The Bieszczady Mountains belong to the Northeastern Carpathians and are formed of flysch, their highest summits of hard sandstone. They are usually divided into the Western and the Eastern Bieszczady. The Western Bieszczady range extends between Łupków Pass (Przełęcz Łupkowska) in the west and Uzhok Pass (Użocka Przełęcz/Uzhotskyi pereval) in the east. Most of the main ridge of the Western Bieszczady constitutes the border between Slovakia and Poland. Its easternmost bit forms the Poland-Ukraine border, then ends just beyond it at the pass of Uzhok in the territory of Ukraine, where the Eastern Bieszczady (in Ukraine known as Skhidni Beskydy, Pikui at 1408 m) begins. The highest summit of the Western Bieszczady, Tarnica, stands inside the southeast tip of Poland, topping out at 1346 m. To the northeast of the Western Bieszczady strech their foothills named Góry Sanocko-Turczańskie, i.e. the Sanok-Turka Mountains (in Ukraine known as Verkhnodnistrovski Beskydy), reaching 1024 m. (People on the ground tend to think these mountains are part of the Bieszczady.) West of the Western Bieszczady, beyond the Osława River, Łupków Pass and the sources of the Laborec extends the Low Beskid (1002 m). To the southwest sits Vihorlat at 1076 m, belonging in the Carpathian volcanic belt. A bit further to the southeast rise the massifs of Ostra Hora and Polonyna Rivna (1482 m), which were once regarded as part of the Bieszczady but are now considered a distinct range.
The Bieszczady mountains differ from the other mountain ranges in Poland rising over 1200 m in that they lack the upper montane forest level, normally formed of spruce in this part of Europe. Above the beech woodland stretches a distinctive grassland zone called połonina (Polish) or polonyna (Ukrainian). This is believed to be a natural phenomenon, although some scientists disagree. The treeline in the Bieszczady often runs strikingly low, a couple of hundred meters below the expected 1250 m, which is due to a few centuries of grazing. Until the 15th century few people had lived in the Bieszczady, but the second half of the second millennium A.D. saw extensive colonization, exploitation of woodland in the valleys and its destruction on mountain tops and the upper slopes so that it made way for pastures, on which enormous herds of livestock were grazed. As a result, the poloninas have been greatly extended and the treeline lowered.
Extensive grazing in the Western Bieszczady as well as overpopulation in the area ended in the middle of the 20th century, when after World War II the local Ukrainian/Rusyn population was deported and dispersed in the north and west of Poland in retaliation for genocide against Poles committed by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Since then the Western Bieszczady has undergone rewilding - nature has replaced human management. Now these mountains rank among the wildest corners of Europe and can be considered a true 'wildlife hotspot'. There is hardly any other place in Europe where you can encounter such a wide range of ungulates (European bison aka wisent, elk, red deer, wild boar, roe deer) and predators (brown bear, wolf, lynx, wild cat, fox). Please see chapter 8 for more information.
The highest summits of the Western Bieszczady rise in the southeast corner of Poland.
There are several mountain ridges in the Polish part of the range:
- The main ridge - both an international border and an important water divide trending WNW-ESE whose highest summit is Wielka Rawka (1304 m)
- The Ridge of the Połoninas, which stretches to the north of the main ridge, parallel to it, and boasts the highest summits in the Western Bieszczady: Tarnica at 1346 m, Połonina Caryńska at 1297 m and Połonina Wetlińska at 1255 m
- Wysoki Dział in the west (Wołosań at 1071 m), east of the Osława River: few human visitors, vast forest, good chance of seeing the big Carpathian mammals, such as the bear and the wisent
- Łopiennik group (1069 m), east of the ridge of Wysoki Dział
- Otryt (Trochaniec, 939 m), on the north side of the San River just above Solina Dam. The ridge of Otryt is sometimes classified as part of the Sanok-Turka Mountains
In Slovakia, the Western Bieszczady mountains are called Bukovské vrchy. In the west they are surrounded by Laborecká vrchovina (905 m) and in the south by Beskydské predhorie (661 m). They are covered by extensive woods which contain clusters of primeval beech forest inscribed on the World Heritage List as part of the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany. Nature is not the only thing that can be found there. In the villages of Ulicske Krive, Rusky Potok and Topola stand wooden churches with rare iconographic decorations of the interior. Bukovské vrchy can be divided into two subgroups: Bukovce in the north, whose highest summit is Veľký Bukovec at 1012 m, and Nastaz in the south (800 m).
The Ukrainian corner of the Western Bieszczady between the Slovak and Polish borders, south of the main ridge, is called Stuzhitski Beschady. Its southern boundary is formed of the uppermost course of the Uzh River. Wilderness lovers will head for Stuzhytsia primeval beech-fir forest – a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. Those who are keen on cultural sites will be pleased to see the wooden church in Uzhok - part of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage named Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine. Besides, some may feel like visiting the frontier massif of Stynka, where the largest meteorite in Europe, Knyahynskyi fell in 1866.
