Stužica National Nature Reserve, Slovakia

Stužica, the largest virgin forest of Slovakia is a part of Poloniny National Park and from 2007 a part of the “Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians” World Heritage site (since then the name of the WH site has been changed twice, to the current incredible “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe”). The reserve covers 7.6 km2, consists of one whole west-east orientated mountain valley and is located in the easternmost corner of Slovakia. Stužica has 6,1 km2 of genuine primeval forest1 2. In the vicinity of Stužica Rieka (creek) there are a few overgrown meadows. Nor is the easternmost part of the reserve primeval; felling began there during WWII but the reorganization of the borders saved the rest because Stužica Rieka now flows to Ukraine, making transport difficult2.

The main tree species are European beech (Fagus sylvatica), sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) and European silver fir (Abies alba). Beech is dominant everywhere. There are no record-breaking trees; nevertheless, the lowest part of the north-facing slope has tall forest, silver fir reaching about 50 m in height. The thickest firs have girths of approx. 5 m. With good luck it is possible to find wych elm (Ulmus glabra) and European ash (Fraxinus excelsior). With increasing altitude, the proportion of sycamore maple increases while that of silver fir decreases. At the highest altitudes, there is also a small proportion of European rowan (Sorbus aucuparia). Stužica’s highest point is at 1208 m, where the borders of Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine meet, near the summit of Mount Kremenec (1221 m), which is on the Polish–Ukrainian border just outside the reserve and barely above the forest limit. However, the forest limit may not be natural: on the northern ridge there are meadows (“poloniny”) that were pastures or hay was made in the past, but it is unclear how the meadows came into existence3. Due to the presence of predators, particularly wolf (Canis lupus), herbivore populations are much lower than in Western Europe1, and this can be seen from a plentiful regeneration of silver fir everywhere and a dense blackberry (Rubus hirtus) undergrowth on the south-facing slope. The undergrowth is species-poor (apart from wet sites) as is usual in beech forests. It can be said the flora is somewhat limited but Stužica has abundantly varying habitats: lush and diverse vegetation along the creek and around wet springs; the steep shadowy north-facing slope with cathedral groves and sparse undergrowth; the more open, light and gentle south-facing slope with abundant blackberry; low beech–sycamore maple forest with lush undergrowth at high elevations; plenty of windthrow gaps and much dead wood particularly on the south-facing slope; a great deal of healthy fir regeneration; the steep hollows of small streams… Stužica is also large enough to exhibit all the forest development stages. The lowest elevation is about 650 m. The annual precipitation is 850–1000 mm and the average annual temperature 5–6°C 1. The bedrock consists of flysch2; soils are fertile1.

Old fir has crashed over Stužica Rieka

The mountain ranges prevent the intrusion of sounds of human activity – in beautiful Stužica one can enjoy the silence of nature. A marked loop trail from Nová Sedlica runs through the reserve, following its northern and western boundaries. It is best to stay overnight in Nová Sedlica at a guest house or campsite. Hiking the entire trail is quite strenuous: first you must ascend to the reserve boundary, followed by a zigzag descent to the Stužica Rieka, the ascent to Kremenec and finally a long gentle descent back to Nová Sedlica along the reserve boundary. It is best to hike the trail in this direction (counter-clockwise), as in the other direction the trail is poorly marked at the first ascent: it is easy to choose a wrong forestry road. Altogether the trail is 19 km long, with 1040 m total ascent and equal descent. However, the trail is also possible to hike in two days by staying overnight in a hut or at the nearby campground (Útulňa pod Čierťažou, located on the mountain ridge approx. one kilometre southwest of Stužica’s northwestern corner. Alternatively you can hike through the virgin forest as far as you like and return the same way. From the upper part of the north-facing slope, an interesting view to the lower valley opens between beech trunks, thanks to the almost non-existent shrub layer. On the way to Stužica, one can see that the forests of the national park outside the reserve are still being logged. Note that the area is situated at the EU border, with police also patrolling along the forestry roads leading to Stužica – keep your passport/ID ready!



  1. Korpel’, Š. (1995): Die Urwälder der Westkarpaten. Gustav Fischer Verlag.
  3. Nadler, K. (2019): Botanische und ökologische Notizen zum Naturwaldreservat Stužica in den ostslowakischen Karpaten. Stapfia 111: 206–238.