The southeast of Białowieża Forest is a remote and wild place. With no public roads and sparse tourist infrastructure, you can easily go a whole day without seeing a another person. Not only this − large parts of southern Białowieża Forest have escaped the forester’s axe, meaning the forest in the south is, for the most part, remarkably well-preserved. To get to the interesting parts, you’ll need to cycle south-westwards from Białowieża Village. You’ll have to put up with drab plantation forests for the first half hour or so, but I assure you, it’s well-worth it. The forest becomes more natural the further south you go. Soon after you turn off Jagiellonski Tryb, the main east-west track in this part of the forest, the forest begins to resemble the national park’s strict reserve – ancient, mossy, and prehistoric.
Mode of transport
I recommend cycling. There are no roads open to cars down here and walking won’t get you far, as the distances are too large.
How to get here
Generally, for any trip into the southern parts of the forest, you’ll want to cycle out of the village along Jagielloński Tryb. If you have a car to transport your bikes, you can park at ‘Miejsce Mocy’ and cycle southwards from there.
There are a couple of marked trails and lots of assorted forests tracks to choose from. Based on my personal experience, I recommend two alternative trips – one that follows the marked yellow cycle trail between Białowieża and Topiło, and another that explores unmarked forest tracks through some of the most scenic nature reserves (see map below). Pay attention to the names of the tracks (tryb in Polish). They can identified by their names (e.g. Tryb Bagienny), and can be easily identified on any decent tourist map. Aside from these two trips, you can also design your own route. I’ve included a brief description of the different tracks to help you in this task. As with other parts of Białowieża Forest, stick to the nature reserves if you want to see primeval forest.
1) Nature reserves on the Belarusian border – three variants.
Difficulty: Medium. Terrain is flat but tracks can be muddy, sandy and hard work at times (the 3km stretch through Kozłowa Tropina, while spectacular, is particularly badly maintained).
This route has a few variants. It can be shortened depending on the length of trip that you want to do. All are similar in that you will see the entire variety of different forest types that Białowieża forest has to offer – but bear in mind, the further south you go, the wilder it gets. So once you get half way to the belarussian border, it might be worth continuing southwards to see the natural forest in all its splendour. I highly recommend the Kozłowa Tropina track – a 3 km stretch through the heart of a nature reserve (options b and c).
1a Olemburski Circuit
|3-4 h||20 km||Bike||Easy|
|Tracks: Jagiellonski, Pacowski, Olemburski Tracks, then return via Sinnicka droga|
This is the shortest route option. This short route may suit you, if you only have an morning or afternoon to spare. Travelling southwards along Pacowski Tryb will gradually take you out of plantations into primeval forest. It’s downhill, and as you travel southwards, and you’ll notice the forest on either side of the track will get wetter. The old-growth deciduous forest will gradually morph into a sodden alder bog forest. Look out for the prehistoric looking horsetails that grow here in spring (photo). Turn right onto Olemburski Tryb, where you’ll emerge into one of my favourite alderwoods. On the left is a classic alderwood, the likes of which are rare in western Europe, and on the right – a transformed habitat – there was a drying alderwood here in the 2000s (see box below). It’s now a wide-open landscape covered in dead standing trees, myriad colourful flowers, and various water-loving species – I’ve spotted the black stork feeding here several times.
Continue along Olemburski and you’ll gradually return to the oak-lime-hornbeam deciduous forest typical for Białowieża Forest. To return home, take a right at the crossroads with Kozłowy tryb, which will take you onto Sinnicka droga. Carry on straight up this road till you get to the main tarmac road (the Hajnowka-Białowieża highway), and then turn right towards the village.
1b Kozłowa Tropina Circuit
|3-4 h||22 km||Bike||Medium|
|Tracks: Jagiellonski, Pacowski, Olemburski Tracks, then return via Sinnicka droga|
For the most part, this route is the same as the previous, except it adds the short spur of Kozłowa Tropina. For the first stretch of the way, this route follows the same tracks (Jagiellonski & Pacowski Tryb) as option 1. At the end of Pacowski tryb, continue straight into Kozłowa Tropina for a trip through one of Białowieża Forest’s finest sights (described below in the track description section). It’s a bumpy, hard ride for 3 km, but it’s well worth it. Be sure to stop on the bridge over the Podcerkówka – it’s another semi-human made wetland, created some 15 years ago (see box above). At the end of Kozłowa Tropina, turn right onto Kozłowy Tryb, which will take you to on to Sinnicka droga and home again.
1c Kurdzimowski Circuit
|5-6 h||30 km||Bike||Medium/Hard|
|Tracks: Jagiellonski, Pacowski and Kozłowa Tropina tracks. Then turn southwards onto Kozłowy tryb. Then right, westwards along Kurdzimowski Tryb and then back via Sinnicka droga.
This whole day option will take you through the whole gamut of south Białowieża Forest’s wild nature reserves. It also gives you the option of going off-piste, should you want to take one of the tracks into the Kozłowe Borki or Przewłoka nature reserves. In addition to exporing the abovementioned Kozłowa Tropina, you’ll go along Kurdzimowski tryb – another wonderful and remote track that has several side-tracks into ever-remoter forests. Bear in mind, that the track surface becomes hard work south of Olemburski. But don’t be too put off by the length of this option, as the way home, along Sinnicka Droga, is an easy one, along possibly the best surfaced forest track there is. Remember, if you feel like returning home early, you can always choose to return home via the tracks mentioned in options i) and ii).
|5-6 h||40 km||Bike||Medium|
|Tracks: Highway, Sinnicka droga, Olemburski track|
Another nice day trip is heading south-west through the forest to the hamlet of Topiło. The tracks are wide, flat and well-surface for the whole length of the trip. You’ll cycle through a variety of different landscapes, from dull, managed monocultures, on to dark and murky deciduous forests, through the ancient primeval swamps of Berezowo, and then onto the wild Leśna river valley (the only un-canalised river in Białowieża Forest). A couple of kilometres after the river, you’ll be rewarded with the only open water body in the forest – Topiło lake next to Topiło, a small hamlet with shop and bar (open in summer). The lake is man-made, created by the damming of the Perebel river. The lake was created to store wood that would historically have been floated on the lake’s surface prior to being transported down the river. The only downside to the trip is that you have to return to Białowieża on the same route as on which you arrived.
