We want to tell you about an awesome little side-adventure we went on while visiting the High Tatras of Slovakia. It was a so-called “gorge-hike” known as Suchá Belá. This short but exciting trail is located in the Slovak Paradise National Park and turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.
Not to be confused with the Tatra National Park, Slovak Paradise is separate national park located about 30 minutes south of the High Tatras. Very few tourists find their way to the High Tatras, except those from the neighbouring countries of Hungary and Poland. However, even fewer foreigners manage to find this place. We say foreigners because, as the name suggests, the local Slovaks love it there.
There are multiple trails to choose from; however, Sucha Bela is the most popular one. It’s named in the local tongue, meaning “Dry White Gorge”. It is the logical choice because it is relatively short and easy while offering some of the best views in the park. It’s a good day hike to start off with. If you like the experience, you can try out one of the more challenging trails the next day.
It is more of an adventure than it is a hike. Actually, we experienced it as a bit of a playground for hikers. It allows grown-ups to be like kids again and IT IS FUN.
Of course, the reason you need ladders and chains is that it would be near impossible to traverse the gorge without help. That indicates a degree of danger. Indeed, there were times where we felt exposed. Losing your grip on one of the tall, slippery, steel ladders would likely kill you. There are also times where the iron has corroded somewhat or where a wooden step is missing. We never felt in any real danger, though. It is just important to stay focused and move slowly. This is why Sucha Bela is a good starting point. Because of its relatively short length, you won’t have to hurry. And because it is quite popular, you will quickly get help if needed.
There was also a time where we deviated slightly from the path, to get up close with a waterfall. There, Nick fell down hard on his a** on the slippery rocks. He bruised his arm quite badly, but no real harm was done. We laughed about it right away. Another time he slipped on a log while crossing a deep section of the water. He wasn’t hurt, but he sure got wet. Come to think of it, Nick was often slipping around like he was on ice. It’s very unlike him actually to lose his grip like that, which just goes to say that you must really pay attention to the trail. Especially if it is raining.
We didn’t just like Slovak Paradise because of the adventurous elements of the hike. It also had some extremely cool scenery, much akin to something you would expect from Jurassic Park or Avatar. We arrived very early to the trail, and because of this, we met just a handful of other people. It was awesome walking deep inside the gorge, in the actual river, being completely alone with just the sound of rushing water, the birds and the animals keeping us company. There was lush vegetation all around us, and ever so often we would pass a roaring waterfall. One of them was 30 metres tall. It was exciting never knowing what to expect around the next bend. Would there be more logs to navigate, or perhaps another steel ladder?
If you aren’t entirely convinced yet, take a look at our travel video from the High Tatras. The second half of that is based heavily on our experiences in Slovak Paradise. If you like what you see, first follow our Youtube channel and then keep on reading below for all the practical info you need for your visit.
Below you’ll find a little bit of the “boring” stuff. However, these are exactly all the things we would have liked to know ourselves before visiting. There isn’t a whole lot of info available online so hopefully, you can plan an awesome trip using these points alone.
What time of year:
You should only go during the summer. The weather is not quite as important as in the High Tatras, because you are protected somewhat by the gorge. However, we wouldn’t go on the trail if there are slippery leaves, snow or ice out there.
What time of day:
We recommend going as early as possible. Although this national park is off the beaten path for foreign tourists, it isn’t for the locals. On weekends and sunny days, it will be very busy in the afternoon. We have seen pictures indicating that long queues form at the ladders. We arrived at sunrise and only saw a handful of other people during the entire hike. We were the first ones to arrive in the carpark, but when we came back, it was packed.
Where to go:
For Sucha Bela, you need to park your car at a place called Podlesok. We arrived early, just after sunrise, at 6 am. At this time, the parking lot wasn’t really open yet. Luckily, two attendants showed up at around 6.30, and we were able to pay 3 EUR and get going. However, they seemed pretty large, and we could probably just have left and paid upon return instead.
