The Great Cirque Hiking Trail Contents
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- 22 km – approximately 7 hours
- 857 metres height gain
- Moderately challenging terrain. No very steep climbs or descents.
- Wonderful views over the Jeseniky Mountains.
- Many rare, endemic or endangered species of flora and fauna.
- Off the beaten track – no crowds.
This trail is a fantastic mix of all that is great and good about the Jeseniky Mountains. It has a variety of terrain – starting in broad-leafed forest, heading up through wild coniferous forest and ending with alpine tundra along the ridge. It has a feeling of wilderness and isolation because it is a nature reserve as well as not being a major tourist destination. And of course there is some of the freshest, cleanest air in Europe!
There are no really steep parts to this trail, although the climb up from the car park takes around two and a half to three hours. This whole area is very popular for snow sports during the winter but when the snow has mostly melted, it is a lot quieter. The cirque was formed by glaciers in the last Ice Age and even today, the snow is the major factor behind the rare and sometimes unique flora and fauna here. Information tables along the route tell the story of its formation and what lives and grows here. The detailed information is in Czech but each board has a summary in English.
The forests which you walk through on the way up are shady and quiet. You walk next to a river through most of the forest, which is a very relaxing soundtrack to the walk. There are springs of sparkling, clear water for you to cool off with and absolutely minimal signs of human habitation. When you get to the first view point, the sight of the cirque is breathtaking. After so long walking along forest trails, it takes a moment to adjust your eyes to the scale of it. Winter avalanches regularly clear trees from the mid level slopes and the upper slopes are alpine tundra, so there are no trees at all, apart from the dwarf pines.
The prevailing winds are from the North and West, and so as you climb you are mostly sheltered from them. On clear days, there will often be clouds over the ridge and mountains to the North because the warmer, moister air is pushed up by the slopes and condenses. The wind is also fairly constant, so on sunny days you have to remember to use sunscreen and keep yourself protected because you probably will not feel the heat of the sun.
Along the ridge, you can see far into the Moravian Gate to the South and East. This region of mostly flat land lies between the Beskydy and Jeseniky mountains and has been a route linking Central Europe to the Baltic since Neolithic times. To the North and West, you can see the Jeseniky peaks stretching off to the horizon. Notably, there is Praded, the highest peak in the Jesenikys, with its TV transmitter, view tower and restaurant and the strange-looking flat peak of Dlouha Strana. This peak was actually excavated to form the top reservoir of the Dlouha Strana Pumped Storage hydro-electric plant. During off-peak times, excess electricity is used to pump water more than 500 metres up to the top where it is stored until it is needed at peak times.
Apart from the views, there are a couple of historical artifacts to see. The first is a small stone which was placed there in 1681 to mark the historical border between Moravia and Silesia. The second is a strange concrete hexagon with a small doorway in it. This was actually the base of a WW2 German Wurzburg-Riese radar, codenamed Nebelhorn (Foghorn). It was used for aiming anti-aircraft guns.
The walk along the ridge is easy and pleasant. As you leave the ridge and start to head downhill again, there is another excellent spring of fresh water and a stone mountain hut which people can shelter in during bad weather. The whole ridge is part of the E3 European Long Distance Path, which links hiking trails all the way from the Black Sea to the Atlantic.
The walk down is also not steep, so it’s not hard on your knees if you are carrying a rucksack, or just have old knees like me! Like all Czech hiking trails, it is clearly marked with coloured lines painted on trees. It would be very difficult to get lost, so just relax, head back down into the village and maybe stop in one of the restaurants before you head home. Even better, book a room there for your stay and relax after this long but enjoyable walk!
If you would like to buy a guide to this amazing hike, including maps, directions and a GPX file, you can download it here.