Bohemian Switzerland National Park: Attractions & Hiking Guide
Bohemian Switzerland National Park (known in Czech as Ceské švýcarsko) sits on the Czech side of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. On the other side, Saxon Switzerland National Park continues the preservation area into German territory. While Bohemian Switzerland is a soft, rolling landscape of forests and sandstone cliffs, Saxon Switzerland has a rocky canyon landscape.
Since borders are not regulated in the European Union, ambitious hikers can start their trip in one country and end in the other. But keep in mind that multi-day hiking trips, while tempting, are tricky. There's no lodging inside the park (on either side of the border), and all camping sites are outside the entrance of the park.
However, the park allows boofen – basically, you can bring a sleeping bag (but not a tent) and find a place to sleep inside a cave or under a boulder, but only in certain areas of the park, so you'll have to do some research in advance.
No matter what your plans are, discover the top things to do here with our list of the best hikes and attractions in Bohemian Switzerland National Park.
Attractions & Things to See
1. Rock Formations and Sandstone Mountains
The impressive Elbe sandstone mountains crisscross throughout Bohemian Switzerland National Park in a breathtaking array. No matter how much hiking you'll be doing once you arrive or which trails you're taking – the honeycombed sandstone formations are everywhere.
The Belvedér terrace, which overlooks the Elbe Canyon, and the 15th-century ruins of the Dolsky Mlyn mill are two of the most popular destinations in the mountains. Hikers can also head to Tiské Skály (Tisa Rocks), a maze of 30-meter-high sandstone rock walls that looks like it's out of a fairy-tale.
A number of very steep metal ladders and stone stairs lead adventurous souls up to the ruins of Šaunštejn Castle, a 14th-century stone castle with views over the Ore Mountains, which mark the border between the Czech Republic and Germany.
2. Kamenice Riverbank and Gorges
The Kamenice riverbank and Kamnitz Gorge are one of the most beloved attractions within the park. As a rocky ravine that runs between the towns of Hrensko and Srbská Kamenice before emptying into the Elbe River, the gorges of Kamenice offer a unique chance to see the canyons and sandstone mountains from the water.
You can catch a boat ride between the two towns from April through November, surrounded by unspoiled nature and the smell of wild forests.
Paths and trails run alongside steep, rocky walls for sections of the Kamenice river and are a good way to explore quietly on your own. This is a great option in winter, when the boats don't run, as it still allows for great views over the water and the forests around.
3. Pravcická Brána
Europe's largest sandstone arch, Pravcická Brána (which translates to "the Prebisch Gate") is a natural rock formation that towers over 26 meters at the top of a hill. If the arch looks familiar, it's because it was used for several key scenes in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
To reach it, you'll have to hike anywhere between one and two hours uphill (depending on which route you take) alongside rock formations and shaded forest trails. Although it was once possible to climb to the top of the arch, this has been banned since 1982 to prevent further damage to the rock. You can still climb stairs and stand at several lookout points for stunning views over the park.
The Falcon's Nest (Sokolí hnízdo) chateau under the gate once belonged to Prince Edmund Clary-Aldringen, and it's a restaurant and photo gallery today.
4. Bastei Bridge
The Bastei Bridge is technically on the German side of the park, but it's easily reached from the park or nearby Decín city via a cross-border bus line or train. Once you arrive, you'll still have an easy one-hour hike ahead of you before you reach the actual bridge. Built of sandstone 305 meters up in the sky and in between a number of different rock formations, the Bastei Bridge offers one of the most stunning views you'll find over the Elbe mountains.
A panoramic-view restaurant and a large viewing platform at the top of the bridge allow for breathtaking views, especially at sunset. And while visiting in summer is very popular, the bridge is open all year long, and the park is particularly stunning in winter, as snow and ice cover the trees and rocks below.
5. Elbe River
The Elbe River is the heart of Bohemian Switzerland – it cuts through the park, feeds the streams and gorges, and then continues on to Germany. Hiking and biking trails extend alongside the river, lined up with sandstone rock formations and evergreen forests.
You can actually bike from the Czech side all the way into Germany alongside the river. It's a 27-kilometer path that brings you to the picturesque town of Pirna on the German side. After a break for some sightseeing and lunch, you can take the train back (bicycles are allowed on the train) to your starting point.
As the largest sandstone canyon in Europe, the Elbe river canyon is a hiker's paradise. The Czech Republic has an excellent trail marking system that makes it possible to hike for days without ever getting lost. During the summer, visitors can also hop in a canoe or raft to make their way downriver.
