With the highly attractive landscapes and the flourishing spa resorts, due to the abundance of mineral waters, tourism has long traditions in the region of the Table Mountains (Góry Stołowe). Already in the 17th century visitors to the towns of Duszniki and Kudowa became interested in their environs. Those visiting Duszniki would go on hikes to the ruins of the Homole Castle, and from Kudowa treks set out for the “wild and dangerous” Błędne Skały (Errant Rocks). The peak of Szczeliniec Wielki was, at that time, unknown and considered impossible to climb. The further growth of tourism resulted from the prosperity of spas in the 18th century which, in addition to offering medical treatments, advertised the charms of the surrounding area in their publications, as well as the foundation of the town of Karłów in 1730. A special road from Kudowa to Błędne Skały via Jakubowice was built in 1771, and a guide was on duty there to offer tours.
A landmark event was the construction in 1790 of Charles’s Fort on the top of the Ptak mountain near Karłów, carried out by the Prussians as they were reinforcing the borders of Silesia before the expected war with Austria. The builder of the fort, Major von Rauch, had plans to also make use of the natural defensive qualities of the Szczeliniec mountain. He scouted the area aided by Franciszek Pabel, a 17-year-old inhabitant of Karłów. In the course of preparatory work soldiers cleared the path to the top and made part of the summit accessible, but the plans to fortify it were eventually abandoned. The erected defensive structures were visited by the Crown Prince of Prussia in August 1790, and a few days later by King Frederick William II himself, with the princesses and a vast entourage. Hikes to Szczeliniec Wielki were organized as part of both visits, led by Franciszek Pabel, who had become an orderly of the fort’s builder.
The visits of the King of Prussia and other Prussian and foreign dignitaries, along with the reports that followed triggered mass tourism to Szczeliniec Wielki. Visiting Szczeliniec soon became so fashionable and widespread that a hike to the mountain was almost a must of a spa holiday. Evidence of this can be found in a letter by Frederic Chopin who stayed in Duszniki for treatment in 1826: “… but I still have not visited where everyone goes, as they do not allow me. There is a mountain with rocks here, near Reinerz (Duszniki), called Heuscheuer (Szczeliniec Wielki), a place with stunning views but due to bad air at the top it is not allowed for everyone and, unfortunately, I am one of the patients not permitted to go there. ” Quote from: A. Zieliński, Polish Travels through Silesia in the 18th and 19th century. Wrocław, 1974, p. 142.
Szczeliniec Wielki Fund was established in 1804. Funds raised from entrance fees were used to build stairs, paths and handrails and provide access to other parts of the summit, eg. arrange a vantage point at Fotel Pradziada (Grandfather’s Chair). Entrance to the summit was closed with a wooden gate, and the guide had the key. It became customary to put your name down in a memorial book after visiting the mountain. Franciszek Pabel, who became the head of the Karłów village and owned the first inn for tourists visiting the mountain, was actively engaged in all work to open Szczeliniec to the public and ongoing maintenance of its facilities. Since the first royal visit he had worked as a guide and supervisor of the Szczeliniec Wielki Fund. He also discovered and named most rock formations at the top. In 1813, after a re-visit by King Frederick William III, Pabel was officially appointed to the position of guide and cashier of Szczeliniec. This was the first appointment for a mountain guide, not only in the history of the Sudetes, but also the first one in Europe. Franciszek Pabel worked as a guide well into his old age, climbing to the top of Szczeliniec three to four times a day in the summer season. Based on a chronicle he kept, this simple man prepared for publication the history of making Szczeliniec accessible to the public. It was published (translated from German) under the title “A Brief History of Opening Szczeliniec to the Public as Recalled by a Guide to Szczeliniec, Village Head Franciszek Pabel” and it quickly went through three editions in 1843, 1851 and 1857. This publication reveals many facts not only about how the summit was opened to the public, but also on the number of tourists visiting it. Over the years 1813 – 1851 the number grew up to 60,000 people. Next to the royal visits, commemorated with memorial plaques at Grandfather’s Chair, Szczeliniec was also visited by Johann Wolfgang Goethe in 1790. His visit is commemorated by another memorial plaque on a rock by the north observation terrace. A year later, the Minister for Silesia Carl von Hoym took part in a banquet in his honour held at the summit. Sometimes the name “Table Mountains” has been traced back to a German term “Tafelstein”, coined at that time, meaning the place where lavishly set tables were standing. In 1800 Szczeliniec was visited by John Quincy Adams, the future President of the United States, who came there to admire the sunrise. He described his impressions from that visit in Letters on Silesia, published also in French and German.
