Autumn is one of the most beautiful seasons in Poland. Poland is known for its autumns, and locals call it the “Polish gold autumn.” I love to explore the southern regions of Poland during this time of the year, and Pieniny National Park is one of my favorites. I compiled this guide to Pieniny National Park to show you top attractions and help you plan your trip.
Pieniny National Park spreads through the south of Poland and north of Slovakia and has a few peaks, with the highest reaching 1,050 m (3,440 ft) above sea level. The mountain range is very picturesque, with some vertical walls seen from the Dunajec river, which flows through the park. The Dunajec river serves as a border between Poland and Slovakia, so you can visit two countries at the same time.
The park has a lot to enjoy in every season, but autumn makes the park look especially beautiful because you can see all the colors in the mountain ranges. The trees transition from greens to golds, yellows, crimson, and russet. It is not uncommon to see fog in the mornings, which adds mystery to the view and gives that postcard look to your pictures. However, you get to see a lot of haze that tends to stay in the mountains during this time of the year.
Pieniny National Park for some reason is not popular with international tourists. You will mostly see Polish and Slovak tourists traveling there. To me, it is a spot that should not be overlooked by any outdoor lover planning a trip to Poland. It is less crowded and more peaceful than Tatra National Park. I happened to be visiting when the weather was sunny and warm, and it was one of these truly beautiful Polish gold autumns.
I recommend devoting a weekend to a few days to Pieniny National Park. There is something to fit everyone’s interest and fitness level. Here is a guide to Polish Pieniny National Park for outdoor lovers with some of my favorite places.
Table of Contents
A guide to top attractions of Pieniny National Park
Water rafting on wooden rafts
If you want to admire the beauty of the park but don’t like to hike, you can go water rafting on the Dunajec river. It is one of the top activities to do in the area. This is not the adrenaline-rush water rafting you might be thinking about. Instead, it is more of a slow-paced and comfy ride where you don’t have to do anything but sit, listen, and admire the views. A typical raft can fit up to ten people and is directed by a guide. Guides are locals dressed in traditional outfits who will introduce you to the area and tell jokes.
Water rafting leaves from a town called Sromowce Niżne and ends in a town called Szczawnica. The ride takes about 2 hours. You can easily take a bus to return to Sromowce Niżne from Szczawnica, or you could walk or rent a bike. If you’re visiting in the fall, make sure to dress warm as water always makes it feel colder, especially since you’re just sitting on the raft. In summer, take sunscreen as you might get sunburned even on a cloudy day.
Walking/Biking from Poland to Slovakia and back
If you’d like to enjoy a nice walk alongside the Dunajec river gorge, there’s a trail that leads from Szczawnica to the Red Monastery in Slovakia. You start in Poland and end in Slovakia where the Red Monastery is located. The Red Monastery is an abandoned monastery from the 14th century that has been transformed into a museum and is open to the public.
It takes over 2 hours to walk one way. Beware, the trail gets crowded, especially during peak season. Bike rental is also available, and you can return your bike on the other side of the trail. A bit further than the Red Monastery, a bridge will take you back to the Polish side of the park. If the weather permits, there’s a pretty view of the Trzy Korony peak from the bridge and the Tatra Mountains range on the other side of the river.
If you started in Szczawnica, once you’re in Sromowce Niżne on the Polish side, you could water raft to return to Szczawnica. Poland has well-developed public transportation. Buses will take you to all of the nearby small towns, so you don’t need to worry about coming back to the same spot.
Hiking Trzy Korony and Sokolica peaks
Some of the most popular peaks in the park are Trzy Korony (Three Crowns) and Sokolica with its famous pine tree that is over 500 years old. Different trails can take you to both peaks.
Sokolica (747 m, 2451 ft) is a fast, one-hour, steep hike from Szczawnica with great views. First, you need to take a boat ride to the other side, and from there it is quite straightforward. From the top of the peak, you get to see the Dunajec river flowing through the park. I decided to walk to Trzy Korony (982 m, 3,222 ft) first and then take a trail to Sokolica from there. I hiked from a town called Kroscienko to Trzy Korony, then to Sokolica, and finished in Szczawnica. It was a nice half-day hike with many picturesque locations on the way and the Tatra Mountains in the far distance. This would easily split into two separate hikes, as well.
Hiking Lesser of Little Pieniny trail to Wysoka, the highest Pieniny peak
The highest peak of the mountain range is Wysoka. From its peak, you can admire the Tatra Moutains in the distance and see an interesting perspective of the Trzy Korony peak along the way. I also recommend Wysoki Wierch (less crowded), which is on the way to Wysoka, depending on which trail you choose.
I walked on the Lesser of Little Pieniny trail from Palenica to Wysoka. It is a longer option but offers beautiful views, and it’s a peaceful and quiet trail. There were barely any people on the trail. However, faster, and shorter options are available as well.
These are the top spots to consider on your first visit to the park. Pieniny is a place more popular with locals and less touristy. You might experience a language barrier there – especially when communicating with older people. Youngsters are required to take English classes in school.
A logistics guide to Pieniny National Park
How to get to Pieniny National Park
Public transportation is well developed in Poland, and buses will take you anywhere you need to go. If you’re visiting southern Poland, Kraków is a good departure city to make your way to Szczawnica. It is about a 2-hour drive. From Szczawnica, there are a lot of local bus providers with well-developed connections among surrounding small towns. I always opt for public transportation. If you want to be more independent and have more flexibility, you can always rent a car.
Where to stay in Pieniny National Park
There are several small towns surrounding Pieniny National Park, including Krościenko, Sromowce Niżne, Sromowce Wyżne, and Szczawnica. You can find accommodation in all these locations, but Szczawnica is the biggest town and has the most options. You can choose from hotels, apartments, guest houses, and Airbnb-type accommodations. If you plan to hike, you might also consider staying in one of the three mountain shelters near the trails. They get booked quickly, so you need to make a reservation well in advance.
Best time to visit Pieniny National Park
There is no bad time to visit Pieniny National Park, depending on what you like to do. The park is popular all year. There are wildflowers in the spring and fall foliage in the autumn. The warmest and busiest season is summer when school is out, which in Poland is from the end of June through the end of August. If you’re a skiing fan, you will also enjoy visiting ski resorts in the winter. Pieniny National Park is not as popular as Tatra National Park. Therefore, you find trails less frequented, more peaceful, less touristy, and overall cheaper.
Pieniny National Park is well worth a visit. It offers stunning scenery and more of a local, small-town experience. Consider adding it to your Polish bucket list. Use this guide to start planning your visit to Pieniny National Park. Happy exploring!