National Parks of Russia
In spite of the uniqueness of Russian nature national parks here is a new phenomenon: they started to be established only in the 1980s. Now there are 46 national parks in the country and their number grows every year.
National parks of Russia can be divided into 2 categories: natural parks where you can admire intact flora and fauna and natural and historical parks, where beside the beauties of nature precious architectural masterpieces harmonically fit into the natural landscape are preserved.
Both types of the parks are notable for their peculiar “wildness”. As a rule those are places of amazing beauty where nature and people live their own life. But very few of them are suitable for receiving foreign tourists. Local people as a rule do not speak any foreign languages,which does not prevent them from demonstrating the famous Russian hospitality. The comfort level at hotels and tent towns can be rather modest, but for the authenticity of environment and the feeling of merging with nature Russian national parks have few equals in the world.
As a rule a visit to a natural park requires a permit. Usually permits can be bought at special visiting centres whose contacts can be found on the website of the corresponding park. The infrastructure of national parks is well developed: most of them have hotels, tent towns or cottages for rent, excursions about the parks are available, and there are various routes for independent walks. Fishing is permitted in many national parks but requires a special license. At the same time there are national parks where nature still dictates its rules and where visitors must strictly comply with the safety procedures in order not to encounter wild animals or get lost in the area where mobile phones do not work. It is also necessary to take into account that some national parks are located in difficult to access places.
Important: going to the forest always use repellents against mites and if possible get vaccination against the tick-borne encephalitis. Unfortunately in recent years the growing number of outbreaks of this terrible decease born by mites is registered.
National parks of the Central Russia
Losiny Ostrov. This is the national park closest to the capital, it is located in the North-East of Moscow and Moscow Region. You can admire beautiful coniferous and mixed forests and the valley of the Yauza River. The park is inhabited by a small (about 100 species) population of moose, sika deer, and wild boar. It is possible to visit moose biological research station by appointment.
Ugra. Here the nature of the Russian midland fully reveals its beauty. The park is crossed by the rivers Ugra, Zhizdra, Vyssa, and Oka surrounded by small beautiful lakes (the largest one is the Tish Lake). Over 280 herb species grow on the bottomland Zalidovskiye meadows included into the National Park. Some representatives of the local fauna are included into the Red List. They are storks, owls, and Russian desman. Tourists are attracted by Chertovo Gorodische (the Devil’s Hillfort) – non-standard for the Russian midland arenated rocks. The park is crossed by a number of horse-riding, pedestrian and water (along the rivers) routes.
National Parks Meshchyora and Meshchyorsky. Modest nature of those wetlands was described by Soviet writer K.S Paustovsky in his book “Meshcherskaya Storona”. Now there are two national parks located side by side. In the forests taiga trees prevail, a lot of lakes and oxbow lakes are located around the rivers. These places attract fishermen and mushroom pickers. The park has many ecological paths and river routes. At the territory of National Park Meshchyora there is a natural history complex with old 19 century buildings and at the territory of National Park Meshchyorsky there is town Spas-Klepiki where poet S. Esenin studied. Now there is the poet’s museum.
Lake Pleshcheyevo. The “heart” of the reserve is a large round-shaped freshwater lake on the bank of which there is ancient town Pereslavl-Zalessky. You can also admire the Blue Stone that used to be a place of worship in pagan Russian, see the small boat of Peter I or visit the Dendrological garden. The lake is rich in fish: perch, ruffe, and roach. In summer windsurfing is popular there in good weather.
Smolenskoye Poozerye. The territory of this National Park is covered with thick spruce forests among which 35 lakes of glacial origin are hidden. The forests are populated by wolf, fox, bear, wild boar, and ermine, as well as by rare birds including black-throated loon, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, and black stork. There are historical sites too: a hill where the ancient town of Verzhavsk was located with the reconstructed pagan sanctuary, the Museum of famous natural scientist N.M. Przhevalsky, the Museum of Partisan Fame, and the private Birchbark Museum. There are a lot of routes about the park. It should be noted that visitors leave controversial reviews about their interaction with the park authorities.
