Ojców National Park

The Ojców National Park, also known as Ojcowski (in Polish: Ojcowski Park Narodowy) is a protected area in Poland, located in Kraków County, in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship, in the south of the country. It was established in 1956 and takes its name from the village of Ojców, where its headquarters are located.

Despite being the smallest national park in Poland, with an original area of 14.40 km², it has been extended to 21.46 km². Of this area, 15.28 km² are covered by forests, and 2.51 km² are under strict protection. The park is located approximately 16 km north of Kraków, in the Jurassic region of the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland.


Ojców National Park: What You Need to Know

Origin of the Name Ojców

The name Ojców dates back to the first stone castle, built or rebuilt by Kazimierz Wielki in the Settlement on the Prądnik. In honor of the father who once hid in the valley, Władysław Łokietek, the castle was named "Father by the Rock". Over time, people simplified the name and began calling it just "Father", and later shortened it to Ojców. This designation also applied to the village at the foot of the castle, formerly known as Settlement on the Prądnik.

Ojców National Park

Biodiversity of Ojców National Park

The biodiversity of Ojcowski Park is remarkable, with over 5500 species inhabiting it. Among them are about 4600 species of insects, including 1700 types of beetles and 1075 species of butterflies. Additionally, there are 135 species of birds. Regarding mammals, the park is home to beavers, badgers, stoats, and 15 species of bats, many of which hibernate in caves during the winter.

All these species find the protected area ideal for survival, thanks to the karst topography of Ojców National Park, where soluble rock forms rock beds. Besides two river valleys, the Prądnik and Saspówka, the park is dotted with numerous cliffs, ravines, and more than 400 limestone caves. The most notable cave is Łokietek’s Cave, with a depth of 320 meters, named after King Władysław I Łokietek, who is said to have used it. Also prominent are the rock formations, with Hercules’ Club being the most famous, a limestone column rising 25 meters above the ground.

Historical and Cultural Heritage in Ojców National Park

The Ojców area has been inhabited since ancient times, with evidence of settlements dating back to the Paleolithic, approximately 120,000 years ago. The abundant presence of flint in the region was a key factor that attracted the first humans.

Within the park are several historic castles, such as the ruins of a Gothic castle in Ojców and a well-preserved Renaissance castle in Pieskowa Skała. These castles were part of a medieval defensive system in southwestern Poland, known as the "Trail of the Eagles’ Nests", built by order of King Casimir the Great.

Additionally, the park hosts two museums: the Museum of Professor Władysław Szafer, named in honor of the person who advocated for the creation of the national park in Ojców, and a branch of the National Art Collection of Kraków, located in the castle of Pieskowa Skała.

Geography of Ojców

The varied topography, terrain exposure, and different microclimates have been key to the great variety of plants in Ojców National Park. Here, around 1000 species of vascular plants are found, grouped into 60 plant communities, ranking third in Poland in terms of species diversity, after the Tatras and the Pieniny. Additionally, there are more than 311 species of mosses, over 1200 species of fungi, and about 200 species of lichens.

Willibald Besser, the first researcher of the flora of the Prądnik Valley, described this valley as "Vallis pulcherima et plantis raris ditissima" (beautiful valley rich in rare plants). Although more than two centuries have passed since then, Besser’s 1809 observation remains relevant today, despite changes in vegetation.

In the surroundings of Ojców, many relict species can be found, i.e., remnants of past eras. However, no endemics are found, i.e., species that grow in small, specific areas. The "brzoza ojcowska" (Ojców birch), which was long considered an endemic, is also found in other countries such as Transylvania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and in scattered areas of Scandinavia, as well as in Poland.


Geological Structure

The rock formations visible in the area of Ojców National Park are Upper Jurassic limestones, with a thickness of about 200 meters, formed by the accumulation of marine organism remains that lived around 150 million years ago. Their color generally varies between white, light yellow, and light gray.

In the surroundings of Ojców, two types of limestone are found: rocky limestones and bank limestones. The rocky ones are mostly composed of rock limestones, characterized by their high hardness, density, wedge-shaped fractures, and absence of silica. Among the most common fossils are sponges. On the other hand, the areas between the rocky formations are made up of bank limestones of different thicknesses, similar in lithology to the rocky ones but differing in their stratification and the presence of silica nodules. Among the fossils, brachiopods and occasionally ammonites can be found.

Geological Genesis

During the Paleogene, the southern part of the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland underwent prolonged denudation processes, leading to the formation of a slightly undulated extensive plateau, elevated to about 450 meters above sea level, known as the Paleogene leveling surface. Near the park, especially from the northwest, the plateau is dotted with numerous rock outcrops called roques, composed of resistant Jurassic limestones that were not eroded during the formation of the plateau.

At the end of the Tertiary, due to intense fluvial erosion in the southern part of the plateau, the current river network was formed. Rivers flowing from north to south carved valleys with deep ravine characteristics. At the same time, as a result of the activity of karst groundwater, numerous caves were formed.