This is where you find the parking lot on Google Maps:
And these are the GPS coordinates. You can copy/paste them into Google Maps: 48°57’57.2″N 20°23’10.1″E
What does it cost:
We only paid the 3 EUR for parking (1.5 EUR per person), and that was that. We asked specifically if we had to pay any more fees, but they just shook their heads. As we started on the trail, we passed an empty ticket booth and are not sure whether that will be operating later in the day. Regardless, it won’t be an expensive experience.
What path to follow:
When you get there, just follow the signs for Sucha Bela. Once you are in the actual gorge, the trail is obvious and even marked with green paint on a regular basis. There are also maps at the trailhead which you can take a look at. If you arrive a little later than us, the shops will be open, and you should be able to buy a real paper map as well. We never felt we needed that, though.
How to get back:
Inside the gorge, there is one-way traffic only. You are not allowed to go back the same way. Instead, as you reach the end, you will turn left alongside a yellow route, and then left again following a red route. The whole colour scheme is easy to remember because it’s like a traffic light. First green, then yellow, then red.
Once you get to the yellow route, the adventurous section is over. The rest of the trail is more like a standard hike, thankfully going slightly downhill. If you finish in the afternoon, after 1 pm, you will be able to rent a bike at the end of the trail and use that to get back in less than 30 minutes. Otherwise, expect about 1.5 hours of hiking.
What to wear:
Hiking boots are essential. You want good grip and, ideally, they should be waterproof. Depending on water levels, that might not help you, though. We got wet feet even with waterproof boots, as nothing will stop water from flowing in from above.
The rest of your clothing can be pretty much whatever you are comfortable in, depending on the weather. We just wore regular hiking clothes.
There are restaurants at the trailhead. They weren’t open when we arrived at 6 am, but after the hike, we enjoyed a (cheap) celebratory beer in the sun.
We noticed that there is a campsite at Podlesok. If we had known upfront, we might have spent the previous night there so we wouldn’t have to drive to the trailhead in the morning. We could also have slept there the following night so that we could relax completely after the hike.
Think twice about bringing very young kids to Slovak Paradise. We wouldn’t bring anyone under the age of 4. While it might be possible to complete the trail with young children, it could be risky. Older kids will probably enjoy the challenge, though! Note that we don’t have kids ourselves so we might not know what we are talking about here.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to try out any other day hikes in the Slovak Paradise. There are plenty of other gorges in the park, and most have a trail of their own. Here’s a tiny bit of info that we could gather about them. Note that the parking spots will not all be at Podlesok for many of the trails below, so make sure to google the specific hike that you are interested in.
Prielom Hornadu: This hike also starts at Podlesok. It is quite popular, but also rather long. Most notably, there is a viewpoint along the way called Tomášovský. It supposedly offers a good, rare, view of the gorges from above, really showing the scale of the place. We can recommend this post from Earthtrekkers about their experience on the Prielom Hornádu trail. They also provide lots of useful information about Slovak Paradise in general.
Piecky: This is reportedly a very beautiful gorge which also happens to feature the longest ladder in the park. That’s a feather in the cap for ya.
Kysel: This is a pretty long hike which also includes a via ferrata section. It’s only for the most adventurous (or those with a guide). Speaking of guides, we are not quite sure how to obtain one, but it may be possible if you ask around in the area.
Velky Sokol: This is the longest gorge in Slovak Paradise and is reportedly not very busy. Might be good if you want to go off the beaten path a little.
Sokolia Dolina: Includes the tallest waterfall of them all in Slovak Paradise – the 70+ metre “Závojovy”. We reckon that alone would make it worth the effort.
Dobšinská Ice Cave: This is not actually a hike, but a massive ice cave. We know, it sounds weird that they should have an ice cave here, but we have been assured that they do. Unfortunately, we didn’t go as they are closed on Mondays. It happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site, so it’s probably worth stopping by!
That’s it – all you need to know about hiking in the Slovak Paradise National Park. If we missed anything, or if you have any questions for us, please reach out in the comments below. You are also very welcome to contact us on social media.
If you are going to visit the High Tatras, you should also read our post about Rysy – the tallest mountain in Poland. During our visit, we hiked that from the Slovakian side, and it was truly amazing. Check it out right here: