Baltic Forest Hiking Trail
Discover the diversity of the Baltics
The Baltic Forest Hiking Forest Trail is a part of the European long-distance hiking route E11. The route E11 goes as follows: Scheveningen (NL) – Osnabrück (D) – Potsdam (D) – Poznan (PL) – Ogrodniki (PL) – Kaunas (LT) – Riga (LV) – Tallinn (EE).
Name in Lithuania: Miško takas, in Latvia: Mežtaka; in Estonia: Metsa matkarada
Starting point: Polish – Lithuanian border near the town of Lazdijai in Lithuania.
End point: Port of Tallinn in Estonia. The route can be followed in both directions, so you can choose Tallinn as the starting point.
Two capital cities whose old towns have been awarded with the UNESCO World Heritage status: Riga, Tallinn
Length: ~ 2141 km
- 747 km in Lithuania
- 674 km in Latvia
- 720 km in Estonia
The Forest Trail passes through Dzūkija and Žemaitija National Parks and eight regional nature parks in Lithuania, while in Latvia the route leads through Venta Valley Nature Reserve and Abava River Valley Nature Park, Ķemeri and Gauja National Parks, Northern Gauja and Veclaicene Protected Landscape Area. In Estonia, it winds through the Haanja Upland, Setomaa (Land of Setos) and along the western shore of Lake of Peipus until it reaches the Gulf of Finland in North Estonia, where it turns westwards. From there, it follows along the North-Estonian coastline and many peninsulas of Lahemaa National Park, until it comes to its end point in Tallinn.
- In Lithuania: Lazdijai – Druskininkai – Alytus – Birštonas – Kaunas – Kurtuvėnai – Telšiai – Plateliai – Skuodas
- In Latvia: Gramzda – Aizpute – Kuldīga – Sabile – Kandava – Tukums – Bigauņciems – Rīga – Sigulda – Cēsis – Valmiera – Strenči – Gaujiena – Trapene – Ape – Korneti;
- In Estonia: Haanja – Vana-Vastseliina – Värska – Räpina – Kallaste – Mustvee – Kauksi – Toila – Kunda – Loksa – Maardu – Tallinn.
Time required to complete the route: around 102-114 days
What to see: more than 400 natural, historical and cultural objects and monuments. The route runs through the historical Livonian and Setos territories.
Every human associates the forest with something else. For some, a true forest comprises of tall, slender pine trees and white moss, while for others, the first association is a primary forest with moss-covered fallen trees. Some people will think of a birch grove with humid valley floors covered with kingcups. Forests are diverse, but each and every one of them has a role to play in maintaining biodiversity. The following are just a few of the forest types present in Latvia and Estonia. Each has its own place, meaning and use.
Boreal forest or northern coniferous forest is a biome characterised by spruce and pine stands of different ages. These are natural and old forests with a great diversity of species. Forests with a diverse population age structure and size of trees which form glades are important for nature. Boreal forests may have been subject to human influence, but no clearcutting has been carried out in these forests for at least several hundreds of years.
There is no single dominant tree species in broadleaf forests. They retain elements characteristic of forests with low forestry impact and important for maintaining biodiversity – hollow trees, snags, deciduous trees, which are essential for the survival of many plant, insect, bird and animal species.
Marsh tea, cranberries and various sphagnum species, as well as small pine trees, spruce trees, bog birch, black alder, small shrubs and sword grasses grow in marshy forests.
Wet floodplain broadleaf forests or alluvial forests which grow on coasts and banks are often seen besides watercourses. This forest type is quite common near the Gauja River.
Forests growing on slopes and ravines near river valleys are incredibly picturesque. Here, coniferous trees grow together with oaks, lindens and elms. Often, the landscape is adorned by glorious outcrops and caves, small watercourses that increase the biodiversity of the area.
In the broader sense, forests are made up of many stands formed at various periods of time, which have grown unevenly and have formed under different historical and economic conditions, both naturally and with human involvement. The diverse forests provide room for many residents, who all have different demands regarding living conditions. The balance between nature conservation and forest management ensures that we can enjoy the forest and take walks, gather mushrooms and berries, as well as reap the economic benefits.