The glaciation, which only once reached the edge of the Carpathians, covered the upland area with clays, sands, and gravels, although most of these deposits were removed from the valleys. During the most recent glaciations, the area of Ojców National Park experienced a cold climate. At the end of the glacial era, the upland was covered by loess, now up to 8 meters thick. Fertile soils have developed on it. Currently, silts, sands, and gravels are being deposited in the riverbeds. Holocene sediments also include tufa (travertine), found mainly at the bottom of the Sąspowska Valley.

Terrain Relief

In Ojców National Park, two main types of geographical forms can be identified: dolines and plateaus. The dolines encompass valleys with ravine characteristics (about 100 meters deep), as well as small karst valleys like ravines and gorges, in addition to terraces, alluvial cones, and hills. On the other hand, the plateaus consist of rocks scattered on the Jurassic upland surrounded by Quaternary formations.

The valleys of the Prądnik and Sąspowska are the main karst ravines, always drained, with perpendicular rocky slopes and flat bottoms, where smaller valleys of various types, generally dry, converge. At the mouth of these lateral valleys, characteristic alluvial cones often form, causing streams to shift to the opposite bank, like the cones at the mouth of ravines such as Jamki, Za Krakowską Bramą, and Korytania. The mouths of several ravines feature characteristic rock gates.

On the slopes of the valleys, flattening can often be observed, which are fragments of rock terraces related to different stages of valley development. In Ojców, they are found at a height of about 30-40 and 80 meters above the bottom of the Prądnik Valley, and in the upper part of the valley near Pieskowa Skała, their height is about 12 and 40 meters.

Fragments of these rock terraces form picturesque gates, rock spires, and other rock formations, such as the Krakow Gate and Deotymy Needle. On the preserved terrace levels are the ruins of the castle in Ojców and the castle in Pieskowa Skała.


Prądnik Basin

The Prądnik basin is a characteristic karst area, where the presence of streams and valleys is limited, and the latter are regularly renewed. Smaller, periodically dry valleys and ravines predominate. The Prądnik, a left tributary of the Vistula River flowing towards Kraków under the name Białucha, constitutes the main hydrographic axis of this basin. Within Ojców National Park, the only permanent tributary of the Prądnik is the Sąspówka, followed by the Korzkiewka below its limits. The Prądnik basin covers a total area of 195.2 km², of which 21.4 km² are within the park’s boundaries (the total length of the streams is 16.6 km, including 12.2 km of the Prądnik).

The Prądnik and Sąspówka streams are fed by about 20 karst fissure springs, usually found in or near the valley beds. The water levels of these streams show great stability throughout the year, with two notable peaks: one in early spring or winter and another in summer. The lowest levels are recorded in winter and autumn months. The average flow of the Prądnik is 370 l/s and that of the Sąspówka is 120 l/s. Annually, these streams drain approximately 11,670,000 m³ of water from the entire basin, with the highest flows in July and August, and the lowest in January and February.

Springs and Fountains

Springs are natural outlets of groundwater, distributed across three aquifer levels in the Ojców area. The most relevant level in forming the hydrogeological conditions is the one found in Jurassic limestones, with a wide distribution and large water reserves. The Cretaceous level is only present around Skała and has little importance, while the upper Quaternary aquifer level plays the least significant role. Most springs have a flow of up to 10 l/s, with some even exceeding several dozen l/s. The waters of the springs are characterized by their purity and low temperature, which varies little, especially in summer (from 8.5 to 10°C). In the park area, a clear trend of decreasing spring flow is observed, related to groundwater extraction.

Contamination Threats

The surface waters in Ojców National Park are being polluted by municipal, agricultural, industrial wastewater, and landfill leachates, as well as being exposed to contamination from airborne particles and gases.

For many years, the entry of pollutants into the surface waters within Ojców National Park was related to the discharge of wastewater from private households. Before the construction of wastewater treatment plants in Skała (1994), Młynnik (2003), and Ojców (2009), the wastewater from Skała and Sułoszowa was discharged directly into the Prądnik, which flows through the entire park along its course. Besides domestic wastewater, the Prądnik was also contaminated by discharges from dairy factories in Skała.

In 2001, due to the seasonal increase in concentrations of Na+, K+, SO42-, Cl-, NO3-, and PO4+ in the Prądnik and Sąspówka within Ojców National Park, they were classified as second-class water bodies in terms of cleanliness, with periods of decline to lower classes (Kostrakiewicz, 2001).

In the same year, the Water Framework Directive (WFD) was adopted in Poland, requiring evaluations of the status of water bodies based on biological studies using biological indicator groups, in addition to the physico-chemical parameters of the water, as previously done.

