If you love hiking and seeing new places you should consider hiking near Wisła (pronounce: viswa). This small but charming town in the Beskid Śląski Mountains is the perfect base for many day hikes in the area.
The modest yet beautiful Silesian Beskids Mountains
The Beskids are a long mountain range in the Outer Western Carpathians, comprising of a few smaller parts: Beskid Śląski, Beskid Niski and Beskid Żywiecki. Beskid Śląski (Silesian Beskids) is the most western part and the closest to my heart, as I was born just an hour drive away and used to hike around those hills all childhood.
The mountains of the Silesian Beskids are generally in the range of 700 – 900 m, with twenty mountains above 1000m. The highest peaks are Barania Góra (1220 m) and Skrzyczne (1257 m). Dozens of trails connect the peaks and valleys making the area into a hiker’s paradise.
Wisła: The Pearl of Beskids
- Wisła is called “The Pearl of Beskids” and is famous for a few reasons. Recently the biggest call to fame is thanks to Adam Małysz – the most successful ski jumper in Polish history. Adam Małysz calls Wisła his hometown and you can feel very strongly how proud the town is of him. There is a new ski jump called his name, a Trophy Gallery where you can see his awards (really impressive!) and a variety of other “Małyszomania” elements.
- But there is other very important element to the town’s fame: it’s the place of birth of the biggest Polish river: Wisła (Vistula River). On the slopes of Barania Góra, Black and White Vistula streams take their start, later coming together to officially start the Vistula River, running across the whole country and emptying into the Baltic Sea.
- Wisła is known also for being the center of Lutheran life in Poland. From its very beginning, it was a safe haven for protestants escaping persecution in the west. Today it is the only town in Poland with majority Protestant population.
History of Wisła: Sheep, safety, and lumber
The village was established already around the 16th century, from the beginning closely connected with the town of Cieszyn (The Duchy of Teschen). For a long while, the main source of income for Wisła’s residents was lumber and sheep. With fast industrialization in the Cieszyn area, the need for lumber was growing. Local aristocrats (mostly Habsburgs) and landowners almost completely removed sheep herding from the area, as all land was dedicated for growing more lumber for ironworks.
What’s quite interesting is the fact, that already in the early 19th century, Wisła was popular with tourists. Some early mountaineers came to Wisła to climb its highest peak – Barania Góra. The 19th century was also the time of growing interest in folklore and peasant culture. Wisła became a popular destination for artists, poets and a variety of other fascinating characters. In the second half of the 19th century, first vacationers houses (called “villas”) started to be built. In the years between the world wars, Wisła became a real spa town. In that time Zameczek Prezydencki (Presidential Palace) was built – one of the most interesting buildings to see in the area.
Wisła is the answer, no matter the season or adventure!
In case I still haven’t convinced you to come hiking near Wisła, I give a few more reasons:
- Wisła is a tourist spot all year round – for hikers, mountain bikers, skiers, walkers… The accommodation is amazing and you will find options in every price range. There are restaurants and smaller inns with regional dishes at affordable prices. There is no “dead season” – whenever you come, you will find open restaurants and B&Bs happy to accommodate you.
- The area is just beautiful. Green hills covered with pine and mixed woods, gentle slopes and steep rocky ascents – there is no boring trail around here! You can choose to have a base in Wisła or hike through the range stopping at mountain shelters. You might even consider hiking the Great Beskids Trail, moving through the various Beskids’ ranges all the way to Ukraine.
- There are some trails which can make a loop to make it easier for you, but most trails take you from place A to place B. You can use a local bus service to reach the trailhead and then hike back to your base. It is a much safer choice than the other way around, as the buses don’t run that often. Other towns and villages in the area providing great trailheads are Ustroń, Istebna, Koniaków and Szczyrk.
- Wisła and surrounding areas are very safe. I hiked there by myself and never had any issues or felt uneasy. Those are quite popular trails so it’s natural to meet other hikers, in particular on weekends or holidays. You are also never far from people in case something bad happened – there is GOPR (Mountain Rescue) ready to help (their phone numbers are all over the place) and local people live close by. No trails go into seriously remote areas and the cell coverage is very good.
- If you are searching for something more beyond hiking, you can find a lot of fun and/or silly activities. From absolutely fantastic rope park on Równica Mountain, through quads rides, archery, folklore festivals, concerts and so on. You might want to check out the wooden architecture monuments or find all about the traditional Koniaków lace makers. This is a rich area with something for everyone.
How can I reach Wisła?
