Besides Börzsöny, one of my favourite spots is Northern Hungary and the wonders of the old-growth forest – namely Geoparks and Educational Trails, which sends you back to an immemorial age, when many areas of Hungary was covered by the ancient sea.
I strongly recommend to visit this, and other parks like this, as you not only spend a great day here with your family or friends, but you can see unique and scarce prehistoric remains, all of which are world famous rarities!
Thanks to the fact that Geotourism is on the rise in Hungary too, more and better Geoparks and Educational Trails open their doors to visitors. Get your backpack ready, throw in a few sandwiches, water and your camera and let’s go to the wilderness – let the time travel begin!
I think we can agree that you would love to see a somewhat real Jurassic Park too, where you can explore exhibitions showcasing fossilized footprints of real dinos, prints of the leaves of ancient trees, fossilized trees and many others abundant in valuable finds.
I recommend these parks with a warm heart to any age – a great program with friends or kids!
Hungary’s most famous Geopark, which holds and showcases the most valuable finds os the Novohrad-Nógrád Geopark, which is the first geopark that transcends through countries’ borders.
The main mission of the park is to unite the once divided Nógrád area using geotourism’s complex regional development opportunities. Novohrad-Nógrád Geopark portrays 64 Hungarian and 28 Slovakian settlements’ geological, natural, historical and cultural heritage and palóc traditions in the app 1620 km2 area.
The geopark – which by the way introduces the last 30 million years of the Carpathian Base – is extremely rich in paleontological habitats and unique volcanic formations.
Most of the geopark lays in Hungary, about 1280 km2 of it belongs to the Bükk National Park, which besides numerous geosite – geological sites – the Salgótarján-Baglyaskői Visitor Center and the Ipolytarnóc Fossils which has a European Diploma of Protected Areas was also added to the Novohrad-Nógrád Geopark, which was established in 2008 and in 2010 became an outstanding member of the European Geoparks and the Global Geoparks Network, as the first cross-border geopark in the world.
Interestingly, the symbol of the geopark is the castle of Somoskő, which towers over the much-disputed Trianon border. The castle itself is also part of the volcanic scenery, as it stands on an ancient basalt rock and right at the bottom of it you can find the slope of the famous curved basalt organs.
Within the Novohrad-Nógrád Geopark numerous great geological exhibitions, visiting center and educational trails can be found, such as the Museum of Mining at Salgótarján, the Castle Museum of Kubinyi Szécsényi, the castles of Hollókő, Somoskő and Salgó and of course the nature reserve of Ipolytarnóc fossils.
Nature Reserve of Ipolytarnóc Fossils
In this article, I will introduce the Nature Reserve of Ipolytarnóc Fossils in more details, which is the closest to my heart and I believe is unique in the whole world.
Not only is it a world famous, special Palaeontological Site with a European Diploma, it is an “ancient Pompeii” buried in a volcanic catastrophe 20 million years ago – a real Jurassic Park and the most popular attraction at the Novohrad-Nógrád Geopark!
Just imagine that you get to see and touch 23 million years old formations, fossils and can find out what did most of Hungary looked 23 million years ago – all this of course in a high-quality, 21st century visitor center, where they bring you back the world from millions of years ago in a 4D cinema.
There are a number of thematic educational trails here too, but if you want to you can also admire the scenery from the canopy of today’s trees.
This ancient wonder became the center of interest in 1863, when Ferenc Kubinyi began his research on a 100 meter tall, 8 meter circumferenced, huge, fossilized tree – which until then was used as a bridge by the locals.
Excited by the discovery, more and more researchers came to the area and discovered many valuable finds over the next decade – foot prints, shark teeth, plant imprints, fossilized trees and many ancient, volcanic rocks.
It was first opened in 1994 for visitors, as by then the park became a sort of Mecca for those interested in geology. A year later it received the European Diploma of Protected Areas, which is only awarded to areas of outstanding natural value worldwide.
From here on, the serious infrastructured developments began, which are still on-going, as many valuable finds are waiting to be discovered. The modern and satisfying-every-need visitor center was also built, which I can bravely say, made this hidden location into a real, small family-paradise.
What can you see here?
The area itself takes you through a 23 million years old “exhibition” – you can walk among various formations, which on one hand became a geographic treasure due to its former geographical location, and on the other due to its unique and special preservation conditions.
A volcanic catastrophe destroyed and buried the then tropical rainforest and its wildlife – preserving the footprints of 11 species, the imprints of leaves of ancient-trees and many geological wonders.
