Gauja National Park: One of the Best Hiking Destinations in Europe

Text and photos: Solveiga Kaļva, www.solveigakalvaphotography.com

Have you ever heard of the Gauja National Park? Most likely not, but then you have missed out on one of the best hiking destinations in Europe where one can wander around for days or even weeks, still amazed by biological diversity, cultural richness and beauty of the surroundings. If you are a nature lover looking for a great place for hiking, you should definitely consider going to Latvia and exploring the Gauja National Park.

The Gauja National Park was established in 1973, and it is the oldest and largest of the national parks in Latvia covering an area of more than 90 000 hectares along the Gauja River. Contrary to most other national parks around the globe, the Gauja National Park encompasses not only natural wonders, but also rich cultural, architectural and historical heritage, giving an opportunity to discover the wild beauty of nature and enjoy some good local wine and an art exhibition all in one day.

Although people often imagine that Latvia is one of the flattest countries in the world, it takes only one day in the Gauja National Park to change this misconception. Hiking in the Gauja National Park involves climbing up and down countless hills and can feel as tremendous as hiking in the mountains. The Gauja National Park is famous for breathtaking views, wonderful sandstone outcrops, big and small caves, wild flora and fauna, natural springs and architectural monuments. It is one of the best hiking destinations for enjoying magnificent sceneries, wild nature and cultural heritage, allowing you to find out where the magical appeal and the true beauty of Latvia is hidden.

Hiking in the Gauja National Park

The Gauja National Park is suitable for almost everyone as it offers a wide range of different hiking opportunities. No matter whether you are a tough hiker, family with kids or a group of seniors, in the Gauja National Park you will find a hiking trail that suits you the best as you can choose from short walks on wooden boardwalks, day-hike routes with trail marks, bushwalking or even camping trips that last for several days. If you feel ready to disconnect from the rest of the world, you can simply immerse yourself in the wilderness and discover the biological diversity of Latvia. If you want to explore the Gauja National Park to its fullest, you should combine natural and cultural sites according to your preferences, creating an unforgettable hiking experience.

If you are interested in covering longer distances, you might check out the Forest Trail (Mežtaka) which stretches across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, covering a distance of 2141 km and including the most beautiful parts of the Gauja National Park. If you are a true adventure seeker, you can start your hike at any place in the Gauja National Park, except strictly protected areas, and just follow the road and inspiration.   

Many places of the Gauja National Park have well-made infrastructure, offering wooden boardwalks, picnic tables and resting areas, fireplaces and even small wooden huts for camping. Nevertheless, it is always possible to go on a real expedition and discover wonderful natural treasures hidden deep in the woods far away from the most popular tourist routes.

Cesis, Sigulda and Ligatne: the most charming towns in the Gauja National Park

The Gauja National Park invites hikers and travelers not only to explore its natural wonders, but also save some time for enjoying such charming towns as Cesis, Sigulda and Ligatne.

Cesis is the third oldest town in Latvia and is known for its rich cultural life, lovely streets of the old town, architectural heritage and the Medieval Castle. Cesis is a perfect place for taking a break from hiking in order to enjoy local food with a cup of good coffee or a glass of wine and attend some music concerts or art exhibitions. Cesis is famous for the Medieval Festival, Cesis Art Festival, summer night concerts in the park and other cultural events that bring life and joy to this picturesque town. The most popular tourist attraction in Cesis is the Medieval Castle that has a mysterious medieval spirit and offers to travel back in time and explore the castle ruins in candlelight. In Cesis you can find the biggest sandstone outcrop in the Gauja Valley – Eagle Cliffs (Ērgļu klintis), as well as a lovely hiking trail for the whole family – Cirulisi Nature Trails (Cīrulīšu dabas takas).

Sigulda, often described as the Switzerland of Vidzeme, has attracted vacationers and hikers since the 19th century, becoming one of the most popular resorts. Sigulda offers endless routes and hiking trails for climbing up and down the hills along the Gauja River, wonderful sandstone outcrops and the most beautiful sceneries in Latvia that make you believe you have teleported to the Swiss Alps. Well, almost. For the best view of the Gauja Valley you should go to the Emperor’s View (Ķeizarskats). Although Sigulda does not have an old town in a usual interpretation, it is a great place for walking around and looking for romantic 19th century wooden villas and visiting even two castles – the New Castle and the Medieval Castle ruins. From Sigulda you can have a beautiful view of Krimulda Manor and Turaida Medieval Castle on the other side of the Gauja River, both easily reachable by following a hiking trail. Right between Krimulda and Turaida, the biggest cave in the Baltics – Gutman’s Cave (Gūtmaņala) – is waiting for you.

Ligatne is a really unique town that has preserved its old spirit and a very specific 20th century wooden architecture until today. In the 19th century, a paper factory was built in Ligatne that produced such high-quality paper that it was used even for printing money and military maps for the Russian Empire. In order to attract the best workers for the factory, a very practical and comfortable village was built around the factory. It was a self-sufficient village that had everything people needed – electricity, school, hospital, cultural center and other institutions. Going for a hilly walk around Ligatne is the best way to enjoy the unique charm of a former paper mill village. Ligatne is also famous for its cellars carved into rocks that people used and still use for keeping various products fresh throughout the year. In one of these cellars a local wine tasting can be arranged! The Ligatne River has a very pretty coastline, rich with sandstone outcrops and rock cellars – a perfect route for a wild hiking adventure.

