Europe's National Parks: Hidden Gems Of The Czech Republic

When it comes to hidden gems, the Czech Republic has plenty. The capital city of Prague has won over many a backpacker's heart with its charming cobble-stone streets and numerous castles to discover. However, the real secrets are outside of the city boundaries. In three distinct corners of the country, you can find the Czech Republic's four national parks, all renowned for their beautiful natural features and diversity of flora and fauna. You won't find the average tourist here—or crowds at all for that matter.

Šumava National Park 
Size: 262.7 square miles
Location: Plzeň and South Bohemian Regions

This protected area in the Šumava Mountains is also a UNESO biospherical reserve. Within the park, there are more than 150 miles of ski trails. In the summer, you can hike the paths or kayak down the the Vltava, Otava and Vydra rivers. Watch for the rare and beautiful Capercaillie—also known as a wood grouse—as you go. There are only 300 of these birds left in the Czech Republic and the only viable population lives within the boundaries of the park.

Krkonoše National Park 
Size: 164.1 square miles
Location: Liberec and Hradec Králové regions

The Krkonoše Mountains are the highest range in the country and are home to its namesake National Park—another UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Krkonoše itself, the highest mountain in the Czech Republic, lies within the borders. Hike to the summit at 5,256 feet to see the chapel of St. Lawrence, built in 1681, and a polish hut constructed in 1976. You'll have great views of Poland and the Czech Republic, and you may also see some of the area's rare alpine butterflies.

National Park Podyjí 
Size: 24.3 square miles
Location:  South Moravian Region

This park protects the forests along the Dyje River Valley in the hill country, where many other streams have been dammed. Hiking in Dyje Canyon, you can take in the wide variety of rock formations, boulder fields and rocky cliffs while you watch for otters, eagle owls and kingfishers. The area is also home to many interesting reptiles and amphibians including the fire salamander, great crested newt, tree snake and emerald lizard. Hike out of the canyon for great views from one of the many rocky overlooks.

České Švýcarsko National Park
Size: 30.5 square miles
Location: A Northwestern region known as Bohemian Switzerland

Perhaps the most famous feature in this park is Pravcicka Brana—the largest natural stone bridge on the European continent. However, this is just one of the many gorgeous, massive sandstone formations you can find while hiking on the extensive network of trails. With all the amazing rock, it's no surprise the area has a long tradition of climbing. The sport is regulated, however, so make sure to check specifics on the national park website before you head out.