Our Hiking Tours
HIKING ADVENTURE IN GAUJA NATIONAL PARK
Starting from Riga this 7 days hiking adventure guarantees the most scenic views in Latvia where the valley of the Gauja River curls between hills as far as the eye can see! You will be able to enjoy not only the beauty of nature, but also take a look at the historical sights. The surrounding area of Ligatne is rich with sandstone rocks, cliffs and outcrops, they will undoubtedly surprise you with their magnificence and beauty. We will visit Cesis, the third oldest town in Latvia, and is often called for a medieval gemstone. It attracts tourists with lovely streets and the beauty of natural treasures in the Gauja National Park.
HIKE ALONG THE BANKS OF THE DUBYSA RIVER VALLEY IN LITHUANIA'S FOREST TRAIL
Dubissa is a beautiful river, which is popular with water tourists due to its rapid flow. There are campsites and settlements on the banks of the river. The river has a sandy bed and clear water, so it is safe to swim in it. The forest trail leads through several small towns to the Tytuvėnai Regional Park. The greatest natural value of the park is the lakes, which are surrounded by wetlands. They are home to birds. The small town of Tītuvēni is known for its 17th-century Bernardine Baroque monastery and church. Šiluva is an important place of pilgrimage for Catholics.
Baltic Forest Hiking Trails
Riga surroundings: Vangaži – Rāmkalni
The Forest Trail leads through smaller paths, arching around Vangaži Lutheran Church and the Werewolf Pine. On its way to the Hunting Palace, it passes the garden created by opera singer Anna Ludiņa and then follows the Hunting trail. The first side ravines with the pronounced relief of the ancient valley of the River Gauja can be seen here. One of them is located by Inčukalns Velnala (Devil’s Cave),
surrounded by small river channels of the old Gauja. From there, the Forest Trail continues through meadows and crosses the Murjāņi–Valmiera motorway, where the recreation park “Rāmkalni” is located. In this park, there is a café, shop and active leisure centre with a sledge track.
On this route you will mainly see pine forests of various ages, as well as the botanical plantation with 80 tree and 120 shrub species. By the end of the section, the landscape features sandstone outcrops – Devonian sedimentary rocks and habitats protected in Latvia.
In the heart of Gauja National Park: Sigulda – Līgatne
After passing through Sigulda, the Forest Trail follows the River Vējupīte to Paradīzes Hill, where a steep staircase leads down into the ancient valley of the River Gauja and the ravine of the River Vējupīte. It continues to wind down smaller paths through meadows, crossing small rivers whose banks reveal sandstone outcrops. The last six kilometres of this section follow a smaller path down the Līgatne Nature Trails. You can see local wildlife animals and birds on this 5.5 km long trail. Further on the Forest Trail moves up the hills of the ancient valley of the River Gauja, before descending back down into the deep ravine of the River Līgatne, where the village of the former Līgatne paper mill is located. You can explore this attractive small village, visit the Līgatne spoon factory, winery and Līgatne caves. There is also the Līgatne Net Park with 4-7 m high net labyrinths among the treetops.
This part of the Forest Trail and Gauja National Park is characterised by a gradual transition from diverse, deciduous forests (ash, grey alder, oak, birch, linden) to coniferous stands.
Cliffs in Gauja National Park: Cēsis – Valmiera
The Forest Trail follows small roads and trails through the woods. Along the route you will see the Ērģeļu Cliffs, where the observation terrace provides a great view of the impressive 700 m wide sandstone cliff and the beautiful natural landscape in the ancient River Gauja valley. One of the most beautiful places on the banks of the River Gauja is at “Caunītes” tourist lodging, where you will end the first day of the route. Further on the trail leads through pine forests and wetlands, across and around hills and slopes. One of the most beautiful views of the River Gauja opens from Sietiņiezis Rock, a 15 m high sandstone cliff where a circular 1.5 km trail has been constructed. Coming to Valmiera, you will reach the so-called “Dzelzītis” bridge (a narrow-gauge railway bridge) and continue walking along the River Gauja to Valmiera Centre. Sites of interest in Valmiera: St. Simon’s Church, ruins of the Livonian Castle and Valmiera Museum. There is also an adventure park “Sajūtu Parks” (“Park of Senses”), where you can walk on the barefoot trail, the tree-top trail and enjoy other activities.
