Pieniny National Park (Pieninski Park Narodowy) is a protected area situated at the heart of Pieniny mountains in the southernmost part of Poland. It has an area of 23.46 sq. kms., of which 13.11 sq. kms is forested and about 7.5 sq. kms. is protected. The park which was established in 1932 is one of the oldest national parks in Poland and shared boundaries with Slovakia. It has rich vegetation, different kinds of flora and fauna and amazing hiking trails which all end up at Trzy Korony, the highest peak in the park with a height of 982 asl.
COMING TO PIENINY
We have learned about Pieniny National Park from a very good tourist brochure we received in Auschwitz. Since then we have been gathering information about the place and what the possible things to do there. It was logically not in our way to Zakopane, but we thought a little detour could do no harm. So after a short pilgrimage to Kalwaria, we drove further south for about 135 kilometers to a small mountain village of Sromowci Nizne. But before that, we stopped by at Debno to see the authentic wooden church there, and also to Czorsztyn.
It was 11.00 a.m. when we arrived in Debno. We made a short visit to The Church of St.Michael the Archangel , a 15th century wooden church which is now listed in UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The church’s interior was really amazing; it has charming and authentic wood construction, finishings and paintings. Too bad that it was not allowed to take pictures inside the church. The caretaker was giving a short orientation to a group of tourists when we entered the church but again it was in Polish so we couldn’t understand a thing. At the end of the orientation, the tourists were given a short time to walk around the small church and buy some souvenirs, including postcards. Entrance to the church is free, but donation is encouraged.
After that, we drove to Czorsztyn to visit the castle ruins. Once there, we had to drive away immediately as there was no possibility to park our camper . That was too bad! We were disappointed. There was a parking area near the castle but it was very small. No way for our camper. A bigger parking area is situated about 3 kilometers from the ruins. But we didn’t have much desire to walk that long! So we just decided to drive directly to Smorowce.
In no time, we arrived at the starting point for rafting at the Dunajec River. The spacious parking area was full with vehicles and the parking personnel informed us that we had to wait 2 hours to get a ticket for the rafting. That was too long! What we did was drive 6 kilometers further to Smorowci Nizne, a small village at the Pieniny where the rafting also begins.
Campsite : Parking, Rafting Marina
Uli. Trzech Koron
Coordinates : N: 49.39927 E: 20.41283
It is a small parking area located just 200 meters from the rafting marina and ticketing office and about half kilometre from the starting point for hiking to Tryz Korony. Fee is 12 zloty per day. Grand view of Tryz Korony. No other facilities. We found it better than the first parking area we passed by at marina Katy 6 kilometers back.
RAFTING ON DUNAJEC RIVER
The Dunajec River is one of the most popular attractions in Poland. The water flows through the Pieniny Proper range, passing through high rising mountains and water curves. The main reason we went to the remote village of Smorowce Nizne was to go rafting on the river.
The rafting trip, which lasts between 2-3 hours officially begins at the marina in Katy (Smorowce Wyzne) and ends in a nice village of Szczawnica. But because it was too busy there, we started our rafting adventure in Smorowce Nizne. It proved to be a good decision, as it was a lot quieter here and we didn’t have to wait too long to go on a raft. Once we bought the ticket, we only had to wait about half an hour. And the waiting was no problem at all because we were also amused with the passing by of other rafts coming from the Katy.
The ticket cost 49 zloty per person including fee for the national park. We also bought a bus ticket for our return trip which cost 10 zloty per person.
Rafting on the Dunajec river was a very delightful and refreshing experience for both of us. We were on a wooden raft which accommodated a maximum of 12 passengers. There were two rafters wearing hats and clothed in a colourful uniform with embroidered flowers at the back, one infront of the raft, and the other one at the back part. The river was busy with rafters. The rafter tried his best to point out some of the interesting places in out trip (in Polish) , and luckily the woman next to me would once in a while translate what was being said. It was also exciting as we had to pass through dangerous curves on the river with strong water current. We passed some really magnificent areas and had amazing views of the Trzy Korony and other mountain peaks along the way. Time flew so fast and after almost 1.5 hour rafting (11 kms), we arrived at our final destination….Szczawnica.
Wee all alighted from the raft and headed to the village center. The village of Szczawnica was also a delightful surprise. It was picturesque and a bit touristic. There are also lots to do here , like biking, hiking, and sightseeing. We went to the tourist office and we were informed about the possible hiking trails in the area, especially to Trzy Korony. After that, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the village, taking a picture or two on the river bank and buying the local smoked cheese which we first thought was bread! It was 5 p.m. when we finally decided to take the bus back to Smorowce Nizne.
Lazying around in Szczawnica
HIKING THE TRZY KORONY
The Trzy Korony which stands mighty and proud at 982 meters above sea level is the highest peak and is the symbol of Pieniny National Park. As such, it is another challenge for us to conquer it. It so happened that the starting point for the hike was just about half kilometre from where we were parked. So the next day, we hiked up to the peak.
The hike was not that easy. I almost gave up! Only my strong desire to reach the top kept me from quitting. Maybe I was not fit enough and hadn’t built a good condition the last weeks that I got tired easily and became sick. I had to make a lot of long stops along the way. I even lied down on the grassfield for about half an hour. Imagine that! But luckily, through sheer determination and Hans’patience and support, we managed to reach the top! Hurrah!
We started our hike at 9 in the morning, following the advise of a hiker we have spoken a day before to have an early start. The first parts of the path was steep, reasons for my fatigueness and sickness. We followed the Blue trail in going up. There were wooden stairs along the way. After a long difficult 3 hour hike, we finally reached our goal. It was busy at the resting area near the peak. There were wooden benches where hikers were taking their rest. A small wooden hut was found at the beginning of the steep steel stairway in going to the viewing platform. We had to pay 5 zloty per person to pass through. The steel stairway was narrow and quite busy. After treading the stairs, we finally arrived at the viewing platform! What grand views! Our efforts were rewarded! We could see the Dunajec river below and small dots which were the rafts. We saw the village under us, the green surroundings and the other mountain peaks! It was just too bad that we could not stay in the area because it was really crowded. Hikers kept coming and it seemed that nobody wanted to go down just yet. After spending about 15 minutes on the platform, we decided to go down again.
Now it was time to hike down. This time we followed the Yellow trail. This was longer than the normal way back, and we were sorry for that. Anyway after two hours, we were back on our camper.
Views from the Viewing Platform at Trzy Korony
We finished the hike at 14.00. Since it was still early and the weather was nice, we agreed to just lie on the grass by the river and make it a lazy afternoon. So there we were, for another two hours, sunbathing and relaxing by the Dunajec river, and watching the many rafters passing by.
It was a delightful day. I was no longer sick! In fact, I was even proud of myself that I overcame my weakness and decided to go on.