Tips for Trips: Hiking Sněžka
A cable car ride and crossing the Czech/Polish border on foot
The first documented ascent of Sněžka dates back to 1456, when a Venetian merchant was looking for precious stones. Mining settlements for ore soon followed and for 450 years mining was the primary occupation for the region, with the best-known mine called Obří Důl (Giant Mine). The valley town of Pec was named for the furnace used smelt the ore mined in Obří Důl. After WWII, a cableway was installed to Sněžka and with the simultaneous construction of ski tows and ski lifts, the area became a booming tourist center. From 1949 until 2012 the original cableway transported over 7 million tourists to the summit of Sněžka.
As promised, we found a bustling outdoor recreational center in Pec. A bob-sled course, zip lines and an adrenaline park for children covered one hillside while a climbing wall and ropes course were set in the woods on the other side of the Upa River. Hotel Sněžka, a few other lodges, restaurants and open-air cafes completed the picture. Although I knew Pec was popular for wintertime sports, I hadn't expected such a lively off-season atmosphere or so many activities for adventurous families. The expansive Relaxpark was the reason my children's eyes had sparkled. Although they tried to convince me that bob-sledding in Pec was on their “must-do” list, I told them that today, we had come to hike.
It was a windy day, so the upper portion of the lift from Růžová hora (Rose Mountain) to the summit was closed. High winds close the upper portion of the cable car lift on average about one-half of the days each year. If you plan to summit Sněžka, pick a clear day and be prepared to walk in case the top lift is closed. The altitude change of 800 m from Pec to the summit also creates extreme temperature changes.
Dressed in layers and carrying backpacks filled with sandwiches and extra clothes, my family headed up in the cable car for our summit adventure. When we disembarked at Růžová, we had less than 400 meters to ascend until we reached the submit. At first, I wondered if it had been a mistake not to start at the bottom and walk the entire way. The trail from the mid-station at Růžová to the summit started as moderate, with the first 1.5 kilometers on a stone path through forests of mountain pine, where it was possible to push a stroller. Although there are strict regulations about keeping on the path at all times, my children enjoyed running ahead of us along the trail and then hiding behind a pine at the edge of the trail to scare us. They didn't veer from the path but it kept them moving.
Once we had climbed over the Růžova summit, we saw the Sněžka summit ahead of us. A steady line of hikers wound up the rocky side of the mountain to its granite top. Although we saw hikers of all ages and abilities, the final kilometer to the summit is formed by a series of more than 300 granite steps – difficult hiking for those with short legs (i.e. children under 6) or anyone with bad knees.
The submit is in sight during the final kilometer, which helps motivation. So does stopping and turning around to take a look at the breathtaking views. The weather station atop the nearby Černá hora (Black Mountain), another peak in the Krkonoše range, can be seen on a clear day. Although it was only 10C, the sunshine and steady movement warmed our bodies. By the time we reached the summit I was carrying a pile of coats, hats and gloves that my family had discarded.
After climbing endless stairs and stopping to catch our breath a few times, we reached the top. There are a few buildings on the mountain's shared Czech and Polish summit, including a Polská bouda (chalet) with a meteorological station, the cableway end station on the Czech side, a chapel and a Czech post office. The oldest building is the 14-meter rotunda called St. Lawrence Chapel, which was built in 1681. The newest building is a working Czech post office with a snack shop inside. The post office is named Anežka and has the postal code 542 91.
As predicted, high gusts of wind whipped across the summit. After a snack and looking at the view, we gave up fighting the wind and hiked down the Polish side. Descending a series of steep stairs on the Polish side was harder on my knees than ascending on the Czech side. Since the path is two-way, we passed hikers coming up from an easy path in the Obří Důl valley to summit from the Polish side and descend on the Czech side. The border is currently open between the two countries, and the only way we knew we were in Poland was that the signs had slightly different names.
On our descent, we walked a few steps on the Polish–Czech Friendship Trail, a 30 km walking path that runs on both sides of the Czech–Polish border, along the main ridges of the Krkonoše. About three kilometers from Pec, just when I was starting to get thirsty and a bit weary, we stopped at the welcoming family-style lodge called Bouda pod Sněžkou at 950m for a drink and to warm up. The children shared traditional Czech lívance (pancakes) with blueberry sauce while Radek and I had the regional specialty, Krkonošské kyselo, a thick mushroom, potato and egg soup.
The chalet Bouda pod Sněžkou is located at the end/beginning of the Obří Důl trail (depending on which way you start), and it is the closest refreshment and lodging to the summit on the Czech side. The path from Pec to the chalet is paved and easily accessible – ideal for a glimpse of the region's landscape without the strain of a difficult hike. While the children were anxious to get back to Pec and explore the Relaxpark, Radek and I lamented that we couldn't spend the night in the lodge, enjoy the Wellness and do the hike again the following day – this time in the reverse direction.
At the end of the day, we'd hiked 7.5 miles round-trip, which wasn't bad considering the kids had originally wanted to take the cable car all the way up and down. Since we didn't see snow on the summit, we'll have to come back again. Next time, perhaps, with cross-country skis.
Click here to find the Sněžka cableway operating schedule and ticket prices.
For more information on hiking trails in the valley, visit the Pec pod Sněžkou Tourist Information Centre (information in English).
For high-adrenaline fun, see the Relaxpark website for seasonal hours and a complete price list for all activities.
Check the Pec pod Sněžkou's tourist website for a list of lodging/accommodations in the area. Information in available in English.
More Prague.TV tips for trips:
Tips for Trips: Říp
Tips for Trips: Kutná Hora
Tips for Trips: Český Krumlov
Tips for Trips: Koněprusy Caves
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