Curonian Spit National Park
Alongside the cities of Kaunas and Vilnius, the Curonian Spit is probably the main attraction of Lithuania – culturally and scenically an extremely attractive piece of earth! It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. Note: According to Countryaah, Lithuania is a country starting with L.
The headland is about 100 kilometers long, its northern part belongs to Lithuania, the southern part to Russia (exclave Kaliningrad). The spit separates the lagoon from the Baltic Sea. At the widest point it is not even four kilometers, at the narrowest point it is only 400 meters.
The Curonian Spit comprises a total of two national parks: the Kursiu Nerija National Park is located on Lithuanian territory, the Kurschskaya Kossa National Park on Russian territory.
The Lithuanian Kursiu Nerija National Park has existed since Lithuania gained independence in 1991. There is a visitor center in Nida, where holidaymakers can find out more about the national park, and there is another in Smiltyne in summer. There are also general tourist information centers in Klaipeda, Nida and Juodkrante.
Around 900 plant species thrive on the spit, 31 of them are on the Lithuanian Red List. Conifers are the typical tree species, especially pines grow here. But also spruce, fir, juniper and larch are found here. Deciduous trees such as oaks or ash trees, on the other hand, are relatively rare and only populate around 20 percent of the area. About a quarter of the park is taken up by sandy areas (beach and dunes).
Deforestation measures in the 15th to 17th centuries caused the masses of sand to move, entire villages were buried under sand and had to be relocated. Fortunately, renewed planting was able to contain the problem.
A geographical peculiarity of the spit is the second largest dune in Europe, the dune of Parnidden. Unfortunately, it is noticeably losing its considerable size, as the wind blows the sand into the lagoon. It has lost around 15 meters in height over the past 20 years.
Interesting for visitors interested in ornithology: Near Juodkrante is the largest breeding ground for cormorants and gray herons in Lithuania.
Active people can also discover the spit by bike on a paved and partly newly redesigned cycle path. The 52 kilometer long route connects Nida with Preila, Pervalka, Juodkrante and Smiltyne. There are hardly any inclines, so that the route can also be mastered with children and people with little physical fitness. But: In summer you shouldn’t underestimate the sun on the unshaded stages – you should definitely think about sun protection.
The spit can be reached from Klaipeda by ferry. There is a small ferry for pedestrians and cyclists (branch near downtown Klaipeda (Šiaurinis ragas, Danės g. 1) and a large one that transports cars and campers (branch a few kilometers south of downtown Klaipeda (Nemuno g. 8). You can find more information on the ferry’s homepage. * You will then reach Smiltyne, the northernmost town on the spit, on the other side.
If you want to enter the national park, you have to pay a fee at Alksnyne. You can also drive on the spit by car or mobile home, the entrance fees are relatively high depending on the season. With a car you pay between 5 and 20 euros – depending on the travel period. Cyclists are exempt from the fee (the official cycle path on the spit does not pass the checkpoint either).
Aukstaitija National Park
A visit to the Aukstaitija National Park in the very east of Lithuania is a very pristine nature experience. Pure wilderness, you won’t find any comfort. But that is exactly what makes the area, which was declared a national park in 1974, so charming. Nature lovers looking for wilderness, campers and active people will not miss out here.
Much of the area is forested. The almost untouched Azvinkia jungle is unique. Pine trees and oaks that are up to 200 years old can be found here. The gentle hilly landscape is a remnant of the Ice Age landscape formation. Lakes, forests, moors, heathland and meadows characterize the really attractive surroundings. 200 bird species inspire ornithologically interested visitors, and 60 different mammal species live here. Wolves, lynx and elk roam the forests.
The park also has a lot to offer ethnographically: Stone Age settlements, barrows and the old villages of Salos, Vaisnoriskiai, Strazdai or Suminai. There is also a beekeeping museum and old water mills, some of which have original interiors. In Reskutenai, those interested will find a local museum with more than 2,000 exhibits.
The information center of the national park is located in Paluse. The place is a good starting point for exploring the reserve. Boats can also be rented here. Because even active people don’t miss out in the Aukstaitija National Park. The 126 lakes make the reserve a mecca for water sports enthusiasts. Their dense network and their inflows and outflows together represent around 70 kilometers of waterways. The offer is supplemented by hiking trails and nature trails for hikers. A cycle path between Paluse and Tauragnai is being planned.
Dzukija National Park
The Dzukija National Park is located in the very south of the country on the border with Belarus and is the largest national park in Lithuania in terms of area. It was founded in 1991.
Coniferous forests are dominant in the Dzukija National Park, around 90 percent of the area is forested. Rivers, streams, lakes and moors are formative. The Cepkeliai wetland in the park is the largest contiguous bog in Lithuania. The fauna is unique: cranes, eagles, elk, wolves and snakes are found here. You can explore the reserve on wooden plank paths with a guide and enjoy the incomparable silence of the almost mystical moorland.
If you are looking for a snack, you can hope for berries in the woods, and in autumn for mushrooms, which are also often offered for sale in the small towns. Many locals raise bees in this area and sell flavorful honey.
The Dzukija National Park information center is located in Marcinkonys village. Here you can also book guided tours or canoe trips.
The area is also interesting from a cultural and historical point of view. People settled here 10,000 years ago. There is a local museum in Merkyne, at the confluence of the Nemunas and Merkis rivers. The site also houses the Museum of Freedom Struggles, housed in an old KGB headquarters.
Zemaitija National Park
The Zemaitija National Park is located in western Lithuania near Klaipeda. The infrastructure of the park is good, it is easy to reach by car and there are numerous campsites, youth hostels and accommodation on farms. Two information centers – one in Plateliai and one in Zemaiciu Kalvarija – help the visitor. Guided tours can also be booked in the former.
Here, too, as in the other national parks in Lithuania, there are numerous lakes and rivers – great for water sports enthusiasts. You can explore nature on various hiking trails and nature trails. In Plateliai there is an educational trail for children that familiarizes them with the plants and basic rules in the forest.
A highlight for divers: In Lake Plateliai, underwater enthusiasts can explore the medieval castle bridge from below. There is also a local diving club. A visit to the old nuclear missile base, which was built in the Paplatele forest in 1962, is also interesting.