When I first wrote about the north of Białowieża Forest, I described it as wild, remote and seldom visited. This is now only partly true. Since the Narewkowska Road was renovated in 2019, the North of the National Park has become fairly busy, at least on weekends and holidays. By contrast, the forest outside the park remains scantly visited tourists. You don’t have to look far to find old-growth: both in and outside the national park, the forest in the north is a mosaic of natural and planted forest. Those wanting a change of scene should explore the nearby villages and Siemianówka Lake, one of the premiere bird nesting spots in Poland, or kayak down the Narewka River.
The north comprises two parts: 1) the ‘active management’ zone of the national park, and 2) the managed forest outside the national park.
The active management zone of the national park is open to tourists without a guide. Till 1996, the state forest company logged this area as a commercial forest. During this era, foresters clear-cut vast areas, and selectively cut others, but a minority of tree stands managed to survive in pristine condition. The resultant mosaic of natural and planted forest was added to the national park in 1996.
The northern half of the active management zone, northeast of Kosy Most, comprises a relatively dull pine plantation. By contrast, the southern part, the areas around the yellow and green trails below, escaped intensive clear-cut logging and retained some natural character. Since 1996 the area has been returning to nature at a striking rate. It’s worth visiting if only to see the resilience of nature.
The forest outside the national park is also a mosaic of old-growth and planted forest. There aren’t many marked trails around here, but feel free to explore the many forest tracks. The nearby villages, especially Masiewo and Babia Góra, are mysterious, charming places, with an edge of the world feeling about them; after all, these are the eastern fringes of the western world.
Visitors should notice the clear signs of a recently abandoned civilisation. Not long ago these were farming villages; note the barns behind every house. Nowadays the fields are abandoned, the farmers retired, and their children working in far-away cities. The birch trees evidence the forest reclaiming the fields. The meadows not yet overgrown form a savannah landscape, where if you wake up early enough you can meet a grazing bison.
Mode of transport
Travel by car to Kosy Most, Stare Masiewo or Babia Góra, and then explore the forest by bike or foot. Alternatively, cycle from Białowieża to Kosy Most to make a long day-trip (consider renting an electric bike).
How to get there
If staying in Białowieża, travel through Pogorzelce, and turn right when you see a signpost for Narewka. Continue up the Narewka road and park in Kosy Most, Stare Masiewo or Babia Góra (use a sat. nav. to find the latter two villages).
|3-4 h||8 km||Walk||Easy||Kosy Most|
One of my favourite of the popular tourist trails. It traverses a 19th century hunting trail running beside the Narewka Valley. So from Kosy Most, head east towards the Narewka River. It’s worth to briefly check out the bridge and the educational plaques at the border of the national park. There’s you’ll find a bison feeding station, and various educational signs that may be of interest.
Once finished at the river, return back to the Tsar’s trail and enter the forest. The trail takes you into a well-preserved section of the national park. The ground can be quite muddy after heavy rain, but there are wooden walkways over the worst of it. Along the way, you’ll find a diversity of forest types, from wet riverine bog forests, through Białowieża Forest’s most typical oak-lime-hornbeam forest, and then a return through a coniferous-mixed forest. It’s a miniature showcase of what the forest has to offer. The two viewpoints along the way look out onto the beautiful landscape of the river valley. Overall it’s a manageable medium-length trail that I highly recommend.
|3 h||8 km||Walk||Easy||Masiewo|
This is a nice short-medium length trail, and one of the few showcasing old-growth coniferous forest. The trail enters the national park south of Masiewo. It loops around a defunct nature reserve – the Capercaille reserve. Created in 1979, it was intended to protect well-preserved pine-spruce bog forest alongside the last known nesting areas of the capercaille (now locally extinct). The reserve was absorbed into the national park in 1996. The area is mainly flat and lies upon thick layers of peat. Half way through you’ll find a narrow-guage railway station that once served to cart trees out of the forest. Overall, I highly recommended it for a short jaunt into the forest.
