As the first national park of Latvia, Gauja National Park does not disappoint nature enthusiasts and well-traveled individuals. It is not surprising that the park is the most popular tourism destination in the country.
Almost half of Gauja National Park area is forested, even parts close to the river. Some of the types of forests you will find include pine and spruce. The park’s crowning glory and main draw is the ancient Gauja River valley, which was believed to have been formed after the glaciers from the Ice Age disintegrated. This breathtaking valley stretches for 95 kilometers and is composed of several tributaries, deep ravines, caves springs, and gigantic sandstone cliffs.
Just to give you an idea of the enormity of this park, it encompasses one third of the Latvia’s naturel preserve and houses hundreds of cultural and historical monuments. Gauja National Park also covers the regions of Sigulda, Amata, Incukalns, Cesis, Ligatne, Krimulda, and Pargauja.
Part of the reason Gauja National Park is such a spectacular destination is because of its diverse wildlife. There about 900 species of plants inhabiting the park, and you can discover and experience many of them once you travel Gauja’s nature trails and tourism paths. Sigulda is the deepest part of the valley, with a depth of approximately 85 meters. This is also where you will find the park’s modern visitors center.
Hiking is one of the best activities to do while in the Gauja River Valley. It allows you to truly marvel at the valleys natural beauty up close. The most popular set of hiking routes are the Ligatne trails. One of them starts from Sigulda and continues up to the Gauja River. While hiking this path, you will pass through impressive forests, ravines and fascinating rock formations like the Elpju rock and the “Launagiezis” rock.
These nature trails are also used for cycling excursions. Some of the areas you can cover are the Kuku cliffs, Zvartes rock, Lielstraupe castle, Lielstraupes pils and Cesis areas. You can also arrange a guided day tour from Riga with a reputable company that will include vehicle transfer, canoeing, hiking and meals. If you like bird watching, make your way to an area called the Sudas purvs, which is one of the most important bird locations in all of Latvia. Some of the bird species that populate the park area are kingfisher, eagle-owl, white-backed woodpecker and black stork.
Aside from being blessed with natural gifts, Gauja National Park is also home to cultural monuments, which are deemed quite important in the pan-Baltic region. Some of the cultural and historical landmarks you should visit are the lake castle at raiši, the Turaida Museum Reserve and Cesis medieval quarter, which houses St. John’s Church and the renowned castle ruins.
Staying overnight within the park grounds is a rewarding experience as you spend some time close to nature. Fortunately, most of the tourist accommodation facilities are situated on the shores of the Gauja River, giving convenient access to magnificent views. You can also camp on designated areas including one situated along the Amata River.