The table below lists the highest peaks in the Western Bieszczady.
|Summit||A few words about|
|Tarnica||Western Bieszczady's highest peak whose name originally meant 'saddle'! To see the mountain page for more information, please click 'Tarnica' to the left of the photo|
|Krzemień||2nd highest peak, the rockiest of all in the Western Bieszczady, 1 km long sandstone ridge which was called Kremiń or Hreben (i.e. Ridge) by the locals, blue stripes from Wołosate|
|Halicz||3rd highest summit as late as 1970s thought to be the highest - see the mountain page for more information|
|Kopa Bukowska||Its top part is free of heavy traffic (no marked trail to the summit), red stripe trail skirts its south face at 1240 m|
|Szeroki Wierch||Four-summit ridge whose name translates as Broad Peak (its highpoint is called Tarniczka), red stripes from Ustrzyki Górne|
|Bukowe Berdo||Three-summit ridge with sandstone crags on the crest. According to W. Krukar until World War II the mountain was called Połonina Dźwiniacka by the local people; blue stripes Otryt-Wołosate, yellow stripes from Muczne|
|Wielka Rawka||The most prominent summit in the Western Bieszczady (523 m of prominence) and the highest summit on the main ridge, dome-shaped, with an avalanche-prone NE face, blue stripes from Ustrzyki Górne, green/yellow stripes from Wetlina/Mała Rawka|
|Połonina Caryńska||Four-summit, 5 km long ridge whose highest summit is Kruhly Wierch - see the mountain page for more information|
|Rozsypaniec||At the southeast end of the Ridge of the Połoninas - see the mountain page for more information|
|Mała Rawka||'Mała' translates as 'little'. Just north of the summit of Wielka (Great) Rawka. There is a small clearing, i.e. a tiny 'połonina' on the top.|
|Połonina Wetlińska||Highpoint of Połonina Wetlińska rises in the eastern part of the massif and is called Roh (literally 'horn' in Rusyn/Ukrainian); steep S face, Chatka Puchatka (former hut, today café) situated at the easternmost summit, red stripes from Smerek/Berehy Górne, yellow stripes from Przełęcz Wyżna/Zatwarnica/Wetlina, interpretive trail|
|Kińczyk Bukowski||Highest summit of Uzhanskyi National Park, situated on the PL/UA border. The southernmost tip of Poland - Opołonek peak rises a few kilometers past Kińczyk Bukowski, access to the area is officially forbidden! Grey stripe interpretive trail from Verkhovyna Bystra/Uzhok Pass|
|Smerek||At the northwest end of the Ridge of the Połoninas, in the massif of Połonina Wetlińska. Smerek is separated from the main part of the massif by a low (1075m) pass named after Mieczysław Orłowicz, renowned Polish hiker, author of about a hundred guidebooks - see the mountain page for more information|
|Kremenaros||T-junction of three international borders (Slovakia/Poland/Ukraine) - see the mountain page for more information|
Red Tape, Camping & Bears
The Western Bieszczady range is one of the best protected areas in Europe. The bulk of the mountains is part of the East Carpathians Biosphere Reserve - the first trilateral UNESCO Man and Biosphere project in the world. It is the largest biosphere reserve in Europe with a total area of nearly 2,000 square kilometers. It contains six protected areas within the confines of three countries. Please see chapter 8 for more information.
There have been several bear attacks on people in recent years, nearly all of them on forest workers or the locals picking mushrooms or red deer antlers.) Biking is only allowed along public roads. Horseback riding in the BNP and its buffer zone is only allowed along marked trails and only on the Park's horses (Hutsul horses). During the high season a small fee (an equivalent of about €1.5) is charged for entry.
|Border-crossing point||Season||Open daily||Hiking trail||Located at|
NB: Ukraine is not part of the European Union, so the regulations are much stricter, and border-crossing is out of question. From experience, it is a good idea to ask the border police if you can visit the Ukrainian piece. It is also advisable to report your plans at the headquarters of the Uzhansky NNP at the town of Velikiy Berezniy. The Nadsanskyi Regional Landscape Park is accessible only with a permit from Mostyska border office!
|Flights from||Arrive in||From airport by road||From airport by train||To|
The highest part of the Western Bieszczady is readily accessible from the north (Poland). The driving distance from the city of Rzeszów to the village of Ustrzyki Górne in the middle of the Bieszczady National Park is less than 170 km (a car journey takes over 3 hrs, bus 4.5 hrs).
From Košice, the largest city in the east of Slovakia, it takes up to 2.5 hrs to drive to the village of Uličské Krivé that sits in the heart of the Bukovské vrchy.
|Polish railroads Polish buses Slovak buses/trains Ukrainian search Transcarpathian suburban trains|
More maps online
|Map title||Scale||Latest edition||Publisher||Area covered|
When To GoThe climate of the Western Bieszczady is continental with snow cover lasting from November till the beginning of May. The annual amount of precipitation exceeds 1100 mm and July is the rainiest month. If you are seeking solitude, a hike in the Bieszczadzki National Park in the middle of the summer season is definitely not a good idea. September is often said to be the best option - for two reasons: fewer people and leaves turning colors.