|Masiewo is a charming two-parted village, Nowe (New) and Stare (Old) Masiewo. It’s an isolated, sleepy place, enveloped by dense forest, and unfortunately rather depopulated. However, records suggest it wasn’t always like this. Eight hundred people lived here before the war, in a village that boasted two taverns, a shop and a library. The second world war changed everything. In their attempts to ward off forest-dwelling partisans, the Nazis burned down the village and expelled its inhabitats. Only a third of the pre-war inhabitants returned to rebuild the village after the war. In the post war period villagers earned their income from forestry and farming. The last couple of decades has seen a collapse in the local farming industry; the village is slowly become a holiday destination.|
Babia Góra trail
|3-4 h (walk)||12 km||Walk/cycle||Easy||Babia Góra/ Masiewo|
Masiewo and Babia Góra are charming border villages full of houses built in the local style. If starting in Babia Góra, enter the forest due east. You’ll enter Siemianówka Nature Reserve, a well-preserved mixed coniferous-alder bog forest. Southwards, yo’ll find areas of forest destroyed in the 1920s by an English logging company, the Century European Timber Corporation. The forest has now regrown, mostly with birch and poplars. Head south to the charming village of Masiewo (described above). If returning to Babia Góra, you might be able to find an alternate route back to where you started. (look for forest tracks west of the one marked on the above map).
|Babia Góra was once on an island in the marshlands surrounding the Narew River. In the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth it was a forest ranger village. Legend states the village’s name Babia Góra ‘Women’s Mount’ originates from an woman that lived alone on the island in the bog long ago. Later, in the late-19th century they say only women lived here. The marshlands were drained, forming the bleak agricultural landscape you can see today. Nowadays its a quaint traditional-looking village, with the drained peat bogs now functioning as a bison feeding station.|
Green cycle trail
|4-5 h||25 km||Cycle||Easy||Kosy most or Masiewo|
Assuming you park in Kosy Most, cycle east into the national park. At its entrance you’ll find a bunch of tourist information boards. Continue east before turning at the junction. From there on follow the green cycle trail; it’ll be sign posted and green trail marks will be painted on the trees. Look out for wolf territory markings on the whole length of the trail.
As you head south and east along the green trail, you’ll find a number of tourist shelters and information boards. The forest becomes more natural as you go. On the southern stretches along the border of the strict reserve, you’ll emerge into some well-preserved old-growth. Look out for the educational trail appear. It’ll take you over a wooden walkway over a bog and into a classic Białowieża Forest scene – the oak-lime hornbeam forest, which I visited in autumn 2020 (photo below). At its end you’ll arrive back onto the green trail. Continue, turning north towards Masiewo. Here the forest becomes coniferous, although much of the area is clearly anthropogenic (i.e. cut down by the foresters axe and replanted). Masiewo is the half way point. In summer, refreshments should be available to buy; Enjoy the village’s sleepy charm.
The next stage of the route enters ‘managed forest’. Travel 5 km travel along the asphalt road, and turn off 1 km after Nowe Masiewo. The first stretch takes you through some well-preserved deciduous forest and alder swamps. Savour it, as the second part, after you re-enter the national park, turns into a pine monoculture. Overall, the route takes you through some natural, semi-natural and planted forest. It’s a nice medium length adventure that showcases both how humans can damage a natural forest (see the plantations), but also how quickly it can regenerate if left alone (the areas in the national park where forestry was banned in 1996).
Green walking trail
|Up to you||Up to you||Walk||Easy||Kosy Most or Masiewo|
This is the trail those that want to explore the national park’s active mgmt zone without a bike. It travels part of the same route as the yellow trail – see above text for what you can see here. There is no loop to be made, as there is only one trail in this part of the forest. From your car, just head into the forest, and walk back the same way when you’ve had enough.
Siemianówka Resevoir is not a spectacular lake. But if you want a change from the forest, then you can come here to fish, swim and kayak. The reservoir is a typical communist engineering project, built with complete disregard for nature. Dug in the 1980s, its purpose was to store water for the local area, while also creating opportunities for fishing and recreation. All these aims were partially fulfilled, but at the cost of several Polish-Belarusian villages and a unique floodplain ecosystem.
It was finished in 1988, reached its full volume in 1993, and quickly became a prime nesting place for water birds. But soon after, disaster struck as the lake went green; the lake was built in the wrong place. Layers of peat underlie the flooded valley, which caused the lake water to eutrophy. Algae bloomed. As a remedy, the lake was partly drained, with the eastern basin shrinking by half, destroying some of the water-bird habitat. Still, they say it’s the best place in Poland after Biebrza National Park to observe water/ mud-dwelling birds.
Kayaking the Narewka River from Kosy Most to Narewka Village. Kayaks can be rented from Bojarski Gosćiniec tavern in Narewka. For about 50 Zl, they will drop you off at Kosy Most with the Kayaks. You can then kayak down the river, end ingyour trip at the tavern.
Lunch spots – Bojarski Gościniec in Narewka.