Orlovskoye Polesye. Above all, this park is proud with its 200 head herd of the “Red List” European bisons for which the park rangers try to provide conditions for active breeding. The park has an open-air reservation for bisons, bears, ostriches, and peacocks. Here pine forests of southern taiga prevail, where taiga and steppe species of birds and small mammals live side by side. According to legends, this is the place where Solovei the Brigand from the Russian fairy-tales used to live. These places were also described by I.S. Turgenev in his book “The Hunting Sketches”.
National parks of the North-West of Russia
Kenozersky National Park. One of the most beautiful natural and historical parks of Russia located in Arkhangelsk Region. Here you will be impressed both by the nature and by the ancient style of life of the people of the Russian north. This is the only national park of Russia that is so rich in architectural monuments. On the banks of transparent lakes there are wooden churches of the XVII-XVIII centuries and the surrounding forests are rich in northern berries: cloudberry, red bilberry, and cranberry. At the Vershinino Village there is a museum where you can see ancient household items and arts and crafts items. Fishing is good at this area too.
Onezhskoye Pomorye. This national park in Arkhangelsk Region was opened not long ago – in year 2013, but it has quickly become popular among tourists. The park is unique because it is located on the coast of the White Sea – nowhere else in Europe taiga forests go out to the sea coast. Near the sea there are habitats of ringed seals, bearded seals, Greenland seals, and beluga whales, and special observation points to watch them are equipped. You can also see traditional taiga animal: brown bear, marten, mink, and ermine. Above the park there are routes of migrating birds. Shortly speaking, this park is a paradise for zoologists and ornithologists – both professionals and amateurs.
Russky Sever National Park. The northern nature and old architecture amazingly harmonise in the National Park located in Vologda Region. Several ancient communities of monks are located at the park territory: Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, Ferapontov Monastery, and Goritsky Monastery. The white-stone churches brightly contrast against the green meadows and clean lakes. The surrounding forests are inhabited by moose, heather cock, bear, ermine, and flesh bird fish-hawk. Light and beautiful Sokolsky Pine Wood is popular among mushroom and berry pickers. These places have been attractive from old times: on the bank of the Modlona River there are the remains of an ancient settlement site dated the third millennia B.C.
Paanajärvi. Located near the Polar Circle in Karelia, this park is remarkable with its bleak nature. The treasure of the park is Lake Paanajärvi, one of the deepest among small lakes, Kivakkakoski waterfall on the Olanga River, as well as mountains Nuorunen and Kivakka. From the latter there opens an impressive view over the whole territory of the park. On this mountain you can also see seita – stones installed in a special way that used to be the object of worship of local tribes. The park is also attractive for fishermen: the local waters are rich with very tasty salmon fish – bull trout. However fishing requires a license. Admission to the park is possible through the visiting centre in Pyaozersky Village. Pay attention that mobile phones do not work in the park.
Kalevalsky National Park. Here you will find taiga virgin forests inhabited by reindeer, bear, and marten, and near the water there are habitats of whooping swans. Landscapes are very picturesque due to shallow cataracted rivers and lakes (the largest one is called Nizhnyaya Lapukka). Their pure waters are inhabited by a rare shellfish – freshwater pearl mussel. The Karelians – descendants of the indigenous inhabitant of those lands live in harmony with nature. If you visit traditional villages of Voknavolok, Panozero, and Kalevala you can familiarize with the culture and architecture of that ancient nation.
