The Giant Mountains, known as the Karkonosze (pronounced [ˈkr̩konoʃɛ]) in Polish, Krkonoše in Czech, and Riesengebirge in German, are part of the Sudetes mountain range in Central Europe and form the border between Poland and the Czech Republic. They offer beautiful scenery and winter resorts. The Giant Mountains include two national parks - Krkonošský narodní park (Giant Mountains National park) in Czech Republic and Karkonosze National Park in Poland. This article is about the first one.
There are four main towns in Giant Mountains National Park, from west, these areː Harrachov, Rokytnice nad Jizerou Špindlerův Mlýn, and Pec pod Sněžkou.
- Harrachov is a town in the western part of Giant Mountains in the valley of the Mumlava River, is a centre of winter sports and resorts. There is also a cinema and some music clubs. A dominant feature of this town is a huge ski jump. The crest hike is usually started from this town.
- Rokytnice nad Jizerou features probably the worst skiing areal of these four, but it is a good base for trekking in the area. The town is especially popular during New Year's eve, during which many Czech people come here to celebrate.
- Špindlerův Mlýn also features a ski areal and is known as the most expensive among these town, popular for among rich for its luxurious hotels.
- Pec pod Sněžkou is probably the most useful of these towns. It has the biggest (and probably the best) skiing areal among these, it features a lot of accommodation options and is located directly below Czech tallest mountain Sněžka, which makes it a good base for climbing up this mountain. If you do now want to climb it, the cable way up there also starts here.
The national park is quite large, about 40 km in west/east direction and 20 km in south/north direction. It covers the whole Czech part of Giant Mountains, which are the tallest mountains of the Czech Republic. The mountains are quite scenic, even though they do not resemble the typical mountains such as Alps, they are much more similar to what you would expect to see in Scotland or Scandinavia - that means that you won't find any tall rocks or step cliffs here. Giant Mountains are a popular tourist destination for hiking in summer and skiing in winter, and can sometimes can overcrowded as such. The best time to visit for hiking is probably June because of good weather and smaller crowds, while other summer months are fine as well. For skiing, the best time to come is probably December or January.
The highest mountain Sněžka can be translated as "Snowhead" and is located directly on the Polish-Czech border. At 1,603 meters high, it is the highest mountain of the Czech Republic. There is a restaurant and a chapel on the Polish side. The peak can be reached via a modern gondola from the Czech side or a more antiquated chairlift from the Polish side. Hiking trails to peak approach from both sides of the mountain as well. The Elbe River starts near the border - it is one of the longest rivers in Central Europe and flows from the Czech Republic, (Bohemia) all the way through Germany to Hamburg.
|Giant Mountains National Park|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
There is a popular myth about the protector of the Giant Mountains, a giant or mountain spirit known as Krakonoš in Czech, Liczyrzepa in Polish, or Ruebezahl in German. You will find wonderful images of him everywhere!
Until 1945, the region was German-speaking on both sides of the border, you find remnants of this interesting history in the area's buildings, food and legends. The numerous mountain huts were often build by German settlers of this area. During communist era (1945 - 1989) this area was discovered as a skiing destination, which continued into modern times. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist destination in Czech Republic, especially among domestic tourists, both in summer and winter.
The upper border of the forest is located very low (1200 meters above sea level) in Giant Mountains, which is the thing that makes it interesting. Higher parts of the mountains have a Scandinavian look, with just low bushes or no vegetation at all. There are many valleys, called důl which were carved by glaciers in the last Ice Age. Most scenic of these valleys is Obří Důl, through which leads the main trail up to the Czech Republic tallest mountain, Sněžka.
Flora and fauna
Some areas of the national park are closed because of Western capercaillie during their mating season. While this might sound interesting, they look like a turkey and it is unlikely to encounter them, as they are rare. The icon of the national park is Gentiana flower, which is common here. Above 1200 meters above sea level, trees turn into creeping pines bushes.
