Stołowe National Park is a hidden gem, tucked away in the south west corner of Poland on the border with Czech Republic. And you could be forgiven for looking at the Polish map and conveniently by-passing it both with your wheels and your eye as it seems a long way south. After all the draw of Krakow, Warsaw and the Tatra Mountains will undoubtedly entice you. Except you will be richer for the experience if, like us, you put your energies into this Lower Silesea region.
We have been flirting with the Czech border since we arrived in Poland ten days ago and we have taken a slow meander with no particular place to go other than a loose plan in my mind about seeing the Stołwe National Park in the Sudete Mountains. I’d seen pictures of rock formations that fascinated me enough to make this detour to this tiny peninsular south of Wrocław. Weather, as per norm has proved to be our nemesis and almost influenced a left turn to the north than heading to our southern destination. Although we persevered as the camera loving spirit in me kept a firm eye on my goal.
This mountainous region of Poland is just wonderful. Not dramatic and angular like its Alpine or Carpathian cousins; more gentle, curvaceous and alluring as its topography seems to ebb and flow gracefully mimicking the ocean’s waves. These forest and fields of corn drape over this voluptuous landscape giving it a softness that melts your heart. Yet do not be fooled, these gracious mountains pack a mighty punch at up to 3000ft. Who would have thought that within their embrace, this Sudete Mountain range would hold such a magnificent geological secret.
Stołowe National Park really does look unassuming as you arrive in the region and I found myself wondering if it had been worth our diversion south. Pretty enough although not the spectacle I was hoping for. Although parked up in our eclectic little campsite in Duszniki-Zdrój overlooking fields of Roe deer we were determined to set foot on this unique landscape and, with a great weather forecast we would be in for a treat.
Stołowe National Park (pronounced Stowlove) is about 10 miles long and in the heart of the forest are 100 million year old sandstone rocks that have been formed in layers, and through erosion, have created the most incredible formations. This landscape is unique in Poland and locals flock here to experience its magic. And I say magic for good reason as the two areas of the Park we visited, transport you into a world of fantasy. In fact The Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian was filmed here. And it is easy to see why.
Area 1 – Blędne Skały
22 hectares of protected natural beauty known as Errant Rocks would hold for us a memorable hiking adventure, although getting there was an interesting journey before we even donned our walking boots. Heading out from our campsite in blissful ignorance following SAT NAV we ended up in the back of nowhere with our faithful machine having a meltdown. Doing a double-check with maps.me it had, once again, taken us off on a magical mystery tour of the Stołowe Mountains – just not our planned destination. So a point to note if you do this route – when you reach the lovely spa town of Kudowa-Zdrój keep straight on the 387 carriageway – do not turn off left, even if Tom-Tom is screaming at you to do so!!
Reading reviews on t’interweb, I was unsure whether we would be able to reach to this region of the park by camper thanks to the numerous comments of ‘access is via an extremely narrow road’ being mentioned. So suitable doubt was lodged in my mind yet intrepid we always are, so decided to check it out and make an alternative plan B if A didn’t come off. Needless to say, reviews must always be taken with a pinch of salt because it was absolutely fine.
Indeed there is a narrow road, although it is simple one-way, single track road. Access and exit is controlled by way of 30 minute slots that allow you to drive up and down without meeting any on coming traffic. It is well organised and we had timed it beautifully and drove up instantly. The Ticket Office at the entrance, take a small toll fee of 20PLN (£4.00) and off you go. Now I will be honest that the road isn’t the smoothest we’ve been on and the road is punctured with holes and it is a little, what shall I say, bumpy, although we’ve been on far worse in Italy, England Bulgaria. So given that you are only doing 15mph, the road is completely doable and we’re driving a 7.5m camper. The journey takes just 15 minutes and you will be guided into the car park. We arrived at 11.30am after our little SATNAV detour and there was plenty of space for our length of vehicle. There is no additional parking fee, although you do have another Ticket Office (Kasa in Polish) at the entrance to what they call the Labyrinth, which is 10PLN per person; £2 – a billy bargain for the experience we were about to have.
