National parks of Lithuania

National Parks

Lithuania’s first national park – Aukstaitija National Park – was designated in 1974 and covers an area of 30 thousand hectares in the regions of Ignalina, Utena and Svencionys. Over 70 per cent of its territory is pine stands, including the ancient woods of Azvinciai, Mincia and Linkmenos. Some of the pine trees in Azvinciai wood are over 200 years old and the oaks of Trainiskis, Kaltanenai and Varniskiai are the remains of the ancient oak-tree forests that once covered large territories here.
Scattered among the woods and hills are some 100 smaller and larger lakes, often interconnected by rivulets and streams. The largest of them is Lake Dringis (721 ha). The Tauragnas is the deepest lake in Lithuania (60.5 m). The Baluosas features seven islands, one of which has a little lake of its own, feeding the Baluosas waters through a small stream.
Of some thirty rivers on the territiry of the park, the Zeimena is the most beautiful, although the smaller ones – Kriauna, Lukna, Buka, Sventele, Stregzda – are no less attractive to tourists, linguists and ethnographers alike.
The woods, marshes and meadows of the Aukstaitija National Park abound in rare plant species, including a number of plants that are listed in the Red Data Book of Lithuania and are protected as endangered species. The woods of the park are the domain of elk, deer and wild boar. The lakes and rivers, too, are rich in wildlife, from Canadian mink to a variety of birds that can bring quite a few exciting moments to a devoted birdwatcher.
The park’s territory embraces some 80 settlements and villages, some of which have retained not only their old original layout but also archaic wooden farm buildings and other structures. The Paluse village, which is the tourist centre of the Aukstaitija National Park, was first mentioned in written sources in 1651. It still boasts an octagonal wooden church dating back to 1757. Paluse is the starting point of most of the tourist routes, both shorter and longer walks and a rowing-boat route along a system of lakes and streams connecting them.
Accommodation is provided in old wind mills turned into tourist centres.

The Dzukija National Park was designated in 1991 in the region of Varena. Its aim is to protect the landscape, the old villages, historical and cultural monuments, and forests of south-eastern Lithuania. The park’s territory is 55 thousand hectares, 85 per cent of which is covered by woods.
Among the historical attractions of the Dzukija National Park, the ancient town of Merkine and the village of Liskiava are of greatest interest. Merkine dates back to the 14th century and is situated at the confluence of the Nemunas and Merkys rivers. The Merkine castle hill which gave the rise to the town, offers an unforgettable view of the Nemunas valley and surrounding woodland.
Liskiava, which can be easily reached by boat or by bus from Druskininkai, is a settlement on the bank of the Nemunas, surrounded by numerous legends and folk tales. Most of them are connected with the Liskiava castle hill, on top of which one can still see remnants of the 14 century castle.
Besides Liskiava, there are a number of other old villages – some dating back to the 16th century – that have retained the traditional layout of forest villages and architecture of buildings. The inhabitants of many of them still excel in the traditional folk crafts: weaving, wood-carving and pottery.
Pinewoods, which dominante in the Dzukija National Park, abound in mushrooms and berries and have since long ago been a source of extra income for the local people. Among the mushrooms most sought after are edible boletus and chantarelle. The latter are gathered in large quantities and even exported abroad. Wild strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, and red bilberries are the most widely spread kind of berries found on the territory of the park.
The park’s birdlife boasts a number of rare eagles, including Haliaelus albicilla, Pandion haliaetus, and Circaetus galiccus, and the forests are the habitat of considerable populations of elks, deer, wild boars, foxes, wolves, and hares. A number of protected plant species are found in the park, too. The administrative centre of the park is Marcinkonys. It can be reached by bus or by train.

