Around Lake Czorsztyńskie Meeting the dragon and the Incas

Cyclists on the cycle path against the background of Lake Czorsztyńskie
Only two days are needed to visit the Polish and Hungarian lands, climb a volcano, learn about the legend of the dragon's egg, and see two castles, diligently looking around in search of Inca treasure in one of them. Impossible? As you wander around Lake Czorsztyńskie, all this will happen to you.

Not only for experienced hikers

While the introduction may suggest that this is a proposal for experienced walkers, virtually anyone can benefit from it. That's because the route can be divided into shorter sections or you can walk just some of them, having a base in one of the nearby villages. It all depends on leisure preferences, interests, weather, and your mood. Although we present the maximum version, it is up to you to what extent you use it.

For those who prefer the calm of the lake shores to the challenge of the peaks, we recommend the cycling trail around Lake Czorsztyńskie. It runs close to the water, almost entirely away from road traffic, and provides the freedom to choose between a full tour of the entire lake or a shortened version with a boat or gondola ride from Czorsztyn to Niedzica.

The shortened option does not include travel by car. When choosing this means of transport, you need to drive from Dębno along the Road No. 969 via the Snozka Pass to Krośnica, here turn right to Sromowce Wyżne, and after reaching it, head towards Niedzica and then through Falsztyn and Frydman to Dębno.

Around Lake Czorsztyńskie - useful information

To discover the charms of the area, the map with marked trails and the following hints will come in handy.

It takes about 15 hours to complete the route (14 hours on marked trails plus an hour to get from Frydman to the starting point). Add to this the time to visit the facilities, enjoy the views, and relax. Therefore, it is a proposal for a minimum two-day trip with an overnight stay (preferably) in Czorsztyn or Kluszkowce.

The hike can be shortened by about 4 hours by resigning from crossing the section from Czorsztyn to Niedzica and crossing to the other side of the Dunajec River by boat or gondola (the docks are located at the foot of the Czorsztyn stronghold but in different places).

On the Polish-Hungarian border From the Huba to the Gorce

We will want to keep in mind that these areas were once border lands. Centuries ago, the border between Poland and Hungary ran along the Dunajec River, and the strongholds on both banks of the Dunajec still serve as reminders of this - they once guarded the river crossing, but today they are tourist attractions.

Nine kilometres long, Lake Czorsztyńskie was created when the dam on the Dunajec River was built in Niedzica, forming, as iit were, an extension of the Sromowiecki Reservoir, which lies a little further away.

The starting point of the trail is located on Road No. 969 from Nowy Targ to Krościenko nad Dunajcem in the village of Huba; just beyond the bridge over the Dunajec River (coming from the west) or, in other words, right where the road, after a short straight line, turns to the said bridge (looking from Krościenko).

 Blue signs indicate the first section of the route. For an hour and a half the road leads steeply uphill (the gain in altitude is almost 400 metres), climbing the slopes of the Gorce leading us to the trail junction below Kotelnica. From there, you still have to hike uphill for about 3 hours, this time following the red signs. It is a section of the Main Beskid Route (Link to the article on the Main Beskid Route) leading from Ustroń in the Beskid Śląski to Wołosate in the Bieszczady.

Downstream, directly on the Dunajec, there were numerous villages. However, during the construction of the Niedzica Dam, some were partially flooded and others were relocated to higher elevations. The latter include Maniowy, which catches the eye of travellers on Road No. 969. In the local cemetery is theinteresting cemetery Chapel of St Sebastian, whose history dates back to 1722. You can still see what the surrounding buildings looked like years ago in the  Czorsztyn Kluszkowce settlement, which is a combination of an open-air museum and a hotel-restaurant area.

A strenuous hike with beautiful views From Mt Lubań to Mt Wdżar

Let's get back on track. Our route climbs strenuously to Mt Lubań, and its last quarter is again very steep. However, the reward for the effort is the beautiful views from the observation tower erected on its summit.

At this point, it is worth saying a few words about the fact that Mt Lubań has had no luck with hostels.  Both - the one built before the war and the other erected in the 1970s - burned down. The ruins visible along the red and blue trails are a reminder of them. There is an idea for a new chalet to be erected on it ... However, staying overnight here (in a tent base) is possible in summer. This is an interesting proposition for those who do not need many comforts but want to enjoy looking up at a sky full of stars whose brilliance is not dampened by the lights of nearby towns.

From Mt Lubań, the route leads - following the blue signs - to Snozka Pass. It takes about 1.5 hours to descend the steep slope. In the last section, leading through open countryside, there are extensive views of the Tatras and the Pieniny. The trail goes around the Mt Wdżar, the most unusual mountain in the Małopolska region, to lead us to the car park at Snozka Pass.

