religious center endowed with many churches and several synagogues.

Námestie A. Hlinku in Žilina
Námestie A. Hlinku in Žilina
Budatínsky hrad (castle Budatín), situated at the river Váh
Budatínsky hrad (castle Budatín), situated at the river Váh

The city with its 81.000 inhabitants is a major traffic junction today, and a major production site for car manufacturers.

The Malá Fatra (Little Fatra) mountain range is easily reachable from Žilina.

5. Malá Fatra mountain range

Despite the name might suggest, the Little Fatra (malý, -á, -é is the Slovak adjective for “little” or “small”) possesses the higher peaks and gets haunted by far more visitors than the less popular Great Fatra.

The main ridge of the mountain range is ruptured by the river Váh (Waag), so there is a northern (Krivanská Fatra) and a southern part (Lúčanská Fatra).

The highest peak in the Malá Fatra National Park is Veľký Kriváň (1709 meters).

Minčol, December 28

The plan was to ascend the mountain Minčol (1364 meters) in the west of the town Vrútky, but the weather conditions thwarted it this time.

nemožno – impossible.

Due to the hip-deep snow I couldn’t hike any further than Sedlo Okopy on around 1300 meters, some hundred steps short of the peak.

Malá Fatra, near Diaľna
Malá Fatra, near Diaľna
Malá Fatra covered in snow, near Sedlo Okopy
Malá Fatra covered in snow, near Sedlo Okopy

I encountered a couple of other hikers on this cold winter day, and no one made it beyond that mark unfortunately.

Chata pod Kľačianskou Magurou, December 29

This cottage (chata) is situated in the Malá Fatra National Park, and a good starting point for hiking the Veľký (1709 meters) or Malý Kriváň (1671 meters).

The tour is comparatively easy, and even doable for children (two hours on the green marked path from Turčianske Kľačany on).

For snowy weather conditions I would recommend using crampons in any case however.

Chata pod Kľačianskou Magurou
Chata pod Kľačianskou Magurou (1150 meters)

I didn’t try the food, but the beer in the chata is very tasty. And one shouldn’t be afraid of dogs, because many hikers are accompanied by their best friend.

Chata pod Kľačianskou Magurou
Next to the cottage, view to the south-west

6. Conclusion

krásne – beautiful.

Again it was great in Slovakia, though weather spoiled my hiking plans slightly as one can expect in December.

What’s next?

I want to create an article about the very interesting mining history in Slovakia. That would offer me a good pretense to visit two beautiful little cities I haven’t been so far: Banská Štiavnica and Kremnica.

And I still haven’t seen the second largest city in Slovakia: Košice.

So there is no lack of material for future projects, fortunately.

Featured image: Nízke Tatry, trail to Špania Dolina