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Ojcow National Park
The 17th-century Blessed Salomea's Hermitage atop steep rock in the park's heart.

Ojcow National Park in Poland

It may be, with its area of mere 21.5 sq. kilometers, the smallest of Poland’s twenty national parks but the Ojcow National Park (Ojcowski Park Narodowy in Polish) ranks among the most attractive recreational areas in the country, and it is just a 15 minutes’ drive – or 24 kilometers – northwest of central Krakow (road 794 via Zielonki to the town of Skala, right turn to road 773 to the Pieskowa Skala castle). 

 

Few national parks in the world can boast so many picturesque and worthy architectural monuments as the Ojcow’s one has within its limits. This and the most scenic landscape with an abundance of many-shaped limestone rocks – some tall for fifty meters or more – such as the park’s trademark 25-m-tall ‘Hercules’ Bludgeon’, rather than wildlife bring in here roughly 400,000 visitors a year. Most of them comes between mid April and mid November. Also numerous caves, often easily accessible, prove to be a magnet for many.

Pieskowa Skala castle near Krakow
The park's trademark 25-metre-tall "Hercules' Bludgeon" rock
by the Pieskowa Skala Castle is said to be the work of the devil.

The core of the Ojcow National Park consists in the Pradnik river valley with a road running along it as a backbone – most opportunely for motorists. The thing is there are too many of them, notably on weekends, so the two most convenient parking lots, at the village of Ojcow and by the Pieskowa Skala Castle, tend to be packed. 

The flora and fauna of the Ojcow National Park

The Ojcow National Park, established in 1956, preserves valleys of two small rivers, Pradnik and Saspowka. The park includes 385 hectares of the strict nature reserve. Its fauna consists of about 6,000 animal species (insects make up the bulk). There are 134 species of birds such as hawks, woodpeckers, owls, kingfishers, and herons. The Ojcow National Park boasts also 15 species of bats whose colonies inhabit many of the park’s 400 or so known caves. Also, one endangered species of reptile, a harmless snake gniewosz plamisty (smooth snake, Coronella austriaca). A program to reintroduce beavers into the park was successfully launched in 1985. 

Plant species of the Ojcow National Park number about 900. Its area largely consists in forests of common broadleaf trees. 

Attractions in the Ojcow National Park 

Pieskowa Skala castle in the Ojcow National Park near Krakow, Poland

Pieskowa Skala Castle, called ‘a pearl of the Polish Renaissance’, at the Ojcow park’s northernmost end, among forests on a hill overlooking the picturesque Pradnik river valley, dates back to the mid 14th century. In the 16th century it underwent refurbishment after the fashion of the north Italian Renaissance. Since 1970 it has been home to a European art museum, a branch of Krakow’s Wawel Royal Castle. 

The castle of Pieskowa Skala lies on the Trail of Eagle Nests (red marks), a hiking route that runs from Krakow to Czestochowa linking a chain of medieval castles that used to guard Poland's western frontier.  

Ojcow village in the park’s heart boasts the remnants of the 14th-century castle: Gothic gate, octagonal tower, and ruins of the chapel. Popular as a tourist destination since the 18th century, Ojcow was a fashionable health resort through the second half of the 19th century, and a few buildings in the period’s so-called ‘Ojcow style’ remained, e.g. two former hotels: one turned into the Nature Museum, the other into the post office. 

Blessed Salomea’s Hermitage (Pustelnia Bl. Salomei) at Grodzisko village, atop a tall upright rock halfway between Ojcow and the Pieskowa Skala Castle, dates back to the 17th century, and was built in the place of the 13th-century nunnery. Baroque church is surrounded by the 17th-century statues of Polish saintly medieval prices and princesses. 

King Lokietek Cave (Jaskinia Lokietka) near Ojcow is 240 m long and fabled as the place where the Polish ruler hid from his rival’s overwhelming forces in 1300 before he eventually regained the Krakow throne. 

Dark Cave (Jaskinia Ciemna) south of Ojcow is 147 m long and was home to Poland’s earliest known inhabitant who dwelled here some 120,000 years ago.

In the proximity of Krakow
Krakow is Poland's tourist mecca, and also a gateway to many other must-see sites in the region.

Polish national parks near Krakow 


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