As soon as I came across descriptions of hikes that included cliffs, waterfalls, chains and ladders in my Slovak guidebook, I was absolutely positive I need to make a trip to Slovenský Raj National Park (also known as Slovak Paradise). However, when October came and went and I still hadn’t made it to the park, I resigned that the trip would probably need to wait until Spring, as the most interesting trails in Slovakia seem to be closing.
Luckily for me, this weekend fantastic weather combined with fantastic people (one of whom is extremely knowledgeable of both the trails and language) for the most ideal journey to Slovenský Raj I could have hoped for.
Saturday morning, a small group of us from my favorite hostel, The Ginger Monkey, set off past Poprad, to the Small Carpathians. After checking out the charming village of Levoča, which has a very impressive square and church, we entered Slovenský raj. From the parking lot, a yellow trail led us to a dramatic lookout point over a valley we would later hike through. To our left we could see the rolling Small Carpathians and to our right, the stunning High Tatras.
After absorbing the views and taking some goofy pictures at the lookout, we walked on, back into the forest and dropped down until we reached a river surrounded by steep cliffs. For a couple of hours we scurried up, down and along the side of these cliffs by way of rocky trails, ladders, chains and metal grates attached to rock faces. While I normally love to battle through tough ascents leading to summit viewpoints for a feeling of accomplishment, all of these added elements and the diversity of scenery throughout this hike kept things interesting and rewarding the entire time.
As the light began to dwindle (which is before 4 p.m. at this time of year), we approached the highlight of our trip. After sloshing through a shallow stream, we pulled ourselves up rusted ladders parallel to stunning waterfalls. Even wet feet couldn’t dampen the experience of climbing up the cliffs. As I ascended I couldn’t help but think about the kind of release forms I would probably need to sign to climb this at home.
After the waterfalls we welcomed our next challenge – the dark. It was a premeditated decision to take on the final couple of hours after the sun went down. Or at least, it was a premeditated decision not to get up so early that we would be able to fit it all in during daylight hours. Equipped with a couple of headlamps and cell phone flashlights we had to descend down into the valley we had previously seen from the lookout point. The terrain was a little more difficult than one would normally desire in the dark, but the eery stillness of the woods and the stars poking through above made the ending of our hike much more unique. After nearly two hours after sunset, we saw a glowing light in the distant, signally our proximity to our highly anticipated dinner at Penzión Lesnica. Just like all of the other events of the day, it did not disappoint.
For anyone looking for a hiking experience that can include forests, streams, ridges, valleys, cliffs, waterfalls, and of course breathtaking views, all in five hours, look no further than Slovenský Raj.