National parks in eastern Poland can be awarded with many “the most”. They serve as a shelter for endangered species or are the only places in Poland, where they live. Meet the Biebrza-, Narew-, Białowieża-, Wigry- and Bieszczady National Park.
Biebrza National Park
Come to the kingdom of vast, wet meadows, marshes (one of the biggest in Europe) – a habitat of rare bird species e.g. Ruff (Calidris pugnax), Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata), or Montagu’s harrier (Circus pygargus). In this bastion of many mammals the most important one is the king of swamps – Moose (Us: Elk) (Alces alces). Among endangered plants are bee orchids (Ophrys apifera) and goat willows (Salix lapponum).
Despite the difficulties in spring when the Narew river overflows, many nature observers and photographers visit this unique area. Biebrza National Park is a heaven for bird-watching-lovers. Around the National Park several cycling- hiking- and kayak trails invite you. If you are a lover of cycling you should follow the Podlaskie White Stork Trail (PWST) which is 400 kilometres long, connecting Białowieża to Stańczyki (near Suwałki). Rent a kayak to discover this wonderful landscape from the water. As far as hiking is concerned, marked hiking trails allow you to watch the beauty of meadows and bogs from nearby.
Narew National Park
Meet one of the best preserved swamps of Europe. It is called the ‘Polish Amazon’ because of the Narew River with her oxbow lakes, bogs and swamp forests which are really adventurous to explore. When you walk on the footbridge between Śliwno and Waniewo you will enter the wide cane-fields and sedges, which are habitats of endangered water fowls like Eurasian bittern (Botaurus stellaris), Eurasian marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Spotted crake (Porzana porzana), Little crake (Zapornia parva) or Ruff (Calidris pugnax). This bridge has crossings on floating platforms over some of the oxbow lakes of the Narew River.
When you decide to visit the Polish Amazon you can take a bike tour, kayak tour or you can hike. Besides classical canoeing you can take advantage of a jaunt by traditional boats, so-called “pychówki” which once were used for field works.
Białowieża National Park
It owes its uniqueness to its heart – the primeval forest (Puszcza Białowieska) which is the last natural forest on the European lowland, with a variety of trees with a diversified dimensional structure. The National Park is one of fourteen Polish objects that are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and – what is important to stress – it is the only natural one. Even though its symbol is the biggest mammal of Europe – European bison (also known as wisent), Białowieża National Park in its wilderness guards a variety of fungi, mosses, lichen, plants and animals. It is real habitat for primeval forests’ species. The most significant are the Eurasian three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus), White-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos) and Eurasian pygmy owl (Glaucidium passerinum).
It is worth visiting the reserve of Wisents, where you can see ungulate mammals (wisents, moose, deer and does) as well as wolfs and lynxes. In the Nature and Forest Museum in Białowieża you can make yourself acquainted with the nature and history of Puszcza Białowieska and centuries-old human activity in this area (such as beekeeping –“lipiec białowieski” honey appears on the list of traditional products). An unforgettable adventure is a ride with the small-gauge train on the route Hajnówka – Topiło and Hajnówka – Dolina Leśnej.
Wigry National Park
Created by Nordic glaciers, the Wigry National Park is full of hills, moraines, eskers and has gully relief. Wigry National Park has a different character as the other ones thanks to a great variety of water ecosystems. These are for example lakes with their diversified shapes and depth of which the most popular is Lake Wigry.
Besides beaver – the mammal which appears on the emblem of the National Park, birds, like the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) or red kite (Milvus milvus) have their habitat here. The Museum of Wigry is located in an inactive hydrobiological station and is devoted to the ice age and the process of the formation of the Suwałki landscapes, the fauna of the Wigry National Park, the relevance of water for nature and climate change. A perfect way to explore the unusual nature of the Wigry National Park is hiking, horse-riding, canoeing or cycling.
Bieszczady National Park
If you want escape from civilization you should discover the phenomenon of Bieszczady. Traverse legendary mountain pastures (Caryńska and Wołyńska) which are overgrown with east-Carpathian flora. In this region you can find remnants of primeval forests of the Carpathian Mountains. During spring you will be mesmerized with the fresh greenness of beech which during fall turns rusty-orange.
The Polish Bieszczady is habitat for lynx, wolf and brown bear – the most predatory animal in the region. You also will find aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus), a very rare steno thermal snake species which favours the San River valley near the Otryt mountains. During spring nights you can hear the hoot of Ural owl and giant Eurasian eagle-owl.
Lovers of old cultures are attracted to this area by wooden Orthodox churches. You should also look for traces of former Lemko villages. Maybe you would come to a Lemko “Watra” (Bonfire) to meet a culture which could not be destroyed despite many historical disturbances?