On top of an extinct 

On top of an extinct volcano and in a dragon's land

Why is Mt Wdżar unusual? For very many reasons -beginning with the fact that it’s made of igneous rock, i.e., rock that formed when magma from a volcano cooled, so perhaps it is an extinct volcano (in the Małopolska region there are a lot of volcanic rocks ) on its slopes. There used to be as many as three quarries, through which today there is a nature trail (with even chains on it!); on its slopes there is a place where the compass points north where it is actually south...

If you are looking for interesting facts, let us add that, according to legend, centuries ago a dragon hatched from a giant egg on the slopes of Mt Wdżar (today there is a monument to it). Enthusiasts of active leisure can get their fill at the Czorsztyn-Ski ski station with a year-round ski lift, the Joy Ride Bike Park a summer toboggan run, and a rope park, and don’t forget the fact that Wdżar has been one of the favourite places for paragliders for many years.

Also ’Organs’ by Władysław Hasior is at the Pass. It is a monument that was erected during the communist era in honour of those who perpetuated people's power. The monument is said to make a sound like an organ when a strong wind is blowing - there are people who claim to have heard it.

We recommend that everyone go on an expedition to this remarkable peak. It can be reached after a few minutes' walk from Snozka Pass, where there is a large car park, or from Kluszkowiec, by the aforementioned ski lift.

From the Pass, the blue trail leads to today's centre of Czorsztyn (walking time about 40 minutes; from the starting point - 6.5 hours). It is here, or in Kluszkowce (at the foot of Mt Wdżar or on the shore of the lake, near the sandy beach), where many guesthouses and catering facilities are located that serve tourists visiting the area practically all year round.

At the point where the trail enters Zamkowa Street, you’ll find the Chapel of St Florian with the figure of Christ falling under the weight of the crucifix. This is further evidence of the changes that the construction of the dam has brought to the landscape of the area. Years ago, the Chapel was located in a place that is now under water.

Between two castles - once between two countries

The Wronin Castle in Czorsztyn is another important place on the route of our excursion. A green trail leads to it from the centre (it takes about 20 minutes to walk it). The history of the fortress guarding the river crossing on the Polish side dates back to the 13th century. Often destroyed and then rebuilt, it was passed from owner to owner and was modernised many times over the years.

After visiting the fortress, a decision must be made about the rest of the tour. As we mentioned in the introduction, it is possible to shorten the described route and sail from the marina at the foot of Czorsztyn Castle to the other shore, directly to the vicinity of the stronghold in Niedzica.

However, if you want to continue the hike in full, you need to return to the centre of Czorsztyn and follow the blue trail towards Mt Trzy Korony. The initial section leads through Pieniny National Park. If you go to thelone tree in the middle of vast Hala Majerz, you’ll be rewarded with a picturesque view of the Gorce Mountains (on the right), Lake Czorsztyńskie and the already familiar Wronin Castle and - standing on the other bank in Spis - the Dunajec Castle in Niedzica.

About a quarter of an hour after crossing the asphalt road from Krośnica to Sromowce (about 50 minutes from Czorsztyn), you will find benches where you can marshall your strength before the ascent begins. At the same time, you can enjoy a picturesque view of the village of Haluszowa lying below and the Gorce Mountains in the distance beyond it.

The picturesque Dunajec Gorge and the remarkable VeloDunajec

When you reach the Trzy Kopce Pass (about 1.5 hours from Czorsztyn), you have to stop following the blue signs and use the red trail. It will take us 30-40 minutes to get to Sromowce Wyżne, near the marina where the rafting on the Dunajec River through the Dunajec River Gorgebegins.

The subsequent hike (of about 2 hours) is basically a light walk following the red signs upstream. Officially, the trail follows the main road, but a much better option is to turn left at the fork and follow it parallel to the VeloDunajec cycling trail to temporarily rejoin the route in the vicinity of the church in Sromowce Wyżne. Signs will help you find your wayto the Regional Chamber run by the local Rural Housewives’ Association, which presents exhibits related to flax and wool processing, farm work and cooking.

From the church, the red trail leads towards the dam that closes the Sromowiecki Reservoir and crosses to the other side of the river. When entering this area, it is worth knowing that during the reign of Bolesław Chrobry, the Polish lands could reach as far as the Cisa and the Danube. In the following centuries, the southern borderlands of the Polish state gradually came under Hungarian influence, but were largely uninhabited until the second half of the 13th century. The end of Hungarian expansion to the north came under King Casimir the Great, who built castles in Szaflary and Czorsztyn and colonised the Podhale and Nowy Sącz lands.

In the Polana Sosny open-air museum and ski station 

Just across the river, in Polana Sosny, a a kind of open-air museum was created and several wooden regional buildings were moved to it. There is also a camping site and just a few steps away from it is the Polana Sosny ski station.

The trail follows the road along the Dunajec River, leaving it near the car park at the foot of the dam in Niedzica. Climbing up to its crown (56 metres high!), you might have to pause to catch your breath, and and your legs will probably feel like they’ve done some work. However, you’ll realise the exertion has been worth it when you’re rewarded with the beautiful view from the dam over the Sromowiecki Reservoir and the Niedzica Castle. On the crown of the dam is the 3D painting 'Power of the Elements', and while standing at the indicated spot, you can see whirlpools, waterfalls and the river.

Dunajec Castle, White Lady and Inca Treasure

It’s time we visited  the Dunajec Castle. The stronghold has featured in several films, including ‘Revenge’ and ‘Janosik. Legend also has it that Inca treasure made of gold is hidden in its vicinity, information about which is contained in a document found in 1946 - in a secret cache - drawn up in knotted kipu script.

It is undoubtedly true that the castle was built in 1320. Although it had belonged to Hungarian magnates for centuries, it was in the hands of the Polish Łaski family for several decades in the 16th century. Olbracht Łaski mortgaged the Castle and later sold it to the Hungarian magnate Gyorgy Horvath of Palocsa. After the end of the First World War and the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, various historical, ethnographic, and geographical arguments were presented about the different proposals for routingthe border. Its course today was ultimately charted by the so-called Council of Ambassadors.

The last owners of the castle were the Salomons, who maintained serfdom on their estates between the wars. After these areas were granted to Poland, steps were taken to eradicate this relic of feudalism. It took as long as 11 years to collect the files and prepare the legislation. Serfdom was finally abolished in the Spis region by a special parliamentary act only in 1931!

The characteristic building is the granary standing opposite the entrance to the castle, which used to be part of the manor belonging to the stronghold.

Trails of the Polish Spis region

The next hike is a march to the west along the ridge of the Spis Pieniny Mountains. The red trail gradually climbs higher and higher to reach its highest point near Krempaszanka (just over 2 hours' hike from the castle). Here begins the descent to Frydman, which takes about 2 hours along the green trail. 

The initially steep path gradually eases and leads through the valleys of successive streams flowing into the Dunajec River. From afar, you can see Frydman with its characteristic Spis village architecture and the unmistakable square steeple that adorns the striking white building of Frydman’sChurch of St Stanislaus that dates back to the early 14th century.

The trail leads to the centre and around the castellum, passing the Church of St Stanislaus along the way. Although its furnishings have changed many times over the centuries and was even in the hands of Lutherans for several decades, its basic structure has remained unchanged. One can even find a Romanesque element in it, such as a small window in the eastern wall of the sacristy, and Gothic details such as a head in the corner of the nave and on a portal.

Of note on the tower are the unique attic and the remains of the watchtower porch, which burned down in the 18th century. Also of great interest is the octagonal Chapel of Our Lady of the Carmelites, dating from 1764, with a double-sided altar topped by a twelve-pointed star, the centre of which is a reliquary in the centre.

The above-mentioned castellum is a summer residence with defensive features that was once owned by Jerzy Horvath Palocsay. In Frydman, you will also find the massive two-storey cellars where wine was once stored.

If one decides to hike - according to the map attached at the beginning - and wants to complete the loop, one can hike from Frydman along the road to Dębno to see the Church of St Michael the Archangel, which is said to have been built by brigands, and from there follow Road No. 969 east to the starting point. Alternatively, you can use the cycle path around Lake Czorsztyńskie, which runs along the embankment protecting Frydman from flooding, which we also mentioned at the beginning of the text.

We invite you for a longer stay

The two days mentioned in the introduction will only allow for a quick and cursory exploration of the beauties of the Lake Czorsztyńskie area. We encourage you to spend more time here, discovering at your leisure all the curiosities and secrets of this charming corner of Małopolska. A description of the Polish Spisz car route and suggestion for a hiking trip to the Nad Łapszanka Pass, which offers one of the most beautiful panoramas of the Tatra mountain range.

It is also worth setting aside some time to get to know the nearby Harklowa, Łopuszna, for some well-deserved relaxation on the lake’s shores,  to cruise its blue waters by boat or to admire the charms of the Białka Gorge, where‘Janosik’ was filmed.

Thus our journey around Lake Czorsztyńskie in all its unique natural glories and in the footsteps of history and tradition, comes to an end. Equally fascinating are hikes along the rivers of Malopolska - the Vistula, the Dunajec River, the Poprad, the Skawa, the Raba - all of which make it easy for you to discover countless unusual places and immerse yourself in a multitude of cultural and natural splendours. Discover the secrets of Malopolska with us. It's a wonderful and fascinating adventure!


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