Along the Northern Gauja forests: Valmiera – Strenči
This part of the Forest Trail passes through the historical centre of Valmiera. In Valmiera you can visit St. Simon’s Church, the Ruins of the Livonian Order Castle and Valmiera Museum. We also suggest walking the barefoot trail in “Sajūtu Parks” (Park of Senses). After sightseeing in Valmiera, the Forest Trail goes through Atpūtas (Recreation) park, the beautiful pine forest and Baiļi winter ski centre. Further on you will walk along the River Abuls Trail, curving along the banks of the river until reaching the Brenguļi brewery built in an old Hydroelectric power plant. You can enjoy unfiltered and unpasteurised beer here. Further down you will enter unpopulated forest areas and the Northern Gauja protected landscape area.
The forests in Northern Gauja (“Ziemeļgauja”) are very diverse. There are old or natural boreal (northern) forests and marsh forests, oak forests, alluvial forests (formed on river sediments which periodically flood) and mixed oak, wych elm and ash forests along the river. The tour will end in Strenči Town.
The most beautiful sights of Northern Latvia: Ape – Korneti
This tour will give you an impression of the eastern part of Latvia, which is less populated and also less popular among tourists. You will first arrive in Aluksne and explore the town, which is located at Alūksne highland, on the shore of Lake Alūksne. It is worth visiting Temple Hill – an old Latgalian castle mound and the place of the old town, Sun bridge, and the Castle manor park, Alūksne Lutheran Church and the Bible Museum. After staying there overnight you will go by bus to the start point of the hike in Ape. This Forest Trail section winds through a hilly farmland landscape, then enters a large dark forest, occasionally interrupted by the blue surfaces of lakes. After Peļļi, it crosses the Latvian/Estonian border and winds along the shores of the lakes Smilšājs, Sūneklis and Ilgājs for 2 km on the Estonian side, known as Paganamaa (translation: Devil’s Land). There it descends and enters the Korneti-Peļļi subglacial depression, one of the most impressive ravines in Latvia.
The highest point in the Baltic states: Haanja – Tsiistre
The Forest Trail leads down from the highest point of the Haanja Upland. The most important sight on this route is the Suur Munamägi Hill – 318 m above sea level. The highest point of the Baltics with its observation tower provides its visitors with a splendid 50 km range view of the Estonian nature. The 150 year-old western taiga spruce forests grow on the slopes of Suur-Munamägi. Further on the trail circles around the southern part of Lake Vaskna, and continues down small country roads surrounded by solitary homesteads and small clusters of farms. The route ends in a small village, Tsiistre, where the Linen Museum is located. The museum has a collection of folk linen. Flax is one of the oldest cultural plants in Estonia and a few decades ago, blue flax fields were a common sight in southern Estonia.
Along the banks of the River Jägala: Kaberneeme ‒ Jõelähtme
From Kaberneeme the route runs through a forest where you can see piles of stones carried here during the last ice-age. The trail soon climbs about 20 m up to the hiking trail, which runs on the old shore line of Lake Ancylus. The trail continues to the Linnamäe HES and a suspension bridge. Follow the trail over the ancient fortress hill of Linnamäe and continue on the right bank of the River Jägala, until reaching the Jägala waterfall. This is the highest natural waterfall in Estonia, more than 8 m high. The Suka bridge is about 500 metres up from the waterfall. After crossing the river, the trail passes through the Jägala waterfall park. Finally, the trail runs through the village of Koogi and arrives at Jõelähtme.
Along the banks of the River Piusa and discovering the Land of Setos: Vana-Vastseliina – Piusa
The first part of this section of the Forest Trail winds along the magnificent River Piusa valley, then, at Härmä Village, it turns towards Obinitsa, an important cultural centre of Setomaa, the Land of Setos. Here you can discover the traditions of the local Seto people, for example the fine handicraft of the Seto women. After Obinitsa, the Forest Trail leads through beautiful pine forests rich in heather, descends back into the depths of the River Piusa valley and ends at the Piusa caves. The Piusa sandstone caves are the result of hand-mining glass sand from 1922-1966. The biggest wintering colony of bats in Eastern Europe is located in the caves. When accompanied by the guide, you can visit the observation platform at the Museum cave.