Poles also visited the mountain in great numbers in the 19th century. They could benefit from a guidebook, because one of the oldest resources containing descriptions of Szczeliniec and Błędne Skały is a guidebook by K. F. Mosch entitled Mineral Waters of Silesia and the Glackie County, which was published in the Polish translation in 1821. Some of them, like Józef Morawski, left entries in the memorial book expressing their delight with the nature of the Table Mountains: “Magnificent nature! Here, where you hide thy fine clefts among the clouds, to a wanderer whose foot breaks into thy peaks you present a frightening picture of the fate of many nations, and you elevate his spirit high above the ground, over to a higher destiny”. In his poem “Sudetes”, a famous Polish wanderer of the 19th century Zygmunt Stęczyński presented an extensive poetic and illustrated description of Szczeliniec.
Based on the published letters, memoirs and guidebooks, we can reconstruct the reality of tourism in the Table Mountains in Pabel’s days. Tourists would ride up to Błędne Skały and Karłów in carriages. Tourist destinations would include Błędne Skały, Szczeliniec Wielki, Pośna Waterfalls, Wambierzyce and the Skull Chapel at Czermna. A hike to Szczeliniec would be taken only with a guide, and often before dawn due to a romantic fashion for watching the sunrise from its summit. Those better-off would be carried up the stairs in a sedan chair. Once at the top, the guide would point visitors to everything worth noting, but also made efforts to provide the tour with as many attractions as possible. One of them, mentioned by almost all nineteenth century tourists, was the Ringing Rock – almost unknown today – located even before the entrance to the northern observation terraces. Karol Antoniewicz who visited Szczeliniec in 1837 recalls: “… when lightly struck, the rock makes a pure, metallic sound, as if awoken from a dream, similar to that of a bell. (…) A fine toy of nature.” Views from the northern terraces would be watched through pieces of coloured glass, to make impressions even more interesting. They were stored in a small gazebo built in 1815 at the site where today’s mountain shelter was built later on. Near the cliff, the guide would fire a gun to raise an echo. Listening to that phenomenon in the mountains and trying to evaluate its repeatability was a favourite pastime of nineteenth century tourists. In the second half of that century even mortar would be shot in front of the shelter, for a special charge. It was said that echo repeated the rumble of the shot 8 to 10 times. According to the newspaper Gazeta Poznańska from 1899, the custom of “supporting” rocks that “threatened to collapse” with sticks, characteristic of Szczeliniec, certainly existed already in the 19th century and has been preserved to this day. From the northern terraces, where another attraction was an organ grinder, trying to match the sounds of nature with his music, tourists would initially only walk to Grandfather’s Chair (Fotel Pradziada). The top of that rock, from which some of the most beautiful panoramas in the Sudetes could be enjoyed, was reached by a two-flight wooden staircase. After it had been destroyed after the war, it was replaced with a metal staircase by the National Park in 1995. The terraces located further south-east, with a view of Karłów, would be reached by tourists only from 1825. A wooden viewing pavilion was set up on one of them in 1830, and stood there until 1960s. The return stairs leading from the southern terraces to Karłów were opened in 1827. They too were destroyed and stopped being used after the last war. The National Park repaired them and restored tourist traffic in 2000, giving the Szczeliniec visiting route the name of Franciszek Pabel. Another area of Szczeliniec, a route running at the bottom of the deep fissures, was opened in the second half of the nineteenth century.
