Although the Pieniny Mountains are not the highest mountains in Poland, it is one of the most visited regions in Poland. It has a lot to offer, not only during warm summer months, but also during winter. Most of the mountains are protected by Polish oldest national park – Pieniny National Park.
Pieniny Mountains – why are they so special?
What makes Pieniny different from other Polish mountains, is the stone they are made of. Except for some parts of the Tatra mountains, this is the only region built of limestone. It was easily eroded by Dunajec – the biggest river in this region. This results in picturesque landscapes both from the mountain and from the water.
Getting from Krakow to Pieniny
The best way to get from Krakow to Pieniny Mountains is to take a direct bus from Krakow Bus Station to Szczawnica or to Kroscienko nad Dunajcem (there is another Kroscienko in this region of Poland, so don’t make a mistake). Both are on the same routes, but some buses may end in Kroscienko and not go to Szczawnica. Buses are frequent – there is at least one every hour. A ticket from Krakow to Kroscienko or Szczawnica costs 25 PLN and the journey lasts a little more than 2 hours.
What to do in Pieniny Mountains
Hiking in Pieniny National Park
There are a couple of o trails you may follow if you want to hike. They may be demanding and require you to have good hiking shoes, but you need neither climbing equipment nor a guide. Most popular trails start in Sromowce Nizne (next to Trzy Korony PTTK hotel) and in Szczawnica (next to Orlica PTTK hotel) – you need to hire a boat to take you to the other side of Dunajec. The most popular destinations are Orlica and Trzy Korony peaks (both with viewpoints, tickets 6/8 PLN low/high season, valid on both viewpoints on the same day) and Gora Zamkowa.
Less popular are trips in other directions – west of Szczawnica (starting from Orlica PTTK hotel) there is a mountain ridge leading to Wysokie Skalki (1050m), the highest peak of Pieniny. It may take you about 6 hours to walk from Szczawnica, through Durbaszka Peak, Wysokie Skalki and Homole Valley Protected Area (entrance fee about 2 PLN) to Jaworki Village. From here you may either take the trail west, to Biala Woda Valley, or take a bus back to Szczawnica (check the schedule as they are not frequent). Jaworki and Szlachtowa are the two remaining villages in this region with orthodox churches.
Dunajec River Gorge rafting
If you come to Pieniny Mountains in summer, you have an opportunity to take a rafting trip down the Dunajec River Gorge. This is the best way to sightsee Pieniny.
Rafting season opens on the 1st of April and lasts until 31 October, except for two public holidays: Corpus Christi (usually in June) and the first day of Easter (if it’s after the 1st of April). Rafts start at the rafting marina in Sromowce Wyzne-Katy, or Sromowce Nizne and end in Szczawnica or Kroscienko. Tickets may be obtained upon arrival, and boats leave after 11 passengers are ready to go.
Depending on the season, start/destination point, tickets price start from 93 to 119 PLN, and the raft lasts 1,5 – 2,5 hours.
Hiking in Pieniny
Unless there are severe winter conditions, trails are not closed and it is possible to hike. Just be careful as it might be ice on your way.
Pieniny is not the most popular ski resort in Poland, but if you plan to be there anyway, you may give it a chance. There are at least 4 slopes in the area: Jaworki (Arena narciarska), Szczawnica (Palenica), Kroscienko (Stajkowa). Their length vary from 300 to 700 meters. If it is not enough for you, Bialka Tatrzanska, one of the biggest ski resorts in Poland is about one-hour car ride away.
Where to sleep in Pieniny Mountains
As Pieniny is a very popular tourist destination in Poland, there are plenty of places to stay. Those are, however, mainly not hotels (although there are some), but private apartments or guest houses. If you plan to hike, there are also possibilities to sleep in mountains. There is one refuge (Schronisko pod Durbaszka) close to Durbaszka Peak. There is also one Student Camping Base between Homole Valley and Wysokie Skalki Peak. PTTK refuges in Szczawnica (Orlica) and Sromowce (Trzy Korony) are more like hotels than refuges.
Students Base Camps are something you might not have heard of. Those facilities are run in various Polish by Student’s Guides Associations in Poland. You may put your own tent or use the one provided by the base. You may also be given a blanket if you need one. Other basic facilities (toilet, cold water shower, fireplace) are provided, but usually there is no food offered, so you need to bring your own.