Valdaysky National Park. This park is above all famous with its lakes: there are 76 large and small lakes at its territory with the total water surface area of 14,704.5 hectares. The largest lake is Lake Valdayskoye. The beautiful XVII-XVIII century Valday Iversky Monastery is located on its bank. The Seliger is another most popular lake of the park. It often hosts festivals of song composed and performed by amateur singer and composer and tourist meetings. The lake is boatable, you can take a cruise by a passenger motor boat. The flora and fauna of the park includes species living in areas from the border of southern taiga to mixed coniferous-broad leaved forests. Here you can see moose, marten, wild boar, great grouse, and hazel grouse. Lakes are populated by tench, crucian carp, and bream. Ancient provincial Valday Town is also located at the territory of the park. The park is very popular due to its good access by transport and relative proximity to Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Vodlozersky National Park. The park located partially in Karelia and partially in Arkhangelsk Region has got its name after Lake Vodlozero – one of the best fishing spots in Karelia. The lake is inhabited by vendace, lake herring, freshwater cod, pike perch, and orfe. The lake is surrounded by bogs and reserved spruce and pine forests inhabited by bear, lynx, mink, and badger. There is an ancient cemetery at the territory – Ilyinsky Pogost with a wooden chapel.
Russian Arctic One of the least accessible national parks in Russia is located on Novaya Zemlya archipelago. Getting there is possible only during a cruise tour. But the trip is worth the trouble. In the park you can see polar bears, walruses, seals, ringed seals, as well as seashore colonies of eider ducks and diving pigeons. You can feel the colors of northern nature with its laconic landscapes covered with moss and lichen.
Yugyd Va. This is the largest national park of Russia with the area of 1,891,701 hectares and the largest wild forest area in Europe. This unique park included into the UNESCO register is located in the Komi Republic. Beside the virgin forests with extremely beautiful northern flora and fauna nature lovers should also pay attention to the mountain rivers (the largest are called Shchugor and Kozhim) and numerous lakes. As the park is located at the submountain part of the Northern Urals, the place is popular among followers of mountain tourism: mountains Manaraga and Narodnaya keep attracting new conquerors. Building fires, hunting and fishing is prohibited in the park.
Sebezhsky National Park. This park located in Pskov Region is famous for the fact that an ancient trade route passed along its rivers and lakes. If watched from the top, 115 lakes of the park resemble a bunch of grapes. Their banks are covered with pine forests inhabited by roe deer, fox, and ermine. The park is very attractive for fishermen: its lakes are harbored by pike, bream, perch, conger eel, orfe, and catfish (if you are lucky). Beautiful city of Sebezh is located in the bank of the lake. There is also a unique lake called Zelenets with emerald-green water (as a result of dissolved hydrogen sulfide).
National parks of the South of Russia.
Prielbrusye. The main attraction of this park located in the region of Kabardino-Balkaria is of course mountain Elbrus (5642 m), one of the seven highest peaks of the world that attracts alpinists and skiers. Another attraction of the park is Narzan Meadow – a unique place with springs of healthy mineral water Narzan. There are a lot of tourist routes on the slopes of Elbrus and Cheget Mountain. And many local gorges and mountain passes have mystic reputation.
Sochi National Park. This park includes the subtropical coast of Sochi City and the Caucasian mountains towering above it. On the mountain slopes there are many small and large waterfalls, rough mountain rivers and springs, caves and relic groves, as well as religious stones and settlement sites of the Neolithic Era. Here you can easily combine sea vacations and studying natural attractions.
National Parks of Volga (Privolzhsky) Federal District
Bashkiriya National Park. 91% of the territory of this national park located on the south-western slopes of the Southern Ural Mountains in Bashkortostan is covered with thick broad-leaved forests inhabited by bear, fox, lynx, badger, mink, musk-rat, moose, and roe deer. The crown jewel of the park is landscape site Kutuk-Sumgan with 36 solutional caves, a tunnel, funnels, disappearing rivers and springs. Sumgan Cave is the longest in the Urals, the total length of its passageways is almost 10 km. Tourists also admire the high karst bridge Kuperlya over the river with the same name. It is also worth visiting Medvezhya Polyana (the Bear Meadow) covered with relic ancient bulbous plant. The park offers a lot of walking and horse-riding routes.
Mariy Chodra. This national park is located in the Mari El Republic not far from its capital Yoshkar-Ola. It is famous with its karst lakes that are very popular as a place of rest among local people and tourists (the largest lake is called Yalchik). There are also mineral water springs in the park (the most famous one is called Zeleny Klyuch). Pedestrian and horse riding paths cross the light pine forests, and from Klenovaya Gora there opens an impressive view over the surroundings. There is a historical attraction too – the oak from which leader of the XVIII century rebellion Pugachev observed conflagrant Kazan.
