We recently spent a few days in the picturesque Jizera Mountains north of Prague. It may not seem like it but you can find yourself in the heart of the mountains in less than two hours if you’re coming from Prague. Just hop on a bus at Černý most, get off in Liberec 75 minutes later, take a 13-minute ride on tram no. 3 from the bus station, and get off at the end of the line. There you are in Horní Hanychov, a pretty village at the edge of a forest and at the foot of Mount Ještěd.
It is actually not correct to call Horní Hanychov a village. It is officially a part of the city of Liberec. Prior to the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships that took place there in 2009, this part of town received an improved infrastructure, a new ski jumping hill, and new ski lifts.
Ještěd is the highest mountain of the Jizera mountain range. At 1,012 m (3,320 ft), it doesn’t even make it on the top 30 list of Czech Republic’s tallest peaks, but you can definitely tell that you’ve climbed a mountain once you get up top. At least we could.
There are three ways to reach the Ještěd summit: walking (or biking!), driving, or taking the cable car. We chose the cable car.
To reach the cable car station at the bottom of the mountain, you need to walk about 15 minutes from the end of the tram line. It is an easy hike along a comfortable, slightly uphill trail. Just follow the signs to “Lanovka JEŠTĚD”.
There is some outdoor seating at the cable car station and you can buy snacks, beer, or coffee. The cable car is operated by the Czech Railways company. When we visited, the service ran every 30 minutes – on the hour and half hour.
The Ještěd cable car has been in operation since 1933. The original cabin is now in a museum, having served as a snack bar, a tool shed, and a bee house. The current cabin has been used for over 40 years. It fits 35 people. I wouldn’t particularly like to experience the ride during high season and can’t quite imagine how it must feel when the car is full to capacity. There were eight of us including the operator and the ride was quite pleasant. It takes only four minutes to ascend the 400 meters to the summit but we sure noticed we had entered a different world after the short ride. We boarded the cable car in slightly cool but generally mild weather. Four minutes later, we stepped out into dense fog and howling wind. We were thankful for the warm interiors of the iconic Ještěd tower.
THE LOOKOUT TOWER
If I should sum up my experience of the tower interior, the words that come to mind are eerie and depressing. Stepping inside the conical structure that was designed in 1963 – 1966 and built a few years later is like going back in time. Specifically to the communist times of my childhood. The common areas comprising a hotel reception, restaurant, snack bar, and restrooms all seemed dark, sticky, and tired. There’s probably not much that can be done without interfering with the award-winning original design but a few upgrades such as removing the stickiness from wood surfaces and modernizing the restrooms seem entirely feasible.
The lookout tower has a glassed-in walkway going around its perimeter, promising beautiful views of the surrounding region. In clear weather, you can see the Giant Mountains (Krkonoše) dominated by the tallest Czech mountain of Sněžka, and the popular ski resort of Harrachov. You can glimpse the Trosky castle ruins in the Bohemian Paradise protected area, as well as the Kozákov peak, which is known for its precious stones. You can see the towns of Turnov and Jablonec nad Nisou, and you can even have views into neighboring Germany and Poland. As it turned out, we saw nothing but fog. Which means we have to go back another time!
We decided to hike down the mountain instead of taking the cable car. Hikers can choose between a longer but easier route, which is about 5.5 km long and is supposedly good enough for families with strollers, or a shorter route through the woods. We opted for the latter because it looked more interesting. It was 3.5 km long and took us a little over 1.5 hours including a short stop for lunch.
This is the longer, more comfortable way down:
We took the blue trail through the woods toward Nad Výpřeží – Liberec – H. Hanychov.
We realized on the way down that hiking up the mountain would be no picnic. The trail was relatively steep all the way back to Horní Hanychov and came down steadily with no flat parts. Despite that, we passed a school group of 10-year olds with a teacher, and a family with similarly aged children making their way happily up the trail. Our trail looked like this for the most part:
The trail got wider and smoother toward the bottom of the hill.
After about an hour and a half, we arrived in Horní Hanychov.
STAYING IN LIBEREC
The Jizera Mountains are a great getaway from Prague. We recommend making the city of Liberec your base for a few days and taking trips to the surrounding areas on trams or buses. We have found Liberec to be a very convenient city, big enough to provide great public transport, good restaurants, and enough accommodation options while remaining easy to navigate and quiet compared to Prague. Plus they have a wonderful ZOO and botanical garden!