The Upper San Valley is a vast and empty area located on the southeastern edge of Poland. On its territory there used to be 10 large villages. Today only two remain: Muczne and Tarnawa Niżna. Poland’s territory here forms a characteristic wedge cutting into Ukraine, called the “Bieszczady Bag.”
The San – Poland’s sixth largest river – has its source just across the Polish-Ukrainian border, in the Uzhok Pass area. The stream meanders strongly at first, but, fed by tributaries, it quickly becomes a powerful, wide river, on which pontoon rafting runs down in summer, and in winter – chunks of breaking ice.
In the post-war period it was the wildest, but also the most inaccessible area of the Bieszczady Mountains. The communist authorities long forbade entry here, and the few daredevils who ventured into the Bieszczady Bag were exposed to serious unpleasantness. Today you will find endless meadows and forests, as well as a hiking trail from the village of Bukowiec to the source of the San River, which deserves a beautiful day trip away from the crowds.
Upper San Valley village by village
The starting point of your tour of the valley is the village of Smolnik, where you will come across a wooden Orthodox church listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A little farther on, an asphalt road takes you to Muczne, the largest village in the area. There is a bison show enclosure here, and in winter you can enjoy several kilometers of maintained cross-country ski trails.
In the area of the village of Tarnawa Niżna you will come across natural peat bogs, from which peat was extracted long ago for home heating. The area has been completely overrun by beavers, brought back to the Bieszczady Mountains by man in the 1970s after a long period of non-existence.
In the village of Bukowiec there is a parking lot where you can leave your car and start the trip to the sources of the San. You will cover the 21 km route in about 7 hours (there and back), so it is best to reserve the whole day for the trip. You can also bring your bicycles – the route has only 170m of elevation gain.
A little farther on, in the abandoned village of Beniowa, you will come across an old Boyko cemetery with an unusual stone baptismal bowl, on which the former inhabitants of the Bieszczady Mountains scratched an image of a fish.
You will get from Beniowa to the abandoned village of Sianki, where the springs of the San River are located, in about 2.5 hours. Along the way you will see the mysterious “Grave of the Countess” and other peculiar places. On the other side of the river, the buildings of the village on the Ukrainian side will peek through from behind the forest.
Also worth a visit is the lower part of the valley between Dwernik and Rajskie. “Polish westerns” used to be filmed here, but today this desolate place is favored by horseback riding enthusiasts and cyclists. In the abandoned village of Krywe you will find the ruins of a Greek Catholic church, a little lower down in Studenne – the ruins of a German watchtower, and a large number of other traces of the past that nature has taken possession of.
If you are looking for real, wild Bieszczady Mountains and long moments in the company of only yourself, head to the San River. If the Bieszczady Mountains have a heart, it is a heart that flows – and its name comprises of three letters!