One fact that most vividly speaks for Estonia’s nature is that a quarter of Estonia’s territory is a nature reserve. Five national parks and hundreds of other preserves have been established to maintain nature’s unique value. Practically all of them tempt nature lovers with numerous hiking trails, as well as bivouacking opportunities, and overnight stays in charming cabins.
In the woodlands covering half of Estonia, wolves and bears are found amid other rarities. These animals are not easily found in countries south of Estonia.
The kingdom of forests and bogs
When traveling through Estonian forests, which cover more than half of Estonia’s dry land, are always in view, whether dark fir, beautiful pines, or birch groves filled with birdsong. Some European countries may possess more forests but cannot compete with the amount of Estonia’s virgin forests.
There are roughly 90 different species of trees in Estonian forests. In addition to a rabbit, fox, roe-buck, elk and wild boar, wolf, lynx, deer, and the European mink are present. When visiting the virgin forests of Alutaguse, an encounter is likely with the very rare flying squirrel or even a bear. The heavily forested Alutaguse is referred to locally as Estonia’s bears’ den. More than 100 of these honey lovers freely roam there.
Local reptiles are frequently seen sunbathing on forest roads, vipers with zigzag patterns, yellow-spotted grass snakes, and shiny metallic blindworms. The viper is Estonia’s only poisonous snake, so touching them isn’t a good idea.
Forests are practically silent during winter, but in April and May, a choir of birds cuts loose. This is when chaffinches, blackbirds, cuckoos, and many others with beautiful voices return from the South. During spring nights, the forest is alive with hooting owls and the cacophony of the grouse performing a wedding dance.
The symbolic birds of ancient Estonian forests are wood grouse and eagles: golden eagles, ospreys, and spotted eagles.
Estonia might be easily called the kingdom of bogs since approximately one-quarter of the country is covered in marshes. From any point on Estonia’s mainland, the nearest swamp is always less than 10 km away.
Over 10,000 years ago, bogs that began to evolve after the last ice age, have today become time capsules where pure, untouched nature is preserved. Bogs are a place of peace and quiet, a pleasant escape from the clamor of everyday life.
Virgin forests, surrounded by mostly untouched wetlands, are home to many endangered species. With practically every step, a lovely orchid is visible. With a bit of luck, an eagle may be seen overhead.
Since a knee-high pine in a bog can be an entire century old, it is not wise to break branches. Vitamin-rich red cranberries, sometimes known as northern lemons, grow on the soft peat moss beside plentiful marsh trails. Cowberries, bilberries, and blueberries are waiting to be tasted near the edge of the bog. Thirst can be quenched with slightly bitter bog water. A drink more pure is nowhere to be found.
If Estonia is truly the kingdom of bogs, then its ling is surely Sooman with its five bogs, the largest and most prominent of them is the 10.000 hectares of Kuresoo. Soomaa National Park is regarded internationally as an important wetland and a nominee for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The rigorously protected golden eagles and willow grouse sometimes show themselves to hikers.