Visiting Rabka Zdrój and Hiking Solo In the Gorce Mountains, Poland
Don't be afraid to modify your plans mid-way, you can discover some true gems that way!
When I was hiking in the Island Beskids, I didn't enjoy them much. I liked the views - all mountains are beautiful, but the hiking was boring, horribly tiring, and just not much enjoyable. I started to questions my initial plan to spend all my five days on the red trail, so-called the "Small Trail of Beskids". I decided to go to Myślenice and take a local bus to Rabka Zdrój, one of the most famous spa towns in the Polish mountains. It's a hub for many trails and I could hike for the two days I had left and take a bus back to Kraków to catch my train at the end.
Discovering a real gem - Rabka Zdrój
Although Rabka Zdrój is rather well-known, I can't remember ever visiting the town. Maybe when I was a kid? I grew up not that far from it but had much closer to other mountain trail hub - Wisła and got to know the mountains surrounding it (Beskid Śląski) much better.
Rabka Zdrój had its glory days before the World War II - it was the destination for rich and famous from Kraków to relax and breathe the famous healthy salt waters. After the war, the once-hub for the bourgeois became spa town for the proletariat. Many of the private hotels and villas were taken over by factories and coal mines for their workers. Some of them lost their old-time chic and splendor.
I came to Rabka Zdrój in the afternoon and had plenty of time to walk around the town. I stayed in a freshly renovated pre-war villa, which still smelled of new wood and paint.
I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the town. The main park was all redone (with EU funds) and was a pure pleasure to walk around. As you can see in the photos, I could enjoy the perfect light during the golden hour, which only added to the town's charm.
Enjoying the healthy air at Rabka Zdrój
There is, of course, also the tężnia solna (Graduation Tower) - a natural spa spot, where you walk around it and breathe in the healthy cold air, filled with minerals and salts. The unique water drips over branches and infuses the air around. There is a number of mineral water wells around the town, as well.
I joined the people who walked around it and could feel the fantastic cool, moist air coming from the tower. I was reminded of the time when I was in a sanatorium for kids with respiratory issues (I've had asthma and got sick pretty easily as a kid). One of the healing sessions there was for the kids to walk around in a room and sing while there were therapeutic breathable herbs and such pumped into the room.
Up, up, up the hill!
The next day I started my trek up to Turbacz. Rabka Zdrój is at crossroads of many trails but I chose to go up into the Gorce Mountains, as I had never had a chance to hike in that area. It is part of the Gorce National Park and after spending there just one day, I knew very well why this beauty needs protection.
Gorce Mountains are one of the smaller ranges in Poland. They are part of the Western Beskids and at the western end of the Carpathian range.
Coincidentally, I was again following the red trail - but this time, I was on the longest trail in Poland: the Main Beskid Trail, running for almost 500 km across southern Poland.
The trail runs through the town, so I had to walk for quite a while before I could put the asphalt roads behind me. This part is far from nice - constant uphill walk in the suburban areas of Rabka Zdrój. But once you leave it behind, you are up on a gorgeous trail.
A fantastic hiking trail!
What annoyed me while hiking in the Island Beskids - forest-covered slopes, constantly climbing (or steep downhill descending) with only occasional viewpoints, here was a thing of the past. Beautiful open spaces with views in every direction.
I was there on a Sunday, during a long weekend, so I didn't even dream about solitude. It wasn't too bad - there were tourists and hikers but no walking in line, which was fine by me.
The trail proved to be all I love about hiking - clear and well-marked trails, diverse and ever-changing paths, going a bit up, a bit down, some on a steep slope, then some on almost flat... I absolutely loved it.
The initial climb out of Rabka Zdrój was the longest constant uphill walk I had on this trail - the rest was all mixed up.
Gorce National Park protects a number of rare mammals (like lynx and wolves) but I didn't have the luck to see any - and not a surprise, as I walked along a popular trail.
Mountain Shelter stops in Gorce Mountains
My first stop on the way was at the Na Maciejowej mountain shelter with stunning views of the Tatra Mountains. There was a number of tourists there, enjoying a meal, beer or other drink. As there wasn't much to eat there for me and I wasn't even hungry, I asked for a coffee and just sat and read a bit before moving on - to another mountain shelter - Stare Wierchy.
This shelter looked more like a proper hotel, with dozens of people sitting all around it. I made the mistake to order a plate of french fries and it was a really big plate. Way too much.
