Visit the most beautiful valleys in the Małopolska region
Some facts you may have ignored so far
We don’t want to worry you, but our Earth is still being destroyed and there is nothing we can do about it. Geological processes known as denudation (from the Latin word denudo – I’m decomposing or plundering), are stripping the planet’s surface at a rate of 6 mm per 1000 years. And while there are many factors at work, the most significant is water. Streams start to flow down the summits uplifted by erosion sculpting the valleys. Crumbling rocks fall into streams and the water carrying them thus destroys other rocks, creating large and small debris. It embeds, where it can, while elsewhere it picks it up and transports it onwards. Millions of years pass and the river is able to carve out a sharply cut valley with rocky cliffs; after another million years, we may be left with a flat surface with gentle slopes inclined towards the river. Where the rocks are soft, the above-mentioned processes proceed more quickly; where they are hard, they can resist the force of the water, leaving fanciful rock formations – reminders of how the river once flowed over their surface. And once the river has levelled everything, because that’s what it’s aiming for, then again some orogenesis, or great movement of the mountains, will lift everything high and the whole process will start once again. But before that, let’s take a look at some of Poland’s most beautiful valleys.
White Water Valley in the Pieniny Mountains.
Poland’s rarest birds, volcano footprints and an extinct village
An easy trip, for the whole family, even with small children and a pram. Departure is from Szczawnica-Zdrój by bus to Jaworki, or from Jaworki where you can get by car (there are several car parks).
One of the most unique valleys in Poland is located in the easternmost belt of the Pieniny Mountains. It is flat bottomed with a slight slope. The Biała Woda (White Water) stream flows along it, passing by the former houses of a Lemko hamlet. As recently as 70 years ago, its inhabitants used to wander all over the country making clay pots. All that remains of the village are its faintly visible foundations and savage orchards that occasionally bear fruit. The place is surrounded by rocks as much as 80 metres high. In the middle, there is a dirt road which has to go over a stream falling from several cascades and flowing in parts through a stone course. All this is surrounded by the wildest areas of the Pieniny Mountains, with the habitats of such rare birds as the eagle owl (the largest owl in the world, the wingspan of which can reach two metres), the lesser spotted eagle, the buzzard and the completely unique wallcreeper. The latter are among the smallest, most colourful and rarest birds in Poland. They nest and hunt their prey on the sunny rocks. The valley is also full of flower meadows and fantastic rocks carved by nature. One of them resembles the legendary Sphinx, the other, known as Smolegowa Skała, amazes with the variability of its flora. Just imagine, that there are plants from two different zones – thermophilic, and relicts of the Ice Age – growing upon a single hill. There are also the remnants of an ancient volcano – basalt rock that climbed to the surface here about 100 million years ago as volcanic magma. There is also the charming Międzyskały Gorge, through which a stream runs. This is precisely the phenomenon that we have mentioned. This calm stream has been cutting through the rocks for hundreds of thousands of years and continues to cut through them. 600 metres further on, there is a waterfall with the lip heavily eroded by water. At the end of the 18th century, it was still almost four metres high, today it’s just over one and a half. And to think that only 70 years ago, there were people living in the heart of this natural area. Today, it’s turned into the White Water nature reserve , which is part of the Pieniny National Park.
You can end your trip in two ways. The easier is to finish at Kornajowska Skała (the Sphinx-like rock) and the stream Spod Zimnej Studni flowing here into Biała Woda – from Jaworki the route rises slightly. The more difficult and demanding way includes a half-kilometre section, with a sharp approach ending on the Rozdziela Pass, closing the valley, from where, looking to the west, you can admire the beautiful views of the entire Pieniny range and Beskid Sądecki with Radziejowa and Przehyba peaks.
