If you thought hiking was only a summer activity, think again. Frozen waterfalls, icy bogs, and snow-covered evergreens give Estonian nature a different feeling during winter. Time slows as your breath hangs in the air and the snow crunches underfoot. The sun peeks above the horizon to bathe the landscape in its pale light. Bundle up and enjoy the solitude of the forest in winter!
Layers are key to dressing for outdoor adventures. A water-wicking base layer under waterproof and windproof outer layers will keep you warm and dry while hiking. And don't forget to pack blankets, a thermos with a warm drink, and a basket of goodies. A winter picnic is the best way to warm up after a walk. Many of these trails have campfire spots where you can make a fire and fix yourself a hot meal in the open air.
Soomaa National Park is a stunning spot in any season. It's also where you can see Estonia's famous fifth season — in the spring, snow melts, and the forest floods, allowing you to canoe through the trees. The Riisa study trail is an experience for the whole family, passing eight rest stops and a viewing tower. The wooden boardwalk to the picnic spot is accessible with a stroller and a wheelchair, though watch out for slippery spots. There's no campfire spot here, so bring your thermos with a warm drink.
If you don't want the hassle of organizing your own outdoor picnic, you can arrange a snowshoe hike in Soomaa National Park with a guide. They will plan your meal during the hike, and you can book a sauna and dinner for after the hike.
This two-kilometer trail is also located inside Soomaa National Park. It takes you to a Stone Age Village Museum following the banks of the Raudna and Tõramaa Rivers. Along the way, there are various rest areas where you can make a campfire to warm up and take a break to munch on those yummy sandwiches you brought along.
Saaremaa, Estonia's largest island, is often called Spa-remaa, thanks to its many spas that attract visitors year-round. While the spa is a great excuse to visit in the winter, you miss out if you stay indoors. The Koigi bog hiking trail runs through the largest bog on the island. You can walk comfortably on a wooden path around Lake Pikkjärv. On the way, there is a 9-meter-high observation tower with great views guaranteed.
On the other side of the island, looking west over the Baltic Sea towards Sweden, you can check out the Abula-Kalasma nature trail. Half of the trail runs along the coastline, while the other half runs through coastal forest, giving you a good overview of Saaremaa's ecosystems. The entire trail can be done in about 4-5 hours, though you may want to budget additional time for winter hiking if you're going through snow. There's a campfire cooking spot next to a rustic wooden picnic table, so you can roast sausages or marshmallows after you've worked up an appetite on the trail.
Known as the Nature Energy Trail, a walk on this trail is said to have both physical and mental healing powers. Väike Väerada starts at the train station in Elva; you can reach Elva from Tallinn by train in about 2.5 hours. The hiking path is lined with whimsical wooden sculptures crafted by local artists. It measures 3 kilometers in length and can also be accessed with a baby stroller. The sheltered campfire is in a picturesque spot next to the river. Elva is not far from Tartu, either, meaning you can do some urban exploring after you're done with the forest.
If you'd like the company of an experienced nature guide on your winter walk, you can organize a snowshoe hike through the Emajõe-Suursoo wetlands. This is one of the wildest areas in Estonia, though it's less than an hour's drive from Tartu. Here numerous rivers and streams twist their way through the landscape until they reach Lake Peipsi. Keep your eyes peeled, as you might be lucky enough to see signs of wildlife as you hike.
This hiking path leads mainly through the forest. Therefore it is forbidden to light a fire here, but an on-the-go picnic is still in order. It's one of the most popular hiking trails near Tallinn, but if you go during the winter, you're more likely to have the forest to yourself, save for the birds! It's easy enough to reach from the city center — take the train to Nõmme and walk to the trailhead. On your way back downtown, you can grab a snack from Nõmme Market or try a traditional, cafeteria-style meal (with fresh donuts for dessert) at the classic Sõõrikukohvik.
Near Narva, you'll find the highest waterfall in Estonia — Valaste Waterfall. This hiking trail is short, only about 1.5 kilometers, but there are stairs to climb to view the waterfall from the observation platform. If it's cold enough, you'll find the waterfall has turned into a magnificent ice sculpture. The wind blows in from the coast and freezes on the cliff wall. This hiking trail goes through the unique Ontika limestone bluff conservation area. The primeval forest along the cliff is an important habitat for local animal species.
Valaste isn't the only frozen waterfall in Estonia; you can also head to Jägala Waterfall on your way back to Tallinn. Bring your own picnic, or have someone organize one for you. You'll have a table better than any restaurant, as you can enjoy a hot meal at the base of a frozen wall of water!
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