The Bieszczady Mountains belong to the Northeastern Carpathians and are made 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.
Sandstone on top
Primeval beech-fir woodland
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.
Polonina in summer
Polonina in winter
Where a village sat
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.
The Połoninas Ridge
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
Otryt ridge from Łopiennik group
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Views from the summit of Jizera are excellent. There are hardly any buildings in sight – mostly mountain ranges and woodland. In the southeast, beyond conical Bukovec, rise the Giant Mountains (Krkonoše/Karkonosze). In the east, the characteristic cone of Ještěd capped with a communications spire catches the eye. The northeastern horizon is formed by the undulating Wysoki Grzbiet (High Ridge) with Smrk and Stóg Izerski to the north, and Zielona Kopa (the massif whose highpoint is Wysoka Kopa) and Wysoki Kamień in the east.
To avoid the crowds, it is advisable to go on a weekday in late spring, September or October. Some people might be keen on a winter adventure, for which you will need the basic gear and some experience: Here is an interesting video.