Czech-Switzerland and Saxon-Switzerland National Parks
The Czech-Switzerland and Saxon-Switzerland National Parks, the forested hills with sandstone outcroppings the Elbe River (Labe River in Czech) and its tributaries carved, are relaxing and romantic locations away from the many surrounding urban centers. Each park offers some unique vistas and attractions. As with any cityscape, touring a forested area is most effective when the visitor plans a little in advance.
When hiking, be sure to observe all park regulations and a few simple common-sense rules. As with any national park, remain on the trails in order to preserve the natural habitat and avoid paying fines. Please respect protected historic and natural areas. It generally takes as long to return as it does to reach a particular goal, so be sure to leave enough time to walk back to civilization before dark. For long hikes, be sure to take adequate food and water. While there are few poisonous snakes and dangerous animals, exercise caution, especially when stepping on or over rocks. As in the United States, ticks inhabit the forests of Europe. It is uncommon to find a tick on one's body after a walk in the woods, especially if one remains on the trails, but it is best to review the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about avoiding ticks at http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html and for removing ticks at http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html.
For information about the region in English, see http://www.saechsische-schweiz.de/en/saxon-switzerland.html. For an excellent interactive map of the region, see http://mapy.cz/#x=14.189729&y=50.941068&z=10&t=s&q=rathen&qp=11.753139_48.533044_16.321188_51.048925_6.
For those who wish to leave the area to return to Dresden or the city of Meissen, famous for its porcelain, the S1 train runs along the Elbe River and stops in the various cities and towns.
The Western Region is an amoebic-like territory between the cities of Lohmen and Rathen along the Elbe and Hohnstein. The only bridge is at Rathmannsdorf, but there are ferries that cross the Elbe, such as the one at Rathen. The most important attraction in the Western Region is the Bastei natural rock formation and manmade sandstone bridge that is not far from Rathen. On the one end of the bridge is the rock formation known as Neurathen Rock Castle, which served as a foundation for an actual castle. Not far from Bastei is the Burg Hohenstein Castle, which was founded in 1353 (http://www.burg-hohnstein.info/ -- German only).
Some interesting natural sights in the Western Region are:
Amselfall -- a waterfall near Rathen
Uttewalder Grund -- a forest valley at 50° 58' 19" N 14° 1' 59" E
Schwedenlöcher bei Rathen -- a rock formation at 50° 58' 12" N 14° 4' 22" E
Hockstein -- a scenic view at 50° 58' 48" N 14° 6' 3" E
Brand -- a lookout with an excellent view of nearby Hohenstein Castle
Waitzdorfer Höhe -- a rock formation at 50° 57' 37" N 14° 8' 36" E
Lilienstein -- table mountain 415 m high at 50° 55' 52" N 14° 5' 5" E that was the location of a Bohemian castle
While not technically in the national park, the Festung Königstein (Königstein Fortress) is a major tourist attraction on the left bank of the Elbe not far past Bad Schandau. It first historical mention was in 1233, when it was part of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Eventually, the castle became part of Saxony and saw several expansions. It not only was a fortress but also a prison, and now it is a military museum under the Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr (Military History Museum of the Federal Military) in Dresden. There are approximately 50 buildings, including a church, in the complex that covers approximately 23.5 acres. The web site is http://www.festung-koenigstein.de/. Another castle that dates from the eleventh century is Burg Altrathen, which is just across the river from Rathen and is now a hotel and restaurant.
The Eastern Region is an elongated area between Bad Schandau, Altendorf, Mittelndorf, and Kirnitzschtal in the west and Hinterhermsdorf in the east (for trails from Hinterhermsdorf, see http://wandern-saechsische-schweiz.de/Wandergebiet_Hinterhermsdorf.asp). The best place to begin exploring the Eastern Region is Bad Schandau. There, one can ride the Kirnitzschtalbahn trolley to the Lichtenhainer Waterfall, located 500 meters beyond the tram stop. A web site that includes a map of the tram stops (marked H for Haltstelle) is at http://www.meyer-strassenbahn.de/kbahn/Seiten/kbahn-lichtenhainer-wasser.htm. Fares for the tram are at http://www.ovps.de/Verkehrsmittel/Kirnitzschtalbahn/Tarife-und-Fahrplan/4194/. It is best to purchase a day pass for a round trip to the waterfall. In Bad Schandau there also is the Personenaufzug, an elevator that affords a view from 50 meter above the town.