Smolny National Park. The park is located in the Republic of Mordovia and was founded to preserve the fragile ecosystem of forest that converts into lowland forest steppe. The park territory is crossed by the River Alatyr surrounded by numerous ravines. Its flood land with flood meadows and numerous bogs form ornithological territory of universal importance. Eurasian curlew, imperial eagle, European oyster catcher, pale harrier, and eagle owl nest there. These lands are rich in mushrooms and berries that may be picked.
Nizhnyaya Kama. In this National Park located on the bank of the powerful Kama River in the Republic of Tatarstan you can admire bottomland meadows, pine forests, and oak-woods. This is the habitat of newt, moose, and roe deer. The high banks of the Kama River are cut with ravines from which impressive views open. The local dunes and bold sandy risers, in open to every wind stratified level of which there are remains of flora and fauna of an ancient sea, are very photogenic. In the part of the park called Byeloussky Forest you can find Syberian fur and other taiga plants. There are many springs in the park whose water is called healthy. Small lakes surrounded by thickset of ferns tall as a man are also very beautiful. These places were depicted by famous Russian painter I.I. Shishkin. One of the routes about the park is dedicated to his pictures. A part of the park is the old city of Yelabuga with Shishkin’s museum, merchant houses and the museum of famous Russian poetess Marina Tsvetaeva who spent there her last days.
Nechkinsky National Park. The park is located in Udmurtia, on the banks of the Kama River and Votkinsk Reservoir. The park territory is various and includes mixed coniferous-broad leaved forests, flood meadows, and huge peat bogs. There are many different water pants and numerous swimming birds nest there. Among the natural attractions it is worth to mention impressive landscape site Sidorovy Gory with stratified deposits where ancient shells can be found. Here you can also see the remains of settlement sites of the Neolithic Era, the Bronze Age, and the early Iron Age.
Chavash Varmane. This small (only 17 by 24 km) park is the pride of the Chuvash Republic. At its territory you will find amazing in its variety combination of various ecosystems. There are about 1,000 species of plants only! The park is inhabited by over 180 species of birds, the mammals are represented by hare, beaver, ermine, bear, moose, and wild boar. There are 8 walking routes about the park. This area had been used for producing swamp ore and the abandoned mines have become one of the local attractions. The most colorful natural and historical monument of the park is the XVIth century defensive screen against nomad raids – Karlinskaya chain of fortification lines.
Samarskaya Luka. One of the few Russian parks protected by the UNESCO. It is located not far from the town of Samara, on the bank of a reservoir. In the park you can admire the forest steppe nature with its broad-leaved forests and rocky steppes. Some plants have preserved from the Pliocene and the Ice Age. Part of the park territory is occupied by the low (up to 381 m) Zhiguli Mountains covered with pine forests. Tourists can climb to many peaks and admire the impressive views over the river. The picturesque territory is cut by over 500 karst funnels and cavities. The caves are populated by the largest in Europe colony of bats – about 30 thousand species. The “water population” is also numerous (especially rich in bream and pike), which attracts fishermen to the park. Beside natural attractions there are interesting museums including the Memorial House of famous Russian painter I.E. Repin, the Museum of History and Everyday Life, and the Memorial House of the Fox – the talisman of those lands.
Khvalynsky National Park. The park is located in Saratov Region and is famous for its photogenic chalk mountains and pine forests. Gorge Peshchera Monakha (Monk’s Cave) that used to be the refuge for Old Believers (a prohibited in Russia religion) also deserves attention. The park offers a lot of ecological and excursion routes: from common walks to complex options with visiting the bath and water treatment. Tourists with children like the local yard where they can see deer, roe deer, pheasant, and other animals.
