last update: March 28, 2014
Ukraine's highest mountains
The Carpathians are a crescent-shaped mountain system that was formed by the same forces that lifted the higher Alps to the west. The Carpathians begin as a range of low hills near Bratislava, Slovakia, reach their highest point in Slovakia's High Tatras (Gerlachovský peak at 2655 m.), and continue arching eastward into Ukraine before turning south and bending through Romania, where they reach another high point at 2543 m. (Moldoveanu) and then fade into the plains. The Ukrainian Carpathians are gentle peaks that rise as high as 2061 m. (Hoverla). The higher peaks experienced some glaciation during the last Ice Age, and there are even a number of small tarns above 1700 m. and a proper lake, Sinevir, at 1000 m.
The Ukrainian Carpathians are home to numerous small ski areas and several larger resorts, such as Bukovel, Slavsko, and Drahobrat.
Fortunately for winter visitors, the Carpathians have a relatively mild temperate climate. This is not Siberia. Winter temperatures may get down to -10 or -15° C (5 to 14° F), but not much colder than that. The problem is usually rain and snow. The Carpathians are moist mountains with between 800 and 1600 mm (31 to 58 inches) of precipitation spread quite evenly throughout the year. Summers are warm with frequent rain and thunderstorms. The treeline is around 1500-1800 m. above sea level.
Be sure to visit our current weather map of the Carpathians.
Weather forecasts of numerous mountain resorts can be found in Russian at ski.sport.com.ua.
Hiking in the Carpathians
There are virtually no restricted areas in the Ukrainian Carpathians. There are a few reserves that prohibit camping (for example, the east side of Hoverla). There are no equipped campsites, no hikers' refuges, almost no groomed hiking trails, few signs (more in recent years)... Hikers tend to follow logging roads and improvised trails. Topographical maps can be found that show hiking routes. Hikers should bring good rain (or snow) gear. Finding water to drink is not a problem, as there are springs all over.
Skiing and other recreation opportunities
The Carpathians have lots of opportunities for river rafting, skiing, horseback riding, mountain and road biking, and other forms of active leisure.
Getting to the Carpathians
Access is not a problem if you have a car and a good map, since there are adequate roads throughout the region. Otherwise, you will have to get there by train and/or bus. There are overnight trains from Kiev to Uzhhorod that make it very easy to get to the northern part of Ukraine's Carpathians, including Slavsko (one of Ukraine's prominent ski resorts). This is the only regular-speed railway route through the Carpathians. Other destinations in the northern Carpathians can be reached by minibus from Lviv and Uzhhorod.
Access is slightly more difficult in the more rugged central and southern Carpathians. There are trains to Ivano-Frankivsk, Kolomyia, and Chernivtsi from cities in central and eastern Ukraine. From there you can take minibuses to destinations in the mountains, as well as a slow narrow-gauge diesel train that runs from Ivano-Frankivsk to Rakhiv and back several times a day. Usually, but not always, buses leave and arrive at train stations, but sometimes the bus station is in a different part of town.
Especially convenient, though less comfortable than the train, is the Kiev-Yaremcha overnight bus, which passes through Kolomyia. A second bus, Kiev-Tyachiv, passes through Yaremcha, Yasinya, and Rakhiv on its way to Tyachiv. These buses leave once a day from the Dachna long-distance bus station in Kiev (Prospekt Peremohy 142, tel. 424-15-03). That's all the information I can find on them.
If you are hiking, you may need to get a ride to your trailhead once you get to the town you need. Don't worry about planning ahead; popular routes are serviced by local taxi drivers. You just may need to ask around. In the winter you might even get to go for a ride on a horse-drawn sled. There are also numerous obscure ski slopes that are off the beaten path.
All this means that a trip to the Carpathians often involves two or three legs that may take as long as twenty hours if you're traveling from Kiev (longer from eastern Ukraine).
History and culture of the Carpathian region
The Carpathians and Transcarpathian region (everything west of the main ridge of the Carpathians) are quite interesting culturally and historically, with a mixture of ethnic groups and historical ties. The mountain people often live a traditional lifestyle yet are suprisingly internationally aware, with a historical memory of being under different states' rule. People in some areas do not self-identify as Ukrainians. Many work seasonally in Central Europe or Russia.
There are at least a couple separate cultural regions that are distinguishable on the map as clusters of settlements that spread out from a central point to fill adjacent mountain valleys. Settlements in Lviv oblast seem to have a more recognizably "Ukrainian" culture, since historically they had more interaction with Ukrainian towns such as Lviv and Stryy. West of the main Carpathian ridge in Transcarpathia is a band of poor and undeveloped mountain settlements that are more like similar mountain cultures in Poland or Romania.
Finally, the Hutsul region west of Ivano-Frankivsk has a recognizable culture of its own that is well-known internationally for its arts and crafts and musical traditions. Its towns are tidy and colorful. During Soviet times the Hutsuls enjoyed a somewhat privileged status as a sort of "postcard people" and were left largely to themselves. Perhaps for this reason arts and crafts (essentially a form of private enterprise) have flourished in the region.
- read all about the Carpathians' history and geography at the Encyclopedia of Ukraine
To say that Ukrainian is the language spoken in the Carpathians would be a rough approximation. Clean Ukrainian is spoken in most of Lviv oblast, which extends northeast of the central ridge of the Carpathians, but the further west one goes the more dialectical the language becomes. There are at least several mountain dialects, which are sometimes specific to just one valley. In areas of Transcarpathia where tourism is developed locals usually don't mind speaking Russian with tourists since their grasp of Russian is often better than their grasp of proper Ukrainian. There are also small regions where ethnic Hungarians or Romanians dominate, and these languages may be heard there.
With some exposure, urban Ukrainians can learn to understand the mountain and Transcarpathian dialects, which contain elements of Polish, Slovak, Hungarian, and/or Romanian.
Accommodations in the Carpathians
The Carpathian region is experiencing a tourism boom right now. All forms of tourism are growing, including hotels, skiing, and eco-tourism. When they start building new railways and good roads, we'll know it's serious! Hotels are best booked through travel agencies. Locals rent out inexpensive rooms with varying levels of comfort, and often will feed you, too. A place to stay can be found in every Carpathian village. Camping is possible outside of towns, but I am not aware of any campgrounds equipped with parking lots, bathrooms, etc.