Along the Dunajec Trail. From below the Tatra Mountains

Rafting down the Dunajec River on several rafts. The waves on the Dunajec River are quite high. Limestone rocks form the bank of the river. Three people are sitting on the shore. In the background are the lush Pieniny forest and puffy clouds in the sky.
Probably everyone has heard about the Dunajec River Gorge and rafting down this river. Where does the Dunajec River have its sources and what interesting things can you find on its banks after sailing through the Pieniny Mountains? Many people would probably have trouble answering these questions. So we invite you to travel by car or by bike – the VeloDunajec (link to the description of the VeloDunajec) along the Dunajec Trail, along the former Polish-Hungarian border, in the footsteps of St Kinga and the region where they produce the famous Łącko plum vodka (śliwowica) and Piękny Jaś beans are cultivated.

Probably everyone has heard about the Dunajec River Gorge and rafting down this river. Where does the Dunajec River have its sources and what interesting things can you find on its banks after sailing through the Pieniny Mountains? Many people would probably have trouble answering these questions. So we invite you to travel by car or by bike – the VeloDunajec along the Dunajec Trail, along the former Polish-Hungarian border, in the footsteps of St Kinga and the region where they produce the famous Łącko plum vodka (śliwowica) and Piękny Jaś beans are cultivated.

Before the Dunajec River is formed

The answer to the question about the sources of the Dunajec  is not easy because the river is formed in Nowy Targ from the junction of the Biały Dunajec and Czarny Dunajec. The first one is near Poronin, where the Zakopianka and Poroniec streams meet. Their sources are at the foot of the Tatra Mountains.  The Czarny Dunajec River, considered to be the initial section of the Dunajec River, is born, among others, from the Wyżni Potok Chochołowski that flows from the Chochołowska Valley.

If you want to start your journey from the very beginning of the Dunajec River, go to two places. Visit Zakopane with its numerous attractions, including the cable car to Kasprowy Wierch and the funicular railway to Gubałówka, walk along the famous Krupówki and the Tatra valleys, visit the Tatra Museum and the cemetery at Pęksowy Brzyzek, try oscypek cheese and other specialties of Podhale cuisine, and then head through Poronin, Biały Dunajec and Szaflary towards Nowy Targ.

The second part of the journey should start in the Chochołowska Valley and lead through Witów with the picturesque Church of Our Lady of the Scapular, Chochołów with its famous wooden buildings and the Chochołowskie Thermal Baths, Czarny Dunajec and the Sanctuary of Our Lady Queen of Podhale in Ludźmierz, also to Nowy Targ.

We usually pass by the Royal Free City of Nowy Targ, the capital of Podhale, while rushing towards the Tatra Mountains or the Pieniny Mountains, meanwhile there are many interesting things to see and know, e.g., the larch  church of St Anna, the creation of which legends associate with robbers, the Museum of Printing, the Market Square with bourgeois tenement houses from the turn of the 20th century and the Bór na Czerwonem Nature Reserve, through which one of the local routes for Nordic walking enthusiasts runs.

Along Lake Czorsztyńskie in the Pieniny Mountains

The Dunajec River emerges from Nowy Targ. Road No. 969 runs parallel to it, leading along the slopes of the Gorce Mountains through former royal villages: Waksmund (with the Brama in Gorce Educational and Nature Centre and Ostrowsko. The first one was mentioned as early as 1234 in connection with the granting of it to the Cistercians brought to Ludźmierz, while the other was mentioned in 1947 when the unit of Józef Kuraś, aka ‘Ogień’, one of the commanders of the independence and anti-communist underground, was defeated.

Another village – Łopuszna, is associated with two outstanding figures – the poet Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer and Józef Tischner, who was both a priest and a professor. The Tetmajer Manor is located right next to the Church of the Holy Trinity and St Anthony the Abbot. If you want to visit the Reverend Józef Tischner Memory House, move away from the main road between the village buildings.

Following the course of the Dunajec River, we will visit other villages with rich history and historic wooden temples: Harklowa with the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Dębno with the most famous Podhale  Church of St Michael the Archangel, which was built without the use of nails.