National Parks of Ural
Pripyshminskiye Bory. Here the nature of taiga fully reveals its beauty: there are old spruce, pine and silver-fir forests covered with rare plants – heather and Siberian fleur de lis. “Harvests” of mushrooms and berries are also abundant there. Transparent Lake Gurino with several resorts also promises nice rest.
Zyuratkul. One of the most popular national parks in the Urals. There is the mountain range Zyuratkul and the lake with the same name, which is the highest mountain lake in the Urals. It is located 724 m above the sea level. Tourists can climb to Zyuratkul Mountain along the ecological route (the height is 1,100 m). Climbing is rather easy even for a novice. From the top there opens a marvellous view over the lake and other peaks among which Golaya Sopka is especially notable with its snow-white top (1,056 m above the sea level). A remarkable feature of local landscapes is huge white stones – rock pillars, which were the place of worship for ancient tribes. Vigorous rocks about 50 m tall the shape of which resembles ribs known under the name of Zyuratkul Pillars are also very impressive. Another amazing attraction of the park is an artesian fountain that in winter time turns into a huge rising icicle. The park receives a lot of visitors annually, which unfortunately negatively impacts the service.
Taganai. This park is known for its tall mountain ranges, huge vertical skerries, and many hovering around mystical legends. Due to mountain landscape there is nature of several climatic zones: mountain meadows, taiga, and tundra. The highest mountain is Kruglitsa (1,178 m) with an unusual stone top. They say, that a wish made on its top would always come true. The ridge Otkliknoi, a long ridgelike mountain snarling rocks like teeth, is also very picturesque. Photographers and those who like mysticism are charmed with Valley of the Fairy Tales where the vertical rocky pillars hide among the trees thus resembling fairy tale creatures. Another remarkable local attraction is “the stone rivers”. Those are stripes of chaotically piled boulders going down the slopes of mountains. One of such “rivers” is a lucrative deposit of goldstone. The park can be easily accessed by transport: there are shuttle buses from the nearby town of Zlatoust.
National Parks of Siberia
Pribaikalsky and Zabaikalsky National Parks. As clear from their names, both reserves are located near the famous Lake Baikal and are included into the UNESCO protective zone.
Pribaikalsky Park is the largest among the parks located around the lake. It includes the major part of its western coast with beautiful rocky islands, picturesque beaches and bays, as well the famous Olkhon Island with relict spruce forests. Here you can find the head of the Angara River and mysterious Shaman Rock – the place steeped in legends. Not far from it there is a unique wintering ground of swimming birds where in winter time up to 15 000 species find a shelter. In autumn you can observe the busy sky routes of migrating birds. Cliff Ptichy Bazar (Breeding Ground) with nests of gulls located on its walls is very colorful. Cultural sights of the park are also amazing: cave paintings that are over 2,500 years old and small sanctuaries still worshipped by local people. The local machine art memorial – the Circum-Baikal Railway – has historical importance.
Zabaikalsky National Park is located on the eastern bank of Lake Baikal. At its territory there are Barguzin Bay and Chivyrkuisky Bay as well as the mountain peninsula Svyatoy Nos, Ushkani and Chivyrkuisky Islands. The park is crossed by two mountain ranges – the Barguzin and the Sredinny. Beside Lake Baikal there is a number of smaller lakes in the park, mostly of karstic origin, and Arangatui bogs with gloomy moon landscapes. The impressive picture of the local nature is completed by thermal springs, the most famous of which is called Zmeinyi. Its water is rich in hydrogen sulfide and useful for the locomotor system. Those who are fond of history would be interested in settlement sites of the Bronze and early Iron Age humans.
Tunkinsky National Park. This park is interesting but difficult to access. And this is not surprising: at its territory there is the most important peak of the Sayan Mountains – Munku Sardyk (3491 m high). The mountain is located partially in Russia and partially in the neighboring Mongolia, so to visit it you need to get a Mongolian visa in advance. The park has a lot of mineral water springs. Other natural objects are also impressive: a section of the Kungarga River with the marble bed; marble deposit Buha-Noion having religious importance; mountain lakes and gorges; Buddhistic architectural complexes, and a traditional village with an ethnographic museum of indigenous people – the Butyats. Two dormant volcanoes – Chersky and Kovrizhka are also very beautiful.
