Our trail has three sections, and only trips to all three will provide us with the image of the river routes of adventure in the Carpathians!
1. First section – Topla
A little-known water trail for Polish adventure seekers is the Topla River. This is one of the strangest rivers, with a surprising bed and course. On successive sections, the Topla is an primeval mountain stream, then a small river protected with a riparian forest rich in species, a large river once used for rafting bound timber, and, last but not least, a comfortable river canal. The sources of the Topla are located in the massif of the Cergov Mountains (Čergov), near the peak of Minčol (1157 metres above sea level), at the height of almost 1000 metres above sea level. Since 2002, this area has become protected as the Topla Source (Pramenisko Tople) reserve, with an area of 28.66 ha, founded by the authorities of the Prešov land. Initially, the Topla flows directly north as a swiftly-running stream, only taking a sudden turn east before Gerlachov and flowing in the form of a small river to Bardejov. After passing Bardejov, it turns gradually to the south and passes through Giraltovce and Hanusovce to slightly turn east and travel through Vranov nad Topl'ou in the direction of Michałowice. West of Michałowice, it joins with the Ondava (at the altitude of only 100 metres above sea level) and together, as a regulated river canal, after a long, straight section, flows into the Bodrog River. The Bodrog unites with the Tisa in the Hungarian town of Tokaj, and flows into the Dunaj. It can be said that the rain from the Čergov Mountains somewhat thins the Black Sea... since the Topla is a part of the Black Sea reception basin.
The Topla is almost 130 km long, and on this section, it transforms from a steam and mountain river into a calm lowland river. It flows through several regions of Slovakia, starting with Šariš, through Horny and Dolny Zemplin, and its waters supply Podunajsko.
A trip through the entire course of the Topla would be a great adventure, and if you intend to complete such a route, you should make plans in the beautiful town of Bardejov. It is the home (right next to the upper part of the town square at 4 Rhodyho Street, www.muzeumbardejov.sk) of a very interesting natural museum. The beautifully prepared exhibit entitled The Nature of Northwest Slovakia and Its Protection, which presents the local species of animals and the environment in which they live, including river environments, is worthy of attention. After you make our notes in the museum, you can go seek adventures. Attention: the Topla is not navigable from the source (reserve!) to Bardejov. You have to cover this section by foot. Things are different further down and you can count on a pontoon or kayak to take you much farther. This is why the visit to the natural museum, as we recommend the trail beginning in Bardejov and ending in the escape of the Topla into the Ondava.
2. Second section – Poprad
The Poprad, much like the Topla, has a surprising course, and after leaving the southern slopes of the High Tatras (it is formed from the joined Mięguszowiecki and Krupa streams), it goes southwest and then west, then it suddenly turns to the north and cuts through the almost 1000-metre tall Magura range, to flow into the area of Stary Sącz, where it joins with the Dunajec. Poprad is the most important river of Spiš and is 169 km long, 107 km of which fall to the Slovak section. A trip along the entire Poprad is a great opportunity to see the highest mountains, as well as the expansive valleys and the gorges of this river, and the gravel banks at the mouth of the Dunajec. The route along the Poprad is also a chance to experience the rich history, cultural influences and natural diversity of this area. For the purposes of our trail, we particularly recommend the river sections between Stara Lubovna and Rytro.
Poprad is good for pontooning or kayaking, and the about ten-kilometre section between Piwniczna and Rytro offers tourist rafting with light boats (which have maximum capacity of 12 passengers and 2 crew members), during the summer. The specially-designed boats have a length of almost 7 metres and a width of approximately 2.5 metres, with the special structure preventing them from submerging too deeply (at the total thickness of 0.5 m and full capacity, the submergence is not much more than a dozen centimetres!) This is of fundamental importance, since during the summer, the water level in Poprad is rather low. At higher levels, the boats provide safety, since they are practically unsinkable. The starting harbour is in Piwniczna, at Gąsiorowskiego Street, and the trip ends in Rytro, near the sports stadium. The information is provided by the company organising the rafting trips, and you can direct your questions to the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Third section Dunajec
The Dunajec is the most important Carpathian river within our Carpathian Map of Adventure. And a very long river it is, 247 km. In the Carpathians, it is supplied by two great mountain rivers: Białka and Poprad, and the Dunajec is created from the joining of two other mountain rivers near Nowy Targ: the White and Black Dunajec, and itself supplies the Vistula near Tarnów.
For the purposes of our adventures, we recommend one of the most beautiful sections of the Dunajec and its dramatic gorge through the Pieniny: Cerveny Klastor/Sromowce to Lesnica (with rafting boats) and further on foot through Chata Pieniny and the blue tourist trail to Cerveny Klastor. The rafting trip on this section is about 16 km long and takes approximately two hours. Afterwards, you can rest and dine in Chata Pieniny, and then your travel along the hiking route through the mountains will take about three hours. This is one of the most beautiful and most interesting trips that you can take in this region, and it offers us adventures and unforgettable experiences. The trip is based on the old rafting tradition, i.e. rafting of timber bound into rafts from the mountains to the Vistula! The rafts are bound narrow boats built from boards and look like the old rafts made of bound tree trunks. The boats are usually navigated by a team of two rafters, who skilfully manoeuvre the poles (they do not use oars) and lead the boats from rapid to rapid. On the recommended section, the Dunajec is a fast mountain river and the rafting trip provides a lot of excitement. During the trip, the rafters tell legends, point out interesting locations, and present interesting puzzles. The orientation in the trip through the meandering river and guessing what the next rafting manoeuvre will be make for a great adventure. Chata Pieniny is surrounded with an arranged area with interesting sculptures in wood, a national park pavilion (there are two such pavilions, one next to the rafting harbour in Lesnica, the other right next to Chata Pieniny – approximately 1 km away), as well a bicycle rental service and a parking place, which is the departing spot of buses to, among others, Cerveny Klastor. You can see the Dunajec far below us from the mountain path (which begins with a valley path and a rather steep climb on the Targov) near the Cerla pass (sedlo Cerla). Over the deeply cut Dunajec valley, you should look down at the streams entering it by way of steep eroded cascades, and try to understand the significance of the forest and meadow coat of the steep slopes.
There are different versions of this trail (e.g. going on the yellow, green, and yellow trail in one area) and they are enough for years of adventures. If you want to fully realise the suggested trail, you should get a tourist map!
The rafting season lasts from 1st April to 31st October and offers trips on Slovak and Polish rafting boats. You can find information stands and ticket booths on the main rafting harbour on the Polish part of the Dunajec in Sromowce – Kąty, while the maximum lengths of the offered trips are 18 km (to Szczawnica) and 23 km (to Krościenko). You can also find much more information, as well as videos and photos showing the nature of Dunajec rafting, on the website of the Polish Association of Pieniny Rafters or in the rafting office in Sromowce Wyżne. However, if the adventure seekers want to begin the trip on the Slovak side (which we recommend as our part of the multiple possibilities), all they need to do is cross the footbridge from Sromowce to the right bank of the Dunajec and wait a moment to board the rafts reaching the harbour at the mouth of the Lipnik stream, right next to the entrance to the monastery in the village of Cerveny Klastor.
For total novices, we should add that the recommended Dunajec gorge means navigation under such Pieniny peaks as Three Crowns and Sokolica. A statement that the Dunajec rafting trip is one of the biggest attractions in Europe would not be an exaggeration.