Poloniny National Park (Slovak: Národný park Poloniny) is a year-round destination located in the Upper Zemplín region of Eastern Slovakia. Set amidst mountains, UNESCO listed forests and alpine meadows (the poloniny), offers a mixture of natural and cultural attractions. The park attracts skiers in winter and hikers in summer, and from a cultural point of view, one can visit several 18th-century wooden churches.
Traces of occupation before the Middle Ages are few, with settlement really only starting in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Ulič, founded in 1450, is the oldest known village.
Historically, the region has been poor. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries were marked by the departure of many young people who left to find work in town or emigrated to Western Europe or North America.
The First and Second World Wars caused much destruction in the region, resulting in the loss of the some of the wooden churches, including Runina, Jalova, Príslop and Dara.
During the communist period, the wooden churches of Zboj and Nová Sedlica were transferred to museums in Bardejovské Kúpele and Humenné. Electrification, paved access roads to the villages and the arrival of the first bus only date back to the late 1950s.
Lake Starina dam, built in the 1980s to provide drinking water to the east, resulted in the displacement of 3,500 people in seven villages upstream. This valley remains uninhabited and agricultural activity is prohibited.
The area was declared a national park on October 1, 1997.
The park is the most eastern region of Slovakia and is the most sparsely populated country. The region belongs to the outer Eastern Carpathians and specifically the vrchy Bukovské (Bukovec Mountains). Kremenec, the highest peak at 1221 m, is located where the borders of Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine meet. The lowest point is 200 m, where the River Ulička enters the Ukraine. The highest peaks are located along the border between Poland and Slovakia. There is also a lower ridge in the southern portion of the park, which is split by Cirocha River valley north of the village of Stakčín, where the only access road to the park is located. Between these two sets of mountains are five valleys.
Flora and fauna
80% of the park is covered in forests, mostly beech, some of which have never been distrubed by logging or other human activities. Three of these areas — Stužica, Havešová and Rožok — were set aside as nature reserves before the national park was created, and were included in the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. On the ridges above the tree line are many alpine meadows, known as "poloniny", which gives the park its name.
The flora is mostly native species like the Eastern Carpathian mountains buttercup, purple hellebore, bellflower and Sweet William, as well as over 100 species of lichens.
The park is also known for wildlife. Large predators like the wolf, brown bear and the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) have always been present in the region. The bison, which had disappeared from the region was reintroduced. A small flock of five bison in 2004 has grown to nineteen by 2013.
The climate of the region is continental and strongly influenced by the relief. The annual average temperature is between 4° C and 8° C depending on the altitude and rainfall ranges from 800 mm to 1000 mm.
The valleys, up to an altitude of about 560 m, is the hottest area. Average temperatures in January are included there between -3° C and -5° C with an average of 120 days of snow cover between November and April. The crest on the Polish border is the coldest area with an average of 160 days of snow cover from November to April and average January temperatures are between -5 °C and -7 °C. Average temperatures in July are between 16 °C and 18 °C.
Extreme temperatures measured in the park will, in turn, from -31 °C to 37 °C.
A railway line carrying a railcar Stakčín connects to the park entrance from Humenné.
From Humenné and Snina, take road 74 to road 558, the only road that enters the park.
Fees and permits
Apart from a few buses, private cars, cyclists or hikers, visiting this area is limited for protection of the natural environment. Access by car to the old abandoned villages upstream of the Starina dam lake is permitted only with a pass which may be issued by the district administration in Snina or by the park administration in Stakčín.
- 1 Park administration (Správa NP Polonin), Ul. Mieru 193, 06761 Stakčín, ☎ .
- 2 District administration (Okresný úrad), Partizánska 1057/21, 069 01 Snina, ☎ .
- 1 Kremenec mountain (from the village of Nová Sedlica following the trail marked with a red stripe (about 10 km/4 hr)). The highest point in the park, at 1221 m. The summit, marked by a marble marker, is where the boundaries of Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine meet. It is also the easternmost point of Slovakia and the highest peak of the border between Slovakia and Ukraine.
- 2 Ďurkovec mountain (from Runina, follow the trail marked with a green stripe to the ridge, then the red trail). The peak (1188.7 m) is surrounded by the most beautiful high meadows: the "Poloniny".
- 3 Stužica (on the trail with the red stripe between Nová Sedlica and Kremenec). Nature reserve within the park located near the top of Kremenec. It was created in 1965 to protect an old-growth beech and fir forest and is now part of the UNCESCO World Heritage Site, Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians. Some trees are around 400 years old, and up to 1.5 m thick and 50 m tall. There are several species of plants, fungi and animals native to the Carpathians.
- 4 Havešová primeval forest (only access is by a path that is no longer maintained). 146.26-ha nature reserve at an altitude between 440 and 740 m. This is an old-growth forest consisting of 95% beech.
- 5 Rožok (located at the border with Ukraine there is no access trail.). 65.61-ha nature reserve at an altitude between 460 and 780 m. It is an old-growth beech forest with the presence of sycamore maples in altitudes.
- 6 Dara geologic site (on the main road). Beautiful sedimentary rock outcrops of the Oligocene. Some panels with diagrams explain (in Slovak) the geologic history of the region.
- 7 Saint-Michael-Archangel church at Ruský Potok (Chrám svätého Michala Archanjela), Ruský Potok. This wooden church from 1740 until 2000 was a Greek Orthodox church, since transferred to the Orthodox Church. The building is constructed in three parts and has two towers. Inside, the iconostasis which was made in the eighteenth century has four registers. On the first record, the four icons at the bottom, are represented St. Nicolas, the Holy Mother of God, Christ and the Archangel Michael. Medallions on the door depict the four evangelists and two above representations of the Annunciation.
