Czechs blaze barrier-free trails in the spectacular Krkonoše Mountains

Sněžka, photo: Guillaume Narguet

Krkonoše is home to the highest mountains in the Czech Republic, with majestic peaks protruding above the alpine tree line and a unique mosaic of ecosystems in valleys formed in the ancient glacial past. Dozens of mountain trails and alpine meadows paths in the Krkonoše or Giant Mountains are now accessible also for handicapped nature-lovers and families with prams.

The Krkonoše Mountains stretch for some 35 kilometres and form a mighty, natural barrier on the perimeter of the large open plains in neighbouring Germany and Poland.

These giants, which hold a special place in Czech hearts, are increasingly more ‘handicap friendly’, with nearly three dozen barrier-free trails now mapped out and maintained by the Krkonoše Mountains National Park, or KRNAP, which covers an area of over 40,000 hectares.

Sněžka,  photo: Guillaume Narguet
Along the western range, for example, is the Mumlava Mine trail, which passes by splendid waterfalls, while along the eastern peaks is a trail from the stunning ski slopes of Pec pod Sněžkou to the Obří Důl valley, the Špindlerův Mlýn ski resort and the Janské Lázně sp, to name some of the Top 10.

Radek Drahný, a spokesman for KRNAP, says the park administration would like to expand the number of routes, but doing so is easier said than done.

“For a trail to be ‘handicap friendly’ not just in name, you need, for example, to offer toilets for disabled people in all the mountain huts they will pass.”

While some 30 trails are now officially ‘barrier-free’, Mother Nature does have a habit of changing the face of stretches of her landscape without much warning. So, Krkonoše Mountain Rescue Service chief Pavel Jirsa does advise visitors in wheelchairs to exercise caution.

“Mountains are of course mountains. They are rocky and rugged. So, we recommend sticking to the paths and checking conditions. Because sometimes it happens that even partially disabled people have to be helped from inaccessible terrain”.

That said, there is an expanding wealth of barrier-free accommodation in the region and virtually all destinations are at least accessible in part.

Krkonoše Treetop Walkway,  photo: Jaroslava Mannová / Czech Radio
KRNAP spokesman Radek Drahný says, for now, the park administration has reluctantly shelved plans to allow direct access by wheelchair to the highest peak of all – Sněžka, also known as the ‘Czech Matterhorn’, which rises to just over 1600 metres.

“It turned out that current legislation and regulations effectively make such a path all the way up Sněžka unrealistic. But if someone in a wheelchair has an attendant or others ready to help them to our highest mountain peak, Sněžka is also accessible in this way.”

The spectacular 45-metre high, 1300-metre-long Krkonoše Treetop Walkway built in 2017 is however fully barrier free, having been specially adapted for wheelchairs, with maximum inclines of six percent, and transparent meshing ensuring perfect visibility for all.