The mountain have Scandinavian look, but they also often have Scandinavian weather, especially in the upper parts. Snow starts to fall in late September is gone by May. Avalanches are common in spring. Even in summer, it is better to have a good jacket when going up to the mountains. Average July temperature on the Sněžka mountain is just 8.3°C, with night dipping below zero.
There are direct buses from Prague to all four mentioned towns. All of these buses departure from Černý Most station in Prague, which is inconveniently located at the eastern end of yellow metro line B. Ticket should cost around 200 Kč, with some discounts for students, children and elderly. Buses run an seemingly random times during the day, but usually there is some around noon. The ride takes about three hours. Use IDOS to find the timetable. You can also directly buy your ticket there.
Both Harrachov and Rokytnice nad Jizerou train stations are a bit far from the town, so if taking a train, be prepared for some walking.
Harrachov has a train station with hourly connections to Liberec, Tanvald and Szklarska Poręba in Poland. From Tanvald, there is a connecting express train to Prague. There are also two daily direct express trains from Prague to Harrachov, at 7ː25 and 13ː25. It costs 200-300 Kč and takes three hours to get to Harrachov from Prague. The last part of the journey, between Tanvald and Harrachov is quite scenic. The railway has been renovated on the Polish side, so you can now use it when going from Wroclaw or Jelenia Góra.
There are infrequent local trains from Rokytnice nad Jizerou to Martinice v Krkokonoších, from where you would have to change train several times to get somewhere more useful. Trains to Rokytnice nad Jizerou run only on weekend. There are no trains going to Pec pod Sněžkou and Špindlerův Mlýn, but you could take a train to nearby Trutnov or Vrchlabí, and take a bus only for the last leg. Use IDOS to find a connection.
You can easily use a car to get to any mentioned towns, but if you are planning to stay at some mountain hut, ask the hut staff about getting a permission for you car. Upper parts of the hills are generally off limits for cars. If coming from Poland, be prepared for some scenic serpentines.
Fees and permits
There are no fees imposed on the Giant Mountains national park. Some areas are off-limits in mating season, and it is forbidden to walk off the marked trails in the national park area. Cars are forbidden at most places, except main roads.
When going to the neighbouring Karkonosze National Park in Poland, be careful, as there are some fees there. This is however no problem if you walk only the crest trail, which dips into the Polish national park quite often.
Most useful is the longest route (No. 1, red color), connecting Harrachov, Rokytnice nad Jizerou, Jilemnice, Benecko, Vrchlabí, Janské Lázně, Pec pod Sněžkou and Pomezní boudy. This bus operates twice a day, morning and afternoon. Therefore you can plan a one-way trip by foot and return by bus (or vice-versa). If you planning a day trip, be definitely check the bus schedule, as last buses tend to depart in late afternoon, and after that, you would get stranded.
There are several cable cars usable if you prefer it to hiking.
- 1 Sněžka cable car, firstname.lastname@example.org. 08:00-21:00. Cable way that runs from Pec pod Sněžkou to the Sněžka mountain. The lower station in Pec pod Sněžkou is located a bit far off the town, the middle station Růžová Hora is useful for cross country skiing. There is a restaurant adjacent to all three stations. 430 Kč both ways.
- 2 Hnědý Vrch cable car. 09:00-17:00. A cable way is part of Pec pod Sněžkou skiing arean, but can be also used to start a hike in summer. 180 Kč both ways.
- 3 Černá Hora cable car. 09:00-18:00. This cable car leads from Janské Lázně to the top of the Černá Hora mountain.
- 1 Sněžka. Czech tallest mountain, rising to 1603 meters above sea level. There is a chapel and a small food and drink stand up there. You can hike here from almost anywhere in Giant Mountains or you can take a cable way from Pec pod Sněžkou. The hike is not very difficult, requiring just usual hiking gear. The observatory on the Polish side used to have a large restaurant, but it is now closed.