Alkhanay. The main attraction of this park is sacred Mountain Alkhanay. It has great religious importance both for local people – Buryats and for all northern Buddhists. At the territory of the park there is a huge number of temples and other sacred places the rules of visiting which must be strictly obeyed. The mountain is also famous with its healing spring. Another natural attraction of the park is the natural grotto Temple Gate with the inner radius of 6 m. Nearby you can see over 3000 year old petroglyphs on the walls.
Shorsky National Park. A difficult to access park whose attractions are located far from each other. Many of them are accessible only on foot or by a motor boat. Visitors go there to admire the Saga waterfall (15 m high), skerries and mountains Mustang and Kul-Tayga. On the top of Kul-Tayga mountain there is a lake with pure water. There is a interesting ethnographic open-air museum dedicated to the way of life of few in number indigenous people Shory.
Shushensky Bor. At this park located at Krasnoyarsk Territory there are the Western Sayan Mountains with numerous peaks (the tallest one is Poilova Mountain 2378 m high). From many of them there opens a beautiful view over the nearby reservoir and Sayano–Shushenskaya Dam. The local sandy dunes and glacial high altitude lakes Venice and Banzay are very photogenic, but the real “hit” of the park is Katushka Waterfall representing a chain of small cascades with total height of 300 m. At the territory of the park you will also find the hut where V.I. Lenin often stayed over for the night during hunting.
National Parks of the Far East
Zov Tigra National Park (Call of the Tiger National Park). One of the most beautiful and abundant in attractions parks of Russia. First of all, as it is clear from its name, the park is the habitat for a population of rare animals – Amur tigers. But tourists will find a lot of attractions here beside that. For example, they can climb Oblachnaya Mountain that is the tallest in Primorye (1,854 m). On the way to the top the mountain conquerors step by step pass all the climatic zones: taiga; pine and spruce forest; shunted wood where stone birch prevails; tundra; and finally the cold stone desert. There are other mountains available for climbing: Sestra and Kamenny Brat between which there goes a ridgelike mountain snarling with tall rocks that are called “the Dragon Teeth”; Lysaya and Snezhnaya Mountains (all of them are more than 1.5 km high). The mountain river Miloradovka with numerous cataracts and a violent 7 m high waterfall. There are 4 tourist routes in the park.
Land of the Leopard National Park. The park was founded to save extremely thin Russian population of Amur leopard. Other representatives of the local fauna include Himalayan black bear, brown bear, roe deer, lynx, and sika deer. At present only one ecological route is available. If you follow it you will see leopard trails and caves where leopards sometimes breed their young ones (but there is very little chance to see the animals). The local flora is also unique, as it has a lot of relic plants. Part of the park territory located not far from Vladivostok has the border with the PRC.
Udegeyskaya Legenda. One of the youngest national parks of Russia with actively developing infrastructure. The park is located in Primorsky Krai of Russia, at the submountain part of the Sikhote-Alin Mountain Range. The rocky benches above the river, high skerries, small waterfalls, animal baths and trails, sanctuaries of local people, as well as settlement sites of ancient people deserve attention.
Anyuysky National Park. Its ecosystem is said to be the wildest in Khabarovsk Krai. The park is covered by cedar, silver-fur and spruce forests. If you are lucky, you can see rare animals here: black bear and tiger as well as relic turtle (in the Gassi Lake). The territory is crossed by several rivers down which floating tours of various complexity levels are organized. Tourists are attracted by the small Sagena waterfall (12 m high) and bald peak Golaya from which a beautiful view opens to the Pihtsa River.
Kostroma is located on the Volga River, and the high banks offer impressive views of the Volga expanses. Getting lost here is difficult: the quiet old streets fan out from the main square with its impressive watch tower and guardroom from the early 19th century. According to legend, the Empress Catherine II dropped a fan on the plans for the future city and ordered: "build it like this!".