The path in Slovensky Raj, the Slovak Paradise, literally goes over hill and dale. More precisely, over rocks and tree trunks. In the Slovak Paradise National Park, efforts are made to interfere with nature as little as possible. “We don’t cut down trees as a preventive measure, and even those that fall down on their own are not cleared”, national park employee Marek Leskovjanský tells me. “Nature should develop as much as possible without intervention.” However, they do hikers a favor and at least keep the trails passable. The trunks of the fallen trees are simply cut by chainsaws. Thus, curiously, a stump lies to the right of the path, just as it does to the left. In other places, the employees of the national park administration hammer crampons into the trunks to make it easier for hikers to climb over them.
Gorges in Slovensky Raj
The Slovak Paradise National Park, called Slovensky Raj in Slovak, is one of the most pristine natural parks in Europe. “Here, the water has carved its way through the limestone,” Marek explains. Several gorges nestle against the mountain ridge at once. “The most popular is probably the relatively shallow Prielom Hornadu,” he says. The Hernad Gorge is traversed by the largest of the rivers on this side of the Slovak Paradise. It can be hiked comparatively easily by families. But the other routes are also well frequented. In summer there are sometimes real traffic jams at the ladders. Besides the Prie Hornadu, most hikers climb the following gorges:
- Sokolia dolina – has the highest waterfall (70m). Length: 2.5 kilometers, hiking time: 2 hours
- Kláštorská roklina – short gorge with many sights. Length: 1.5 kilometers, hiking time: 1 hour.
- Zejmarská roklina – is the shortest gorge and so far the only one in the southern part of Slovensky Raj. Length: 1 kilometer, hiking time: 50 minutes
We pick the Suchá Belá on this lovely morning. It is a one-way street – because in most places you could hardly descend without danger. Many other gorges are also one-ways. Mostly only the ascent is possible. From the top, however, you can get back down to the parking lot via one of the many hiking trails.
Walking over the water in the Suchá Belá gorge
During our hike through the Suchá Belá, the gorge is sometimes so narrow that the river fills it over the entire width. Without rubber boots no one would get through here dry. But the park administration of Slovensky Raj has helped out once again and drilled grids into the rock walls, so that sometimes you walk more, sometimes less comfortably above the water on the grids through the gorge. “We keep repairing it so that it remains passable,” says Marek Leskovjanský. The grids also have to be changed from time to time.
Slovak Paradise – Mecca for those with a head for heights and a sense of adventure
However, in some cases you should still be free of any fears. Through the grids you look into the torrential mini-stream. Sometimes it also goes a few meters down. Even worse are the wooden stairs, whose steps are sometimes rotten and for which you can hardly find a step rhythm but need a good balance. After two hours you will be quite tired of these wooden stairs and glad when you can walk with your hiking boots through the riverbed and only over the limestones.
But for people with a fear of heights, it gets even worse. Again and again, metal ladders have to be climbed. Up to 15 meters it goes up on slippery stairs. The edges of the ladders are sometimes worn out, otherwise they like to drill into the soles of the shoes like a dance on a sword. Sneaker wearers clearly have the disadvantage here. But they would slip on the slippery rocks anyway. I also fell on my arm once. I could just barely hold on to a grip. Behind me was a 10 meter (30 feet cliff) with a waterfall.
Kláštorisko – Cheers to the Middle Ages in the ruins of the Carthusian Monastery
After fighting our way up the gorge in more than three hours, we can finally heat up lunch with our stove at the top. We have pasta. After that we continue hiking on the hilltop to the former monastery. This is where Michal Slivka spends the entire summer. “I teach seminar groups and do excavations here,” says the professor of philosophy and archaeology at the University of Bratislava. He sleeps in the shelters every night and also greets hikers and answers questions. In between, he also toasts the friendly people with a home-distilled schnapps. We also have to toast. The former medieval monastery shows how people once lived here on the mountain.
Memory of those whom the mountain has taken
Nearby, however, a memorial also commemorates the people the mountain took. “We have created a symbolic cemetery here to commemorate the victims of the mountain,” says National Park employee Marek Leskovjanský. The climbers, hikers and also mountain rescuers who gave their lives here are remembered there. Among them is Marek’s brother, Dušan Leskovjanský. “He was on a rescue mission by helicopter. The pilot was blinded by the low sun and hit a power cable. All people in the helicopter died immediately in the crash,” he says in a heavy voice.
