Pieniny National Park (Polish: Pieniński Park Narodowy) is a protected area located in the heart of Pieniny Mountains in the southernmost part of Poland. Administratively, the Park lies in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship on the border with Slovakia. Its head office is in Krościenko nad Dunajcem.
The Pieniny mountain chain is divided into three ranges: Pieniny Spiskie, Małe Pieniny, and the Pieniny Właściwe range where the Park is located. The Park’s area is 23.46 square kilometres (9.06 sq mi), of which 13.11 km² is forested. One-third (7.5 km²) is strictly protected. On the Slovak side of the mountains there is a parallel park called the Pieninský národný park.
The idea for the creation of the National Park in Pieniny came from prof. Władysław Szafer, a member of the National Commission for the Preservation of Nature (Polish: Państwowa Komisja Ochrony Przyrody) in 1921. In the same year a private preserve on the area of 75,000 m² was opened by Stanisław Drohojowski around the ruins of the Czorsztyn castle. In 1928 the Polish government made first land purchases and on May 23, 1932 the Ministry of Agriculture created a “National Park in the Pieniny”, on the area of 7.36 km². After the World War II, the decision was confirmed by the Oct 30, 1954 bill, which officially created Pieniny National Park.
The Pieniny mountains are mainly built from limestone and they create picturesque and impressive, almost vertical walls which go down towards the Dunajec River. The most famous summit - Trzy Korony (Three Crowns) is 982 meters above sea level high, however Pieniny’s highest mountain - Wysokie Skałki - is 1050 meters above sea level and is not located on the Park’s area.
Pieniny National Park is located in the Dunajec river basin, and the river occupies important position among factors that influence Pieniny’s look. Even though the Park is small in size, on its area thrive hundreds of species of plants, including 640 kinds of mushrooms. Sometimes, on the same rock, grow plants with opposite means of survival. Park’s meadows, which are the result of human activity, are some of the richest plant ecosystems of Poland (30 to 40 species of flowers for every square meter).
So far around 6500 animal species have been proven to live in the Pieniny. It is supposed that the area is even more abundant - with up to 15 000 species. There are numerous birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians as well as mammals. The most important predator is the lynx. On the shores of the Dunajec the otter thrives.
First permanent human settlements in the Pieniny mountains date back to 1257, when Polish princess Kinga was given nearby lands. In 1280 the princess founded a monastery at Stary Sącz, later the Czorsztyn castle was built. This castle belonged to Poland, on the southern side of the Dunajec valley, the Hungarians built their own, then called Dunajec (today it belongs to Poland and its name is Niedzica). The Dunajec valley in 1997 was flooded by water, as a result of construction of a river dam.
There are 34 kilometres of tourist walking trails in the park, from such peaks as Sokolica and Trzy Korony one can have excellent view on the Pieniny and the Tatra mountains as well as the Dunajec. The Park's main attraction is a river trip on wooden rafts, very popular among all tourists.