Karula National ParkSource: Mati Kose

Karula National Park

The country's smallest national park protects a landscape of gently rolling hills not typically found elsewhere in Estonia.

Small lakes dot the landscape like eyes looking up at the sky and shining in the sun.

The park's unique topography was formed at the end of the Ice Age more than 10,000 years ago. The glacial retreat left behind a landscape dotted with lakes, of which 38 are inside the park. You'll find the visitor center next to Lake Ähijärv, Karula's largest lake; Lake Savijärv is the deepest.

Between the rolling hills are dense forests and bogs. An uninterrupted block of forest takes up almost half of Karula National Park. This high-value forested area provides the perfect habitat for large wild game, such as elk, roe deer, wild boar, lynxes, wolves, and bears. Among the protected species, the most notable are the black stork, osprey, lesser spotted eagle, sand lizard, spadefoot toad, and rare daisy-leaf grape-fern.

"...a curious landscape unlike any I’ve seen before in Estonia."

Tom Peeters, journalist


Lose all sense of time

Not a single road runs straight in Karula. Instead, they meander around the hills, which means it takes a little longer to get from one place to another. It’s as though the landscape tells you to slow down and take in the nature surrounding you. Climb an observation tower to admire the view.

River and old house in Karula National Park with fog

Source: Marti Kose

What to do in Karula National Park

Where cultural heritage and nature connect

The northern part of the park is where you'll find a patchwork landscape of forests, fields, and pastures. While hiking, you may come across ancient burial sites and old farm buildings that speak of Karula's rich cultural heritage.  Like the region's smoke sauna traditions, the rural way of life has been passed down over the centuries. If you listen closely, you may also hear Võru, one of Estonia's local dialects.

Man opens smoke sauna windows to ventilate sauna before use

Source: Renee Altrov

Source: Rivo Veber

Covered by a winter quilt of snow

Every year, Karula National Park transforms into a winter wonderland. Heavy snow bends tree branches, occasionally showering hikers who walk beneath. The landscape takes on a serene beauty, and the snow twinkles in the twilight of the short winter days. The trails become more challenging to navigate, but if you tread carefully and come prepared, that cozy cup of tea at the end of the day will taste even more rewarding. 

Every season has something special — and an extra season gives you extra time to see it all.

Expert tip: Exploring off-season will help off-load the pressure.

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