One of the most famous areas of the Polish Jura, and closest to the cultural capital Cracow, is what is commonly called the natural park of the "Cracow valleys" ("Park Krajobrazowy Dolinki Krakowskie"). Some 20km NE from the city, the high limestone plateaus are fading out as they get to the basin of the Vistula river, and they are cracked by the water erosion which shaped beautiful limestone forms, removing tender rock while leaving more firm pinnacles where they now stand (renown today as fine rock-climbing spots).
These valleys are quite close to each other and can be ridden all of them at once during a pleasant half-day ride, alternating the green of the beautiful forest to the bright white of the dolomite rocks.
The four most famous valleys, and covered in this trail, are :
- Dolina Będkowska
- Dolina Kobylańska
- Dolina Bolechowicka
- Dolina Kluczwody
There are few other valleys to be visited further : Dolina Szklarki, Dolina Racławk, Dolina Eliaszówki.
For the anecdote, I made this circuit with my wife's city bike ! (It was stored during winter at my mother-in-law's place) I didn't bring my mountain bike and the trip was totally impovised. Of course from the bike-handling point of view, the pleasure was what it was, but I really had a great moment riding this area and watching these landscapes, with many stops and photo-shooting.
The circuit can be done in both directions, but Dolina Bolechowicka, the only technical part of the whole ride, can be slightly more tricky to cycle up than to cycle down.
As mentionned in the directions below, the best in a little village like Bębło, so let's start here. We head East through the small roads in the fields, following the red marked cycling trail. As it joins the black marks, it turns south and goes down the first and smallest valley, Dolina Kluczwody. As we get out of it, at a point which is indeed its source, we turn right following the green trail for a while, and then we turn left again (south) via a yellow trail, circumventing the hill "Świerkowa" and going in the direction of Żerków, then into the second valley, Dolina Bolechowicka.
The beginning is not very impressive, but the trails goes down steeply, and we suddenly arrive to a large gate surrounded by two impressive pinnacles left and right, where people often rock-climb. One of the most photogenic spots of the ride. Unfortunately it is as beautiful as sudden, and we get quickly out of it.
Then we turn right, leaving the yellow marks and taking the green ones leading to the upper part of the village Karniowice. A steep climb on the asphalt leads to the hill, and soon after the road transform to a trail, we meet red marks and turn left following them.
The red marks lead into Dolina Kobylańska, on the uppermost part where it can be cycled. They take us down through this other beautiful valley, full of bends and of these beautiful white rocks.
The red trail, that we will follow until the end (that's the same we took when we left), takes us back to the road at the level of the village Kobylany where, again, a piece of asphalt is to ride. A steep descent takes us the south end and mouth of the last and longest valley, Dolina Będkowska.
We pass a couple of artifical lakes for fishing, and then get in sight of the first rocky walls. Here again, a lot of rockckimbers are used to train here. There is even a small mountain hut and a campsite (very cheap and basic) for them.
Soon after the comfortable large trail of the bottom of the valley gives place to a singletrack elevating gradually in the forest, a beautiful section. It ends at a big junction of many trails, where we meet again the asphlalt. Then we turn right, to get back to Bębło and the car, by the red trail.
The best is to park in a little village far enough from these valleys. Bębło on the north side is a good place for example, with parking spaces in front of the church. Absolutely quiet.
Bębło is easily reached from the main road 94, leaving Cracow by the north.
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When to Bike
Spring, Summer, Autumn. The trails can be very muddy when wet !
Do it early in the morning, there are usually a lot of pedestrians in the area during the nice days, especially the week-end, as it tends to be the "health walk" of almost a million of Cracowians...