The Trail of the Eagles Nests is situated in the Jurassic Highlands of Poland, is approximately 118 miles long, and leads among the ruins and castles that remember the era of the first Piast period (c930-992).
The trail starts at the Jasna Góra Stronghold in Częstochowa. From there, the official trail begins at the village of Olsztyn, Silesian Voivodeship, which entered the historical record as a province of the kingdom of Poland in the 11th and 12th centuries. The first castle on the trail is Olsztyn Castle, pictured below.
It’s important not to confuse Olsztyn Castle, situated in the Silesian Voivodeship, with that of Olsztyn Castle (Castle of Warmian Cathedral Chapter), located in the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship.
The Trail of the Eagles Nests is number one on the country’s official list of most popular trails, encompassing 25 castles. Since 1980, much of the region has been designated a protected area known as the Eagle Nests Landscape Park (Park Krajobrazowy Orlich Gniazd).
The Eagles Nests castles, many of which survived only in picturesque ruins, are perched high on the tallest rocks between Częstochowa and the former Polish capital Krakow.
The castles were built to protect Krakow and important trading routes against foreign invaders. Later, the castles passed on into the hands of various Polish aristocratic families.
The castles are called eagle nests because they’re located on the top of high rocky outcrops and resemble the nests built by eagles. A few castles are off-limits to the public because they’re in ruins. However, the majority are open to the public.
The Trail of the Eagles Nests is easy to access by foot or mountain bike. Alternatively, tourists can pay for a tour of the castles and ruins or hire a private guide in Częstochowa or Krakow.
Hiking the trail will take approximately 5-6 days, of which hotels, hostels, supermarkets and restaurants are available along the route in local towns and cities.
When hiking or cycling the Trail of the Eagles Nests, you will pass through Częstochowa, Olsztyn, Złoty Potok, Bobolice, Ogrodzieniec, Olkusz, Ojców and Krakow. The complete list of towns and cities can be seen in the image below, all of which have accommodation, food, water, medicine, camping supplies, etc.
Camping is permitted in several locations along the Trail of the Eagles Nests; however, it’s best to seek advice from the local tourist board before your trip. It’s also worth noting that a few of the castles mentioned below aren’t situated directly on the Trail of the Eagles Nests, but they’re still historically part of the fortifications.
The most important castles on the Eagles Nests Trail are:
- Góra Birów
- Pieskowa Skała
- Tenczyn Rudno
- Jasna Góra Stronghold
The castles and ruins date back to the 14th century and were constructed on the orders of the Polish King, King Casimir the Great. Casimir inherited the Polish kingdom, weakened by war and made it prosperous and wealthy. In Casimir’s opinion, the Eagles Nests trail made for a perfect observation point on the high grounds to warn of future invasions.
I partly hiked the Trail of the Eagles Nests in the winter of 2019. Although it rained during my stay in Poland, making for difficult landscape photography, I found Pieskowa Skała (pictured above), one of the trail’s most well-preserved castles.
Pieskowa Skała is located on a limestone cliff in the valley of the river Prądnik and is well known for its limestone stack (pictured below) called Maczuga Herkulesa, situated in Ojców National Park. Its name, in Polish, means the “Cudgel of Hercules” due to its distinctive shape. Karst topography of soluble bedrock characterises the entire park.
The castle was rebuilt in 1542–1544 by Niccolò Castiglione with participation from Gabriel Słoński of Krakow. The sponsor of the castle’s reconstruction in the mannerist style was the Calvinist Stanisław Szafraniec, voivode of Sandomierz.
The original medieval tower was transformed into a scenic double loggia decorated in the sgraffito technique. Between 1557 and 1578, the trapezoid courtyard was surrounded by arcades at the level of two upper storeys, embellished with 21 mascarons. The arcade risalit above the gate is a 17th-century addition.
The last owner of the castle of the Szafraniec family was Jędrzej, Stanisław’s son, who died childless in 1608. After his death, the estate was purchased by Maciej Łubnicki and later by the Zebrzydowski family.
In 1640 Michał Zebrzydowski built the bastion fortifications with a baroque gate and a chapel. The castle changed hands many times over the centuries. In 1903 it was bought by the Pieskowa Skała Society led by Adolf Dygasiński and, with time, turned over to the Polish state and meticulously restored.
From a photographer’s point of view, the Trail of the Eagles Nests is pretty impressive, and it’s not just the castles that make for great photos but the landscape in general.
The main route from the village of Olsztyn, Silesian Voivodeship (25 miles drive from Częstochowa that’s home to the Jasna Góra Stronghold) onto Krakow is lined with ancient forests, hilly terrain and rocky outcrops.
Autumn is probably the best time to hike or cycle the Trail of the Eagles Nests because the landscape comes alive with rich autumnal colours that contrast well with the white limestone castles and rocky terrain.
The Royal Castle of Bobolice is probably my favourite of all the castles along the trail, especially during low light. I didn’t have much time to compose the image above because my camera battery died.
This image would have looked better composed during sunrise in the autumn months. When the sun rises over Bobolice in the fall, the sun’s rays light up the back of the castle, and the red and orange leaves of the Acer situated to the right of Bobolice.
