Exploring the Land
Seeing Baikal on Foot
Hiking around Lake Baikal is one of the most popular ways of getting close to nature and enjoying all its majestic beauty. And if you’re on a budget, trekking around, though slow, is one of the cheapest ways of seeing the lake. People of any age or physical condition have a number of hiking routes to choose from. You can go for longer and harder hikes, across our mountain passes and rivers, or they can choose shorter routes, out along the lake or through one of our forests.
Almost every corner of Baikal offers a decent opportunity to get out into nature and take a good hike. You can simply walk for a mile or two along the Baikal Shoreline Railroad, which hugs the coast of the lake to the south of the Angara River. You can also take the very popular shoreline hike starting from the trailhead at Listvyanka and leading north to the village of Big Cats. From there, a trek over the mountains and a quick descent down will lead you to the Small Sea.
On the east side of the lake there are all kinds of fun hikes up and around the Holy Nose mountain peninsula. And to the far north there is the very gentle hike up to Frolikha Valley. Whatever route you choose, there are so many hikes along the shoreline or across Baikal’s many islands—each of them full of the unforgettable impressions of our bounteous shoreline beauty.
To explore Baikal by foot (or engage in any of the “Things to Do” at the lake), we recommend the eco-tour experts at AB Tours. Note: a portion of the AB Tours profits is given to the Siberian Association of Interpretation each year.
Eco-trails at Baikal
The Great Baikal Trail (or GBT) Association has been building trails within and around the national parks at Baikal for over fifteen years. The main goal of these eco-trails is to help grow sustainable tourism at the lake.
Each year, the GBT organizes and runs a series of volunteer projects. They mostly build new trails, or refurbish and improve old ones. Each of these volunteer projects is actually a type of eco-tour, where the GBT brings in hundreds of trail-builders from around the world to enjoy a “working vacation” along the lake.
Although the entire network of trails around Baikal is yet to be completed, there are systems of hiking routes in the major parks of the region. There are also excellent pathways in several of the nature reserves and other wildlife areas, including the Baikal’ski, Dzhergin’ski, Baikal-Lena, and Frolikha Reserves, among many others.
For more detailed information about all these trails, you can visit the Great Baikal Trail Association’s website at: http://www.greatbaikaltrail.org.
Dog sledding at Baikal
If you’ve ever wanted to do something totally out of the ordinary, then you might just enjoy being pulled by an entourage of over-excited dogs. What better way to break away from the humdrum of everyday life than to jump in behind a team of huskies and head out onto a sledding safari here in Siberia?
Of course, if you are wondering about the dogs, and whether they truly do enjoy dragging you across the snow—well, just one look at their panting faces, and you’ll realize that it’s just as much fun for them as it is for you! They love to run, and were born and bred for it!
Here at Baikal there are sledding trips to suit all tastes – both shorter jaunts out onto the snow, as well as longer treks that last a few days. If the snow is deep it’s really no problem: our dogs already know the best speed to chunnel through dense snow. Some tour operators will teach you how to manage the dogsled yourself, so you can go on solo adventures in the snow.
The most popular winter routes for sledding are along the southern and western shores of Baikal; all the way up to Olkhon Island, as well as across the Khamar-Daban mountain passes. You can also choose to follow your dogs on a trek across the frozen lake! No matter what route you choose, once you’ve taken a ride on our dog sleds—next stop: the Iditarod!
Biking and Bike Tours
Biking around Baikal has become a very popular way to see the lake. When you are out of a car, you can see so much more of Baikal’s beauty, enjoying ever-closer encounters with nature without polluting the environment.
Of course, in Siberia, it’s even better if you like a good challenge. There are not too many smooth roads to bike on, which is why it helps to be in good shape, and to have a little experience in biking back home. There is, however, a multi-day option where you can hire accompanying vehicles and experienced guides to help you along the way.
The best routes for biking around Baikal start with the whimsically jagged shoreline paths that hug the lake. Deeper into the Siberian forests there are other trails that cross over the many crystal-clear streams. You could also opt to bike out into the open steppe lands, where you can see your path from one horizon to the other. The most popular places for bike treks these days are on Olkhon Island, the Small Sea, and the Tazheranskaya grasslands, leading all the way to Aya Cave.
