Nature-lovers, hikers, and those looking for a spot of serenity will not be disappointed with a trip to Poland’s Bieszczady National Park. Bieszczady’s highest peak, Tarnica, the beauty of this area can be found in secluded well marked hiking trails, an opportunity to get close to pristine forests and explore this wonderfully diverse area of Europe’s wilderness.
The majestic mountains allow for stunning unforgettable vistas, and nature’s beauty puts on a glorious show changing with the seasons. Bieszczady forms part of the border between Poland and its neighbours, Slovakia and Ukraine. The Eastern part of Bieszczady is most visited, and if you’re seeking a greater degree of solitude, particularly during the summer months, then it is worth heading further west. Bieszczady is accessible from Krakow.
Bieszczady as a region has an interesting and heart-wrenching history. Whilst the majority of Europe welcomed peace in 1945, this region saw atrocities spanning a further two years as the opposing sides, the Ukrainian insurgents and the Polish army, fought for territorial control. The ultimate result was in 1947, the Polish Government took the drastic step to completely depopulate vast swathes of the Bieszczady region. The result is the tell-tale abandoned shrines, churches, and villages, that dot the National Park today.
The history of the Bieszczady National Park is woven in to its landscape and the story of the people here. Additionally, the Bieszczady National Park forms part of the Eastern Carpathian UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Alongside the striking landscape of Bieszczady National Park, visitors can be tantalised with the idea of potential sightings of the incredible selection of wildlife. Nature spotters can enjoy the rare treats of spotting bears, wolves, European bison, deer, Eurasian lynx, beaver, elk, boar and Aesculapian snakes, among other fauna.
Don’t miss the opportunity to marvel in the incredible scenery of the area. A hike to watch the sun rise at Chatka Puchatka is worthy of the early start. The Bieszczady region is famous for its Poloninas which are flora-rich grassland meadows found at the timberline.
When choosing the time of year to visit, be aware that Bieszczady is hugely popular in the summer months.
There is snow cover in the park from approximately November to May. The rainiest month is July. It is widely agreed that these variables make September a wonderful month to visit, balancing the pleasant yet milder weather with fewer crowds.
Activities in the Bieszczady National Park
Relaxation through gentle outdoor pursuits is the highlight of Bieszczady. Most importantly, a visit to Bieszczady wouldn’t be complete without a few samples of local hiking trails. Other activities also abound in the region:
- Water Sports: from sailing to canoeing, plenty of options are available for water sports lovers. Head to Solina, an enormous reservoir with 150km of coastline. In the summer months, boat cruises are also offered on the lake.
- Fishing: again, anglers should delight in the opportunities afforded on the shores of Solina Lake.
- Hiking: Visitors are spoilt with a wealth of well-marked hiking trails in Bieszczady. A popular draw is the hike to ascend Tarnica, the highest peak in Poland at 1346m (4609ft). Further popular and well-loved hiking trails include a walk up to the mountain shelter of Mala Rawka and the main ridge of the mountains, Wielka Rawka. Other areas worth visiting for their trails are Polonina Caryńska and Wetlińska.
- Cycling: Mountain Biking is popular in certain areas of Bieszczady, however you must stick to the designated trails. The dirt and gravel roads of the old abandoned villages lend themselves naturally as bike trails and a particularly popular biking trail is the Western Bieszczady Pass Źebrak between Rabe and Wola Michowa and Mików. The best place for bike rental is Polańczyk. Alternatively, choose one of the many guesthouses that offer bike rental to their guests.
- Riding: Riding in Bieszczady is a rare opportunity. Limited to using the local Hucal horses, like biking you must remain on the marked trails. However, horseback allows you to explore some magically remote areas of the park.
- The Forest Railway – Bieszczadzka Kolejka Leśna: departing twice daily in the summer season, from Majdan near Cisna, children and adults alike delight in the gentle journies made possible by this narrow-gauge railway which dates back to 1898. During the summer you can choose between two routes, from Madjan to Przyslup, and from Majdan to Balnica.
- Traditional Churches: the legacy of the previous populations of the Bieszczady region, which was depopulated in 1947, the traditional wooden churches of the region tell the story of the past. These distinctive churches are called cerkwie. Most were unfortunately ruined, however there are several still standing which are worth a visit, for example, Równia, Rabe, Ustianowa and Krościenko.
- Skiing: Bieszczady is a popular area for cross-country skiing throughout the winter months. With plenty of well-marked and diverse routes, there is something for the cross-country skier of any ability.
- Polańczyk: the spa area of Polańczyk draws visitors for its health boosting minerals.
Food in Bieszczady National Park
You might be visiting to enjoy nature’s finest display, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the culinary offerings of the region. Home brewed beer is a local speciality and can be enjoyed alongside traditional pancakes which are both sweet and savoury. Local goat’s cheese has a well-liked reputation and dining here wouldn’t be complete without sampling local venison.
Hiking Trails in Bieszczady National Park
The National Park offers a large well-maintained choose of hiking trails. Given the remote nature of the park, and the protected status, it is important that you stay to the marked routes. Wild camping is not permitted.
The trails are clearly sign-posted and usually start in the populated areas of the Bieszczady National Park. The trails vary in length and fitness required.
Jaslo and Okraglik Peaks: this trail enables hikers to ascend 1153m to the peak of Jaslo, and also to take in Okraglik at 1101m. This walk takes the hiker through dense pristine forest and beautiful alpine meadows heading down in to Wetlina if you wish.
Polonina Carynska and Polonina Wetlinska: a hiking trail that enables visitors to the region to enjoy the famous Polonina, alpine meadows, of the Bieszczady region. These are gentle meandering trails that also take in some height to give worthwhile views.
Tarnica and Krzemien Peaks: whilst the Bieszczady is still low compared to many mountain ranges outside of Poland, Tarnica is the highest peak in the area and affords staggering panoramas. A well-liked trail to scale Tarnica also takes in Krzemien Peak which rises to 1335m and is close to the Ukrainian border