Bobolice Castle is located within a semi-mountainous highland, making for an excellent moody landscape illustration, especially during low cloud or early morning fog.
Bobolice is located at an altitude of 360 m above sea level. It was initially built of white limestone, also used for its reconstruction. The Royal Castle of Bobolice is associated with the legend of two quarrelling brothers.
The ghost of the woman who was the reason for their quarrels is supposed to frighten the castle walls to this day. There is probably some truth in the legend. In the nineteenth century, a vast treasure was found in the basement of the stronghold. There is a presumption that part of it may be located in the tunnel described in the legend between Bobolice and Mirów.
I had planned on taking some aerial photography of Bobolice and similar castles along the Trail of the Eagles Nests. Unfortunately, drone photography is strictly forbidden around some castles because they’re home to protected artwork and ancient treasures. Furthermore, several castles on the trail are located in a no-fly zone (NFZ).
Drone photographers must hold the correct permits to fly in Poland for commercial purposes and avoid being misled by locals and the owners of the castles on the Eagles Nest Trail. Read here for more information.
The image above depicts the ruins of Ogrodzieniec Castle. This image was also shot in 2019. The weather conditions during my first hike of the Eagle’s Nest trail were bleak, with heavy and prolonged downpours hence the rather dull and uninteresting image.
While some of the castles along the trail are in reasonably good condition, others aren’t as photogenic as they’re made out to be. That said, the Trail of the Eagles Nests looks pretty spectacular during the early hours come sunrise in the colder months (see images below).
This region of Poland looks incredible from the air and at a higher elevation during sunrise and sunset. Fog and low cloud blanket the entire territory of southwestern Poland during the colder months, adding a mystical and magical feel to the landscape and castles.
As mentioned, the Trail of the Eagles Nests is an excellent trail for photographers that enjoy hiking, cycling and camping in remote mountainous terrain. You can start the trail in Krakow, Olsztyn, Silesian Voivodeship or Częstochowa.
If you’re considering travelling from Olsztyn, Silesian Voivodeship, the journey will mostly be uphill with steep climbs as you near Bobolice and Ogrodzieniec. From there, the terrain will level off with a few steep descents and several steep climbs onto Krakow.
I think Olsztyn, Silesian Voivodeship, is probably the better starting point because it’s more scenic, less busy with hikers and cyclists, and you have a much better viewing advantage of the castles, ancient forests and landscape.
For example, you can start the trail in Częstochowa, stocking up on supplies and food for the five-day hike, taking in the incredible views of the Jasna Góra. Once you’ve stocked up on supplies, the hiking trail from the Jasna Góra to Olsztyn Castle will take approximately 3.2 hours. Olsztyn Castle marks the starting point of the main route in the upper hills.
The trail takes 5-6 days to hike. However, it would probably be wise not to cover the trail in 5-6 days because you won’t have time to shoot anything decent or explore a suitable shooting point.
Therefore, a 9-day hike would be better. Nine days of hiking will give you plenty of time to take in three castles per day, of which your final castle will be Wawel in Krakow, marking an end to nine days of hiking.
Autumn is probably the best month to hike the Eagles Nests trail because the landscape is bursting with colour, and there are fewer tourists, but you will need to plan your trip because there are only ten hours of daylight in the Autumn months. In addition to this, the weather may not always be on your side.
If you’re considering cycling the Trail of the Eagles Nests, you will need a robust and reliable mountain bike. The rocky outcrops and steep lower mountainous terrain can be challenging to navigate.
The route from Częstochowa onto Olsztyn, Silesian Voivodeship and finally onto Krakow will take approximately seven hours, depending on your fitness and cycling experience. However, it’s probably best to break the route down into six days, giving you plenty of time to photograph four castles per day.
Alternatively, you can book a coach tour of the Eagles Nest trail, which covers all 25 castles and ruins; however, you will be time-restricted. Therefore, it’s probably best to hike, cycle or hire a rental car.
The Eagles Nests trail ends at Wawel Castle in Krakow (pictured below). Wawel Royal Castle is pretty impressive and makes for an excellent storytelling illustration. My family and I spent two days in Krakow. However, that wasn’t enough time to tour this ancient and picturesque city.
Krakow is home to six castles. Wawel Castle is probably the finest of them all. Located in central Krakow, the castle consists of several structures from different periods situated around the Italian-styled main courtyard.
Wawel Castle boasts many architectural styles of the Medieval, renaissance, gothic and baroque periods which is now a museum established in 1930. Wawel started becoming a centre of political power, and by the 9th century, it was the principal fortified settlement of the Vistulan tribe. The first ancient ruler of Poland, Mieszko I (r. ca. 950-960) of the Piast dynasty, chose Wawel hill as one of his residences, as did his successor.
At the beginning of the 14th century, a fire destroyed the Wawel Cathedral, and the present cathedral was constructed. At the same time, the Gothic castle and most of the towers were built. The royal residence was also destroyed by a fire in 1499. This fire led to the transformation of the Wawel Castle into the marvellous royal palace we see today.