In the end, you’ll find that when you bike around Lake Baikal, you almost seem to gain more energy than you lose—always leaving you in a good mood.
Horseback Riding at Baikal
Riding horses at Baikal is, in many ways, hang-gliding without leaving the ground! It is a secure way of seeing Baikal: the horses there are all tried and tested and anxious to take you out on the trail.
You probably know how faithful and noble these animals are. Here in Siberia the horses are also known for their endurance and sure-footedness. They are certainly one of the best ways to travel over the mountain passes and along the paths that encircle Baikal.
There are a number of horseback riding tours that you can take—lasting from several hours to several weeks. Most routes are geared for people who do not have a lot of riding experience. Each tour has an expert instructor, who teaches you how to tend to your horse, how to saddle and harness it, and how to manage it out on the trail. As a rule, beginners are offered single-day packages.
Experienced equestrians, on the other hand, can choose a longer tour that allows you to see more of the picturesque landscape of Baikal. These riding tours are offered almost everywhere on the lake—at least at the points where there are trails. Once again, the most popular routes are out by the Tazheranskaya Steppeland, and on Olkhon Island. There is also the trail from Listvyanka to Bolshoye Goloustnoye, or the one near Buguldeika. Up in the north end of the lake, there’s good riding near the capes Kotelnikovski and Ludar.
Somehow life in the saddle gives a different, more positive perspective to life. And it’s certainly a great way to get into shape. Here at Baikal—with all the incredible views, clean air, and clear water—you are sure to see everything in a completely different light, when you are riding atop a noble steed!
Exploring Caves at Baikal
For those who love to explore caves (the spelunkers or potholers among you), you know that there’s plenty of artistry and science to moving about caves and caverns. The activity itself, of exploring caves, has a scientific name: speleology, but there are a number of different scientists (mineralogists, geo-morphologists, hydrologists, etc., etc.) who love to discover the underground wonders of caves.
Caving in any region is not always listed as one of the primary activities to attract tourists. But at Baikal it is a very appealing sport, providing the same sense of adventure that attracts mountain climbers to the high peaks and cliffs.
Each cave is a world of its own, completely different from the outside. It’s a secret realm of beauty down there, where the powerful forces of nature—the ones that carved out these caves in the first place—surround you.
In the Irkutsk Region alone there are some 215 separate, explorable caves. The most illustrious among them are probably Aya Cave, Hunters’ Cave, and Dreamers’ Cave, all located in the Tazheran Steppe region.
Dreamers’ Cave can be found not far up hill from the Small Sea region of Baikal. It is one of the largest caves in this part of Siberia, with a number of chambers and side-passages, each coming to a dead end at one of the many underground grottoes within this cavern. The snow-white sinter deposits here (both stalactites and stalagmites) are so beautiful and precious that the cave itself has been designated as a National Monument of Nature.
Hunters’ Cave was actually discovered only a little while ago, and has turned out to be the deepest cave in all of the Irkutsk Region. There are three routes once you go underground here: one is a vertical tunnel that is almost like a wide chimney; but it is so steep that you would need special equipment to descend down into the depths. The other two channels to the cave, each horizontal, are much easier to negotiate. Word has still not gotten round about this cave—so it is still sparsely visited, even though it is one of the most interesting sites at Baikal.
The Aya Cavern is one of a great number of underground chambers near to Aya Bay at Baikal. It is the longest and largest of the caves on Baikal’s shores, with a number of branch tunnels radiating out of the main hall. Some of these branches are like funnels that descend deeper and deeper underground. Aya Cave has great cultural and religious significance amongst local native tribes. For many centuries it has been deemed sacred by our shamanistic believers.
Another Baikal cave that is particularly well known is the famous cavern on Olkhon Island, within the Shaman Cliffs. It is here where many religious ceremonies and sacrifices were made during the height of shamanistic culture at Baikal—it is supposed to be one of the nine most holy sites for shamans in all of Asia.
There are special rules for visiting all of these caves that your guides will encourage you to follow. After all, these caves are quite fragile geo-systems that were formed from mineral and ice crystals. Ethical behavior involves taking nothing out of any cave, nor leaving anything behind.
If you have ever visited caverns in other parts of the globe, you will know that it is a very different world down there, unlike any other place on the earth’s surface.