Must-visit places in the Gauja National Park

Magnificent sandstone outcrops and cliffs, mysterious castles and manors, caves with hidden tunnels, ice-cold springs, curvy rivers, exciting museums and many other places combined with beautiful forests and meadows make the Gauja National park for one of the best hiking destinations you can imagine. Here is our list of must-visit places in the Gauja National Park that will make your hiking trip unforgettable:

  • Emperor’s View (Ķeizarskats)
  • Gutman Cave (Gūtmaņala)
  • Eagle Cliffs (Ērgļu klintis)
  • Zvarte Rock (Zvārtes iezis)
  • Red Cliffs (Sarkanās klintis)
  • Pikene Cliff (Piķenes krauja)
  • Lici – Langi Cliffs (Līču – Laņģu klintis)
  • Dauda Waterfall (Daudas ūdenskritums)
  • Ligatne Nature Trails (Līgatnes dabas takas)
  • Cirulisi Nature Trails (Cīrulīšu dabas takas)
  • Abuls Nature Trail (Abula dabas taka)
  • Amata Geological Trail (Amatas ģeotaka)
  • Vejini Underground Lakes (Vējiņu pazemes ezeri)
  • Cesis Medieval Castle and Cesis New Castle
  • Sigulda New Castle and Sigulda Medieval Castle
  • Ungurmuiza Manor (Ungurmuiža)
  • Nordic Nature Medicine Museum (Ziemeļu dabas medicīnas muzejs)
  • Turaida Museum Reserve (Turaidas muzejrezervāts)
  • Araisi Archaeological Park (Āraišu arheoloģiskais parks)

Are you willing to explore one of the best hiking destinations in Europe but do not want to do it on your own? We can help you! Check out our list of hiking tours in the Gauja National Park and book your next adventure with us:

What travelers say about us

Barry Toward
Barry Toward
2022-09-18
We have just spent 9 days travelling through the Baltic countries with Valdis as our guide. Although the itinerary and accommodation had been pre-arranged Valdis supported our trip brilliantly, bringing to life the individual countries with city walking tours, nature trails and visits to other sites. He is great fun, extremely knowledgable and became an integral part of our small group. His contribution to our holiday played a key part in making it a great and enjoyable experience (and he recommends good places to eat!)
Sam Paliwal
Sam Paliwal
2022-09-02
If you are looking to go to the Baltic's on an active vacation, make sure to check out Baltic Nature Travel as your travel advisor. We recently finished a 10-day self-driving tour of the Baltic's and wanted to have an active trip whilst not missing out on all the cultural highlights of the region. Valdis, the owner of Baltic Nature Travel was very responsive and organized a trip that included kayaking, long distance bicycle riding, hiking in different forests, cooking activities, cultural highlights, hot-air balloon riding, etc-- all in a matter of 10 days and customized the trip to our liking. We were very satisfied with his responsiveness to our needs and his ability to stay ahead and plan various activities appropriately. Just to give you one example of Valdis's ability to think ahead: in one of the hotels, they have very limited parking. On his own initiative, Valdis made a to call to the hotel and reserved a parking spot for us for the one night that we were going to stay at that hotel. It helped out a lot, as we had to leave very early in the morning. There are other numerous examples where he was available to answer questions and help us as necessary, both before and during the trip. He is an excellent guide, calm and collected and his team of guides around the region were quite knowledgeable and fluent. The accommodation for the trip were quite good and and they can be easily adjusted based on your budget. I highly recommend his touring company for your Baltic travel experience and would like to add that as a person he's very likable and easy-going.
Lajos Nagy
Lajos Nagy
2022-07-23
A perfect series of daily hiking tours and town walkarounds. I especially was amused by the jungle-like forests and friendly conversations along the way. Everything was perfectly planned and organized, I definitely recommend, worth thousand-times more than simply visiting cities in a rush.
Tom Demandt
Tom Demandt
2022-05-30
We had an excellent day hike with our guide Valdis. He was very friendly, very service minded and knowledgeable. The hike through Gauja National Park was really beautiful. Heartily recommend for anyone looking for an active day trip outside Riga.
Sergey Zhuravlev
Sergey Zhuravlev
2022-02-28
I enjoyed the hiking tour in the Beberbeķi-Skulte regions of Riga. The route was mainly through the forest, so this is a great opportunity to get away from the city bustle and daily routine and to spend a few hours in nature. The tour guide Valdis is very friendly and he has a lot to tell about the area. I am looking forward to the next tour and recommend joining it.
Sa Si
Sa Si
2022-02-15
I had a wonderful hiking tour trough Kemeri National Park with Baltic Nature Travel. Valdis is a very well informed and nice guide! I would totally recommend a tour with him!
aarpr
aarpr
2022-01-24
Really nice activities and tours by Valdis. Highly recommended. Definetely I will repeat soon.
Eimear Friel
Eimear Friel
2022-01-18
Thoroughly enjoyed my hike with Valdis and Solveiga. It was exactly what I hoped for. Perfect for someone looking to explore more of Latvia but nto sure where to go!
Fiona Koe
Fiona Koe
2022-01-18
Awesome hike, beautiful scenery. Valdis was very friendly and knowledgeable. Will recommend

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