In 1845 a mountain shelter called “Swiss Hut” was built on the summit plateau. It is one of the oldest shelters in the Sudetes and the only one built for tourists right from the start. All the other mountain shelters in the Polish Sudetes have evolved out of shepherds’ huts. The shelter “Na Szczelińcu” is also the only one in the Sudetes with no access road. Originally, all supplies were brought here on people’s backs, or on pack animals (donkeys). A cargo lift has been operating since 1970s, starting at the road to Pasterka which runs along the northern foot of the mountain.
In mid-nineteenth century, an inn was opened on Pośna Waterfalls, on the Radkowo access trail in Karłówek. A special attraction for tourists was built here. Special dams were built to bank up water and a sequence of water cascades was arranged, which would be started after tourists paid a charge. Right after World War II, although the inn in Karłówek did not resume operations and the water flow control system had been destroyed, Pośna Waterfalls were very popular. In the 1960s, after a drinking water intake for Radkowa had been built, the Pośna river lost most of its water and the waterfalls almost disappeared.
In late 19th century the Kłodzko Mountain Society developed its activities. Its members mapped out new trails, set up viewpoints and built other facilities for tourists. At that time, a hiking trail connecting Ardśpaskie Rocks in the Czech part of the Table Mountains with Szczeliniec and Karłów became very popular. It ran through Hvězda in Broumovskie Steny ridge, Ostra Góra and the village of Pasterka, which was a major tourist destination at that time.
Karłów was flourishing, with another inn for tourists built in 1836. It was open until the 1970s and it was run by the Stiebler family for the whole time. A school was built in 1833. In mid-nineteenth century, next to a forester’s lodge and a mill, Karłów had two sawmills, a distillery and 24 looming plants, and in 1888 a post office with a telegraph was opened. The number of visitors grew significantly after the main thoroughfare of the Table Mountains, The Road of a Hundred Bends was built in the years 1867-1870, and railroads to Kudowa and Radków were opened at the beginning of the twentieth century.
After the last war, most villages in the area of the Table Mountains lost their holiday function and some were completely abandoned and disappeared from the face of the earth (such as Karłówek and Ostra Góra). Karłów remained one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Kłodzko Region, but it also became largely depopulated and, most importantly, lost its former character of a tourist settlement in the woods. The custody of the shelter on Szczeliniec and the tourist trails was taken over by the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society (PTTK). The organization also opened a new mountain shelter in Pasterka in the 1960s. New trails were marked out (including in the area of Skalne Grzyby (Rock Mushrooms) which had been unknown before the war and were only discovered after the great hurricane of 1955), and those from the pre-war period were restored.
Currently, the Table Mountains have the most extensive network of hiking trails of all the mountain ranges in the Sudetes. The combined length of all trails over the 63 km2 of the National Park’s area is approx. 120 km. Among them there is a section of the Mieczysław Orłowicz main trail of the Sudetes, marked in red, which connects the region’s best attractions: the Calvary in Wambierzyce, Skalne Grzyby (Rock Mushrooms), Szczeliniec, Błędne Skały (Errant Rocks) and Kudowa Zdrój. An asphalt road to Błędne Skały was built in the 1970s. It provides access by bus or car to the Skalniak plateau, at 850 m above sea level. In early 1990s, after the administrative reform of the country, the development of tourism in the Table Mountains region became intensified thanks to the activities of a consortium of six local municipalities called the Tourist Six. On the initiative of that organization two international cycling routes were opened in 1997, in cooperation with the Table Mountains National Park and the landscape park on the Czech side of the border (CHKO Broumovsko). One of them is 159 km long and encircles the entire Table Mountains range, while the other, a little over 50 km, is called Ściany (Walls) and runs across the mountains, at the foot of rocky bastions which are the highest elevations on both the Polish and Czech side. In the second half of the 1990s the protected areas of both the Polish and Czech Table Mountains became connected by border crossings in Ostra Góra, Kudowa Czermna and Radków. In 1996 the associations of Polish and Czech municipalities formed the Glaciensis Euroregion, based on identical geographical environments and the rich history shared by the entire area. In recent years, new cycling routes were opened in the Table Mountains: Szczeliniec Route, a loop across the National Park, and two cross-border routes: T.G. Masaryk Route and Rtyne-Karłów Route. Since 2004, cross-country skiing routes have been opened in the Table Mountains National Park in winter seasons.