History and Prehistory of the Park

The First Settlers of the Prądnik Valley

In the Prądnik Valley, caves and rock shelters became natural habitation sites that attracted humans since the Paleolithic due to their abundance and the optimal defensive conditions offered by the varied terrain. The oldest archaeological finds from the Great Tunnel Cave date back half a million years and are some of the earliest flint tools found in Poland, made by Homo heidelbergensis, the ancestor of the Neanderthal. On the other hand, in the Dark Cave, Neanderthal remains dating from the end of the last Polish glacial period, between 120 and 115 thousand years ago, have been found. The scarce artifacts found here suggest the presence of a group of hunters who hunted local animals. These finds are likely associated with the Aurignacian cultural tradition, one of the oldest in Europe.

Later archaeological sites in Ojców and its surroundings show the traditions of the Levallois-Mousterian and Micoquian-Prądnik cultures. They are characterized by the presence of large stone tools, mainly oval and triangular hand axes, as well as numerous scrapers and knives. These cultural assemblages come from caves such as the Bat Cave, Koziarnia, Ciemna Cave, and the Wylotne rock shelter. Especially the latter two provided rich archaeological material, allowing the identification of a total of five cultural layers, dated approximately between 70 and 54 thousand years before our era. The inhabitants of that time, living in groups of up to 20 individuals, practiced a hunting and gathering economy. Using the rocky cliffs, they primarily organized hunts for wild horses, reindeer, and mammoths, and supplemented their diet with gathered plant products. The hunting weapon was a wooden spear, and sometimes they used limestone balls (bolas), which they shaped into circular forms by striking them. These balls were found in the Bat Cave and Koziarnia. In the Dark Cave, some of the oldest human remains in Poland, a Neanderthal tooth, were also discovered.

Traces of Lower and Middle Paleolithic settlements are found near the entrances of caves or in areas of rock shelters, indicating the good topographical orientation of humans of that time, who took advantage of natural shelters from the wind and good sun exposure. The so-called "oborzyska" (campsites) near the Dark Cave, Koziarnia Cave, Bat Cave, and the Wylotne rock shelter stand out for their excellent location in this regard.

In the process of changing living conditions for Upper Paleolithic humans in the surroundings of Ojców, several cultures are distinguished. Traces of the first, the Aurignacian (approximately 40 thousand years before our era), are found in the sediments of the Mammoth Cave in Wierzchowie, where a dozen mammoth tusk knives, animal bone ornaments, and an ivory plaque were found.

Other caves provided a characteristic type of flint tools, similar in shape to willow leaves, used as spear points and hunting knives. The richest material of this type comes from the Bat Cave in Jerzmanowice. Based on this material, Professor W. Chmielewski identified the Jerzmanowice culture, dating to approximately 36 thousand years before our era. Similar tools, though in smaller quantities, were found in the Mammoth Cave, Koziarnia, and the Puchaczej Skała rock shelter.

The population of the Jerzmanowice culture inhabiting the surroundings of Ojców showed some stability and significant population groups, standing out for their specialization in hunting cave bears. Within the caves, large bonfires were lit, and animals stunned by the smoke were hunted at the entrance with spears with stone points.

In the caves of Ojców, no evidence of Paleolithic cave paintings (known in Western Europe and the southern Urals) has been preserved. The only reflection of human art from that time are the decorations on tools, associated with the Magdalenian culture (13 and 12 thousand years before our era). Research in the Maszycka Cave in the Prądnik Valley has provided the most representative materials of this culture in Poland, being one of the easternmost sites of this type.

In the Mesolithic (the middle Stone Age, approximately 8-5.5 thousand years before our era), there was a clear evolution in the tools used, characterized by their reduction, known as "microlithization". Microliths, 2-3 cm long, with geometric shapes like rhombuses, trapezoids, and triangles, were used as arrowheads in hunting small animals and waterfowl, as well as in the making of other tools. The temporary presence of Mesolithic populations in the Ojców region is evidenced by the few flint artifacts found in Smardzowice.


The vestiges of human settlements in the surroundings of Ojców, from the arrival of the first human until the Middle Ages, are mainly associated with the Neolithic period (the most recent epoch of the Stone Age, approximately 5.5-2.2 thousand years before our era). This is evidenced by the overwhelming predominance of Neolithic archaeological materials found in the caves over materials from other periods. This epoch is associated with the mining exploitation of flint present in the weathered clay, which occurred at the beginning of the agricultural and livestock period.

The flint mines and workshops discovered around Ojców, Sąspów, and Bębło provided rich evidence representing various Neolithic cultures (corded ware, Lendzielska, hemispherical bowls, radiocarbon ceramics). The caves in Ojców served as temporary shelters for visitors, especially for groups of "miners" who came to seek flint from distant settlements, such as the Vistula valley near Kraków. The flint from the surroundings of Ojców was known during this time in Moravia, Slovakia, and Hungary. A few caves, such as the Dark Cave, the Great Depression of Okopy Dolina, Wierzchowska Górna, and the Mammoth Cave, were inhabited for longer periods.