You can walk/tour many very interesting educational trails in the park.
Geological Educational Trail
One of these is the Geológiai Tanösvény (Geological Educational Trail), where you can see real shark teeth, fossilized trees, imprints of leaves and the footprints of ancient animals – not just dinosaurs. This is also where you can find the remains of the sugar pine, which was the first discovery (and back then was used as a bridge by the locals).
At the entrance of the Geological Education Trail Pine Entrance building a shocking spectacle awaits – you will drop your jaw! This is where the gigantic trunks of the bald cypresses from Bükkábrány are, which were the most sensational finds of recent years!
It’s a spectacular sight and a find of tremendous value – just think about, how many millions of years old is it and how lucky you are to see it in person!
The adventure only begins here – as stepping into the welcoming hall of the Pine Entrance, you might feel like you are inside the trunk of a fossilized pine tree – not by chance, as the corridors of the building were built to imitate the inside of the gigantic fossilized tree.
At the building’s exhibition halls they showcase historical geological events and in the 4D cinema the past really comes alive! It’s true that you have to get a separate ticket for the cinema, but it’s really worth it! It’s great to experience the wonders created by the spatial effect of the 4D, the real movements and smells.
If you go with kids however, know that they don’t recommend the 4D chairs to kids under the age of 6 – they provide a different (stable) chair for them.
The most sensational find, the bald cypress in a nutshell. Many of you probably know that at one point – for about 9 million years – the Carpathian-Basin was covered by the Pannonian Sea, which spread from the Vienna Basin to the south area of today’s Serbia.
However, not many knows that the Pannonian Sea was connected to the sea that once was at today’s Bavaria, as well as the predecessors of the Aegean- and the Adriatic Sea. It’s fascinating to imagine that today’s Mecsek and Bakony mountains at one point only peeked out from the sea as an island.
At the north side of the seashore – the area of today’s Bükkábrány – about 7-8 million years ago a bald cypress forest stood, with its trees growing 30-40 meters tall. A – more than likely sudden – sand storms, or mud avalanche buried 6 meters of the bottom of the forest – preserving the lower part of the trees, but for some reason, unlike similar finds, these didn’t char or fossilize.
This is why the finds at Bükkábrány is a paleontological sensation worldwide, as part of the trees that were destroyed at the age of 300-400 remained as organic materials.
The 5-6 meters tall, 1.5-3 meters circumferenced, 16 tree trunks preserved in their original, standing positions, which were actually found in 2007, 60 meters under the surface. There is no other like this in the world, this is why I definitely recommend to walk – at least once – this unique geopark.
After the cinema, I would definitely recommend the app. 800m long walk at the little geological educational trail – this is a guided tour by the way and can be perfectly walked in normal, everyday shoes.
The guided tour starts at the Borókás-árok, and is accessible to those with reduced mobility. This short walkway is a great experience with its humid, stuffy jungle and the here found plantain leaves and prolific ferns.
On the Geological educational trail, among the footprints of the mammals, the ancient-rhino, as well as the doe- and deer species, smaller predators and birds all preserved in a great quality, but you can also see many plant remains at the surface.
Imagine: they found over 15 thousand leaf-imprints, with which they managed to reconstruct the former vegetation, the tropical – subtropical rainforest. According to this, the ancient forests were made up of gigantic ancient pines, ferns, palms, fragrant magnolias, laurel and sycamore species.
If you think about – how much has the vegetation changed in Hungary, as there are no palms left, or tropical ferns and laurels – but there is sycamore and pine still.
Geological Education Trail
The exhibition at the large hall of the Geological Educational Trail is a real miracle – it’s no wonder it’s world famous, as the area’s fossils shows other European and Hungarian footprint locations.
The above described former vegetation can be seen at the Ancient Plant Corner’s (Ősnövénysarok) reconstruction, and the reconstructed animals come alive through a 3D projector based on their footprints. By the way, during the guided tour they run a short 3D movie here, it’s worth watching.
Canopy Educational Trail
The other – and personal favourite – educational trail is the famous Canopy Educational Trail. You can really live your childhood fantasies here – don’t hold back! This – rightly – most popular trail in the park, as it is a real adventure, not just for children!
I think it’s great fun – although it might not be the best program for those who are scared of heights – to enjoy the view from the canopy at 8-10m high. The trail leaves from the tower – which actually is a functioning viewpoint – and is 150m long trail where you can walk on the narrow suspended bridges in the trees’ canopies, of course secured with a strap.