And then there is the interesting story: just behind the buildings of the Jaworki village, going towards the valley, we pass by the buildings of the former dairy, surprisingly large for such a village. These are the remains of the great economic experiment of the late 1950s and 1960s, when the northern slopes of the Little Pieniny were supposed to be a giant pasture for sheep from the Podhale region. And indeed, in summer, as many as up to 8,000 animals used to be here, for which large model shepherd’s huts were built together with irrigation systems crossing the slopes and the aforementioned dairy. The experiment lasted only over a decade, but its remains can still be seen today. Two of the four shepherd’s huts have survived. One is the shelter ‘Pod Durbaszką’, the other is just a ruin but still impressing with its size. The other two burnt down. You can also find the remains of former water reservoirs and canals bringing water to them.
- from Jaworki to Kornajowska Skała and the link between Biała Woda and the stream Spod Zimnej Studni – 5 km; time of crossing 1h30
- from Jaworki to the Rozdziela Pass – 5.6 km; time of crossing 2h30
- from Jaworki to the Rozdziela Pass, through Wysoka, the Homole Gorge to Jaworki – 15 km; time of crossing: 6 h
Bieliczna Valley in the Low Beskids.
The wildest place in the Małopolska region, and Pułaski’s Flag
This is an easy trip, for the whole family, even with small children, but... the place is devoid of tourist infrastructure, mobile phones work poorly or not at all, there are no shops or even basic catering, and the dirt road leading deep into the valley is difficult to cross, for example with a pram. Departure is from the village of Izby, from where you walk east along the stream. Izby is situated over 160 kilometres from Kraków, 210 from Oświęcim, 82 from Tarnów and 41 from Nowy Sącz.
It’s one of the most charming corners of the Małopolska region. Izby itself is a small village almost isolated from the world. Once, the vast valley in which it lies was the centre of the largest breeding of Hutsul horses in Europe, and the sight of hundreds of horses grazing on its slopes was stunningly picturesque. Until recently, apart from one agritourism homestead, there was no tourist infrastructure or even a shop. This is slowly changing, but it is still a place where time passes more slowly.
The valley, situated on the border of Beskid Sądecki and Low Beskids , was once inhabited. In the Lemko village of Bieliczna, there were 34 Lemko families living. The only trace of them now is a brick Orthodox church from the end of the 18th century, situated in the centre of the valley. Restored and painted white, it’s one of the most recognisable symbols of the Low Beskids – known as the Mona Lisa of the Polish mountains. This very Orthodox church is the destination of our trip. It’s situated only 3.5 kilometres from Izby. We will reach it by a relatively easy dirt, and sometimes paved road which will lead us right to the temple itself. Just watch out, there is also a cycle trail that goes along this road but then takes a turn. Let’s not miss this place. The white Orthodox church reflects the colour of the surrounding trees and meadows (in summer you can meet sheep here). On the south, the valley is dominated by the highest peak of the Low Beskids – Lackowa (997 m above sea level), which can be an additional goal of the trip, but perhaps for more advanced tourists. There is no trail leading to it from the Orthodox church.
Lackowa itself also has another name: the Pułaski’s Flag. The Low Beskids were an important point of resistance for the Bar Confederation, the members of which fought against Russian domination of Poland between 1768 and 1772. One of the battles was fought near Izby and the entrenchments of the confederates’ camp can still be seen near the village. On Lackowa, there was a point from which the two camps of Kazimierz Pułaski, the leader of the confederation, communicated by means of flags. Hence its name.
The valley is a great place in every season and for all activities. There is a cycle trail leading through it, and it’s also an ideal place for ski-touring.
- from Izby to the Orthodox church – 3.5 km; time of crossing 1h
- from Izby to Lackowa through the valley – 4.5 km; time of crossing 2h
The Chochołów and Starorobociańska valleys in the Tatras. Autumn breath of nature, grasses aflame with colours and bears
Here is another easy trip and for the whole family, but only if you end it in the Chochołów Valley. Going further to the Starorobociańska Valley is a route for the advanced tourists prepared for a several-hours hike. Departure is from the Siwa Glade, where there are several car parks. Attention, it’s getting crowded during weekends.
