Summer is the best time to explore the nature in Estonia – here are simple suggestions and tips from an experienced hiker.
I just completed a six-day hike of approximately 120 kilometres (75 miles) in Ida-Virumaa, the easternmost part of Estonia. I’ve been camping and hiking from an early age, but this year, the long quarantine months have given me more time to train and plan my summer adventures.
Wandering around on my own has made me appreciate on a deeper level what a wonder the wild and free nature in Estonia is. Since we cannot go to Santiago de Compostela (the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region) this summer, why not go on a pilgrimage through “South de Estonia”, or explore the ash hills of Ida-Virumaa instead of the Scottish Highlands? As one of my favourite quotes goes – “Who cares what the question is – hiking is the answer.”
Some of the advice in this article is common knowledge for the majority of Estonian residents, but I hope everyone will get some inspiration and encouragement to go off, wander and explore the nature.
Explore nature trails, campsites and forest huts
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, combined with beautiful spring and summer weather, many popular State Forest Management Centre – or the RMK for short – trails and campsites have been “as popular as the song celebration”, meaning they have become very crowded at certain times. Two of the most popular bog trails are Viru Bog and Kakerdaja Bog, both less than an hour’s drive from Tallinn.
However, there are numerous of other opportunities all around the country, offered by the RMK that are less crowded and still well-organised. Three long network trails that take you through the whole country, border to border, include Peraküla-Aegviidu-Ähijärve, Oandu-Aegviidu-Ikla and Penijõe-Aegviidu-Kauksi. Aegviidu is the connecting point for all the trails and can easily be reached by train. You can hike the full distance, or simply choose a section of the trail.
Many smaller hiking trails are available in every county, as well as campsites that usually include a safe fireplace, wood, toilet, occasionally a smaller open hut or a bigger forest hut for sleeping. The RMK also has an app where you can see all the hiking routes, nature reserves, national parks, campfire sites, rental huts and forest huts available according to regions.
In case you prefer to go completely wild, wander where your legs might take you, and sleep wherever you like, the Estonian nature is the best place for that, too. My best nights have been spent sleeping in my secret spot underneath the coastal cliffs of Ida-Virumaa, or by a forest lake deep in the woods with no one else around.
As most Nordic countries, Estonia follows the “everyman´s right” or “freedom to roam” principle, meaning it is the general public’s right to access wilderness and certain public or privately owned land, lakes and rivers for recreation and exercise. There are some simple rules to follow that help preserve the nature.
Make sure to know which berries and plants are safe to eat, but do not worry about it too much. Estonians are known for picking and eating berries and mushrooms out of the forest their whole life – the nature is clean.
Personally, I also drink water from natural resources all the time (sometimes using water purification pills or drops). For example, the water from a stream I’d found on the coastal cliffs that was filtered through many layers of the rock, tastes way better than tap water in some cities.
Make sure to catch as many sunsets and sunrises in the wild nature as possible. No sunrise or sunset is quite like the other – and watching them from a bog, on the seaside or by a forest lake covered in fog makes the experience unforgettable.
As one solitary lady hiker I met on my equally solitary trail towards Kauksi put it – “Yes, there might be some bad people out there. But bad people usually do not like the nature nor can they stand being alone in the nature.”
Also, yes, there are many bears in the forests of Estonia, and usually many bear tracks can be seen in the wilderness. And sometimes they even roam around Tallinn. While the bears can be a considerable threat in some places – for example in the wilderness of the US – here they are just like the Estonians. Quiet, reserved, minding their own business and unless you manage to surprise them, they will gladly keep their distance.
In case you are hiking alone, being quiet and not emanating much smell, it would be wise idea to make more noise – sing or talk to yourself, so the bears can still hear you coming. All the other animals are just as shy, but it is not uncommon to see a fox, a hare, a deer or even a moose in the nature. On most of my hiking days, I did not see fellow human beings for eight to ten hours in a row. Which is another dream for most Estonians. And follows the 2+2 rule by a margin.
Support the local economy
As someone who has worked in the local tourism industry for years, I advise you to support the local businesses alongside exploring nature during these difficult times whenever possible. And I do not necessarily mean checking in the fanciest spa hotel on the way, but maybe stay at home accommodations, eat in local establishments and take an interest in the individual activities offered in different regions.
In case you do not wish to wander around on your own, there are organised hiking tours in small groups that you can join – as well as great nature guides you could hire for a personalised experience.
Another experience to recommend to better understand the rural life in Estonia is the Open Farm Day that will take place on 18 and 19 July this year. Many farms and agricultural producers will be opening their doors to visitors and you can visit farms of all sizes, see the animals and crops they grow as well farming equipment and machinery. You can also try real farm food, go on tours, take part in workshops – each farm offers its own special programme.
Carpe aestate – seize the summer
The summer is damn short in these latitudes. The white nights will already start getting longer and darker after Midsummer Day. And although the nature is always there, 365 days a year, this short period of 10 PM sunsets, 4 AM sunrises, delirious birdsong, luscious green forests, and intoxicating scents can only be experienced during the Nordic summer. Go explore, wander and make the most out of this summer in Estonia. Happy trails!
Cover: Reelika Virunurm hiking in Estonia. Photos by Reelika Virunurm.