Bronze and Iron Ages

The invention and spread of bronze slowly replaced flint, which over time lost its importance as a raw material for tool making. This led to a clear decline in interest in the surroundings of Ojców during the Bronze Age (2.2-0.6 millennia before our era), as evidenced by the small number of archaeological materials found from this period.

The Iron Age in the Prądnik Valley is represented only by the Roman period (from the beginning of our era to 375 AD) and the early Middle Ages. Ojców was then on the periphery of human settlement. Only the local caves and defensive rock formations sometimes provided refuge to people. The sparse settlement of the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland during the Bronze Age was also due to natural conditions that were not very favorable for agriculture and animal husbandry, and the difficult access to water.

Permanent Settlements in the Early Middle Ages

The early Middle Ages mark a renaissance in settlement activity, where castles built for defensive purposes along the valleys on prominent rocky promontories, which naturally offer a defensive position, played a crucial role. In the park area, remnants of several early medieval castles have been preserved. These include Ogrojec near the Dark Cave, the castle on Okopy Hill in Ojców, as well as in Grodzisko and Sułoszowa. The set of rock ridges around Ogrojec near the Dark Cave is considered by some scholars (e.g., Professor J. Bogdanowski) as the oldest example of fortifications in Poland. It is possible that excavations in the ruins of Casimir’s Castle in Ojców and the castle in Pieskowa Skała could uncover more medieval settlements.

Permanent settlement in the surroundings of the Prądnik Valley began to take shape during the Middle Ages. Until that time, the origins of almost all the surrounding villages can be traced back to the 12th to 14th centuries, with the construction of durable fortifications and castles. Initially, the properties of Ojców belonged to the Crown, which over time began to diminish in favor of the nobility and the clergy. By the mid-13th century, the monastery of the Poor Clares of Zawichost (later moved to Kraków) received Grodzisko and Skała along with the surrounding lands. Pieskowa Skała passed into the hands of the Szafrański family in 1378, while Ojców remained royal property. This division of properties into royal, ecclesiastical, and noble estates persisted until the fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1795).

Late Middle Ages

In the 13th century (during the period of feudal fragmentation), defensive fortresses in the Prądnik Valley played an important role in securing Kraków, the capital of the duchy. During the struggles for the throne of Kraków, Ojców was also the scene of historical events. For Władysław I Łokietek, who led the fight for the unification of Poland, Ojców became a crucial stronghold in his final confrontation with the Czech king Wenceslaus II. Łokietek, finding temporary refuge in Ojców, was able to closely observe the political situation of that time and the plans of the Czechs in Kraków. To this day, legends and historical sources highlight that Łokietek found his greatest support among the rural population of Ojców and its surroundings, who offered him refuge.

In the 14th century, a defensive system began to be built in the Prądnik Valley to protect the trade route from Kraków to Silesia. From the time of Casimir the Great, two defensive fortresses still preserved: the castle in Pieskowa Skała and the castle in Ojców, whose ruins are now picturesque.

From the 14th century, Ojców, initially probably called "settlement by the Prądnik", was a borough that included 8 surrounding villages: Jerzmanowice, Gotkowice, Smardzowice, Szklary, Zelków, Wielka Wieś, Wierzchowie, and Bębło.

The upper section of the Prądnik and Pieskowa Skała in the second half of the 14th century passed into the hands of wealthy noble families. The castle in Pieskowa Skała served as the seat of the estate, which consisted of several villages and remained so until the end of the 18th century, being owned by several successive families: the Szafrański, the Zebrzydowski, the Wielopolski. At the foot of the castle was a small settlement called Podzamcze, and to the northeast, in the upper part of the Prądnik Valley, lay the long, populated village of Sułoszowa. Besides the castle in Pieskowa Skała, the estate included villages such as Wielmoża, Wymysłów, Przeginia, Sąspów, Wola Kalinowska, and Kalinów.

The lower section of the Prądnik was part of the Korzkiew estate, which consisted of several villages (including Prądnik Korzkiewski, Biały Kościół, Grębynice, and Korzkiew) and was in the hands of various noble families.

The development of the feudal economy significantly worsened the situation of the rural population. Peasants felt the increased labor burdens in the boroughs more acutely. Also in the Ojców borough, they complained, among other things, about inconvenient and long journeys to markets with noble goods, high labor quotas, and restrictions on the use of forests. The valuable book by Professor Alicja Gradowska, "Ojców in History and Legend," published by Ojców National Park, provides relevant information on the situation of the population in Ojców estates.

Modern Era

From the 16th century onward, increasingly dispersed buildings were established in the Prądnik Valley. By the early 18th century, due to the efforts of the mayors of Ojców to settle craftsmen, separate settlements emerged: Prądnik Ojcowski and Prądnik Czajowski, now known as Ojców and Prądnik Korzkiewski, Swawola (Swywola), and Hamernia Królewska. Among the most common artisanal establishments, mainly set up along the Prądnik stream from Pieskowa Skała downstream, were sawmills, grain mills (often expanded with oil mills), wool weaving workshops, as well as paper and gunpowder factories. The latter were particularly important as they provided gunpowder for national uprisings. The gunpowder factories in Prądnik went out of service during the Kościuszko Uprising in 1794. However, some of them resumed gunpowder production during the Duchy of Warsaw period and the November Uprising.