Anyway, I moved on for the final stretch. This part of the trail was not as popular, because there was no way to walk there for day hikers. Most people were going down to the town - either back to Rabka Zdrój, or to Nowy Targ.
The final meters up the Turbacz peak
I only met a few people on the trail - mostly going the other direction. The trail runs on a top of a ridge so there was not much difference in height. I could gently walk up the final 300 m of height difference over a distance of 7 km.
When I got close to Turbacz, I knew right away it had to be the highest peak in the area - a lot of damaged trees, broken tree trunks and only some lone survivors. Summer storms can be pretty violent in the area, with thunderstorms hitting hard. I would not want to be here during such weather! There could be also some tree disease involved, maybe?
The view was fantastic and as it was about one hour or so to the sunset, I knew I wanted to come back. The Turbacz mountain shelter was not far away so I moved on to find a place there.
I had a tent with me and there was a campsite space near the shelter but the weather turned really cold and windy so I decided to ask for a room. The shelter is huge and I hoped for a women-only room.
I was lucky - as it was Sunday evening, they hardly had any guests. The night before they were almost completely full! The lovely receptionists gave me a double room for myself for the price of a bed in multi-person bunk room! There was no question about pitching the tent after that!
Is this sunset for real?
I left my stuff, grabbed a camera and moved on back to the peak of Turbacz. At 1310 m above sea level, it provided great views. And soon I was to witness one of the most beautiful sunsets in my life!
I had time to play around with the camera, take some selfies and check my wide-angle lenses. As the sun was slowly setting, a pair of hikers came up the slope - a father and a son by the look of them. Some 15 min later they were back - with a camera and a tripod. They did exactly what I did - dropped their stuff and grabbed a camera for the first row spectacle.
It was getting cold but I didn't care. I walked around the peak looking at different angles and trying to capture the magic. I later found out that I must have been not careful enough when changing lenses - most of the photos had visible dirt/fluff on them.
I also noticed that the photos had visible posterization in the shades of sunset colors. I'm not sure what was wrong - I am still learning my new camera (Sony a 6300) and I'm shooting in jpg, but maybe I should finally switch to raw? I've never done the raw processing/editing so am a bit hesitant. Especially, that I really don't want to buy an expensive editing app right now.
Anyway, the sunset was awesome :)
Sleep take photos sleep
I went back to the shelter, ate something and went to sleep, happily tired after a great day of hiking. My window had a fantastic view of the Tatra mountains. I actually woke up at dawn, grabbed my camera and took some photos. Then went to sleep. I have no idea how my brain did it - I normally never wake just like that.
It happened once before for me - when I was hiking in Canada. I just woke up and saw the dawn light in a window and rushed out, shoot some photos and went back to sleep. Weird.
My issues with calculating hiking time strike again
The next day I needed to just walk down to the town of Nowy Targ where I would catch a bus to Krakow. It was not a long walk so I let myself sleep in. And that was my mistake.
The hike back took much more time than I thought. I walked slowly, as I thought I had a lot of time, took photos, and generally enjoyed myself. I even planned to take a bit round-about way to see more.
Then at a trail crossing, I realized the time they showed on a sign and was a bit surprised. I wasn't sure where was the bus station and Nowy Targ is a big town. I rushed down, hardly taking photos and when I reached the end of the trail, I was still far on the edges of the town.
I was speed-walking through the town to the bus station, which, of course, had to be on the other side. The heat got really bad but I was not taking any chance to stop for a break.
When I finally arrived at the bus station, I was lucky to grab the correct bus - which was to leave in just 10 min. The next one would probably be too late. I already had tickets for my train back, so the anxiety was serious.
Gorce Mountains: a fantastic hiking destination!
The end of this long weekend hiking trip was just perfect. I absolutely loved hiking in Gorce and must go back! Next time I will take my time and see some more than just the trail to Turbacz. What a fantastic place - and pretty easy to reach from Kraków.
I highly recommend hiking here. The accommodation is pretty cheap for anyone from the West (I paid $10 for the night at Turbacz, $25 for Rabka Zdrój).
Hiking from Rabka Zdrój to Turbacz mountain shelter: 15, 8 km; 993 m of height gain, 193 m of height loss.
Turbacz to Nowy Targ (at the end of the trail, at the outskirts of the town): 10, 8 km; 96 m height gain, 757 m height loss.
As you can see in the image below, I walked on the very edge of the Gorce National Park and I hope to do some walking to the north and east of Turbacz.
Have you ever been hiking in Poland?
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