For those of you that want to design you own route, I’ve made a list of forest tracks in this part of the forest that I think are worth visiting. I don’t have a digital map with all the tack names to show you, but you can find them labelled on any store-bought map.
Jagiellonski Tryb – The main track spanning east-west in the north of this part of the forest. If you’re heading southwards, you’ll definitely cycle this track. It’s very easily cyclable, but not a beautiful area. The forest has been heavily transformed on either side of the track. After WW2, vast spruce monocultures were planted here – these were largely planted on completely the wrong type of habitat for spruce trees. Much of it is consequently now dead or dying. It’s worth seeing just to see how historical forestry mistakes can mess up a forest. The areas killed by bark beetle will return to nature over the next years. Nature rating: 1.
Sinnicka droga – One of the main southbound tracks in this part of the forest. You’re almost guaranteed to travel on this track should you venture into this part of the forest, as it links up all the other tracks. It was once one of the main arteries through the forest, supplying a forest workers hotel in the far south of the forest at Przewłoka (now abandoned). It’s still a wide and well-surfaces track, which makes for easy cycling. The forest on either of its sides is far from pristine, it’s not too bad either. Nature rating 2-3.
Bagienny Tryb – Goes south from Jagiellonski Tryb. It’s not so interesting at the beginning. Gradually though, as the track goes downhill, it emerges into wonderful primeval bog forests, and particularly the final kilometre goes through some of the finest alderwoods I’ve ever seen. Horsetails, mosses, and ferns create wonderful ancient atmosphere. The track leads on to Olemburski Tryb at the end and the prehistoric bog forest continues. Just bear in mind that the surface of the track is poor, and after heavy rains the road quality deteriorates considerably. Nature rating 3.
Pacowski Tryb – Also goes south from Jagiellonski Tryb. It’s generally has a bit more variety of forest types than Bagienny Tryb (meaning there’s more to see), but the bog forests aren’t quite as pristine. Again, the first part is uninteresting, but the road gets more interesting as you travel southwards. It begins with a pine and spruce plantation, emerges into well-preserved natural bog forest, which interchanges between old-growth deciduous and bog forests. It ends the crossroads with Olemburski Tryb and Kozłowa Tropina. Nature rating 3
Olemburski Tryb – The main east-west track spanning the middle-south of Białowieża Forest. It has wonderful swamps on either side of it for the majority of its length. The beginning of the track (which starts at the end of Bagienny tryb) has classical bog forests, but the landscape on the right gradually opens up into a flooded landscape (see inset above): this is often carpeted with flowers and horsetails, and provides a wonderful view into the local bird life. Afterwards the track returns into dense forest, with murky swamps on either side. The swamps reach their pinnacle of wildness around the Berezowo nature reserve. Nature rating: 4 (around the flooded forest and Berezowo nature reserve).
Kozłowa Tropina – Leads on from the end of Pacowski Tryb. It’s one of the most amazing, wild roads and showcases all of what BPF is about. It’s an insight into Białowieża Forest’s history. You can find near-natural forest, plantation monocultures, and everything in between. The road meanders along the border for a while, interchanging still between natural forest and plantations till it reaches a most wonderful bog. It’s of similar origin to the one on Olemburski track (see inset above). It’s a uniquely stunning open green landscape. (photo). It’s hard to cycle, but it’s only 3 km long so it’s worth the short journey. Nature rating: 5.
Kozłowy Tryb – A short north-south track that links Sinnicka droga, Olemburski Tryb, Kozłowa Tropina an Kurdzimowski Tryb. It’s not an interesting track in and of itself. However, it links all the most interesting parts of south Białowieża Forest. It’s a mix of deciduous and alder swamp forests, with a nature rating of 2.
Kurdzimowski Tryb – Spans the south part of the area east-west. West of the junction with Kozłowy tryb is cyclable although less spectacular and wild than the eastern end. Still with the ridiculously wild ancient swampy look. The eastern end is wild and little explored – it’s a dead-end route that ends on the Belarusian border and it’s not good for cycling – but if you fancy a brief detour on foot, then there’s some wonderful spruce forests growing next to ancient bog forests here. Moreover, there are 3 other side roads worth exploring – these travel southwards into the heart of the Lasy Naturalne and Kozłowe borki nature reserves. Nature rating 3.
Not worth visiting:
Zwierzyniecki Tryb – The main north-south track in the centre of the forest. The forest on either side has been transformed into plantations, except for a couple of kilometres on either side of the crossroads with Olemburski Tryb. I wouldn’t bother with this track if could help it. Nature rating: 1
If designing you own route around the southern part of the forest, focus on the tracks that go through or border the nature reserves. The reserves represent the best preserved parts of the forest. These tracts of forest were once subject to some degree of forestry management, but have maintained their natural character. Since the establishment of the nature reserve system 20-30 years ago, the reserves have been strictly protected and have returned to nature. This is most visible by the increasing presence of dead wood (which in normal managed forests is normally cleared and sold). The Kozłowe Borki, Przewłoka and Berezowo reserves are my favourite. Check out my article on nature reserves for further guidance.