After the third partition of Poland, the Prądnik Valley came under Austrian rule. The properties of Pieskowa Skała remained in the hands of their previous owners, while the Ojców estate changed hands several times. In 1809, Ojców and its surroundings were incorporated into the Duchy of Warsaw and in 1815 into the Congress Kingdom.

Recent History of the Park

Insurgency in Ojców

The night of January 22, 1863, marked the beginning of the most tragic national uprising in our history. The unfavorable political situation and military weakness practically guaranteed its failure from the start. However, those few months of struggle, seemingly desperate from our current perspective, had a great impact on the formation of our national consciousness and became a crucial element of our national ethos, which was fundamental in regaining independence after World War I. The Prądnik Valley played a significant role in the history of the uprising, especially in its initial phase, as a key place for events that determined its course.

Apolinary Kurowski’s Unit

On January 25 and 26, 1863, a unit of several hundred people under the command of Apolinary Kurowski, the then commander-in-chief of the Kraków voivodeship, arrived in Ojców. According to the insurgents’ plans, Ojców, due to its proximity to the Austrian border and its inaccessible location, would become the training ground for the future regular Polish army. Many volunteers, mainly young people from Kraków, joined the camp. By mid-February, the insurgent assembly numbered over 2000 people, of which 600 were armed with scythes and about 1000 had firearms, mainly hunting or old weapons, while the rest were unarmed. The main headquarters of the insurgents was the "Pod Łokietkiem" hotel, where the General Staff office, quarters for some of the scythemen and shooters, as well as the hospital were located. The rest of the insurgents were distributed in the peasant houses along the Prądnik Valley, including Pieskowa Skała. In the Ojców camp, the "zouaves of death" unit stood out, founded in February 1863 by Colonel Franciszek Rochebrune, a French officer and founder of a fencing school in Kraków.

A. Kurowski’s unit showed great activity, occupying the nearby towns of Olkusz, Skała, and Sławków. The insurgents also reached the Zagłębie Dąbrowskie region. Threatened by the concentration of Tsarist troops in the Ojców region, the camp attacked Miechów on February 17, 1863, where it was completely defeated. The greatest losses were suffered by Rochebrune’s "zouave" group.

Ojców, Inspiration for 19th and 20th Century Poets and Painters

After the loss of independence and the final delimitation of borders under foreign rule, Ojców became one of the most attractive places in the south of the Congress Kingdom, gaining recognition among painters, poets, and scholars. During this period, the picturesque Ojców Valley was frequented by prominent figures such as Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, Franciszek Wężyk, Klementyna Tańska-Hoffmanowa, Fryderyk Chopin, Jadwiga Łuszczewska (Deotyma), Wojciech Gerson, Stanisław Staszic, and Wojciech Jastrzębowski. Many of them left their mark on Ojców through descriptions, memories, diaries, poems, or scholarly publications.

The Romantic era revitalized Ojców by reviving numerous old legends and myths that, over the centuries, had populated the local castles, rocks, and caves with characters such as noble knights, bandits, unfortunate maidens, witches, demons, and benevolent spirits. These legends, documented by Oskar Kolberg, Jadwiga Łuszczewska, Stanisław Ciszewski, Emilia Sukertowa, and others, add a peculiar charm to the Prądnik Valley.

Change of Owners in the Prądnik Valley

In 1829, the government sold the Ojców properties to Konstanty Wolicki, who, upon leaving the country, transferred the ownership of Ojców to Karol Szulc. However, this transaction was not recognized by the Russian government, which confiscated Wolicki’s properties and auctioned them along with the castle ruins in 1837 to Wojciech Prędowski, whose son Henryk became the heir. In 1859, Ojców was acquired by the renowned historian and antiquities lover, Aleksander Przezdziecki, from the Prędowski family. Przezdziecki built the first spa establishments in Ojców and intended to restore the castle tower, but his plans were thwarted by the January Uprising.

Discouraged by the burning of Ojców during the uprising, Przezdziecki sold the Ojców properties in 1865 to merchants from Wrocław (Maurycy Adler and the brothers Maurycy, Marek, and Samuel Staub), reserving the castle ruins, the Prądnik Valley, and the Ciemna and Łokietka caves for himself. After Przezdziecki’s death, his son Gustaw sold these modest properties in 1878 to Jan Zawisza, the first cave explorer in Ojców, who planned to reclaim what had been acquired by the Wrocław merchants and rebuild the castle.