6. Ruzovský Vrch
Ruzovský Vrch is Bohemian Switzerland's most famous mountain. At 619 meters tall, Ruzovský Vrch (which loosely translates to "rosy hill" because it often appears pinkish in the sunrise) might not be a mighty mountain, but it's still the tallest in the park and easy to recognize because of its circular, cone-shaped peak.
There are three hiking trails that reach the top and are anywhere from 3.3-kilometer to 4.5-kilometers long. The ascent is easy, on soft rolling terrain with nice views along the way and a chance to run into over 400 different species of butterflies; the endangered fire salamander; and a number of mammals, including wild boars and red deer.
At the top of the hill, visitors will find the remains of a lookout tower and a restaurant, both of which were destroyed by fire and abandoned decades ago. Today, the hill is part of a protected area, and no new buildings can be added to the area.
7. Camping near the Park
Camping is only permitted within the park's boundaries in specific areas and under strict rules. Wild camping, where you pitch your tent anywhere you want, is not an option, as the entire park is a protected area.
Camp Mezní Louka is the closest campground to the trails, just minutes away from the trail that leads to Pravcická Gate. Ceská brána is a larger campground (slightly farther away) that offers grassy spaces for pitching a tent, areas for caravans, and basic but cute cabins for rent that are perfect during the cooler months. Czech campgrounds usually have a restaurant on-site, bathroom and kitchen facilities, and specially designated campfire spaces.
If you're looking for a bit more comfort, pensions and boutique hotels abound in the area as well.
Top Hikes: The Short & The Long of It
Summer is the busiest hiking season in the park. If you want peace and quiet and having the trails all to yourself, plan your trip in early spring or late fall.
Keep in mind that even easy hikes can be harder in winter when the trails are icy, or during strong rains, which can make the rocks very slippery. If you're planning on exploring the park during extreme weather, make sure you pick the right footwear and take precautions.
Easy to Moderate Hike: The hike up to Pravcicka Brana is perhaps the best-known trail in the park. For an easy day hike, follow the riverbank trails from the town of Hrensko to Edmund's gorge, a quick two-kilometer hike, perfect for families. You can make this hike harder by starting with a boat ride to Edmund's gorge, then taking the six-kilometer-long Gabriela's trail, which ends at the top of the hill at the famous Pravcická gate.
Another relatively easy but long hike is the one that takes you to see the icefalls in Brtníky, followed by a stop at the Cave of Fairies in the Kyjov Valley. This 14-kilometer, one-way hike is mostly a green trail for the first half, then a red one for the rest of the way, but the views along the way and the magic of a cave full of ice stalactites is well-worth the effort.
Advanced Hike: Start your hike in Hrensko for a longer walk with lots more to see. Follow the marked trails for a 20-kilometer loop that will take you to the Kamenice river first, then to the Pravcická gate. You'll end the hike back in town, where you started.
The park also has its share of off-the-beaten-path trails, such as the 11-kilometer relatively easy hike up to Šaunštejn (also known as "robber's castle"), which involves climbing up a number of vertical metal ladders, or the more strenuous Mariina skála hike, which takes you up to a wooden refuge hut at the top of a 428-meter-tall hill.
Tips for Hiking in the Park
- Hiking is possible year-round at the park, but the terrain is very different, and some trails might be temporarily inaccessible after a heavy snowstorm. During winter, some of the longer hikes might not be the best idea, as days are short, and you don't want to be caught high up on the mountains when it gets dark. If you want to experience the land of Narnia in all its splendor, however, winter is the time to visit the park, and the Pravcická brána is magical when covered in snow.
- If you're heading to the Kamenice gorge, summer is the best season to visit. The gorge is deep into the forest and surrounded by cliffs, which creates a cool micro-climate. While it's possible to visit in spring and early September, you might actually feel cold during those months, especially in the water.
- Choose water/windproof clothing and shoes for hikes if you're coming in spring, as the chances for rain are higher, and it can get cold as you hike higher up.
- There are easy, moderate, and challenging hikes within the park, so make sure you do your homework to pick the one that best fits your fitness level and how much time you want to spend on the trails. For multi-day hikes, it's best to plan a one-way hike that ends where you can then catch the train back to your starting point.
- The Czech Republic has a well-designed system of hiking markers that has been in use since 1888. It consists of a mix of wooden signs pointing at different trails, as well as markers painted on trees or rocks to show the direction of a specific trail. The painted markers consist of a red, blue, or yellow/green line in between two white lines (added for visibility). Red indicates difficult trails, blue is for medium level, and yellow/green for easy walks or to indicate a point where two trails intersect.
- Dogs are welcome at all national parks in the Czech Republic and Germany but must remain on a leash to avoid chasing or potentially injuring local wildlife.
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