Rafting down the Dunajec River Gorge

A man wearing a traditional highlander costume. he holds an oar in his hand. Mountains in the background.
Rafting is a fantastic way to travel down the Dunajec River Gorge, which is characterised by sharp bends among vertical limestone rocks. The majestic Pieniny National Park, viewed from the water level, is a unique attraction with over two hundred years of tradition! Rafting down the Dunajec River used to be done on poplar tree rafts, but today, these rafts consist of five elements made of pine planks tied together with a rope. The parts of the raft can be easily and quickly disassembled for transport. The construction has been mastered to perfection by the highlanders, so it is entirely safe and cannot capsize. The raft trip is safe for children. The raft holds 12 people and two steering rafters. Their 3-metre-long poles, known as 'sprays', are used to accurately steer the raft. Interestingly, the number of rafts allows the rafters to present the beauty of the Dunajec Gorge to as many as 5,000 tourists a day!

Not everyone can become a raftsman. This is a prestigious profession of Pieniny highlanders coming from five towns: Szczawnica, Krościenko nad Dunajcem, Czorsztyn, Sromowce Niżne and Sromowce Wyżne. A young adept must undergo a 3-year apprenticeship under the supervision of a master, pass an exam and then undergo another 3-year apprenticeship, which will enable him or her to receive the title of master raftsman.


The Dunajec River forms the Polish-Slovak border along the section from Sromowce Wyżne to the vicinity of Szczawnica. Initially, the river flows relatively straight, and buildings are on both banks (Polish and Slovakian). The VeloDunajec Cycling Trail often accompanies the nearby Dunajec River. The raft follows a wide meander around the Slovak village of Majere. At the next bend, you can see an oblong wooded island created by the river, marking a new channel during the flood in 1934. We enter an urbanised area and see the Slovakian Red Monastery on the right and Sromowce Niżne on the left. Lush vegetation appears on the banks, indicating that we are in the Pieniny National Park. The Dunajec River meanders among high Pieniny limestone rocks. It is worth mentioning that you can see the most outstanding peak of the Pieniny Mountains – Three Crowns (982 m above sea level) from the level of the deeply incised river. Before we leave the National Park, we can still admire the Seven Monks and Sokolica. The Slovakian border ceases to accompany us, and we sail north-east. We enter Szczawnica and pass its buildings on the right. On the limestone Kotuńka klippe, we can see the sculpture of a highlander. We take the last turn and reach the finish line, or we can continue to Krościenko.


The rafting trip lasts 2 to 3 hours, depending on the weather and water level. While enjoying the views, the rafters relate Pieniny-related legends and exciting stories and describe interesting events. The route to Szczawnica is 18 kilometres, and to Krościenko nad Dunajcem, it is 23 kilometres. It is worth crossing the Pieniny Gorge at different times of the year, as the views of varying vegetation are spectacular.


The rafting season runs daily from 1 April to 31 October, except for the first day of Easter and Corpus Christi. Tickets are available at the marina terminus and online at flisacy.pl. A great souvenir can be a photo, which can be ordered from the raftsman for a small fee.
For those wishing to traverse the Dunajec Gorge actively, there are many variants of canoeing or rafting routes. The river has a low degree of difficulty, so anyone can manage it. 

 

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