The main road leads consistently along the slopes of the Gorce Mountains, passing subsequent towns that were moved above the route during the construction of the Czorsztyn Reservoir. Much more excitement comes from leaving Road No. 969 in Dębno and travelling further along the Dunajec River on its right bank, through Spis. This is still a little-known area, centuries ago belonging to Hungary, which captivates with its characteristic buildings, beautiful churches with unique furnishings and cultural diversity. It is really worth spending one day travelling around the Polish Spis region or even two days, including a hike along the local trails.

We can get a taste of the charms of Spis by visiting Frydman with the 14th-century Church of St Stanislaus with the octagonal chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and an altar standing in its centre. Another interesting building is the castle, a summer residence with defensive features that had once belonged to the Hungarian owners of the area.

Beyond Frydman, the road climbs up hills and allows a look at Lake Czorsztyńskie and the Gorce massif. Beautiful views accompany tourists all the way to Niedzica, which is a mandatory stopping point. All this is not only because of the Dunajec Castle located here, which appeared in several films and with which the legend of the Inca treasure is associated, but also because of the number of other interesting places. It is necessary to look at the granary opposite the castle and walk along the top of the dam to admire the further section of the Dunajec River from its height. If you have more time, it is worth considering a scenic cruise on the lake or a boat ride to  Wronin Castle standing on the other shore in Czorsztyn, or maybe even going on a 4-hour hike between both castles.

The picturesque Dunajec River Gorge with Mt Trzy Korony and more

The most picturesque section of the Dunajec River begins beyond Niedzica. As you approach Sromowce Wyżne and then Sromowce Niżne along local roads, more and more beautiful views become visible, including the characteristic rocks of the Trzy Korony Massif. Between the aforementioned towns is the starting point for rafting down the Dunajec River, the gorge of which begins beyond Sromowce Niżne.

The Dunajec River Gorge consists of seven picturesque bends among rocks whose height reaches 500 metres! The most famous are the already mentioned Mt Trzy Korony and Mt Sokolica, which are located in the Pieniny National Park. You can see them not only from a raft, but also by hiking or by riding a bike along the Pieniny Road. The fact that there are loop trails between the Red Monastery (a Slovak town opposite Sromowce Niżne) and Szczawnica means that you do not have to return along the same route.

After breaking through the Pieniny Dunajec rocks, the Dunajec reaches Szczawnica. The area around the marina where the trip ends does not look very interesting, but going to the centre, especially to the spa part located on the slopes of Mt Bryjarka, makes the tourist enchanted by the charm of the old resort, eager to try the local mineral waters and wanting to stay in the area longer. This is a great idea as you can see many attractions here along the car route to Szlachtowa and Jaworki, or during hiking: along the slopes of the volcano to Przehyba or around Jaworki through the Homole Gorge and Mt Wysoka.

Stary Sącz and Nowy Sącz on the horizon

The fact that the Dunajec River leaves the Pieniny Mountains does not mean that the picturesque views end because there are plenty of them further on the section as well. The next town after Szczawnica is Krościenko nad Dunajcem with its characteristic small-town buildings at the Market Square and along Zdrojowa Street. Everything is literally at your fingertips here – All Saints Church, the regional chamber in the old presbytery, the votive Chapel of St Roch at Ptaszkowa Street, and the seat of the Pieniny National Park with an interesting nature exhibition (approx. 700 m from the Market Square).

The journey along the Dunajec River can be continued along the above-mentioned Road No. 969 and admire the views of the Gorce Mountains (on the left) and the Beskid Sądecki Mountains to the right. A few kilometres behind Krościenko, the eye is drawn to a steep slope featuring the Kłodne nad Dunajcem Nature Reserve, and a little farther on is an observation tower on Koziarz. In the village of Tylmanowa, which stretches along the river, is the wooden Church of St Nicholas from the 18th century, and on the nearby Baszta hill is a calvary with sculptures by Tomasz Zabrzeski. Let us add that the priest mentioned earlier, Professor Józef Tischner, spent the first several months of his life in Tylmanowa.