Other points of interest in the Eastern Region are:
Schrammsteine -- a large sandstone formation east of Bad Schandau.
Affensteine -- a formation with Carolafelsen ( 50° 54' 47" N 14° 14' 4" E) as its highest point.
Schmilka (Germany) and Hřensko (Czech Republic) -- two village border crossings 1.5 to 2 hours from Affensteine.
Obere Affensteinpromenade (also known as Affensteinweg) -- a scenic trail that is somewhat strenuous and requires up to five hours of walking.
Kuhstall (Neuer Wildenstein) -- a large sandstone tunnel. To reach the formation, a hike of approximately two hours, begin at the last stop of the Kirnitzschtalbahn. See the map in German at http://www.meyer-strassenbahn.de/kbahn/Seiten/kbahn-lichtenhainer-wasser.htm.
Obere Schleuse -- boat rides that are approximately 20 minutes long.
Großer Winterberg -- second highest peak in the park at 556 meters. The highest peak is Großer Zschirnstein at 562 meters.
Kleine Zschand -- dry valley located at 50° 54' 51" N 14° 16' 2" E
Großer Zschand -- a long, six-kilometer dry valley that runs from the Kirnitzsch Valley to the Czech border (there is no border crossing at that point).
Königsplatz -- affords an exciting view of the park that is an eight-kilometer hike from Hinterhermsdorf.
Kirnitzschklamm -- a ravine not far from Hinterhermsdorf.
Kleine Bastei -- an overlook near Schmilka with a fantastic view of the Elbe.
For more information, see http://www.ceskesvycarsko.cz/. An excellent interactive map is available at http://mapy.cz/#x=14.450889&y=50.887336&z=10&c=f-t&t=s&d=area_23_1&l=16&q=%25C4%258Cesk%25C3%25A9%2520%25C5%25A0v%25C3%25BDcarsko&qp=14.346128_50.845457_14.355279_50.850346_15.
The greatest natural attraction in the park is the Pravčická brána (German: Prebischtor; English: Pravčická Gate), the natural bridge--one of the largest in Europe--that is in the western part of the park about an hour walk from Hřensko. It has a span of 26.5 meters and is 16 meters high. In the vicinity of the Pravčická brána are other sights: a museum, restaurant, forest trails, and rock formations. Nearby also is Jeskyně Českých bratří (Cave of the Czech Brethren), which is not a cave but a rock overhang where some of the Protestant Czech Brethren found shelter during their trek into exile after the 1620 Battle of White Mountain.
Boat rides are available on the Kamenice River. From Hřensko, follow the trail next to the Kamenice to the point known as Divoká soutěska (Wild Confluence), which is south of the town of Mezná. Along the way, hikers not only will enjoy the sights and sounds of the river but the beauty of the forest and the sandstone rocks.
Not far from Kamenická Stráň, at the southern edge of the park, near the confluence of the Kamenice River and the Jetřichovické Bělé River, amidst the rocky cliffs in the valley, are the ruins of the saw mill known as Dolský mlyň (Dolský Mill). The mill dates from the early sixteenth century and was in use until 1945, when the Germans were transferred from the Sudetenland. Since that time, the mill has been in decay, and all that is left are its Baroque walls. According to legend, the miller’s son went into the world and returned quite wealthy. He knew that at night his parents would not recognize him, especially with his full beard, so he posed as a traveler and paid them handsomely for a night’s lodging. While he slept, the miller and his wife killed the traveler, stole his gold, and buried his body in the forest. In the morning, someone from the village who had met the boy earlier the day before asked if the miller and his wife were happy that their son had returned. Realizing what they had done, both committed suicide. It is said that the miller’s son still roams the environs of the mill at night. A hasty departure from the mill may be forthcoming, but walk further upstream along the Kamenice River to the Královský smrk (Royal Spruce), a memorial or protected tree (památný strom) which is 181 years old (as of 2013), 27 meters high, and 290 centimeters (more than 9.5 feet) in circumference. Just a few yards further upstream are a series of rocky cliffs known as Ferdinandovy věže, that is, Ferdinand’s Towers, that are numbered one through four.
Malá Pravčická brána (Small Pravčická brána) is another natural arch that is approximately 2.3 meters high and 3.3 meters wide. It is located on the E3 European Trail northeast of Mezní louka and north of Vysoká lípa. Nearby are the ruins of Šaunštejn, a rock fortress that had its beginnings in the late fourteenth century.