As we followed the well marked walking boards that protected us from the often muddy ground, I found myself wondering what delights would lay ahead. Whilst I had seen pictures on the internet, nothing can really replace seeing it for yourself – same is true for you as you read my blog. Although I hope words and images might entice you none-the-less.
So how can I describe this playground of geological genius? Imagine being a child again and in one of those mazes where you have to find your way out. It’s a bit like that except surrounded by rocks rather than privet hedges. And the word rocks is really an understatement of the reality. These are formations that reach up to 11 metres high that look like they have been sculptured by a giant not of this world. Sandstone boulders that have been weathered by rain, wind, snow and ice create deep crevices, weird and wonderful shapes that even have personalities such as ‘Hen’s Legs’, ‘The Ship’ and ‘The Gate’ to name just a few. It truly is a geological work of art. Around every corner you will find yourself looking up, within, around and through as the Labyrinth really does take you on a mysterious tour of its unique world and we felt like we were privileged visitors in a special kingdom – The Land of the Rocks. And just like that kid who is having a huge adventure in the maze, you will find yourself squeezing through the narrowest of gaps, crawling through low tunnels and clambering over rocks and tree stumps that have somehow found a way to co-exist in this secret world of nature.
Having sold this wonderland experience to you, it is worth mentioning some important facts that will help you enjoy your adventure;
- Good walking footwear is essential and although there are good boardwalks, climbing over roots and boulders are necessary so sturdy shoes will give you a safer experience.
- Weekends are going to be busier than week days and coaches do come up here too. So consider this when you visit. Although there weren’t too many on our trip, on a Friday morning in June, if you can avoid school holidays and weekends I think this would enhance your experience.
- You need to be reasonably agile and not be holding any injuries as there is a lot of bending, climbing and squatting. Sadly this is not a disabled-friendly environment.
- Be cautious if you have dogs and very young children. This is not a great environment for these little guys either.
- Some of the crevices are incredibly narrow and means you will often need to take off rucksacks, watch for cameras around your neck as you squeeze through some really narrow gaps. So without wanting to be disrespectful in any way, if you are on the large side, then this may be tricky for you. My boobs just about managed although there was a little scrapage!
- The walk takes about 45 minutes and is done in a clockwise direction, so unless someone decides they have to turn around for some reason, then it makes for an easier passage.
- It is very shaded in the forest, so on a hot day it will be light relief from the sun; on a cold day, you may need some layers of warm clothing to take with you.
- There are toilets at the car park if you don’t have your own facilities.
Area 2 – Szczeliniec Mały
Ok so have I got your attention so far? So you fancy more? Well we have more to give you.
I have to admit that having seen the labyrinth I wasn’t sure anything much could top it. Although I was about to be proved wrong. Again my trustee companion Google showed me images of our next adventure and it looked nice enough. A plateau of forest and rock with two viewing platforms on the edge, over-looking the valley. Still those thoughts aside, I have come to learn that low expectations is far better than too high an anticipation of an event or situation. So parked up in a large field, that interestingly you can camp overnight at, we began our trek. There’s about 1km to walk before you get to the actual entrance of the park and you must run the ‘tourist trap’ gauntlet with little sheds offering you their wears, ice creams and scrumptious looking gofry (waffles to you and me) topped with jam or ice-cream.
You arrive at the entrance with the sight of steps; steps, steps and more steps, in fact over 665 of them to be precise. They were constructed in 1804, so in themselves there’s even history in them there steps! A steady if not slightly out of breath ascent, in about 15 minutes brought us to what we thought was the top. A restaurant and resting place afforded us stunning views across the valley into Czech Republic. This could have been our stopping point – although the icing on this veritable fruit cake was literally just around the corner.
