The source of the Elbe River – Labská louka and the highest waterfall in the Czech Republic

Everybody associates Špindlerův Mlýn with mountains and skiing. Špindlerův Mlýn is also famous for the fact that the source of the major European river, Elbe, is located just 8 kilometers from the town center. Špindlerův Mlýn is the first town, the biggest Czech river runs through. From Špindlerův Mlýn, the river sets out for a 1 122 km long journey, of which 364.4 km is in the Czech Republic.

The river of Elbe comes into life in the peatland of Labská louka at the altitude of 1,386.3 meters above sea level. On a stone wall nearby the source, there are 26 color signs of cities, Elbe passes through.

If there is still no snow on the mountain ridges, the Elbe River source is a very popular tourist destination. It is popular not only as a source of the Elbe River and for unique outlooks and panoramas of the whole Krkonoše Mountains, but you will also see the highest waterfall in the Czech Republic – Pančavský Waterfall – 148 m high. If you continue reading, you will learn where the Elbe River empties into the sea – however, it is not Hamburg. The last city is Cuxhaven in Germany. In addition, you will see the remains of the ice age and the original Krkonoše primeval forest. The landscape along this route gives a good evidence of the turbulent development of the mountain nature as well as persistent efforts to utilize the harsh mountain nature for the benefits of people.

According to historical records, the bishop of Hradec Králové, Jan Kryštof of Tallenberg, set out in 1684 to consecrate the source of the Elbe River to confirm affiliation of the Elbe river source with the Czech aristocracy. A camel carried all necessary items for the ceremony. A sharp climb through impassable primeval forest and adverse weather made all tired and the camel also crumpled down exhausted in the middle of the mountain. The parish chronicles say that while consecrating the source, when the bishop dipped the crucifix into the water, the gale calmed down, sun broke through the clouds, and a clear and calm day lit up in the mountains. This ended long-time disputes as to who was the owner of the river source. Even today, it is necessary to roam to the river sources to regain our health.

A provincial route, also called “the Czech Route”, ran nearby the river source a long time ago. It connected Bohemia with Silesia. The route was one of the oldest salt trading routes. In 1684, it was also used by the bishop of Hradec Králové, Jan of Talmberk, for consecrating the source of the Elbe River on September 19th. This act also finally confirmed Labská louka as a Czech territory, which was under dispute until that time. Another consecration of the source was performed in 1884 by the dean of Vrchlabí, V. Weber.

Please check out the weather conditions before starting your hike. Keep in mind that the mountain weather is rather unstable and may change several times a day. 

What route and difficulty should I choose?

As you are staying in the Krkonoše National Park and the source of the Elbe River is situated in the 1st protection zone of the national park, the closest point to reach by car is Horní Mísečky, where you may park your vehicle in the central parking lot. You may continue towards the Elbe River source either on foot (7.5 km) or use the bus shuttle service. 
In the final part of the trip, you will have to walk or ride a mountain bike. The Elbe River source is located 3.5 km from Vrbatova Hut and from there it is accessible by a convenient route both on foot and mountain bike.

We recommend:

  • taking a ropeway from Špindlerův Mlýn to Medvědín (altitude of 1,234 m above sea level) – you may find information on the operating hours and prices here. You have two options how to continue from the top of Medvědín: Go down along the yellow route towards Horní Mísečky to Jilemnická Hut (approx. 1,200 m) and take a bus to Zlaté návrší towards Vrbatova Hut. From the bus terminal station, continue 3.5 km along the yellow route to the Elbe River source. If you plan to return from the Elbe River source back to Špindlerův Mlýn via Labský důl (10.5 km to the center of Špindlerův Mlýn along the blue route), we recommend that you choose the red route when going to the Elbe River source not to miss the unique view of Pančavský Waterfall and beautiful outlooks available along this route.

This hike also offers views of three large waterfalls – Pudlavský, Labský, and Pančavský, which is the biggest one in the Czech Republic with its height of 148 meters.

  • walking from the top of Medvědín, initially along the yellow and then the red route to Zlaté návrší. The length of climb is 3.5 km. When taking this route, we recommend visiting the Šmíd Vista offering a beautiful panoramic view of the Krkonoše Mountains.
  • if you plan to hike from Špindlerův Mlýn, take the red route via Vodárenská Road to Horní Mísečky. From there, you may continue on foot to Zlaté návrší, as described above, or use the bus shuttle service from Horní Mísečky. If you choose a pure hike, it is a route for demanding hiker, since there are 7 km to climb – towards Horní Mísečky and further to Zlaté návrší. The remaining 3.5 km to the Elbe River source is not so difficult.


Total length – approx. 23 km (all-day trip)
Difficulty level – quality mountain pathways and roads along the entire route, suitable also for families with bigger kids, possibility to combine car and bus transport, the final part (3.5 km) is accessible on foot only
Refreshments – Labská Hut, Vrbatova Hut, Horní Mísečky
Points of interest along the route – Labský důl, highest waterfall in the Czech Republic on Pančavský Creek, source of the Elbe River, the Memorial of Hanče and Vrbata on Zlaté návrší, Šmíd View