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 few days in Slovakia to visit my friends in Bratislava.

But I also had the plan to make a couple of short hiking tours in the Veľká Fatra and Malá Fatra mountain ranges (that are two large mountain ranges in Central Slovakia, themselves part of the vast Carpathian Mountains) provided the weather conditions allowed for it.

The Fatra mountains had been for me terra incognita up to this point, and I pushed it to a challenge of sorts as I wanted to explore the terrain during 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 influenced the town’s development considerably since the very beginnings of mining in this region (12th century) and in the course of the following centuries.

Conveniently, there exists a fast direct train connection (duration three and a half hours) to the capital Bratislava which is fairly cheap (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, what is the origin of the distinct names obviously.

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).

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

Špania Dolina (the nearby valley bears the same name) is situated at the western foothills of the Low Tatras.

It was an important mining town in the Middle Ages like most of the settlements in this area. And so you can see many remnants and reminiscences of the mining era 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”), one entrance point to the Great Fatra mountain range.

3.2 Vyhnatová, December 25

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

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), located on the main ridge of Flochovský chrbát ("Flochovský back")
Bystrické Sedlo (1190 meters), located on the main ridge of Flochovský chrbát (“Flochovský back”)

The weather was okay on this day, though a thick layer of snow made orientation difficult at times (I recommend having a compass and a hardcopy map in your pocket as fallback devices on trips through unknown terrain: your smartphone-navigation might shut down unexpectedly).

So I had to face slight inconveniences and I had to have my compass constantly in hand to get to the finishing point of my tour, just in time before the sunset: the small town Kordíky.

Midway between Bystrické Sedlo and Sedlo Tunel (Skalka, 1231 meters)
Midway between Bystrické Sedlo and Sedlo Tunel (Skalka, 1231 meters)
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 footpath.

1 the hiking tour here described doesn’t lead through the Veľká Fatra National park actually but through the Kremnické vrchy mountains (Kremnica Mountains); those mountains are the southern continuation of the Great Fatra geologically

3.3 Tour to Zvolen, December 26

Thirty kilometers is the distance between Banská Bystrica and Zvolen on an undulating 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, view towards the Great Fatra mountain range
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 fairly large castle (Zvolenský zámok) and a castle ruin (Pustý hrad)2, as well as other notable sights.

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

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 following centuries, Žilina became a religious center endowed with many churches and several synagogues.

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 accessible from Žilina.

5. Malá Fatra mountain range

Despite the name may suggest, the Little Fatra (malý, -á, -é is the Slovak adjective for “little” or “small”) possesses the higher peaks and gets haunted by more visitors than the lesser popular Great Fatra (but, as mentioned, the Great Fatra stretches over a larger area).

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).

5.1 Minčol, December 28

nemožno – impossible.

The plan was to ascend the mountain Minčol (1364 meters) in the west of the town Vrútky (382 meters), but the weather conditions thwarted it this time.

Due to the hip-deep snow from about 1100 meters on I couldn’t hike any further than Sedlo Okopy (1285 meters), some hundred steps short of the peak.

Malá Fatra, near Diaľna (908 meters), view to the south
Malá Fatra, near Diaľna (908 meters), view to the south
Malá Fatra covered in snow, pushing for Sedlo Okopy (1285 meters) on around 1000 meters
Malá Fatra covered in snow, pushing for Sedlo Okopy (1285 meters) on around 1000 meters

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

5.2 Chata pod Kľačianskou Magurou, December 29

This cottage is situated in the Malá Fatra National Park, and the chata is a good starting point for proceeding to 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 (1150 meters)
Chata pod Kľačianskou Magurou (1150 meters)
Next to Chata pod Kľačianskou Magurou, view to the south-west
Next to Chata pod Kľačianskou Magurou, view to the south-west

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.

6. Conclusion

Again I expanded my horizon in Slovakia, though weather impeded my hiking plans to some extent as one can expect in December.

What’s next? I want to create an article about the mining history in Slovakia, what would offer a good pretense to visit two famous cities that have been on my bucket list for a long time: 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