With the parting of another 10PLN per person (£2.00) we entered the second wonderland, with the anticipation of Alice and the grins of the Chesire Cat. At first the walkway looks a little similar to Blędne Skały, they certainly look related and of course in geological terms you would expect it to be this way. Although it really doesn’t take long for the landscape to become more dramatic. Crevices deeper, boulders strewn across like bridges making for that perfect Instagram shot if it wasn’t for the railings to stop us. More characters greeted us along the way; the monkey was sublime, the table top, the chicken, all there for our entertainment and the incessant clicking of my camera.
And then there was a sign for The Devil’s Kitchen and with eyes wide open like a child at Christmas we headed down. Down deep into the earth into one of the crevices. And boy did the temperature drop. We were hurring it was so cold. Although somehow this really didn’t bother us partly because of the experience and we really had to concentrate with the steepness of the steps that lay before us. And then as we started to climb back up, with only chains as our support, we got the full scope of this magnificent place and the role that Mother Nature has played in its creation. Either that or there really are giants who are having the greatest of fun with us. This place just got better and better. Every corner we turned there was something new for us to gawp at.
Past the Devil’s humble abode, we were then showered with sunlight as the landscape opened up and huge boulders looking like lego sat in front of us with a viewing platform to climb. Wow this place was just incredible. Surely though this wasn’t what we had seen from the car park in the valley below? No this was just the warm up show. Two outcrops of sandstone rock that signalled the end of the forest had views across Poland and the Czech Republic. It was just a stunning scene and after the hike to get there and the adventure with the Devil, we really felt like we had had a ‘Famous Five goes on a hiking adventure’ – just that there were only two of us.
And then was simply the descent to master. Whilst it didn’t feel as if there were 665 steps back down, the views were completely different here as we hugged the rock face on the well managed steps and forest paths downhill. So much attention and care has gone into this park and all for £2! The whole experience took us about 2 hours from door to door and we calculated that it was about 5km in total. So a good old stretch for our muscles and our lungs and one I would do again in a flash.
A bit like our hike through Blędne Skały’s Labyrinth, this incredible walk comes with some health warnings.
1. You must have a good level of health and fitness to attempt this hike as there are no car parks at the top – you have to walk. From the car park in Karłow, it’s a good 2km to reach the restaurants and the Ticket Office, of which a good 1km is those 665 steps.
2. There are some incredibly steep steps up and down through Devil’s Kitchen, which have chains to help you ascend, so this doesn’t lend itself to pushchairs or wheelchairs or really carrying small children. And again although dogs are allowed on leads, as a dog-owner in a previous life, I wouldn’t have wanted to take Fleetwood on this walk with the steepness of the steps.
3. There are toilets at the beginning of the stairway and again at the restaurant at the top.
4. You pay 10PLN per person (£2.00) to enter the park at the viewing point past the steps.
5. On a hot day take plenty of water, on a cold or snowy day take plenty of warm clothing and on both days sturdy footwear is essential as once again you are climbing over tree roots and boulders.
6. Car parking in the area seems to be capped at 20PLN (£4.00 for the day) and there are plenty of them. We parked at Michalówka Restaurant (50.476, 16.33776).
Both of these areas of outstanding natural beauty will take your breath way. And whilst you’re in the area, why not visit some of the other hikes around where you can take in the Mushroom Rocks and other sandstone rock formations. We really can’t recommend enough diverting here and having a couple of days to explore the area. It truly is beautiful and a great way to hop over the border into the Czech Republic if this is your route. Check out the main Stołowe National Park tourist website here.
In terms of camping possibilities, there are two that we know of in the area, both of which are basic although perfectly acceptable to explore the area;
- Michalówke Parking at Karłow – 20PLN for parking (£4.00)
- Camping Agrocamp at Duszniki-Zdrój – 40PLN for camping with facilities (£8.00)
Check out our latest video below, to give you a real ‘bird’s eye view’ of our adventures.