If you’ve ever taken a hike or even just an out-of-town walk to a particular sight in the Czech Republic, chances are you found yourself on a marked trail. You probably know what the markers look like. Two short horizontal white strips with a strip of color in between. In nature, the markers are usually painted on trees. If they are needed in a town, you’ll find them on whatever surface works – walls, fence posts, etc.
It is easy to run into these markers in the Czech Republic. They are used on tens of thousands of kilometers of trails that form a dense network, which not only makes the Czech Republic a hiking heaven, but a world trail marking superpower.
The very first trail marker appeared 117 years ago, on May 11, 1889. It was a red marker that marked the trail through the Štěchovice Valley to St. John’s Rapids on the Vltava River. This was then a major hiking route through one of the most beautiful natural areas in the country. A part of Smetana’s symphonic poem Vltava is devoted to St. John’s Rapids. Neither the marker nor the rapids exist today. They both disappeared under the Štěchovice Dam that was built during the Second World War.
Unlike trail marking systems in other countries, the Czech system was unified from the very beginning and hasn’t really changed since. Only red markers were used at first (red and white were the colors of the Czech flag at that time) but three more colors were added soon after. The use of the colors is not random but follows clear rules, each color signifying a different trail level:
Red – long distance and summit trails; you can pretty much walk through the whole country following the red markers
Blue – significant trails
Green – local trails
Yellow – short or connecting trails, shortcuts
Jít po červené/žluté, etc. means “to follow the red/yellow marker”, literally “to walk the red/yellow trail”.
By 1938, Czechoslovakia had the longest and best trail marking system in the world with 40,000 km of marked trails. Today’s 39,742 km no longer constitute the longest marked trail network, but it is still the densest in the world. All trails are perfectly inconnected and the clear and frequent markers enable a hiker to hike without the need of a map. And when a marker starts rubbing off or gets damaged, it is simply painted over with a hand brush and looks like new in a matter of minutes.
The simplicity, clarity and ease of maintenance of the Czech trail marking system has inspired other countries. “Czech markers” are now used in Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary and some trails are marked with them in Romania and Croatia. The Canary Islands are considering switching to the Czech trail marking system as well.
Magazín Víkend that was aired on TV Nova on October 30, 2006 was used as a source.