The Chochołów Valley is a truly unique site in the Tatra Mountains . Rocks can be seen here only from a distance, the paths are wide and resemble dirt roads, and ascents are relatively easy and available to everyone. The area is almost entirely dominated by flattened grassy slopes; however, don’t underestimate them. Most of the peaks surrounding the valley are over 2000 m above sea level. What is such a place actually doing in the rocky Tatras? This part of the Tatra Mountains is made of sedimentary rocks, which are more easily eroded. Rocks turn into fine aggregate, the aggregate turns into sand, which is easily colonised by plants. Hence the fantastic mountain gardens, full of abundant autumn colours. Let’s go.
Chochołów Valley is the westernmost part of the Polish Tatras and already in the 16th century the highlanders from Chochołów grazed their sheep here. But the valley was also an important centre of mining and metallurgy. It’s difficult to find a peak where ores weren’t mined at the time, and in the early 16th century it was a real industrial basin, with its own ironworks. Many of the roads in the Chochołów and Starorobociańska valleys are former mining roads. The well-known Path over the Regles is nothing more than a centuries-old road used for the transport of ore from the Chochołów mines to a smelter in Kuźnice. The valley, although it’s located within the Tatra National Park, is owned by a cooperative – the Forest Community of the Eight Entitled Villages, which was established in 1821. And one more important thing: Chochołów Valley is the only place in the Tatra National Park where you can ride a bike.
The first few kilometres are an asphalt road, which in the Huciska Glade evolves into a stony path leading to the shelter on the Chochołów Pasture. This part of the Tatra Mountains is the most beautiful in autumn. The Chochołowski Stream accompanies us all the way with a cool breeze, but warm air flows from the sunny slopes, herds of deer hide in the spruce forests and from mid-September they start fighting for the does. The deer tune their vocal chords, and from dusk to dawn they thunder on, making the hearts of late tourists pound. Unfortunately, a significant part of the local forests was blown down by the ‘halny’ wind several years ago. Remnants of this cataclysm, testifying to the power of nature, can still be found today. Despite this, the Chochołów Valley is still an extraordinary place, where contact with nature is a great experience.
The Chochołów Valley also witnessed an unusual meeting. For it was here that John Paul II, when he came to Poland for the first time after martial law was imposed, met with Lech Wałęsa. This location was determined by the authorities as a site almost perfectly isolated from its surroundings. After the meeting in the shelter, John Paul II went towards the Jarząbcza Valley, which is today commemorated by a tourist trail. At that time, the Polish Pope said at the Chochołów Valley the significant words: “Look after these trails for me”, which inspired a special care for the most attractive places in the Małopolska region.
The Chochołów Pasture with its huts and surrounding peaks: Grzesiek, Wołowiec, Jarząbczy Wierch, Starorobociański, Ornak and Kominiarski Wierch is one of the symbols of the Polish Tatras. The shelter located here is one of our destination points, where you can spend up to several hours.
For advanced hikers, we suggest a trip to the mysterious Starorobociańska Valley, the least visited place in the Tatra Mountains. To reach it, you need to take the black trail from the road leading to the shelter. It is a glacier-formed valley with a U-shape (flat bottom) and very distinct terminal moraines, places where the glacier stopped for longer periods. The name Starorobociańska means nothing more than ‘old work’ (‘stara’ and ‘robota’ in Polish), i.e. a place of former ore exploitation. On the slopes of Ornak you can still see the traces of old mining and routes, which were used to transport the excavated material. This place was providing a living through industry already at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries! Tourism used to flourish there as well, there was even a shelter, used during the Second World War by the Home Army soldiers and after the war by the units of the leader of the partisans, Józef Kuraś ‘Ogień’, fighting against the communist authorities. Now it’s a place above all dominated by nature, where you can observe all layers of mountain vegetation, waterfalls falling from inaccessible peaks, and even the trace of a gigantic rockfall from the Dudowe Turnie. Our trail ends at the Turnip Siwa Pass, from where you can enjoy a fantastic panorama of the whole West Tatras (look to the east) and the legendary Pyszna Valley (look to the west), today completely closed to tourists. It’s worth returning along the same way to the Chochołów Pasture, watching the sun illuminate the western slopes of Ornak, which in autumn are ablaze with maturing blueberries, heather and, above all, the shoots of the blooming highland rush and autumn crocuses. Last note: watch out for bears, which like to sneak through the valley.
