The Route to Tarnica
The fourth day of hiking dawned to a noticeable dip in enthusiasm for the proposed adventure of the day. An executive decision was in order. We chose to define success as contented hikers, not as the number of miles covered. So, we allowed anyone who wanted, to opt out of day four. A few of our children were pretty torn over the choice, but most were ready for a day off. In the end, they all decided to answer the siren song of rest. But, Steve and I were excited for one more hike. So, we left the children to their books and board games and headed out on an all day date on the mountain.
I couldn’t have orchestrated a better way to end our time in the Bieszczady. The vistas on all of our hikes were stunning. But, this hike had my very favorite views. It overlooks the mountains that undulate across the southwest corner of Ukraine. Watching them stretch out, then disappear into the horizon created a hunger in me to hike all over that country.
Taking in those sweeping views, just the two of us, was particularly restorative after a week of family hikes. There is a place for all combinations of trekkers. Hikes that push the most reluctant among our crew have their place. As do hikes for just the willing. And, spending time with just Steve in the outdoors is so, so good for our relationship.
Being a party of two was also good because we finally had to share our mountains a bit. Tarnica was our busiest hike, as we knew it would be. It’s the most popular hike in the Bieszczady because it’s the highest peak. And, it was Friday by now, which brought a noticeable uptick in the sheer numbers on the mountain.
Having said all of that, I would not call this a crowded hike—not by a long shot. The vast majority of the hike was still open and spacious, with few hikers in sight. It was only days of empty mountain paths that spoiled us into believing that seeing anyone else on the trail made it “crowded”.
The route we chose helped quite a bit with the crowds. Because we approached Tarnica on a longer path, we avoided most of the crowds until we neared the peak.
Certainly, at the summit, there were a lot of people. The last of the hike is a narrow path and stairs leading to the peak. So, it can feel a bit like an ant crawl at the end. But, that’s a tiny part of the hike. And, even an extreme introvert like me can see the value in community shared accomplishment. At the summit each newly arrived group made their way to the guardrails to survey the scene. One by one they pulled maps from backpacks, identifying the various peaks, orienting themselves in their moment of achievement.
We took the red trail until it dead-ends into the yellow. This is where you join the crowds venturing to the top of Tarnica.
We took the longer route intentionally, having learned that it’s worth getting as much time as possible in the połoniny. The most direct route is the blue route, starting in the Wołosate parking lot. This route is almost entirely forested ascent. It’s also where all the people are.
The map lists this as a 5 hour and 45 minute hike: 3 hours and 15 minutes up, 2 1/2 hours down. We ended up on the trail for 5 hours and 30 minutes for this hike. That time included a 35 minute stop at the top for lunch. The hike itself took us 2 hours 40 minutes up and 2 hours 15 minutes down. Clearly, not having shorter legs along made a big difference because we set a gentle pace and took lots of photo breaks.
You need to pay a nominal hiking fee at a booth at the base of the hike. When we were there it cost 6 zł for full price tickets and 3 zł for reduced (youth and seniors). Make sure you bring cash to pay these and the parking fee. It’s always preferably if you have smaller change, as they will have limited supplies of change.
We parked at the second parking lot at Ustrzyki Górne. There’s a parking lot right on the main road where a lot of people were parked. But, if you park there you’ll just have to walk about half a mile down the road, right past the second parking lot, to get to the start of the trail. It’s far preferable to drive to the second lot. We were worried that, on a Friday in the summer, the second lot would be full. But, it was even more open than the first. I suppose there are times when it fills up, but on this day, there were only two other cars in the whole parking lot.
When we were there the parking fee for a car was 15 zł for the day. This will need to be paid in cash.
The entrance to the red trail is just a little further down the road from the parking lot. You can’t see any trail markers in the parking lot area so make sure to check in at the ticket booth for directions. It isn’t difficult to find, but it isn’t obvious, either.
There is a free toilet at the parking lot at Ustrzyki Górne. It has running water, including a sink. But, it’s wise to bring your own soap and toilet paper as you probably won’t find any there. The toilets are open only during working hours. I didn’t see the exact hours posted anywhere, but they were generally closed by the time we got down from our hikes in the late afternoon/early evenings.