Late summer and early autumn often offer favorable weather conditions, besides the gorgeous scenery of the colorful broadleaved woodland. Winter in the Bieszczady Mountains can be freezing cold, but is very romantic as there are hardly any visitors and you have unique panoramic views for yourself: From the High Tatras on the western horizon to the Gorgany Mountains far east inside Ukraine.
Mountain Conditions & Rescue
In the Western Bieszczady there are about a dozen places that experience avalanches almost every year, the sides of Wielka Rawka and Szeroki Wierch being most at risk. Avalanches can occur on any steep slope, not necessarily above the treeline.
Mountain rescue service in Ukraine
|Name of MRS||Address||Telephone/e-mail||Mobile phone|
Duty officer of Ministry of Emergency (+38 0321) 660 701, 660 114 or (+38 0442) 473 103
Emergency number of rescue service: 101 (only from UA operators)
There is a wide range of accommodation options in the Polish Bieszczady: Take a look here or here
|Area||Mountain Huts||Guesthouses, Hostels|
|Accommodation in the Bukovské Vrchy|
|Guesthouses in Ukraine||Overnight accommodation in Nadsianskyi RLP is available here: |
East Carpathian Biosphere Reserve
The East Carpathians Biosphere Reserve in the Western Bieszczady Mountains is the largest biosphere reserve in Europe. In 1992, under the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program, a bilateral, Polish-Slovak Biosphere Reserve was designated. In 1998 Ukraine joined and the first trilateral biosphere reserve came into being - a treasure of global importance combining immense wildlife value with rich cultural heritage. The reserve contains some of the least disturbed ecosystems in Europe, such as the largest on the continent, well-preserved beech forest complex and East Carpathian mountain meadows ("poloniny"). It is home to several endemic and threatened plant species and communities as well as a number of animal species, including large predators such as the brown bear, wolf, lynx and golden eagle. Along with the carnivores, big herbivorous mammals live here: Carpathian red deer, European bison (also known as wisent) and Hutsul horse.
The East Carpathian Biosphere Reserve covers 200,000 hectares (of which 53% is in Poland, 19% in Slovakia and 27% in Ukraine) and encompasses the following six protected areas:
|Protection status||Established in||Total area (ha)||Photo||Features|
Europe's largest area of montane beech forest can be found in the Western Bieszczady. The dominance of beech is reflected by the Slovak name of the mountains, Bukovské vrchy (Beech Hills). Special circumstances made it possible for extensive remnants of virgin forests to persist in this transboundary area until today. The first forest reserve called Stuzhytsia was established in 1908. In 2007 this primeval forest with other well-preserved forest reserves such as Udava, Havešová and Rožok were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians.
|Primeval Forest||Core Zone (ha)||Access From|
Bieszczady National Park
The BNP has 140 km of waymarked hiking trails furnished with wooden signposts, rain shelters, benches, bridges over streams, duckboards, steps and railings to prevent erosion by walkers. Some stretches of the trails, furnished with information panels, marked with an image of a wild animal or plant and described in detail in a booklet that you can purchase at the entrance, function as interpretive paths. One of these paths, named 'Zwrót Valley', is accessible for disabled persons. There are also some trails for horseback riding (around 65 km in total).The BNP is one of the few European mountainous areas with relatively well preserved native fauna and flora, although forest of primeval character, beech or beech-sycamore with an admixture of fir, covers only a few percent of it, growing in the wildest, hardly accessible nooks, such as the valley heads of Solinka, Wołosatka and Hylaty creeks. The woods of the Western Bieszczady had the hardest time from the 19th to mid-20th cent., when they were decimated to meet the needs of industry, but much of them had been altered or destroyed by humans since a few centuries earlier when a greater number of farmers became settling in the valleys and herders practicing transhumance arrived. The poloninas were extended but oxen and sheep were grazed in the woods as well. Also, livestock sought shelter from scorching summer heat there. A testimony to the pastoral economy of the past is bizarre 'pasture beeches', which used to be nibbled by livestock or pruned by sheperds.
The timberline that is closest to what it must have been before the arrival of herds of cattle and flocks of sheep can be seen at about 1250 m on the sides of Wielka Rawka, where grazing ended over a century ago. The upper level of the beech wood shrinks to krummholz, then green alder appears, then grasses and subalpine or alpine flowers. Poloninas, i.e. the meadows above the treeline, are a species-rich formation characteristic of the Northeastern Carpathians. Most are secondary communities that arose owing to cattle grazing on mountain ridges. Some of the most beautiful flowers have been recognized as Dacian migroelements, namely the bellflower (Campanula abietina), Dacian violet (Viola dacica), monkshood (Aconitum lasiocarpum) and compact pink (Diantus compactus). In recent years the poloninas have undergone floristic and faunistic changes due to the fact that the grassland is not grazed by livestock or cut any longer. Generally, the grassland is slowly losing its human-induced biodiversity. Therefore the park authority is considering a resumption of grass-cutting on selected poloninas.
The East Carpathian Biosphere Reserve is one of the wildlife 'hotspots' where big forest animals roam free and small animals are aplenty. The table below shows LukZem's recorded wildlife observations, which were taken during his several visits to the Western Bieszczady.
Layout and text of the 2017 version: yatsek and LukZem