The Pieniny. A place where you can breathe freely

The Pieniny. View of the Three Crowns
The Dunajec River flows majestically and peacefully. It is truly magical. Just like Szczawnica, a town where the houses look as if they were made of gingerbread. This place, famous for its health resort buildings and healing waters, has been attracting people like honey does flies for years. And this may be one of the cases, where giving in and setting out for the majority of the most beautiful routes in Pieniny is worth it – after all, although they are hardly the tallest mountains out there, the Pieniny can delight thanks to the routes and roads leading you through fields, forests, meadows, rocks and ravines. The landscape here is ever-changing, and the air is cool and crisp. You can enjoy a deep breath!

A miracle of nature

Ready? Well, first let’s get Sokolica out of the way. This peak rises 300 metres above the level of the Dunajec River and measures 747 metres above sea level. It is a beautiful and almost iconic mountain. The dwarf pine, which became a symbol of Pieniny grows on the mountain. It still attracts visitors, although it was unfortunately damaged a few years ago during a helicopter rescue operation. It is worthwhile to climb here to see the otherworldly panorama of the Pieniny, the Pieniny Road, the trail leading along the Dunajec River, and even the peaks of the nearby Tatra Mountains – the tallest mountain range in Poland. The blue trail, which leads from Szczawnica to the peak of Sokolica is made even more attractive due to the ferry crossing, open from mid-April to October. During winter or before it opens, you have to choose another route – from Krościenko.

From Szczawnica (Niżna) you can also get to the Red Monastery, a charming monastery complex in Slovakia. You can get there by a raft, going down the gracefully meandering river, by bike by bike or reach your destination on foot in about three hours. We can assure you, the effort is well worth it, although there will be no climbing here. The road leads along the bank of the Dunajec River, overlooking beautiful rocks. The Dunajec River Gorge is dubbed a wonder of nature by some – why not check if it is the case yourself?

Three Crowns and Sokolica in one day?

Some claim that if somebody does not climb the Three Crowns (982 metres above sea level), they have never actually set foot in the Pieniny. This wildly popular peak can be reached from Szczawnica, as well as from many other towns, including Czorsztyn, Krościenko and Sromowce Niżne. Interestingly enough, it is this last trail that is considered to be the most attractive. It leads through the Szopczański Gorge with a stream flowing along its bottom and slopes overgrown with rare species of plants growing on limestone. Along the way, you can gaze on the steep slopes of Podskalna Mountain, gullies and unique rocky structures. The more ambitious hikers can go to Sokolica right from the peak of the Three Crowns. This picturesque route leads next to the ruins of the local castle. Legend has it that the fortress was erected by the Kraków duke Bolesław the Chaste for his wife Kinga, who found shelter here during the Tatar invasion. Before World War II, the castle was used as a hermitage, and today it is a tourist attraction. It is worth pointing out that this route is hardly for the faint of the heart – it leads through the so-called Sokola Perć (Falcon's Path), which can get slippery and even dizzying. The views, however, are well worth it – although I would not recommend that people who are afraid of heights to set foot there.

Difficult choices

On foot or… in a more comfortable way? Some prefer to go to the peak of Palenica (722 metres above sea level) by lift. That's a shame – climbing Palenica and and then walking along the yellow trail in the direction of Leśnica is a much better choice. Why? Not only because it is better for your health, but also for the panorama – the view of Sokolnica, which from this perspective reminds some people of a wolf's tooth. The trail leads to Dunajec River Gorge from where you can return to Szczawnica.

It is worth keeping in mind that the Pieniny are divided into three ranges, cut by two gorges of the Dunajec River. Each of them has its own beautiful trails, of varying difficulty, which tempt the hikers with fantastic nature, views and changing landscapes. Some are less popular, others enjoy wild popularity. The Pieniny Spiskie – the Spiš Pieniny – are between the valley of the Białka River and Niedzica. Central Pieniny stretches from Niedzica to the Dunajec River Gorge between Sromowce Niżne and Szczawnica, while the Low Pieniny stretch to the Poprad Valley. Wysoki Wierch is considered the most beautiful peak of the latter. It can be reached from every point on the compass, but it is worth climbing it from the Slovakian Veľký Lipník via Lesnické sedlo. This route offers an additional boon – a fabulous panoramas of the Pieniny and the Tatra Mountains. Tourists often come here to watch the sun rise and set.

The tallest spots in the Pieniny

Those who like long and interesting routes should book a day for crossing the ridge of the Low Pieniny – it will take you about 5 or 6 hours to walk 14 kilometres. The route starts at the Rozdziela Pass and ends on the Dunajec River. Those who prefer shorter and more relaxed walks can go to the scenic Biała Woda Nature Reserve – only an hour walk from Biała Woda (part of Jaworki) via a yellow trail. The more ambitious tourists may also consider climbing Wysoka and then descending to Jaworki. Wysoka, indeed. If you don't want to go home without climbing the tallest peak, you need to go there, even though some people mistakenly believe that the Three Crowns holds the crown. It is not the case – Wysoka holds the title. Wysoka (1050 metres above sea level), which is sometimes referred to as Wysokie Skały, can be reached via a trail leading through the Homole Gorge. The Gorge is one of the gems of the region, where you can sit, rest, eat, as well as… meditate by the Kamionka stream, whose waters create beautiful cascades. It takes about two hours to get to the top of Wysoka, with lots of bridges and steps – the trail never gets boring. Just like the one leading to Wysoki Wierch via the Limierz Pass and Leśnica. It is a scenic and not very well-travelled route, thus we recommended it for those who want to avoid crowds. If you are looking for such destinations, you can also choose Żar in Spiš Pieniny. Following the red trail from the village of Dursztyn, you can admire the Tatra Mountains, the Gorce mountain range, Czorsztyńskie Lake, enter a shepherd's hut and get a bit tired on the way. The climbs here are steep – reaching the summit feels well-deserved.

Another peak overlooked by many is Grandeus in the Spiš Pieniny, from which you can see the Polish and Slovak Tatra Mountains, Pieniny, Gorce, as well as Babia Góra. Also worthy of note are the sunrises and sunsets – the shortest way to get here starts in Dursztyn. When you see it, it will be a long, long time before you forget the beauty of the Polish Pieniny.

 

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