Do you like nature, hiking, and beautiful views? If you're visiting southern Poland, you may want to take a trip to Pieniny National Park. The oldest national park in the country is perfect for short day trips as well as longer vacations. Apart from the mountains, this national park boasts some great attractions like a picturesque river gorge and medieval castles. D

Where are the Pieniny mountains and Pieniny National Park?

The Pieniny mountains are located on the border between Poland and Slovakia. They are made mainly of limestone rock and form three mountain ranges: Pieniny Spiskie, Pieniny Właściwe and Małe Pieniny. On the Polish side, the national park (in Polish: Pieniński Park Narodowy) is located in the Pieniny Właściwe range – the central part of the mountains and the southernmost part of Poland. One third of the park’s area is strictly protected and about half of it is forested.

The turn of the river Dunajec in Pieniny. Malownicze widoki obserwowane podczas spływu Dunajcem.

The highest peak in the Pieniny mountains, called Wysoka, is 1050 meters above sea level and lies on the Polish side. However, it is not located within the national park’s area. It’s interesting to note that there is a parallel park on the Slovak side. It is located in the eastern part of the Pieniny mountains and called Pieninský národný park in Slovak.

Pieniny National Park and mountains are just about a one-hour drive from Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains. The closest airport in Poland is in Krakow (KRK), about 2 hours away. Alternatively, landing at the Poprad-Tatry airport (TAT) in Slovakia will put you even closer to this area.

Things to see and do in the Pieniny National Park

Now that you know where the Pieniny mountains are located, let’s see how you can spend your time there.

Dunajec River Gorge rafting (on traditional wooden rafts)

One of the most popular attractions in Pieniny is river rafting and admiring the Dunajec River Gorge. If it’s something you’d like to experience, plan your trip in the summer months. The season is usually from April until the end of October. Wooden rafting on the Dunajec river started in the first half of the 19th century and has been one of the region’s biggest attractions ever since. Rafting on the river Dunajec is absolutely safe, so you have nothing to worry about. It’s also quite relaxing, so if you prefer more extreme and active water sports, you may want to opt for kayaking instead. As it’s a popular tourist activity, especially in warmer months, we recommend choosing the date wisely and booking things in advance. There are many organized trips available online, so you can ensure your spot. Tourists staying in Krakow can book a Dunajec River Rafting Tour, which comes with transport and hotel pick-up and drop-off.

Rafting on river Dunajec in Poland. Spływ Dunajcem, w oddali Trzy Korony.

A hike to Three Crowns

Visitors who enjoy hiking shouldn’t miss a trip to Three Crowns (in Polish: Trzy Korony). Although not the tallest in the Pieniny mountains, it is the most popular summit in Pieniny National Park. Three Crowns is formed of 5 peaks. The highest peak, called Okrąglica, has an observation platform that offers beautiful views of the Dunajec River Gorge and the Tatra Mountains. You have to pay around 6 PLN to enter the platform and it can accommodate up to 15 people at a time. Keep in mind that most tourists to the national park want to get to the viewing platform on Three Crowns, so queues in the summer months are very common. If you’d like to avoid crowds as much as possible, we recommend starting the day early.

There are a few different trails you can choose from to get to Three Crowns. The most popular and relatively easy route starts from a village called Sromowce Niżne and takes around 2 hours. You can also take a longer and a bit more demanding route from Szczawnica which takes around 3.5 hours. It’s important to note that this second route requires crossing the river. You can do it in a few minutes on a raft from the rafting marina, which is open in the tourist season – the transport costs around 3 PLN. To find out more, we recommend visiting the national park’s website.

Dunajec river rafting. Spływ Dunajcem i malownicze widoki.

Disconnect at Czorsztyn Lake

The region where Pieniny Park lies has other attractions which are worth visiting. Among them is Czorsztyńskie Lake. It’s actually a man-made reservoir due to a dam that was built to prevent flooding of the Dunajec Valley. The picturesque surroundings of the mountains make this a perfect place to relax and disconnect. Among the top things to do here is hopping on a boat cruise. This is a fun option for people of ages and allows seeing the lake, hills, and castles from a different perspective. There’s also a beach you can visit when the weather is nice. If you’re looking to be more active, you can cycle around the lake thanks to a 30-kilometre trail. It is also possible to walk on top of the Niedzica (or Czorsztyńska) dam, which offers probably the nicest view of the Niedzica castle.

Visit the castles by the lake

Niedzica castle

Whether you’re spending time at the lake or not, you can do short trips to the Dunajec Castle in Niedzica. Built at the beginning of the 14th century, it is beautifully located on a hill next to the lake. Since its beginning and for most of its history, the castle belonged to Hungary and functioned as a fortress. It was incorporated into the territory of Poland after World War I. Today it houses a museum as well as some rooms where you can spend the night! While touring the castle, you can also see the prison and torture chamber. The terraces, which offer great views of the lake and the dam, are also a highlight. The castle supposedly has its own ghosts and is a backdrop of legends that you can hear when visiting. The entrance costs around 23 PLN and includes a tour guide.

Czorsztyn Castle

On the other side of Lake Czorsztyńskie is the Polish equivalent of the Dunajec Castle. It’s not certain when it was built, but historians date it back to the 13th-14th century. Today the castle is in ruins, but it is still possible to visit it and enjoy the views. The entry ticket costs around 10 PLN and inside you can read a bit about its history.

With this little background, you will hopefully make the best of your visit to the Pieniny Mountains. If you’re in the region for longer, we recommend checking out the attractions in Krakow and Zakopane or hopping over to the Slovak side for more mountain adventures