If you’ve ever been to the Czech Republic and ventured outside Prague you might have noticed the colourful hiking signs everywhere. Czech hiking signs network is amongst the densest and most elaborate in the world. The Czechs are keen hikers and that is perhaps why Czech hiking signs have remained popular and also well looked after and maintained. The various coloured routes, which are either numbered or have names, are indicated in all hiking maps and make hiking more fun, especially for families as children think looking for the next coloured square is great fun!
History of Czech hiking signs
The official beginning of Czech hiking signs dates back to 11 May 1889. On this day, the first hiking trail was marked by the Czech Tourist Club. It was red and led from Štěchovice (a small village just south of Prague) to Svatojánské proudy (a romantic spot on the river Vltava). It no longer exists because the trail was flooded by the Štěchovice dam, built between 1938 – 1944. The second trail, also red and now numbered 0001, was marked in 1889, too. It goes from Beroun to Karlštejn castle via the picturesque village of Svatý Jan pod Skalou (if you fancy walking, check out this post on my website).
In the first year the total length of the marked trails was 55.5 km. Other trails rapidly followed and by 1920 the length reached 25,000 km. By 1938 it had been further extended to an extraordinary 40,000 km. We mustn’t forget, though, that back then the total trail length would have included Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia, which were both part of Czechoslovakia in the past.
In 1989, the total length in Czech only was some 37,000 km and now it’s around the 40,000 mark.
Where can you find the signs and what they look like
Czech hiking signs are square in shape (10 x 10cm) and consist of three horizontal stripes – two outside white stripes and a middle coloured stripe. The colours are red, blue, green and yellow. They are usually painted on trees, telegraph poles, fences, rocks and other suitable places and are at least every 250 metres apart. At a crossroad or a turn-off there will be one sign painted just before the junction (possibly in the shape of an arrow) and another one just after.
Where two or more different coloured paths intersect, and always every at least 4km, there will be a signpost. There are also signposts at important places like town squares, monuments, bus stations etc. The first place on the sign will usually be the next nearest place with a signpost, which should be no more than 4km away. The next place should indicate another place of interest within 8-12km and the third will be the end of the coloured route or another significant place within 25km.
What do the colours mean
The diferent colours of the Czech hiking signs are not that significant and they not mean that a particular route is more difficult than another. They are simply different to make hiking easier and clearer. Having said that, there might be a preference as follows:
- red – long-range or mountain routes
- blue – more important routes
- green – local routes
- yellow – short routes, connecting routes, shortcuts
Who looks after the signs
Czech hiking signs are looked after by some 1,400 volunteers who spend about 75,000 hours each year doing it. Each route is checked at least once every three years to make sure that all signs are still there and visible. Signs and signposts will be repainted and mended, bushes and branches covering them snipped. Sometimes a tree with a sign might have been felled or a lamp post repainted, and the sign therefore destroyed, so all this needs to be rectified, too. There is legislation and stiff rules pertaining to Czech hiking signage and anyone who wants to become a “signer” must attend lectures and seminars put on by the Czech Tourist Club and pass a rigorous test at the end.