From the town of Zabrzeż, where the road entering between the Gorce Mountains and the Beskid Wyspowy runs, it is close to Łącko, famous for its refreshing drink, i.e., Łącko plum vodka (śliwowica) and  for the apples grown here. In this area, the Dunajec leaves the mountains and flows through an increasingly wider valley, calmly heading to Stary Sącz, one of the oldest and most beautiful towns in Poland, with unique buildings from the turn of the 20th century and the Monastery of the Poor Clares and numerous memorabilia related to St Kinga, including in the Sanctuary of St Kinga. It is worth spending a little more time here, walking around the narrow streets, maybe going for a walk around the area, e.g., to Mt Miejska (about 700 m from the Market Square) or the Bobrowisko Nature Enclave located at the fork of the Dunajec and Poprad rivers to enjoy the local atmosphere and feel that time passes more slowly here.

Such a pause will undoubtedly be helpful because the next point on the Dunajec Trail is the dynamically developing Nowy Sącz, which, however, is full of monuments from the past. The Basilica of St Margaret is undoubtedly a must-see, the sanctuary of Our Lady of Consolation, ruins of the Castle with the Smith Tower, and above all, visit the local Market Square (the second largest in Małopolska after Kraków) and look at the City Hall (link to the page describing the Nowy Sącz City Hall) and historic tenement houses. You can learn a lot about the region's past by going to the Sądecki Ethnographic Park and getting to know the charms of the reconstructed Galician Town.

Through the Beskid Wyspowy and the foothills

OWhen leaving Nowy Sącz, you must think carefully about your further journey. The dilemma is whether to travel from Wielogłowy along the left bank of the river (Road No. 75 leading to Brzesko) or on the right side of the Dunajec River (Road No. 975 leading to Wojnicz and Tarnów). The choice is not easy, because each of them has interesting places that are well worth visiting.

Let's start with the left-bank variant. The road runs mainly close to the river, but beyond Tęgoborze, it climbs Mt Just and we lose sight of the Dunajec River for a long time. Looking from the serpentines at the Sądecka Valley, admiring the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on St Just Pass, or driving past the airport in Łososina Dolna, you can almost forget that the Dunajec is near.

The Dunajec appears again beyond Witowice, where the river spreads out, creating Lake Czchowskie. The road leads for several kilometres right along its shore, passing  Tropsztyn Castle in Wytrzyszczka and the Czchów hydroelectric power plant. The centre of the town is located on a nearby hill, and it is worth visiting to see the small-town buildings at the Market Square, the ruins of the Royal Castle and the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In turn, in nearby Jurków, the Chorwacja swimming pool is ready to welcome you with a rope park, water equipment rental, a playground, and catering outlets.

If you want to continue the journey along the Dunajec River, in Jurków you need to take Road No. 980 leading to Zakliczyn, near which it joins Road No. 975 running on the right bank of the Dunajec River. Centuries ago, the Castle in Melsztyn stood guard over the area. Only its ruins, offering a picturesque view of the Dunajec River heading north, have survived to this day. A journey in the footsteps of history in search of Dunajec castles is a subject for a separate story. Just like the history and present of the nearby village of Gwoździec, whose inhabitants are said to be able to even cook nail soup...

In Zawisza Czarny's estates and Osada Młyńska

Returning to the option of travelling along the right bank of the Dunajec River, if you choose this option, turn right onto Road No. 975 in Wielogłowy. This route is recommended for those who are not afraid of uphill climbs and numerous turns and who enjoy unexpected views and the water of a river or lake visible through the trees. In this case it is Lake Rożnowskie.

If you want to visit the most interesting places, leave the main road and go almost to the shore of the lake. By the way, you can see that there are excellent conditions here for practicing water sports, e.g., sailing or windsurfing. The necessary infrastructure is available, among others, in Bartkowa, Gródek nad Dunajcem, Rożnów, Tabaszowa and Znamirowice. The first of these towns can also be the starting point for a bicycle trip around Lake Rożnowskie, and the entire area is within the extremely picturesque Ciężkowicko-Rożnowski Landscape Park.