Towards the popular Värska resort: Vana-Vastseliina – Värska
This part of the Forest Trail gives an opportunity to see Setomaa or “the Land of Setos” which is inhabited by Setos – an ethnographic group with specific ancient traditions and a unique language dialect. Forest Trail hikers can visit the traditional Setos homestead and enjoy Setos cuisine. The forests of the region are especially charming in early autumn, when the ground is coloured lilac by the blooming heather. There is a good chance to pick wild mushrooms and berries. One of the most beautiful sections of this trail in Setomaa leads along the River Piusa, where the river is surrounded by sandstone outcrops. You will also visit the Piusa caves. The tour will end in Värska resort – with its sanatorium and SPA, which use the strengths of local nature: mineral water and lake mud. Värska mineral water is well known in Estonia and elsewhere.
Through the onion villages of Lake Peipsi: Varnja – Alatskivi
A scenic and tradition-rich stretch of the Forest Trail symbolised by the onion. Onions were brought to the region by Old Believers in the 17th century. Ladies and gentlemen selling home-made onion strings on the roadside have become somewhat of a business card of the villages. The villages on the twenty-four kilometre stretch of road between Varnja and Kallaste are connected by the tourist route called Onion Road. The landscape is decorated by colourful wooden houses, small fish shops and a restaurant where you can enjoy tea made in the samovar, true to the traditions of Old Believers. You can visit the Kostja’s onion farm, where the host welcomes the guests and shows them onion cultivation. It is also worth visiting the Chicory Museum in Kolkja to get acquainted with the history of chicory cultivation in row villages near Lake Peipus. At the end of the trail you will reach Alatskivi, where the famous Alatskivi Castle is located.
Impressive dunes of Lake Peipsi: Lohusuu – Remniku
The first half of this section leads through magnificent coniferous forests, especially in the Järvevälja landscape reserve, where the trail is surrounded by beautiful dunes in the north and a raised bog in the south. It is well worth visiting the kiosk at Rannapungerja to buy smoked fish – the Lake Peipus vendace (rääbis) and some local farm produce. In the second part, the Forest Trail winds along the coast of the beautiful Lake Peipus. During the summer, when the water level in the lake is lower, beautiful, sandy beaches with wide shallows appear. Past Alajõe, the highest dunes of Lake Peipus (up to 20 m) rise on the landscape, providing a distant view of Lake Peipus, one of the largest lakes in Europe.
Challenges in the Kurtna and Ontika landscape reserves: Vasavere – Toila – Saka
This is the most challenging Forest Trail section, especially on the second day. Here, on the coast of the Gulf of Finland, rises the North-Estonian Klint – a steep, rocky and forest-covered cliff that stretches non-continuously to Tallinn and further to the islands of West-Estonia. The Forest Trail runs on top of the cliff and occasionally descends into valleys. It crosses the deep and vast Pühajõgi valley in Toila-Oru park and comes to Toila, a popular coastal resort. One of the most unusual sections of the Forest Trail in Northern Estonia, which leads along the foot of the impressive North-Estonian Klint in good weather, then climbs to the top of the klint in the villages of Valaste and Saka, revealing breathtaking views of the Gulf of Finland.
Through Lahemaa National Park: Eisma – Kasispea
On this tour you will enjoy the diversity of nature in Lahemaa National Park – the oldest national park in the Baltic states. Lahemaa – means “the land of bays” in Estonian. It is characterised by many bays, peninsulas, forests and villages rich in cultural heritage. The Forest Trail will go along the bays and peninsulas of Lahemaa National Park, introducing the hikers to its most significant natural and cultural heritage. The forests are rich with blueberries and mushrooms in autumn, and the air is very clean.
You will start the tour from Tallinn, going by bus to Lahemaa National Park, where you stay overnight in one of the beautiful manors. On the next day you will hike till Oandu. En route you will see Altja – a scenic traditional fishing village, where a traditional Estonian tavern is located and you can enjoy traditional meals. In Oandu there is the visitor centre of the Estonian State Forest Management (RMK), where hikers can learn more about forest habitat types and forest management traditions. Then you will reach Käsmu Peninsula with its wooded dunes and moss-covered rock fields, giving the feeling of being in a fairy tale.
Diversity of Peipsimaa: Varnja – Avinurme
Onions, fish, villages that stretch out for several kilometres where the buildings are lined along the main street, ornate Old Believers’ churches, small harbours with fishing boats and wooden houses, each painted in a different colour! Cafés, shops and a view of Lake Peipus, which looks more like a sea than a lake. This could be the description of this tour. This tour is a very interesting part of the Forest Trail, which will give you an opportunity to see and enjoy the Lake Peipsi region, the culture and lifestyle of local people as well as the nature.
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