- from Siwa Glade to the mountain shelter – 6 km; time of crossing 2.5 h
- from Siwa Glade to Starorobociańska Valley and to Siwa Pass – 20 km; time of crossing 9h
The valley of the Wielka Roztoka stream in Beskid Sądecki. Among two-hundred-year-old trees and in search of gold
An easy, family trip. Don’t forget to have a brief introduction and test your knowledge of old children’s books. It’s easy to get here, as it is only 19 km from Nowy Sącz along road no. 87, but there are not many parking spaces available. Some tourists prefer to leave their cars in Rytro.
You may not realise it, but the forests surrounding the Wielka Roztoka stream are among the most famous of forest complexes. They were exploited (not in a predatory way) in the 19th century, when they belonged to owners from Vienna and were the subject of large financial transactions. In the Second Polish Republic, they were owned by Adam Stadnicki, a great lover of nature, who took great care of the forest resources of his estates. It was in this valley that the Dutch Prince Bernard hunted; it was also visited by the Romanian Prince Michael, later King.
If we start our hike in Rytro, we will walk the first kilometres on the pavement along the dense countryside and village housing. Only after passing the Perła Południa hotel and the Ryterski Raj ski station do we enter the woods. The path is accompanied by an interesting nature trail presenting the local animals and plants. Going deeper into the valley, we have two options. The more difficult one, along the blue trail, will lead you to the ridge of the range, which will get you to the Przehyba peak. The easier one is a walk along a forest road, and then along the path accompanying the Wielka Roztoka stream towards the protected reserve called Baniska, which covers over 50 hectares and is the most original part of the forest growing in the valley. The mighty beech, fir and sycamore trees are each 200 years old and 30 metres high, with a diameter of up to one metre.
Anyone Polish and aged around fifty, having reached the destination would recall their school reading and Rogaś z Doliny Roztoki (Rogaś from the Roztoka Valley) by Maria Kownacka. It’s a delightful story about children who befriend an abandoned roe which, when it grew, turned out to be a male - cuckold. Once released, she found the children who had got lost and brought them home. And all that was happening right here! Be sure to tell your children this story. In the valley you can find the biggest rope park in the south of Poland – Ablandia, which offers almost two kilometres of routes in the air.
And finally, a surprise. You can try looking for gold in the stream. One of the valuable artefacts of the Polish language is the so-called Testament of Piotr Wydżga, dating from the 15th century. This document is still the object of academic research. We know for sure that it was created in the southern Małopolska region, and its author may have been the knight Wydżga, although authorship is a secondary issue here. This testament resembles the so-called spiski (‘registers’) known from history, i.e. guides for the initiated on how to reach places where treasures, mainly gold (including that mined in the vicinity), can be found. And perhaps these documents were partly fanciful, but some of them led to pits where gold, silver or copper was actually extracted.
For all those who would like to search for treasures, we provide the content of Wydżga’s instructions:
“First find a way to Kraków, then from Kraków to Nowy Sącz, then from Nowy Sącz to Stare Miasto, and from Stare Miasto to Rytro. And under the peak near Rytro, there is an inn and a mill, to which the water falls; this water is called Roztoka. Let this water flow, and follow it; and when you are already deep in the forest, you will find another water coming from the left. Leave the one on the right, and follow the one on the left, until you leave the forest. And when you do, there will be a meadow, and this water goes through it straight to a cave under the ground. Move a little further and then you will find this water, because I marked it with yew-tree. I chopped the tree in the valley, so that no one discovers the place. And here, above this valley, there is a little stream, which is called Sucha Roztoka. And here stands the moon and the stars are written. Leave five to me and get whatever you want. There is a muzzle and a bowl. And when you come to this place, kneel down and praise God, etc. If the Lord God will remember you, forget my soul. And this is good just as peas and as hay and rarely as broad beans. Which I raise to the Lord.
- from Rytro to the border of the Banisko nature reserve – 1.5 km; time of crossing 1h30
- from Rytro along the blue trail to Przehyba – 11 km; time of crossing 4h30