What is worth seeing on this side of the river? In the initial section, it is undeniably the beautiful medieval Church of St Bartholomew the Apostle in Zbyszyce. Then, in Bartkowa-Posadowa, it is necessary to leave Road No. 975 and continue the journey on local roads towards Rożnów and then to Roztoka-Brzezina. In Rożnów is the17th-century Church of St Adalbert, bishop and martyr, and the Elevation of the Holy Cross, and on the road leading to the dam, one can see the ruins of Zawisza Czarny Castle.

In Roztoka-Brzeziny we’ll find the Osada Młyńska Here, the Museum of Milling, Technology and Rural Craft allows you to travel back in time to discover what life and work in the countryside was like at the turn of the 20th century. In turn, in Tropie, on a steep hill above the Dunajec River, is one of the oldest churches in Małopolska, the Romanesque Church of the Holy Hermits Świerad and Benedykt which is said to have been consecrated by St Stanisław Męczennik.

From Tropie you can take a ferry to the other bank of the Dunajec River to continue the journey along its left bank, visiting Czchów and Jurków, and then head to Zakliczyn, or return to Roztoka-Brzezina to reach Paleśnica through Dzierżaniny and then re-enter Road No. 975. This option may be of interest to enthusiasts of hiking in little-known, almost mysterious areas, as it is only 5 kilometres from Paleśnica to Jamna, from which you can take a walk to learn about the traces of devilish activity and the occupation history of the area.

Time to travel through the lowlands

Although the river has already covered many kilometres, the attractions that can be found on its banks are not over yet. Although there will be no more spectacular views, there will be interesting places.

Both travel variants converge near Zakliczyn. It is the smallest city in Małopolska, with charming small-town buildings and the one war cemetery in the area where only soldiers of Jewish origin are buried. It is worth going here at the end of the holidays to celebrate the Beautiful Jaś bean festival. The bean species has received an EU protected product certificate and can only be grown by farmers from 11 communes located in the Dunajec Valley.

Beyond Zakliczyn, Road No. 975 passes to the left bank of the Dunajec River and runs to the vicinity of Radłów and Żabno. If you want to look at the river from above, you need to stick to its right bank and use local roads to reach Dąbrówka Szczepanowska and climb the observation tower there.

The hilly surroundings of Tarnów are perfect for bicycle trips, discovering places far from the most frequently used roads. You can go to the Market Square in Wojnicz and the nearby pearl of wooden architecture, the Church of St Leonard, visit Wierzchosławice, where the family house of Wincenty Witos is now a museum dedicated to the founder of the folk movement, or visit the Gothic church of St John the Baptist in Radłowo.

When in the area, do not miss Tarnów, located some distance from the right bank of the Dunajec River. It is a pearl of the Renaissance and a city of many cultures and elements. Here there are many Jewish, Hungarian and Roma traces, places for quiet walks, and a beautiful market square teeming with life. The city, called the second Kraków, is an excellent starting point for bicycle and car trips, e.g., to the third Kraków, i.e., Biecz.

At the fork of the Vistula and Dunajec Rivers

How to get to the mouth of the Dunajec River and the Vistula River? Follow Road No. 975 to Żabno and join Road No. 973 leading to Nowy Korczyn. In Otfinów, turn off to local roads to reach Uście Jezuickie through Pierszyce and Siedliszowice. Here, exactly where the Dunajec River flows into the Vistula River, there is a ferry crossing. On the other bank, visitors are greeted by the Monument to Marshal Józef Piłsudski.

The journey along the Dunajec River has come to an end. It may be time you set off along the Vistula Trail. Kraków is an obvious point on this route, but there are many more charming corners and unusual places.

We invite you to discover Małopolska in various ways, according to your preferences and possibilities, using thematic routes, hiking trails and car routes. There is always something to discover in Małopolska at any time of the year!


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