- 2 Mumlava Waterfall. 10 meters tall waterfall on Mumlava river, very close to Špindlerův Mlýn.
- 3 Rozhledna Černá hora (Black Mountain lookout tower). Former cableway mast turned into a lookout tower. On top of Černá Hora (Black Mountain), you can hike there our you can use the new cableway.
- 4 Elbe Waterfall. 35 metres tall waterfall on Elbe river, or actually Elbe stream. Interesting especially in spring, when there is a lot of water.
- 5 Elbe spring (Pramen Labe). A stone well which is marked as Elbe spring. There are emblems representing all large cities, that river Elbe flows through.
- 6 Pěchotní srub T-S 82. and 7 Fortress Stachelberg, ☏ , email@example.com. Two large pieces of World War II fortification, which was never used. The first one is open to everyone and free, while the other provide guided tours. You can find small pieces of World War II fortifications anywhere in Giant Mountains. The ridge hike's easternmost end is usually at a 4 bus stop. near these fortresses. The bus goes to Trutnov, which has direct trains to Prague every two hours.
- Ski. Giant Mountains present a good skiing destination, probably the best in Czech Republic. There is usually enough snow, but it is often a pain to ski in the afternoon, as the snow begins to be worn out. The evening skiing is however pleasant, as they create artificial snow before it takes place and there are not so many people on the slopes. Giant Mountains are especially popular as a place where it is possible to learn to ski, so will see a lot of Czech, German and Dutch children on the slopes - ski schools are omnipresent and cheap compared to Alps. Skiing passes are however the same price as in Alps, while the size and quality of the areals is lower. The main skiing areas are Pec pod Sněžkou, Špindlerův Mlýn [dead link], Harrachov and Rokytnice nad Jizerou, with their quality in this order. There are some others, if you prefer smaller crowds to size, such as Jablonec nad Jizerou, Vysoké nad Jizerou, Velká Úpa or Malá Úpa
- Cross-country skiing. This is also popular in Giant Mountains and there are many marked trails for cross-country skiing. Parents sometimes leave the children on the slopes to ski and venture into the mountains to do some cross-country skiing. It however involves a lot of steep ascents, which might not be to everyone taste. You can start from any place which also have a skiing areal. For navigation, use the application mapy.cz in winter mode.
- Renting a snowmobile. It is fun to rent a snowmobile a ride it around mountains, even though this is forbidden at many places, especially ski slopes. Ask at you mountain hut about renting these. You need car driving license to drive it.
- Hike. There are numerous marked hiking paths and it is always possible to find a new mountain hut. The best place for hiking is it mountain ridge offering great views. The most popular hike is the ridge hike or crest trail, mentioned below.
In the summer, you can para-glide, hike, bike, and there is a boathouse on the Elbe dam; you can fish here and play tennis and squash.
Krkonoše ridge hike (30-50 km, 2-3 days)
Direct buses from Praha-Černý, most to Harrachov and Pec pod Sněžkou. It's possible to buy online, price ~200 Kč). From/to Žacléř, one needs to change buses in Trutnov.
- 2 days version generally starts in Harrachov and ends in Pec pod Sněžkou
- 3 days version starts in Harrachov and ends in Žacléř
- 1st day: Harrachov - Mumlavský vodopád - Labská louka, Pramen Labe - Labská bouda - Sněžné Jámy (here starts the true ridge walk of Krkonoše following the red sign)
- 1st night - Labská bouda (little too soon); bivouac place Přístřešek Pod Smělcem (probably the most ideal location), a small hut with 6 places, can be occupied, however, its possible to bivouac outside easily (camping is not allowed!); huts at the south side of the main ridge (such as Dvořákova bouda/Martinova bouda).