Descent back to Podlesok through the gorge Prielom Hornadu
On the way back down into the valley, my legs are starting to get weak. The descent is particularly hard on the calves. Not every one of the paths is passable for the descent. At some point I just want to get down, I’m hungry and thirsty. Passing a suspension bridge, we finally arrive in the large gorge Prielom Hornadu. From here it is only about 1.5 hours back to the parking lot. In the end we are on the way for almost ten hours in the Slovensky Raj. In the evening I feel every minute of it in my bones. But at least I get a good nights sleep for it at 10pm already before getting up at 5.30am for the next hike.
Other sights in the Slovak Paradise
In addition to the trails I hiked, however, there are several other canyons and sights that
Dobšinská ľadová jaskyňa – UNESCO World Heritage Dobšinská Ice Cave
There are more than 200 caves in the Slovak Paradise National Park. However, you can easily visit only one of them – the Dobschau Ice Cave. From the total length of 1,483 meters, only 475 meters have been accessible since 1871. There is permanent ice in the cave. In the Great Hall, the ice cover is up to 26.5 meters.
Hiking through the Kysel along the Via Ferrata
If simple hiking and climbing over ladders in the gorges is not enough, you can also step up a gear. Because in Kysel gorge there is a via ferrata. Here you need some equipment, which you can borrow at the parking lots. Because it goes up even steeper here and a rope is not wrong. The equipment includes a lap belt with hook attachments and a helmet. The equipment costs 10 euros per person and can be rented and returned from 8 am to 6 pm.
Tomášovský výhľad – Tomášovský viewing point
Another highlight is the viewpoint Tomášovský výhľad. It is located on the top of the hills in the Slovak Paradise and from here you have a fantastic view of the surroundings. From the parking lot in Cingov it takes about an hour to get to the viewpoint.
Tips for hiking in the Slovak Paradise
- Put on hiking boots! The rocks are often slippery and in some places it is even quite dangerous. In addition, they should be waterproof up to the ankle, then you get ahead faster.
- Get up early so that you can hike alone if possible and have beautiful light. I recommend you to come already around 7 am, then the parking lots and hiking trails are still empty and it takes a while until you meet people.
- If you are afraid of heights, it is better not to hike through any of the gorges. If it becomes too uncomfortable, you can simply turn back.
- A detailed map of the Slovensky Raj gorges you can see above.
- The hiking times for the Slovak Paradise in the maps seem to be for extreme climbers. It took us considerably longer, partly because we took our time to look and marvel.
- Food and especially enough water should be taken along for the road. There is a restaurant only on the hilltop of Slovensky Raj.
Slovak Paradise travel tips
Arriving by car
I went to the Slovak Paradise National Park by car, which is also the easiest way to get there. At the foot of the gorges there is a large parking lot that you can find on Google Maps under the Slovak name Parkovisko Hrabušice Podlesok. You can park here for the whole day for 3 euros. However, I came so early that there was no parking attendant yet and therefore I even parked here for free. From here you can hike directly up the Suchá Belá and also come back here. You can also park in the village of Čingov. Here, however, it costs a whole 5 euros.
Arriving by bus
Especially in the summer, there are also quite a few buses that go from the Spišská Nová Ves train station to Podlesok. More information about times and prices can be found on the page for timetables, Cestovné Poriadky.
Pay entrance fee for Slovak Paradise National Park
On the way from the parking lot and bus stop to the gorge there is another small hut. Here you pay the fee for access to the national park of 1.50 euros per person. You pay this fee gladly, because otherwise the gorge would not be accessible for you. The fee also pays for the maintenance and repair of the paths.
How much time to plan for the Slovak Paradise?
Hiking in the Slovak Paradise is one of the most beautiful nature experiences in Slovakia. You can take your time for this. The hiking area is large and there are many gorges and sights. One day can be enough for the route I recommend. But I would recommend you to plan some more time and hike some more routes on a second day. This way Slovensky Raj will become your paradise too!
Book tips Slovak Paradise and Slovakia
For the fact that still relatively few tourists come to Slovakia, there are quite a few books about the small country..
A hiking map is certainly a good idea when visiting the Slovak Paradise. This map is in Slovak, but there is all the important information and the best routes, which are understandable even so.
When visiting Slovakia it’s not the worst to know something about it’s culture. This little book gives you a rough overview over the Slovak people and their customs.
If you plan to also visit Czech Republic, you can’t go wrong with this guidebook that will tell you all about the best spots in both countries. Slovakia is a fascinating country and you can take your time to discover also the cities like Bratislava and Kosice or the beautiful mountain landscapes of the High Tatras.
- Kirschbaum, Stanislav J. (Author)
Slovakia is a small country but had to deal with quite some challenges. This excellent book gives you a thorough introduction to the history of Slovakia.