The Crown Treasury is situated in the historic Gothic rooms. They were used during the 15th century for keeping the Polish coronation insignia and Crown Jewels.
During my previous visit to Poland (2022), I revisited Wawel Castle, hoping to find some decent photography shooting points.
Photographing Wawel Castle up close can be tricky because of its elevation, size, width and the high number of tourists that flock to the castle daily. Therefore, I found several excellent viewing points on the opposite side of the Vistula River in the Bulwar Poleski and the Most Dębnicki w Krakowie bridge.
The only disadvantage of shooting from the Most Debnicki w Krakowie bridge is that it wobbles and vibrates slightly during high traffic. The same applies to the footbridge when pedestrians walk over the bridge. That said, it’s a great spot for shooting the castle at a slightly higher elevation than the park.
One can still photograph Wawel Castle close up. Still, with so many tourists walking about, and restrictions regarding where you can and cannot photograph, it’s wise to shoot from a respectable distance.
Krakow Mound (Krak or Krakus Mound) is probably one of the best viewing points to shoot Wawel Castle, the surrounding cityscape, Krakow’s ancient churches, and the Tatra mountainous terrain 100kms behind the city of Krakow.
There are four other mounds in the city and on the city outskirts; however, in my opinion, Krakow Mound offers incredible views over the city, especially during sunrise, sunset, and during the colder winter months when the Tatra mountains are covered in snow.
Unfortunately, I didn’t bring the correct lens to photograph Wawel Castle and Krakow from Krakow Mound, so I don’t have any lovely images to show. If you’re considering shooting the castle and city from the mound, you will need a long telephoto zoom lens with a wide aperture setting, such as the Sigma 150-600mm f/5 6.3 or the Canon EF 600 mm f/4L.
In my opinion, the Canon EF 600 mm f/4L would be the better of the two.
There are plenty of other high points in the city to photograph Wawel Castle and the cityscape. Alternatively, you have the High Tatras in the distance. However, I haven’t yet been able to find a suitable shooting point from the Tatra Mountains looking over Krakow.
Drone photography in Krakow (like most cities in Poland) is strictly prohibited. Tourists violating the NFZ laws could be fined up to £50-60 and face prosecution. Krakow is a (NFZ) No Fly Zone. Aircraft from Krakow Airport fly low over the city, as do mountain rescue planes and helicopters.
Visitors to Poland will need a drone permit (non-commercial or commercial); in addition, you will also need to ask the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency for permission to fly in Krakow. Read here for more information. Tourists that wish to ignore the above advice do so at their own risk.
There are plenty of hostels, hotels and private apartments in Krakow to rest for a few days once you’ve completed the Trail of the Eagles Nests. My family and I found a lovely apartment ten minutes walk from the centre of Krakow priced at £74 a night.
I highly recommend staying in Krakow for a few days if you’re there to shoot photography. During the tourist season, Krakow can get quite busy. Therefore, the best time to shoot architectural photography would be in the early hours.
The trail back to Olsztyn Castle from Wawel is just as impressive as the trail to Krakow from Olsztyn Castle. When hiking or cycling back to Olsztyn Castle, you’ve a much clearer and higher scenic field of view over the surrounding landscape, forests, mountains and castles.
The Trail of the Eagles Nests is an impressive medieval trail suitable for young and old photographers or just tourists wanting to sightsee the Polish Jura. Most of the castles along the route have been reconstructed, while the local authorities are still working on others.
The trail can be hiked or cycled. Alternatively, tourists can book a coach tour or a private guide, though a guide will be pricy. Rental cars are probably cheaper, you’ve more freedom too, and you’ve easier access to villages and cities should you need food, water, supplies, etc.
The best time to visit the Trail of the Eagles Nests depends on what style of landscape photography you’re aiming for. If, for example, you’re looking at photographing colourful and moody landscapes, then autumn would be the best season.
Polish summers are often very humid and hot, and you’ve more daylight to play about with too. Polish winters aren’t as cold and wintery as they used to be; however, the higher you ascend mountainous terrain, the chances are you’ll see snow on the high grounds, especially in the Tatra Mountains. It’s also worth noting that weather conditions in the highlands and the Polish mountains can change at any time; therefore, it is always best to go prepared.
If you’re hiking, you will need suitable clothing, footwear, suncream (in the summer), and waterproofs in the cooler months. However, if you’re considering cycling the Trail of the Eagles Nests, you will need a robust mountain bike.
Tourists are asked to pay a small fee of 12 Zloty when entering the national park from Olsztyn Castle and a fee to enter some of the castles on and off the trail. However, there is no fee to pay if you enter the park from Krakow. It’s worth noting that some of the castles are situated off the main trail, such as Smolen Castle, Bobolice, Pieskowa Skała and Wawel Castle, located in Krakow city centre.
While camping is permitted in some designated regions along the Trail of the Eagles Nests, it would be wise to seek advice from the local tourist information centre first because camping is usually not permitted in Poland’s National or Regional Nature Parks; therefore, it would be wise to seek out accommodation in the local towns, villages and cities before you plan your trip.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you have any questions or need advice, drop me a line here.