However, the Marquis Huntlej de Gordon acquired the merchants’ property in 1883. According to Przezdziecki’s will in 1887, J. Zawisza inherited the castle ruins and the remaining properties, which passed to his youngest granddaughter, Ludwika Krasińska (later Czartoryska). On the other hand, Gordon failed to comply with the sale terms and did not pay the due amount, resulting in an auction of his assets. Ludwik Krasiński (Czartoryska’s father) acquired this part of the Ojców key in 1892, becoming the sole owner of Ojców. At that time, the Ojców properties included villages such as Prądnik Ojcowski, Podzamcze (Kolencin), Czajowice, Smardzowice, Jerzmanowice, Szklary, Hamernia, and Bębło. Until the agrarian reform after World War II, this entire area was owned by Ludwika Czartoryska. By the late 19th century, Ojców had become a well-known tourist and spa center.

The properties of Pieskowa Skała suffered significant reduction in the 19th century. In 1842, they passed into the hands of the Mieroszewski family, who lost a large part of the property. Due to multiple ownership changes and debts, the castle and the remaining properties, significantly reduced, became the subject of an auction, which was postponed thanks to the initiative of a society founded by Adolf Dygasiński, who bought the castle. By the late 19th century, several sanatoriums were built in Pieskowa Skała following the example of Ojców; however, they were destroyed during World War I.

The Korzkiew estate was parceled out in the late 19th century, although part of the properties remained in private hands. After the Congress of Vienna, the Poor Clares of Kraków also lost their properties in Grodzisko.

Ojców and the World Wars

Both World Wars did not cause significant material losses in the Prądnik Valley, aside from the looting exploitation of the forests of Pieskowa Skała. During World War II, there was resistance against the occupiers in the Ojców region, mainly in Skała and its surroundings. The partisan units BCh "Badurka" and AK "Bicza" and "Żmija" carried out several successful sabotage actions in nearby villages. The liberation of the Ojców region and its surroundings occurred on January 18, 1945.

Natura 2000

The Natura 2000 Network encompasses two types of protected areas: Special Protection Areas for Birds (SPAs) and Sites of Community Importance (SCIs). In Poland, it is planned to establish 142 areas for birds and 817 areas for habitats, which will represent approximately 21% of the country’s territory.

The Prądnik Valley in the Natura 2000 Network

The European Ecological Network Natura 2000 is a system for the protection of endangered habitats and species across the European continent. This network was initiated in all EU member states in 1992, based on two Council of Europe directives: Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds (known as the Birds Directive) and Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora (the Habitats Directive). The aim of Natura 2000 is to preserve both endangered habitats and species and typical European habitats. In Poland, preparations for this network began before its accession to the EU in 2004, and finally, Ojców National Park was integrated in 2007.

Natural Habitats in Ojców National Park

Ojców National Park was incorporated into the Natura 2000 network in its current area as a special conservation area called "Prądnik Valley" (code PLH120004). Here, various types of natural habitats are found, whose conservation is vital according to the Habitats Directive, such as xerothermal meadows, scrublands, extensive meadows, calcareous springs, rocky walls, non-visited caves, among others. Also present are plant and animal species such as the common orchid, the crested newt, the horseshoe bat, the European beaver, and the otter. The directive aims to maintain a "favorable conservation status" for these habitats and species.

Economic Use of the Natura 2000 Area

Protection within the Natura 2000 network does not exclude its economic use, as long as the protection of habitats and species is ensured. Therefore, any project that may significantly affect the nature of Ojców National Park must undergo an assessment of its effects. The Natura 2000 network complements the existing nature protection system in Poland up to 2004, reinforcing the need to protect the park due to the presence of habitats and species of importance to the European Community.

History of the Park’s Creation

First Attempts to Establish Ojców National Park

The first efforts to protect nature in the Prądnik Valley were reflected in the press, where protests against the exploitation of the forests emerged. Brutal practices by the merchants from Wrocław, who were devastating the forests of Ojców, were criticized for ignoring the conditions of the sale contract by indiscriminately felling the forest cover in areas like Smardzowice, Wola Kalinowska, and Sąspów.

At that time, legislation completely ignored concerns about nature conservation. Sediments were extracted from the caves with impunity, taking advantage of valuable fertilizing material. The most affected caves were Koziarnia and Nietoperzowa, where sediment extraction was carried out between 1877 and 1878 by the mining authority of Upper Silesia under the direction of O. Gruby. Additionally, in other caves open to the public, stalagmitic formations were damaged, generating protests in reports about Ojców and in the media.

The previous owner of Ojców, Jan Zawisza, an amateur archaeologist and pioneer in exploring the local caves, also significantly contributed to nature conservation in the area. He began gradually acquiring land in the Prądnik Valley and its surroundings from the Wrocław merchants. This effort was continued by the next owner, Ludwik Krasiński.

The Polish society, witnessing the degradation of nature in the Prądnik Valley, quickly reacted to the acts of vandalism. Despite the lack of adequate measures by the authorities, the first steps towards nature protection were taken. For example, a joint-stock company founded in the late 19th century on the initiative of Adolf Dygasiński acquired the castle in Pieskowa Skała along with the surrounding forest and rocks.

