Latvia is an up and coming tourist destination. It’s the kind of place that has yet to be discovered by mass tourism. Upon visiting, you hope it never is, for it’s still pleasantly unspoiled.
You’d hardly expect that a country where the highest mountain reaches a mere 300 meters above sea level can be a great destination for adventure travel. Yet it is, and wonderfully so. Latvia is a country blessed with gorgeous national parks, beautiful rivers and forests that call to be explored.
Gauja National Park – the largest park in Latvia – is one of the best places in the country for nature lovers. Excellent trails that run through the forest, and fabulous opportunities for cycling lovers abound.
Background Information about Gauja National Park
Established in 1973, Gauja National Park is well known for its biological diversity, beautiful sandstone cliffs and rock formations. A forest of virgin pines covers half of Gauja’s territory. Various rivers run through it – Gauja River, after which the park takes its name, and Amata River, which is one of the most powerful in the country.
Scattered throughout the park are various sights – forts, windmills, castles, churches, old manors, and tiny yet interesting museums. The park hosts over 900 species of plants, more than 150 species of birds and 50 species of mammals.
Running from Sigulda to Valmiera and including the cities of Cesis and Ligatne, Guaja National Park requires at least 3 or 4 days to fully appreciate everything it has to offer.
Hiking the Amata Trail
The Amata Trail proves that hiking in Latvia shouldn’t be underestimated. The trail starts at Hotel Karlamuiza, a bit outside of a village called Kārļi, and goes all the way to Veclauču Bridge. It’s 15.5 km long and takes around 5 hours to complete. You’ll follow a well marked trail that goes deep into the forest and along the Amata River, offering beautiful views of meadows, manor houses, and the famous cliffs and rock formations.
The trail is rated moderate and mostly flat, with a few ups and downs. Keep in mind summer temperatures may make it a bit more challenging. There’s nothing along the way – not a kiosk, not a fountain – so make sure you carry enough food and water for the duration of the hike. During hot weather, carry a swimsuit and quick dry towel to enjoy several swimming spots.
Biking from Cesis to Valmiera
Gauja National Park has several biking itineraries. One of the best goes from Cesis to Valmiera. The trail goes through the park, along the gorgeous Latvian countryside, deep into the forest. The trail is 45 km (one way) and takes about 6 hours to complete. Sections are challenging with thick roots and rocks in the forest.
Throughout this biking itinerary, you’ll enjoy more of the park’s beautiful cliffs, as well as views of the Gauja River. Stop along the way to visit quirky museums like the Chair Makers Museum. This tiny place is completely devoted to the traditional art of making chairs, which used to thrive in the region.
There are no shops, kiosks or restaurants along this trail, so carry anything you need for the day, including food, water and a change of clothes.
Tips For Hiking And Biking In Latvia
Wear Appropriate Gear
Good hiking gear is essential in Latvia. The following is my recommended outfit for a day of hiking or biking:
- Pair of lightweight hiking shoes or boots. Hiking sandals are great for warmer weather, but keep in mind you may cross meadows with thick, high grass.
- Pair of women’s hiking pants like the KÜHL Horizn Convertible RECCO with RECCO rescue reflector
- Pair of women’s hiking shorts like the KÜHL Kliffside Air Roll-Up
- Cycling shorts
- A cotton t-shirt like the KÜHL Born Tee
- Sweater like the KÜHL Lea Pullover, in case it cools down
- Water and wind resistant jacket like the KÜHL Stryka Jacket
- Day pack with outer pockets for water bottles
- Insulated water bottle or flask
- Sun hat
Pack Food and Water
Gauja National Park is absolutely pristine, but that means you won’t find a place to drink or eat along the way. Pack meals, snacks and water.
Download Enter Gauja App
Enter Gauja is an excellent app with tips about places to visit, hiking and biking maps, and much more. It only works online, so make sure you can use your data.
Bring a Power Bank
In case your smartphone dies, and you haven’t arrived to your final destination, you’ll still want access to maps and directions. Bring a power bank to charge your phone on the go.
Don’t Go Alone
Latvia is hardly a crowded country, and chances are that if you hike or bike – especially during the week – you won’t meet anybody along the trails. Although the trails aren’t that challenging, you really want to avoid the risk of being left alone in the forest if something happens to you. Join a guided group to take the edge off.
Claudia is a former human rights lawyer who changed careers to follow her true calling. She now travels around the world in search of adventures and unique hiking experiences. Follow her travels at My Adventures Across the World.