- 8 Saint-Michael-Archangel church at Topoľa (Chrám svätého Michala Archanjela), Gréckokatolícky farský úrad, Topoľa 19, 067 65 Topoľa. The Church of St. Michael the Archangel is a Greek Catholic wooden church built in 1700, to the north of which is a military cemetery. A wooden cross testifies to the proximity of the Eastern front during World War II. To the south is the village cemetery. The church is built on a low stone base. It is composed of three parts: a central nave, two side aisles and a tower. The imposing roof has the impression of resembling a monolith. The colourful iconostasis of the eighteenth century is made up of four levels of icons. The steeple of the church was built in the 20th century using seasoned wood.
- 9 Saint-Michael-Archangel church at Uličské Krivé (Chrám svätého Michala Archanjela), Gréckokatolícky farský úrad, Ulič 241, 067 67 Ulič. Greek Catholic Church constructed in wood in 1718. The sanctuary consists of a nave, a chancel and two towers. Inside, one can admire the iconostasis from the eighteenth century in Baroque style. Some icons such as that of St. Nicolas or Christ Pantocrator date from the 16th century.
- 10 John-Baptista church at Kalná Roztoka (Chrám sv. Jána Krstiteľa), Kalná. The Church of St. John the Baptist, a Greek Catholic wooden church from the late eighteenth century and renovated in 1834. The special feature of the building is that it was covered with hot pitch then allowed to cool and harden. This type of coating is applied to churches using with wood of lesser value for example, birch. The interior is divided into three parts. The narthex surmounted by a tower is relatively impressive. The polygonal apse behind the centre and interior walls, visually plastered has the effect of expanding the interior. The sanctuary boasts almost complete iconostasis with a beautiful icon of the Mother of God (Hodigitria "She who shows the way"). Notice the beautiful door with panels depicting the patriarchs. The iconostasis dates from the late eighteenth century.
- 11 Cottage in Nová Sedlica, Nová Sedlica 109, 067 68 Nová Sedlica. This small traditional village wooden house is the last example in the entire region to retain a thatched roof. It is now part of the area's preserved and protected heritage.
The low traffic of this sparsely populated region is a great for cyclists. The majority of motor roads are marked with a "C" color on white background.
The road Stakčín-Starina dam-Ulič-Nová Sedlica is marked in blue, the Topola-Ruské route is marked in yellow and the road between Starina-Ulič and Ruský Potok. The road Stakčín-Starina dam-Ruské-Ruské sedlo, marked in green, is connected to the Polish signposted cycle network. The last-road Stakčín-Kalná Roztoka-Ulič, marked in yellow, is located south of the park.
Much of the lodging is in old houses that have been converted to tourist accommodation, so they often come with kitchens and cooking utensils. Food can be purchased as village grocery stores.
The Kremenec guest house (in Nová Sedlica) and Poloniny guest house (in Ulič) also have restaurants.
- 1 Hotel Armales, Duchnovičova 282/1, 067 61 Stakčín (100 m from the bus and train stations), ☎ , , . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:00. Two and three bed rooms with private showers and toilets. Free Wifi, air conditioning, jacuzzi and sauna. There is also a restaurant on-site. Hotel is located in Stakčín, which is a short drive from the entrance to the park. €20 double room, €50-60 for apartment.
- 2 Penzión Kremenec, 067 68 Nová Sedlica, ☎ . Guest house with two buildings. House A has 14 dorm room beds, a shared common bathroom, and is open year-round. House B, only open in the summer, has a number of private rooms, including two large "apartments" with more space, and each room has a private bathroom. There is also a restaurant on-site. €12 dorm room, €17 private room, €40 apartment.
- 3 Poľana.
- 4 Sedlo pod Čierťažou (on the red/blue trail, about 2 hr west of the top of Kremenec). Small shelter with capacity for five people.
- 5 Osadné nad kasárňou.
- 6 Poloninský potok.
- 7 Ruské sedlo.
- 8 Place at Starina.
- 9 Ruské.
There are many police patrols in the immediate vicinity of the Ukrainian border areas, European Union border and the Schengen area. It is best to have their identity documents always with you to avoid any inconvenience in case of control.
The brown bear (Ursus arctos) is present in the park - requiring certain precautions. The bear has a good smell and hearing, but pretty average sight. Making noise or talking should be enough not to meet him. Do not follow its the footsteps. Upon meeting, do not approach it and move away without running. If the bear is with her cub, avoid standing between them at all cost. If you stay overnight in tents, either hide the food very well, or keep it (far) away from you.
- Humenné - largest city in the far north-eastern Slovakia. It is the terminus of several international and national long-distance trains. In the outdoor museum of the city, you can admire the wooden church from Nová Sedlica and other buildings from the villages of the park.
- Snina - town closest to the Poloniny park, there are several possibilities of accommodation and catering as well as supermarkets and banks
- Bieszczadzki National Park - The adjacent Polish national park is also a very sparsely populated and wooded area with more bison than the Slovak side. It is accessible by hiking several marked trails or bike through the neck of Ruské sedlo. By car, access is via a detour through Medzilaborce.
- Ouj National Park - The "connected" Ukrainian national park is accessible only through the border post of Ubla. Natural sites, traditional wooden architecture, the site where a meteorite fell in 1866 marked hiking trails can be motivation to cross the border and discover villages where time has stopped.