For the little ones – or scared ones – I recommend the middle trail, as it is well networked, so it can be walked even without a strap. Besides the tower, there is a super playground as well – with a cableway, from where it might be difficult to get your child (or yourselves) off. 🙂
After the “heavenly walk” there is another – also very interesting – educational trail, the Miocene forest. This trail leaving from the main welcome hall, tries to reconstruct the former ancient, Miocene era forest – with great success I believe – in a grove like park.
The trail brings you among the predecessors of the Miocene era forest and the reconstructions of the ancient wildlife, in a beautiful environment spiced up with small lakes. There are many resting stops on this trail, with comfortable benches and many bridges, which bring you to special and exotic plants.
The most interesting, that you can see the 3D statues of ancient – Miocene era – animals, whose footprints were found in the fossilized, clayey soils at Ipolytarnóc fossils.
Did you think about what type and size animals lived in the ancient world? Well, here you can meet them is life-size, like the amphicyon, or the famous Tarnóc beast (tarnóci bestia)! There is actually a greenhouse at the middle of the arboretum, where you can admire all kinds of ancient palms (the green house is also pretty handy, if it starts to rain during your tour).
Rock Park Educational Trail
There is also a shorter trail, that’s worth checking out – the Rock Park Educational Trail. This basically goes from the main welcome hall to the Geological Trail, which is about 700m. Its uniqueness and specialty comes from the fact, that every step you take here brings you 15 thousand years closer to the age of the layers at the entrance of the Geological Trail.
This however did not exhaust the Nature reserve of Ipolytarnóc Fossils, as there are two trails here, which invites you on a longer tour. I have walked both – many times, which is why I recommend you trying them.
Of course it’s worth to bring a sandwich each, some water and/or snacks with you on both trails and to wear better shoes (the best would be hiking boots or shoes that support your ankle). Both trails are comfortable, sort of like a forest-hike.
The 6 km long Biological Trail showcases the areas interesting flora and fauna, while bringing us to a hill from where the view is beautiful. The shorter one, the 4km long Rock Trail circles around waterfalls, ruins and an abandoned mine.
Canopy Cafe and Restaurant
If you get hungry during the day, I strongly recommend the delicacies at Canopy Cafe and Restaurant (Lombkorona Kávézó és Étterem) located in the park. You can find the cafe-restaurant next to the main welcoming building, it has a covered area (in case of rain) and a very cozy terrace.
It’s uniqueness comes from the fact that during its construction they paid attention to make it environmentally friendly, so the heating-cooling is provided by a geothermal system and they get hot water through solar panels. If you go with a larger group by any chance, then I recommend to check in with the restaurant, because you could get a great deal if there are over 15 people in the group.
Besides the restaurant, many outdoor barbecues are available too, so you could spend the whole day in the park and end the day with a cozy, relaxed cooking.
If you are with kids, while you’re cooking, they can busy themselves with the playground located between the restaurant and barbecues, where among others, you can find a – sandbox, tunnel, bouncing toys, swings and a slide.
A fort and all kinds of skill games await bigger kids. (unfortunately these toys can’t be used by people over 60kg, even though it would be fun sometimes… right?) 🙂
I almost forgot, that in this great park there are not only rare paleontology exhibitions and educational trails, but also a Forest School, with many accredited forest school modules. Currently you can pick from 9 different modules, all special and interesting on their own.
You can sign up for “Bükk’s natural value and conservation”, “Stone circle”, “Bird world”, “To the Castle Hill!”, “Competition”, “Exploring the night-time trail and astronomical presentation”, “Cave tour of Esztáz-kő”, “Orienteering competition”, “Hand-crafting activities” modules.
How to get from Budapest to Ipolytarnóc
The easiest way to get to Nature Reserve of Ipolytarnóc Fossils is by car through the M3 motorway and road 21 until Ipolytarnóc, from then you can follow the signs.
Address: H-3138, Ipolytarnóc
Opening hours of Nature Reserve of Ipolytarnóc:
The park is open for visitors from May-October, from Tuesday-Sunday, as well as holiday Mondays.
During spring and autumn between 9am and 4pm, during summer until 5pm.
You will get a wristband, you can use this to visit different exhibitions.
The entrance fee in 2019:
The entrance fee currently is 2,600Ft, but this is a combined ticket, it’s good for everything.
Tip: You can buy the ticket online for 2450Ft.
For further information about ticket prices and current programs check out the park’s website.
I trust that you will come back with great and special experiences from this super little time travel and come along with me next time too – to another adventure.