Among all the activities enjoyed in the Czech Republic as part of a traditional active lifestyle, few are as popular as canoeing. The evidence of this popularity can be seen not only in the widespread participation at a recreational level, but also in the country´s performance at the Olympic level, where it has won more medals (9 in canoe/kayak) than in any other sport. With nearly 500 rivers available to paddle on, there are many opportunities for every age and experience level.
Due to the popularity of canoeing here, the amenities alongside the rivers are plentiful, leading to a slightly more urban feel than you would find canoeing in some other more expansive countries like Canada. Although there is still plenty of time to drift peacefully between fields of livestock and rock canyon walls or beneath castles and castle ruins, you will be hard pressed to go more than a few miles without coming across some sort of establishment serving beer and food. This excellent infrastructure surrounding the water sport culture allows everyone from the family paddling to a campsite, to the retired couple drifting along taking in the sights, to the group of twenty-something´s looking for rapids with a case of beer in tow to be able to fully enjoy this pastime wherever it may take them. Now let´s discuss where it may take you.
This is the longest and most frequently visited river in the country, which means the most popular areas are usually quite full of people. To see a beautiful section of the river that is a little off the beaten path, head down to Borová Lada (about 2 hours south of Prague) for a relaxing 5-hour paddle through the countryside. This section of the river runs through Šumava National Park and contains many rapids and weirs (small overflow dams) which provide plenty of excitement and are navigable by beginners.
If the more popular areas are what you´re looking for, try the route from Vyšší Brod to the city of České Budějovice. With beautiful scenery and easy-flowing currents, this would be suitable for all tourists. Two other popular and easy-going paths on the Vltava would be the section from Prague to Mělník and from Lenora to Lipno. Make sure to stop at Lipno as the following section is of the highest difficulty and is nearly impassable for even the most experienced paddler.
One final note on the Vltava is the experience of rafting through the picturesque medieval town of Český Krumlov. Words cannot do it justice.
Sázava: (rentals; in Czech only)
For English rental options go to camp.cz and click on Kanoe rentals for an extensive list of rentals across the country laid out on a map for your convenience.
The Sázava is a right tributary of the Vltava and is very popular for two reasons. Its primary attraction is the Stvořidla rapids, which are possibly the most difficult rapids in the Czech Republic. The secondary attraction is its previous selection as the most romantic river in the country. At least on the parts where you´re not trying to keep white water out of your canoe. Head over to Týnec nad Sázavou for a starting point, but be sure and consult with the local tourist info office (+420 317 729 050) for route guidance as there are some dangerous weirs you may want to avoid as well as long stretches without power.
You will probably find this river to be quite crowded, but all those boats are there for a reason. In addition to the fast flow and numerous rapids, the river often passes under rocks on which you will find a castle or at least some ruins. These include: Cheb Castle, which was built around 1180, the historic medieval castle Loket na Ohří, the historic town of Karlovy Vary, and Terezín, a former military fortress used by the Gestapo in WWII.
Natural sights to be seen are the Svatoš cliffs which are a protected natural monument carved from the Carlsbad granite through erosion by the river. These cliffs are full of massive pillars and other interesting rock formations. The recommended route along this river would be from Loket to Karlovy Vary which is about 10 km and should only take about 2 hours.
The gold-bearing Otava River flows through the planes of the Šumava forest to Orlík Lake and is made up of three distinct sections, each with its own difficulty level. The upper section from Čeňkova Pila to Sušice is the wild water section for experienced canoeists only. The first 6 km is especially wild, dropping over 48m during that stretch. Most water tourists prefer the middle section from Sušice to Písek. With 26 weirs in this section, there are certainly enough rapids to keep you on your toes. The most peacefully flowing section is from Písek to Zvikov Castle, where slowly-running water changes into a lake surrounded by a rocky valley. Here you can find both well-equipped tourist facilities and deserted places only accessible from the water.
If you are looking for a region that remains nearly untouched, check out this quaint little river in the Liberec region. Until recently, this serene river was concealed in a military zone, keeping it free of any intrusion by civilization. Keep an eye out for the water-gap in Noviny pod Ralskem, as it consists of two man-made water tunnels through sandstone rocks made with only iron tools. It was declared a cultural monument in 1997. Stráž pod Ralskem is a good place to start with information available at their tourist center (+420 487 523 135).
Located in East Bohemia, Metuje is one of the cleanest rivers in the country and is known for its beautiful deep valley that was created not by glaciers or expulsion but by the river forging its way through two mountains. It has been dubbed “Hell Valley” due to its challenging rapids that should not be tested by beginners. There is also a harrowing stretch of very low weirs with a large whirlpool below the town of Šestajovice. After Hell it is a lowland river that can be ridden by anyone. Most begin their journey in Teplice nad Metují, but that will put you about 40 km from Hell so if you´re going primarily for that section it might be better to start near Náchod.
If you have worked up an appetite by the time you´ve traversed through the Hell Valley, you may want to explore the town of Hell (Peklo in Czech). An important architectural monument found there is the Bartoňova restaurant, which is decorated with demons and devils in honour of the nearby valley.
This is one of the most frequented rivers because it flows through natural protected areas and also connects to the Vltava. It can be a bit dangerous after a heavy rainfall but for the most part it is a slow flowing river with numerous easily navigable weirs. There are fewer campsites along this river than you might like but a good route can still be found.
Start out your trip in Suchdol and day-trip it to Majdalena where you can pitch a tent. The following day you can complete the final 22 km to the village of Lužnice. If you only have a day-trip planned, be sure to complete the second leg from Majdalena, which is the most beautiful part, containing the protected areas and a large lake.
Planning for the Trip
Due to the great infrastructure for canoeing in this country, the rental process is quite seamless. You can choose to park at the end of your route and be driven to the beginning or park at the start and be picked up and brought back when you are finished. You will be supplied with some sort of waterproof barrel (usually around 50 L) in which you can store your belongings. It would be wise to only bring the essentials. Apart from clothes and a sleeping bag/tent, make sure to bring bug spray, sunscreen, a flashlight, a lighter, some snacks, a map to locate sights, and possibly a cheap digital camera (in a Ziploc bag). You will probably be too waterlogged to dare bring a laptop, smartphone or any other expensive electronics. Anything that doesn´t fit in the barrel can usually be stored and returned to you on completion of your journey.
If you would like to improve your skills before heading out into nature, the White Water Center
located at the Boathouse of Charles University in Prague 7 would be worth investigating. For around 600 CZK per person, the experts there should be able to prepare you for most of what you might face out in the wild.
With all the beauty to be seen and adventure to be had, it is not hard to understand why canoeing is so popular in the Czech Republic. If you discover something breathtaking on your travels up and down this country´s rivers, please share so we can all enjoy the immense beauty this country has to offer.