When Slovakia comes to mind, one cannot help but think of mountains, wilderness and hiking. This country is a paradise for hikers, and smack dab in the middle is Slovak Paradise (Slovenský raj). Being my birthday, July 10, 2011, and half Slovak, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the day then by beginning a two-day hiking trip. I would be pleasantly surprised to find hiking was not the only thing that would be on the agenda.
Slovak Paradise is 76 square miles of mountains, canyons, gorges, ravines, forests, rivers and caves. It contains miles of trails and beautiful natural sites of interest sporadically located throughout, reached through the park’s trails. The trails also include adult playground equipment, including, ladders going straight up mountain cliffs to allow the average hiker to reach the top; and chain-holding girder steps that take hikers literally over rivers; and other innovated constructions that make access through areas that would otherwise be inaccessible.
After hiking through a beautiful trail meandering back and forth along a mountain side and back into the forest, which gradually climbed to higher elevations, my first unexpected attraction was at Tomášovský Viewpoint. This is a dramatic cliff overlooking a portion of the huge park. From this perch, I could see for miles stretching out into the distance with several majestic mountains and acres and acres of forests, rivers and some hiking paths far out in the distance I would hike the next day. There I popped the cork to a nice bottle of Czech wine while basking under sun and meditating on the serene and lofty scene.
After my meditation, my next stop on the trail was being confronted by steel girders hugging the sides of a mountain, which I had to traverse. Below this interesting walkway was a river flowing beneath. It looked like a lot of fun to walk on, but was it safe? I tested one of the first few spikes that secured a chain for hikers to hold onto as they made their way to the other side. The pin came out. Not a good sign, but the girder steps seemed stable. These girder steps went on for about 50-100 yards before turning back to dirt path, which would stretch for about 25-50 yards before changing back to girders again.
According to my map, these girders stretched for miles. After traversing them for about ½ mile, I realized I was going the wrong way. If I had paid more attention to my map, I would have noticed arrows signifying the direction in which hikers are supposed to walk on this part of the trail. But it was too late to turn back and it wasn’t a problem until I met a couple of hikers coming the other way. At first, the woman didn’t want to walk under my arms as I held the safety chain while leaning out over the river below me. But her husband coaxed her through and I was on my way again. Aside from steel girders, there were also wooden ladder-like bridges that were used in place when there was no mountain but only earth in which the walkways were embedded into. These walkways were very aesthetically pleasing as they hugged the edge of the winding river.
Incidentally, the map I was using is part of a series of excellent 1 : 25 000 scale maps. I surmise that it is made by a company named VKU Harmanec; at least that is the only logo I could find on it. I could not find an official website but found plenty of websites that sold these maps by using the name of the logo with search engines. These maps are sold all over Slovakia and if you are staying at a hotel near a park, there is a good chance the hotel sells the map for that park. According to the back cover of a booklet that came with the map, there appears to be over 50 maps in this series that cover the entire country. I also used my iPhone maps application. With these two tools, I had no problem navigating my way through the park.
At a point on the trail, I needed to break away from the steel-girder path and follow another trail in order to make my way in somewhat of a circle back to my hotel. The hike lasted about 9 hours, which I finished with dinner at my hotel (gallery.