Nestled between a series of rugged rocky outcrops in the Jura Uplands north of Krakow, the Ojców National Park is a real wonder to behold. It’s peppered with needle-like spires of limestone, crisscrossed by babbling rivers and winding hiking trails, it’s also the smallest of all the national parks in Poland, and – thanks to the proximity to the city (just 20 kilometers from the famous Stare Miasto itself) – certainly one of the most accessible.
What makes Ojców truly unique is the sheer wealth of awesome attractions that are packed into its humble 21 square kilometers. Visitors who park – like most do – in the small village of Ojców itself, located on the far northern fringes of the main park area, will be within easy reach of most of these.
At the top of the hill, right by the largest car park is the enchanting Gothic medley of gatehouses and bulwarks that is Kazimierz’s Castle. Built in the 1300s as part of the Polish king’s formidable line of defensive structures known as the Eagle Nests, this lichen-spotted complex is now half-ruined, but still rarely fails to capture the imagination.
Also nearby is the pretty Castle on Pieskowa Rock. This is considered one of the finest examples of the Polish Renaissance architectural style, having been expanded and added to by countless kings and monarchs over the centuries. It’s surrounded by manicured gardens, is adorned with elegant 16th century arcades and has some fantastic views over the rugged rocky peaks on the north side of the reserve
And talking of rocky peaks, Ojców has loads. There’s the gravity-defying Maczuga Herkulesa (Hercules’s Club), which stands, steeped in myth and legend, on the edge of the roadside leading into the area. There’s the Skała Biała Ręk (the White Hand Rock), mimicking fingers as it erupts from the earth. And there are other, bulbous and shaped domes of stone that seem to enclose the whole reserve in a wall of ancient geology.
Precisely because it’s so small, the reserve at Ojców doesn’t offer the same expansive hiking and biking trails as some of Poland’s other national parks (like the High Tatras or Babia Góra). However, it’s still got some beautiful paths to wander, all of which weave past the famous rock spires or delve deep into the thick broadleaf forests.
The most popular of these starts on the northern edge of the reserve, under the towering bulwarks of Kazimierz’s Castle. This crosses wide grassy meadows as it weaves along into Ojców with the courses of the Prądnik River, passing rustic little cottages (some even offering beds for the night) and traditional Polish taverns as it goes. Visitors up for a climb can finish this trail by scaling to the top of Jonaszówka Rock, which has great views of the park’s main valley.
Another great trail delves into the park from the roadsides on its western edge. It pierces the thickest section of woodland as it winds past the entrance to Grota Łokietka (another of the top attractions here), eventually coming out at Jonaszówka Rock and the trout farms in the heart of the reserve. It’s the perfect choice if you came to Ojców for some bird-watching, or to see the bountiful array of more than 1000 blooming plant species in the summer.
The best way to get to Ojców National Park is by car. You can drive north out of the city and arrive there in under 40 minutes, there’s plenty of paid on-site parking. Alternatively, you can ride a local bus for 5 zloty (£1) to the northern entrance – these leave from outside Krakow‘s main shopping centre, Galeria Krakowska.