The easiest way is to fly into Katowice or Kraków airports. It’s also quite easy to get to Katowice from Warsaw by train (the fast Pendolino takes you in about 2,5h). There is a local train connecting Katowice with Wisła as well as private bus services (Drabas and BusBrothers). The ride by bus takes about 2h, by train a bit longer. There is also a way to get here from Kraków, especially if you are combining hiking near Wisła with other travel destination in Poland. Another way is to reach Wisła from Bielsko-Biała. You can even walk from there along a trail, but it’s not a short trek 😉
Wisła is a very long and narrow village, a typical shape for a valley settlement. It splits into two ends – Malinka and Głębce. The famous Ski Jump Tower is in the Malinka part. You might even be lucky to watch a tournament! The train goes all the way to Wisła Głębce, the last stop, and another trailhead.
It is a good idea to find your accommodation somewhat close to the center, but not in the very middle of it – there are often picnics and concerts and it’s better to be removed a bit if you like your peace and quiet. Wisła Centrum or Wisła Nowa Osada are very good spots for your base.
Trail conditions and marking for hiking near Wisła, Poland ·
All trails are very well marked and it would be really hard to get lost. Nevertheless – have a map and check it at cross points to make sure you are following the right trail. In addition to very clearly marked trails (white-color-white), there are a few intuitive signs: exclamation point before a possibly confusing spot – where the trail splits or turns away from a bigger path. Have your eyes open when you see it! The colors do not indicate the trail difficulty, it’s just a color. There are no two trails with the same colors right next to each other – which is great. In Spain, all the GR trails are marked in red and sometimes they cross or go together for a while – really confusing!
Traditionally, a trail description in Poland gives you time to complete the trail and not its distance (as do the Czech ones). Even on maps, you will see times marked (different for both directions) which is actually a neat feature. I like to know both, but giving you the time needed it also gives you information on what difficulty you can expect. If the same trail’s section has 35’ one way but 55’ the other, you know there is some steep climbing involved! The timing is pretty realistic, too. Unless you are a trail runner, it is a good estimation.
Prices when hiking near Wisła, Poland
Hiking in Wisła is really affordable for a Westerner. You can find a room in a B&B style place for about 50zł/night (10 – 15 €). Most of those places (often called “Villa”) are well taken care of, with clean private bathrooms. Traditionally, Silesians take a lot of pride in the way their houses and surrounding look. You will see tidy gardens with beautiful flower beds. The private rooms (“kwatery” or “pokoje”) are clean and simple, sometimes a bit… behind with the design trends, if you know what I mean ;-). A lot of local people received help from the EU to modernize their B&Bs or hotels so you can expect decent standard. Some offer breakfast or more meals. There are cheaper places with no private bathrooms, but also more expensive ones in hotels offering higher standard and additional attractions like spa or massage. Check websites like nocowanie.pl or booking.com for options.
There are also “gospodarstwo agro-turystyczne (agritourist farms)” – those often offer something a bit extra. They combine accommodation with a bit of culture and regional cooking. They often have their own sheep or goats, make cheese or preserves in a traditional way. They offer eco/healthy traditional dishes and are very knowledgeable about various diets. Some offer classes in milking cows or baking traditional bread. Staying at that kind of place can cost you more, but it also gives you much more than just a bed.
By the way – when walking around you will see people selling strange looking yellowish tiny barrel-shaped things. Those are “oscypki” – traditional smoked sheep cheese, eaten cold or hot. You simply must get some 🙂
There is a whole range of restaurants around the area. Most of them serve local cuisine which I highly recommend. You should be able to get a full meal for about 25-30zł (<10€)/person add to it a coffee or grzaniec (mulled wine/beer) or shot of local hard alcohol (a variety of flavored vodkas or slivovitz) and you might be around 50 -60 zł (10 – 15 €)/person. Not bad, huh? Of course, you might stumble upon a bit more fancy restaurant or try some delicacies in mountains shelters – expect higher prices there.
Make sure you try “kwaśnica” – a sour kraut soup cooked with a healthy dose of smoked rib meat – delicious! Pierogi are obviously Polish delicacy everywhere, not just in Beskids, but highly recommended.
The local bus ticket will be around 4-6 zł to get to the close by villages (1€). To get to/from Katowice, you need 17zł (4€).
I’m pretty sure the prices are quite attractive for a West-European or an American. I was hiking in Scotland and Spain… Polish prices are definitely more tourist-friendly!
Come back soon for detailed descriptions of a few day hikes you can do from Wisła!
Day hike #3
Day hike #4
Have you ever been hiking in Beskid Mountains? Did you like it? Would you love to go?