The Prądnik Valley

The Prądnik Valley has been the subject of conservation efforts since the early 19th century, linked to the first research conducted in the area. During that time, various plant and animal species were discovered, and the caves were scientifically explored. Additionally, the landscape of Ojców became the subject of reports and memoirs, inspiring many artists and poets. The beauty of the Prądnik Valley, along with its rich biodiversity and fascinating archaeological history, attracted numerous advocates for its protection in the then Kingdom of Poland, eventually becoming known as the "Polish Switzerland."

Creation of the Regional Museum

The creation of the Regional Museum in Ojców, established by Stanisław Jan Czarnowski at the end of the 19th century, also played an educational role in promoting nature conservation in the Prądnik Valley. However, these and other individual initiatives up until World War I had limited impact, as no legal measures were implemented to adequately protect the Prądnik Valley environment. It was only during the interwar period that the State Commission for Nature Conservation, later transformed into the State Council for Nature Conservation, under the direction of Professor Dr. Władysław Szafer, recognized the importance of nature conservation in Ojców. At the initiative of Professor Szafer, the first scientific monograph of the Prądnik and Sąspowska Valleys was prepared and published in the magazine "Nature Conservation" in 1924. This monograph contained a description of the geographical environment of the Ojców area, along with a plan and description of the boundaries of the future nature reserve. The planned reserve encompassed the Czartoryski properties and municipal properties along the Prądnik Valley from Sułoszowa to Hamernia and Sąspowska from the village of Sąspów to the mouth of the valley in Ojców. Złota Góra Mountain was intended to host the construction of a spa complex as part of the area’s regulation.

Nature Reserve

The nature reserve, in addition to fully safeguarding the natural resources it contained, as expressed by the project authors, Professor W. Szafer and Engineer S. Richter, also aimed to serve as a site for scientific research and a source of unforgettable aesthetic experiences for both occasional tourists and summer visitors.

The proposal to establish a reserve during the interwar period was not realized, and new tourist investments, such as the construction of roads, power plants, and more spa hotels, made Ojców accessible to a wider audience.

The interwar period saw no advancements in the legal protection of Ojców’s environment. Only thanks to Professor Szafer’s firm stance were plans that endangered the local nature weakened or even postponed.

After World War II, efforts to establish a reserve were resumed. Once again, the energetic work of Professor Szafer, then a delegate of the Ministry of Education for Nature Conservation, contributed to organizing numerous conferences where the creation of the future national park in Ojców was discussed. Alongside Professor Szafer, other fervent advocates of this idea were: W. Marcinkowski, J. Kornaś, S. Smólski, S. Jarosz, T. Szczęsny, and K. Bukowski. Between 1946 and 1953, several meetings were held at the provincial level, at the Polish Academy of Sciences, and at the State Council for Nature Conservation.

S. Jarosz published the first description of the National Park in Ojców, and S. Smólski (then Regional Nature Conservator in Kraków) and T. Szczęsny (secretary of the State Council for Nature Conservation) under Professor Szafer’s direction undertook nature conservation work in Ojców and its surroundings, as well as drafted the regulation project for the Council of Ministers to establish Ojców National Park.

Establishment of Ojców National Park

After the State Council for Nature Conservation approved the project, Ojców National Park was established by a Decree of the Council of Ministers on January 14, 1956, making it the sixth national park in Poland, with an area of 1570.59 hectares (currently 2145.62 hectares). In 1981, with the formation of the Jura Landscape Parks Group in Kraków Voivodeship, a protection zone of about 7000 hectares around the ONP was created.

Later, in 1997, the park’s boundaries were adjusted, leading to its legal reconfirmation. The protection zone, known as the buffer zone, covers 6777 hectares.

Park Areas

Division of Areas

According to the Ecosystem Conservation Plan for Forest and Non-Forest Areas of Ojców National Park, completed in 1993, the following division of the ONP area by community type and protection level was established:

  • Strict protection area,
  • Partial protection area for forest communities,
  • Partial protection area for non-forest communities,
  • Economic land area subject to landscape protection (scenic value)

Land Use Structure

From an administrative perspective, the entire territory of the Park forms a single Protection Area called "Groty," which comprises 3 circuits: Korytania, Złota Góra, and Pieskowa Skała.

After administrative changes implemented on January 1, 1999, the Park area is located in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship, in Kraków County, encompassing four municipalities:

  • Skała (1222.56 ha – 56.98% of the ONP area),
  • Jerzmanowice-Przeginia (300.10 ha – 13.99%),
  • Wielka Wieś (114.67 ha – 5.34%),
  • Sułoszowa (508.29 ha – 23.69%).

The Park has a protection zone known as a buffer zone that extends over five municipalities, including those mentioned above and the municipality of Zielonki. This protection zone, established by a resolution of the Kraków City National Council on December 2, 1981, originally covered an area of 7000 ha but was slightly reduced to 6777 ha due to an amendment to the Council of Ministers’ regulation on Ojców National Park.

