The giant trees reaching the sky are swaying in the January wind, screeching like an old barn door. Snow is crunching under my shoes while I’m stepping along the narrow path the previous hikers have left behind. Enormous rock formations rise up on my right-hand side. I feel myself as tiny as an ant that’s been lost in the crowd of people.
I give a glance on my left-hand side. I see a steep drop that goes on dozens if not hundreds of meters. I want to stare these impressive sandstone mountains competing for height with treetops, but in reality I should be looking at my feet. One wrong step could be my last one.
Threatening the faithful step I keep staring at the rock formations, I just can’t help it. This winter wonderland is called Bohemian Switzerland National Park, a real-life fairytale on the border of the Czech Republic and Germany. A real-life fairytale that is literally taking my breath away.
Day trip from Prague to paradise
Bohemian Switzerland National Park is the youngest of the Czech Republic’s four national parks. A hiking trail of 20 km is leading through the wonders of this unique national park; its canyons, tunnels and impressive stone arches.
In summer the trail is fairly easy to walk on, but in winter the snowy and slippery narrow path at the edge of a cliff creates challenges. Make sure you wear the best shoes possible, preferably ones with ice spikes.
In January, it’s impossible to know beforehand the state of the trails, and dark gets you early. In some of the canyons you can only move with a type of gondola, which isn’t possible in winter. For us, the most important thing was to reach the heart of the national park, the largest natural stone arch in Europe. Among others, Pravčická Brána has inspired the world-famous storytellers, like Hans Christian Andersen, as well as the fancy Hollywood gentlemen, like the filming crew of The Chronicles of Narnia.
It’s very easy to take a day trip from Prague to this magical land of rock towers, bridges and gates. Leaving from Prague, you can reach Bohemian Switzerland National Park in less than 2 hours. You can also travel to the national park by public transport, but due to switching between train and buses, it’ll take a little bit longer.
You can start your hike either from the village of Hřensko or Mezní Louka. The distance between the two locations is only about 5 km [map].
The difference between the two villages lies in the trail itself, and your ability and desire to hike. If you only want to see the Pravčická Brána stone arch, the fastest and easiest way of doing it is to hike up the trail starting from Hřensko. It’ll take approximately 45 minutes. The uphill isn’t too steep, and the trail is fairly easy to walk on, even in winter.
– As usual, Daniel and I did exactly the opposite.
We were really close to missing all of the hikes for this day trip. We meant to stop in the Hřensko Tourist Info and ask for an advice for routes, perhaps even a map. Knowing our luck, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the tourist info was closed.
– So what, we can find a map. Or at least a trail.
And so we did. We found huge signs in every parking spot, clearly pointing the trails, the most famous attractions and even the estimated time the trails take. Our only problem was a little paper stapled on the sign stating that the trail to the Pravčická Brána stone arch would be closed due to maintenance.
We had rented a car, driven for two hours from Prague to the entrance of the national park, and only there we found out that the trail to the most famous sight of Bohemian Switzerland would be out of reach. What should we do?
We should go anyway. And that’s exactly what we did.
And instead of the 45-minute trail from Hřensko, we chose the longer one.
Trail that won’t leave you cold – even in winter!
We started our hike from Mezní Louka. The trail to the world-famous stone arch takes you up in the stone cliffs leading you from village to village, accompanied by stunning forest views and rock formations. The distance from Mezní Louka to Pravčická Brána is longer, but there’s definitely less uphill to climb. Thanks to the challenges created by snow and ice, and the breath-taking nature formations, we weren’t left cold.
You don’t need to worry about crowded trails in January. During the first hour of hiking, we only meet one middle-aged couple. “Hallo”, they greet cheerfully. After all, we’re right next to the German border.
Based on the wide smiles decorating their faces, we would have something truly amazing ahead of us.
And we did. Smiles never lie.
And that’s exactly the reason why I recommend you to start your hike from Mezní Louka, given that heights or slippery, narrow paths at the edge of a cliff won’t make your legs shake too much. Because along this trail, around every single corner, around every single rock giant, something amazing will appear.
One of the fairytale-kind-of miracles along the trail is the Czech version the Sugarloaf Mountain, an impressive rock tower named Homole.
And, of course, the highlight of the day, Pravčická Brána. Despite of the warning signs stating that the trail would be closed completely, we were able to walk all the way to the stone arch. And the whole experience was totally worth taking a risk.
If you want to have a closer look at the largest natural sand stone gate of the whole of Europe, click the Facebook post below. It’ll take you to a 360-degree view where you can move around with your computer or mobile device.
The picture isn’t perfect, but who is?
The stone chateau next to the arch is called Sokoli Hinizdo, ‘The Falcon’s Nest’. The building once hosting prestigious guests is today featuring a photo and art gallery and a restaurant.
During our January visit the Falcon’s Nest was closed. Therefore we didn’t need to pay for our visit, but we didn’t either have access to the best viewing spots.
The admission won’t make too big of a hole on your wallet. The entrance fee for an adult is only 3 euros (75 Kč) and 1 euro (25 Kč) for a child.
From April to October the Falcon’s Nest is open every day between 10–18. During off-season the opening hours are from Friday until Sunday between 10–16.
While the Falcon’s Nest is closed, the trail to the upper viewing spots is closed by locked gates. If you’re wondering is it possible to go to the top of the stone arch, I have to disappoint you, unfortunately. Access to the top has been forbidden already since 1982 due to erosion caused by tourists.
We couldn’t help noticing how hikers had been making their own paths outside the marked trails, trying to climb to the top in hope of the perfect picture. Luckily you and I, as friends of nature and national parks, are fully aware that we shouldn’t walk on unmarked areas. Even if it means less admirable photo angle.
In Bohemian Switzerland National Park you’re guaranteed to have admirable views, even when staying on marked trails only.
“Were we really just hiking up there?”
– Yes, we were. As unbelievable as it feels right now.
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