- 2nd day - Špindlerova Bouda - Obří sedlo - Sněžka (the highest mountain of Czech Republic) - Malá Úpa (Pomezní boudy)
- 2nd night - Pomezní boudy, Malá Úpa; Přístřešek NS Jelení (bivouac, close from Sněžka); Přístřešek Cestník (bivouac, not ideal location)
- 3rd day - Malá Úpa (Pomezní boudy) - Horní Albeřice - Žacléř/Svoboda nad Úpou.
For navigation, use the application mapy.cz. Some parts of this hike could be done as day trip, for example from Žacléř to Pec pod Sněžkou via Sněžka mountain.
There is at least one supermarket in every mentioned town. Even these supermarkets have slightly inflated prices compared to bigger cities.
If there is "bouda" (it means mountain hut) in the name of the place, you can also find accommodation there. Giant Mountains even have their own speciality - "Krkonošské kyselo", a bit sour soup made from bread, mushrooms and potatoes, very tasty.
- 1 Lesní bouda, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Near skiing slopes of Pec pod Sněžkou. They serve excellent goat meat based meals, a good place for lunch if skiing there
- 2 Restaurace Vraní bouda, ☏ , email@example.com. Another good option if skiing in Pec pod Sněžkou
- 3 Restaurace Veronika, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 4 Restaurace Štumpovka, ☏ , email@example.com. A common target of trips from Rokytnice nad Jizerou and usually referred as Dvoračky, they served excellent food here. Lodging also possible here or in neighboring Dvoračky chalet.
- 1 Luční Bouda, firstname.lastname@example.org. A large mountain hut at 1410 meters above sea level. They offer accommodation and large restaurant offering good food, but also the highest brewery in Czech Republic.
Finding a place to sleep should not be a problem in Giant Mountains, as mountain huts (bouda) are omnipresent. It is however better to book a space in one ahead, as some might be sold out in summer. All the mountain huts serve food.
- 1 Martinova bouda, ☏ , email@example.com. 505 Kč.
- 2 Brádlerovy boudy, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Their dorm is one of the cheapest lodgings on the crest trail. 250 Kč per person in dorm.
- 3 Hotel Horizont, ☏ , email@example.com. Biggest and probably most luxurious hotel in Pec pod Sněžkou. 70€ double room.
- 4 Rýchorská bouda, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org.
Typical camping is not an usual way to sleep to Giant Mountains, and as such, there is only one big camp in the whole area.
- 5 Autokemp Špindlerův Mlýn, ☏ , email@example.com. Only real camp in the area. It might be cheaper to try some of the more remote mountain huts. They also have chalets for rent in this camp. 120 Kč per person, 70 Kč per car, 70 Kč per tent.
Giant Mountains national park is not very welcoming to people who would like to save as much as possible on accommodation. The mountain huts network is very dense, so there are no tourist shelters usable for sleeping on the crest trail. Wild camping is forbidden, and this is enforced, unlike in other parts of Czech Republic.
Giant Mountains were historically inhabited by Germans and are still more popular among German tourists than tourists from any other country (except Czechia, of course). As such, most people working in tourist services will speak some German. German might be even more useful than English, which is sometimes taught only as a third language in this region. Some mountain huts even have a website only in Czech and German, with no English option. However, finding someone who speaks English should be no problem, same as in the rest of the Czech Republic.
Watch the sun, especially in autumn when it goes down quite soon. You do not want to be at the crest trail when it gets dark, as it is also very cold and it might be difficult to find a lodging on the last minute (there are no emergency huts as are in some other national parks). The weather is dangerous is general - snow usually starts to fall at the at end of September and avalanches are common in the begging of spring. Also storms might present a problem, as there are no trees on the mountain ridge - check weather forecast before you go there. Do not venture in the mountains alone and always tell someone (eg. staff at you mountain hut) where are you going and when are you planning to return.
- Jizerské Hory - a neighboring national park, less crowded.
- Karkonosze National Park - another neighboring national park. The same mountains, even though the Polish side is a bit different - there are glacier lakes, which are not present on the Czech side