Hiking the Canyons of Slovak Paradise

Leaving Budapest we had brief stop in Kosice, a nice, quiet little town. We walked around a bit and ate but for some reason most things were close do we didn’t stay too long.  We were on our way to Slovak Paradise (Národný park Slovenský raj in Slovak) where we planned on hiking through narrow canyons and on trails built many times out of ladders and steel rebar steps instead of just being on dirt.  Slovak Paradise is an amazing place and has some of the most unique hikes you’ll find but planning can be a bit tricky if you aren’t familiar with the area. You may first go to the Slovak Paradise website but when trying to plan your trip it seems like they expect you already know how everything works.  Here’s what you need to know: Most of the trails with the really cool ladders and bridges are in the northern section, the ice cave and other sights are in the south, no roads connect them.  The trails are really well-marked, different trails have different color codes making everything really easy to follow.  The easiest thing to do is ask for recommendations from your hotel or guesthouse when you arrive, they should also have one of the paper trail maps (the National Park website doesn’t make this available online last I checked.  I’ll link to the GPS routes from our hike at the bottom of this post.

View from the Villa Raj
View from our room at the Villa Raj

There aren’t any real hotels in the area, just guesthouses.  We booked a room at Villa Raj because of the very high ratings and it is definitely a place we’d recommend.  It was inexpensive ($50 for two nights), very new and the family that owned it was super nice.  It was offseason when we hiked so not to many things were open.  Not only did the owner pick us up from the train station but we he drove us to a hotel he worked so we could eat and the next day dropped us off at the trailhead.  It saved us a ton of time plus he had great advice on what trails to hike.  The little town of Hrabušice we stayed in was very small and quiet but had a couple nice restaurants.  It was so small you could walk across the entire town in just a few minutes and was a great access point to the park – the main reason we chose it.

Heading into Slovak Paradise
Heading into Slovak Paradise
Slovak Paradise trail map
Our route is in purple

Since the park is a large network of trails, you can make your own hike in dozens of different variations.  I’ll describe the hike our guesthouse host suggested to us which we thought was perfect.  On the left is a photo of the trail map and linked here is a Google Map of our route (the full GPX file is at the bottom of this post.)  The route starts from one of the park headquarters near the car camping in Podlesok.  All the trails in the park have small ‘flags’ on signs or painted on rocks that are white stripes with a color.  You are looking for a green-striped flag towards Suchá Belá.  You’ll pay a couple euros on your way in for the entry fee.  This trail gets very busy during high-season (but we had it nearly to ourselves) and as a result you’re only allowed to travel in one direction, uphill/South.  The narrow canyon winds uphill and you’ll cross dozens of wood ladders, steel rebar steps pounded into the sides of cliffs and climb steep metal ladders without protection.  If you’re afraid of heights this is probably not a great trail for you but if you give it a shot I think you’ll love it!  A couple times we did run into groups of people who traveled slowly over the more challenging ladders or bridges – another good reason to go in shoulder season and avoid what I’m sure becomes major traffic jams.

At the top of the canyon we took a couple lefts to stay on the yellow trail.  This section was an easy walk on flat trails, there are picnic tables here if you want to stop for lunch.  When the yellow trail ends you turn left on a red trail, another easy walk to a place called Kláštorisko.  This is a wide open area where many trails connect and there is a lot of grass space where you’ll often find people picnicking and playing.  There are also the ruins of a 13th century monastery which is worth exploring.  There are a couple options down the hill from here, we took the yellow trail, but you are looking for a sign towards Hornád Canyon.  This is probably the most famous trail in the entire park.  It’s not challenging physically but many people turn around when faced with the narrow steps you must walk sticking straight out from cliffs.  The trail is easier than the first trail up Suchá Belá but the drop here is much higher at times.  The good news is if you fall you usually have the river below…  Our total hike ended up being a little over 9 miles, not too challenging as long as you can get over any fear of heights.

After the hike we passed a lodge.  The sight of cold draft beer was too tempting and we stopped in.  We also had our second dish of ‘bryndzové halušky’ which would become a staple of our Slovak diet.  I haven’t mentioned this incredible food yet, one of the main dishes of Slovakia.  It’s small potato dumplings covered in melted sheep cheese and always topped with chunks of pork belly (they say bacon but it’s different than American bacon.)  If you crossed mini gnocchi with the best mac’n cheese you’ve ever had, topped with bacon – that’s what it is.  It’s incredible.    This was the first place we stayed in Slovakia but we were quickly falling in love with it!

Bryndzové halušky
Bryndzové halušky – I seriously love this stuff

The details: We stayed at Village Raj, booked through booking.com. However, you can contact them directly: http://www.villaraj.sk/. We stayed in the town of Hrabušice which is easily accessible by train (they are nice in Slovakia.)  I recommend Rome2Rio.com to look for routes.  The Vydrnik station will get you closest to the three towns in the area we hiked from, it will be a 30-60 walk in or you can arrange for transport from your guesthouse, take a local bus (ask your guesthouse) or hitchhike to where you need to go.  The area is very safe and people fantastic.  Our route was 9.3 miles and 2300’ of elevation gain, this did include walking back to our guesthouse from the trailhead.  You can view our GPX track here: .gpx file.  Have fun!

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