On August 8, 1997, a new regulation of the Council of Ministers on Ojców National Park was issued, defining its boundaries, area, buffer zone limits, and prohibitions in the ONP. This regulation was published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Poland No. 99 of August 21, 1997, position 607. Currently, the area of Ojców National Park is 2145.62 ha (according to paragraph 1 of the mentioned regulation). The property distribution in the Park is as follows:

  • Total area of ONP – 2145.62 ha,
  • State lands managed by the Park – 1387.48 ha,
  • State lands under other management – 18.95 ha,
  • Private lands – 656.61 ha,
  • Other lands – 82.58 ha.


It is located in the southern part of the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, about 16 km northwest of Kraków.


Located in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship, in Kraków County, it encompasses the municipalities of Jerzmanowice-Przeginia, Skała, Sułoszowa, Wielka Wieś, and Zielonki.


It covers an area of 2145.62 ha, making it the smallest national park in Poland.

Protection Zone (Buffer Area)

The protection zone covers 6777 ha for enhanced conservation.

Forest Communities

The park contains 1529 ha of forests, representing 71% of its area.

Agricultural Lands

It includes 366 ha of agricultural lands, representing 22% of the park area, including meadows and pastures.

Water Resources

1% of the park area is composed of rivers such as the Prądnik and Sąspówka, springs, and ponds.

Private Property and Others

Approximately 30% of the park area is in private or other forms of ownership.

Strict Protection Area

Covers 249 ha, including part of the Złota Góra forest complex, Chełmowa Góra and its ravines, as well as the Korytania and Skałbania ravines, and a small part of the summit of Góra Rusztowa.

Highest Point

The highest peak is Chełmowa Góra, at 473 m above sea level.

Caves Open to the Public

These include the Jaskinia Łokietka, with a total corridor length of 320 m, and the Jaskinia Ciemna, with a total corridor length of 209 m.

Objectives of the Protection and Foundation of the National Park

The nature of Ojców National Park, including the Prądnik Valley, has been significantly shaped by human activity over the centuries, especially during the Middle Ages. During that time, forest communities were transformed into meadows, pastures, and lawns through practices such as tree felling, grazing, and systematic mowing. These areas are not only essential elements of the park’s landscape but also host a great diversity of plant and animal life.

The warm-climate meadows, which covered approximately 30% of the park at its inception, were particularly important. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, forest management collapsed, leading to the drastic reduction of these areas due to reforestation and the abandonment of management practices. This caused the decline of species associated with these habitats and the extinction of many of them.

To counteract this loss of biodiversity, the idea of active protection of non-forest ecosystems emerged in the 1980s. This strategy aims to restore and protect meadows and pastures by removing trees and shrubs, mowing, and grazing.

Experimental trials of active protection were carried out in various areas of the park since the 1980s. These measures gradually expanded to more areas, reaching a total of 27 exposed rocky massifs to promote the growth of xerophilous meadows.

In 2018, additional active protection measures were implemented in 29 areas that had not previously been subject to these practices. The goal was to expand the areas of xerophilous and rocky meadows to encourage the development of rare species and protect the landscape.

Ojców National Park continued these efforts, carrying out active protection projects and establishing regular grazing areas in various parts of the park. These actions highlight its commitment to preserving and restoring the valuable non-forest ecosystems and the biodiversity they harbor.

Parking Fees

Pod Zamkiem Parking

– Car: 8 zł per hour*
– Motorcycle: 8 zł per hour*
– Camper, minibus, van, microbus, trailer (including camping): 15 zł per hour*
– Bus: Parking prohibited
*Fee for each started hour

Zlota Góra Parking

– Car: 5 zł per hour*
– Motorcycle: 3 zł per hour*
– Camper, minibus, van, microbus, trailer (including camping): 10 zł per hour*
– Bus: 25 zł per hour*
*Fee for each started hour

Parking in Pieskowa Skala

– Car: 8 zł per hour*
– Motorcycle: 8 zł per hour*
– Camper, minibus, van, microbus, trailer (including camping): 15 zł per hour*
– Bus: 25 zł per hour*
*Fee for each started hour

Places to Eat in Ojców National Park

Ojców National Park is known for its delicious flavors, and while you’re in the Prądnik Valley, you have several options to enjoy a good meal. Here are some of the restaurants you can find:

  • Bar Sąspówka
  • Przeg Ojcowski
  • Golden Oiemniak Bar
  • Restaurante bajo el Bottch
  • Piwnica pod Bat
  • Kawiarnia Nie Zapominajka
  • Zazamcze
  • Zajazd Wernyhora
  • Restaurante Herbowa

It is important to note that some of these restaurants may only be open during the season or on specific dates. Before going, it is recommended to check the current situation on the individual restaurant websites to avoid inconvenience.

You may also want to visit the Białowieża National Park, where you can see one of the few protected areas with bison.