The Trakai National Park was designated in 1992 to embrace the historic city of Trakai, some 25 kilometers outside Vilnius, and the forests, lakes and villages in its environs. The total area of the park is 8 thousand kilometers. The most valuable monuments in the park are the Trakai insular castle, the remnants of the peninsula castle and the ancient site of the Senieji Trakai (Old Trakai) castle with a church and village. It was to the castle of Senieji Trakai that, according to old chronicles, the capital of Lithuania was transferred in the 14th century by the Grand Duke Gediminas. It was also there that the greatest Lithuanian ruler if all times, Grand Duke Vytautas was borne. Later, the capital was transferred to the castle situated on a peninsula between the lakes of Lukas and Galve. The castle was presumably one of the largest in Lithuania of those times and served as residence for a number of Lithuanian rulers before the insular castle was constructed a short distance away on an island of Lake Galve. It became the stronghold and residence of a number of Grand Dukes of Lithuania, including Kestutis and Vytautas. It was there that Vytautas died in 1430. Ruined during the wars in the 18th century, the castle is nearing its restoration and houses an impressive History Museum at the present time.
Trakai is a small town, its main attraction being the old part, notable for the wooden houses built by the Karaites, a tribe of Turkic people who were brought to Lithuania by Grand Duke Vytautas from the Crimea and who served as his bodyguards. the Karaites’ house of worship, a kinessa, and a museum of Karaite culture are places worth visiting.
In and around Trakai there are about 20 lakes, the largest of them being Lake Galve, an established centre of water sports in Lithuania. Trakai is increasingly becoming one of Lithuania’s busiest recreation zones, hosting a number of international events every year, like the hot air balloon festival of 1990.
The environs of Trakai, with old villages and ancient castle hills, attract not only those interested in history but also numerous lovers of nature. In the Varnikai – Ilgelis and Plomenai nature reserves one can find a number of rare species of birds and plants. The Trakai National Park is visited by over 300 thousand people every year.
The Zemaitija National Park was established in 1991 in an attempt to protect the typical Zemaiciai (Lowlands) landscape, some 150 old farmsteads, and a popular site of worship – Zemaiciu Kalvarija. the park covers a territory of 20 thousand hectares.
Among the numerous ancient castle hills and settlements in the Zemaitija National Park, Zemaiciu Kalvarija is one of the most interesting. It was first mentioned in written sources in 1253 when it was still called Gardai. At the present time the settlement boast a complex of structures that were used for worship as early as the 9th century and 19 Roman Catholic chapels, built in the 18th – 20th centuries.
Of the water bodies on the territory of the park, Lake Plateliai is by far the largest (1210 ha) and most beautiful. The town of Plateliai, situated on the shore of the lake, is the seat of the park’s administration and also a popular tourist place. The church and its belfry are architectural monuments. There is also a beautiful park, a yachting club and a number of holiday centres in Plateliai.
About fifty per cent of the park’s territory is woodlands, mostly fir-tree forests. The woods of Paplateliai, Plokstine, Stribaiciai and others are the habitat of a number of rare and protected bird species, such as Haliaetus albicilla, Falco piligrimus and Gavia arctica.
Covering an area of 18 thousand hectares, the Kursiu Nerija National Park was designated to protect the unique scenic beauty of the Kursiu Nerija, a narrow peninsula separating the Kursiu Marios Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. The peninsula, a sandy stretch of land extending 98 kilometers, with the width varying from 400 meters to 3.8 kilometers, was formed some five to six thousand years ago, as sand accumulated in the shallower waters along the Baltic coast.
The sea winds shifted the sand, creating a range of large sand dunes stretching for about 70 kilometers from Smiltyne to Sarkuva. The largest of the dunes, such as the Sklandytoju, the Angiu Kalno, and the Urbo Kalno ones are up to 1000 meters high and provide a charming view of the sea, the lagoon and the green forests.
Up to the 15th century the spit was covered by both deciduous and coniferous forests. Later, however, large portions of them were felled by the axe. This lead to severe sand shifting. 14 villages were swallowed up by the moving sands. It was in 1825 that G.D. Kuvertas started the first reforestation project to try to stop the sand. At the present time life on the spit is protected by about 7 thousand hectares of forests, most of them pine-woods.
The settlements situated on the spit boast of original architecture, typical to this region. In Juodkrante, the first stop on the road from the northern tip Nida, the peninsula’s administrative centre, one can see a number of old fishermen’s houses that are protected as architectural monuments. The other settlements before Nida are Pervalka and Preila, typical fishing villages. Nida is the largest and most beautiful of the Lithuanian settlements on the spit.
The Kursiu Nerija National Park stands out among the other parks of Lithuania. Because of ecological concerns, access to the spit is restricted. Visitors can obtain information and book a guided tour of the park in Klaipeda, Smiltynes 18.

Kernave – honored as being the first capital of Lithuania, Kernave was first mentioned in 1279. All that remains of the proud history of this beatific spot found on the right bank of the Neris River. Archeologists have examined the castle hills in Kernave and have determined that a strong feudal castle developed here in the 12th – 13th centuries. In this village are some hills. One of them – Mindugo Sostas (“Mindaugas’ Throne”) – used to be called Castle Hill. To the south of Mindaugo Sostas is Aukuro Hill, on which the castle is believed to have stood. The hills are covered wiht legends. Since the beginning of XVI century, the town developed at the top terrace of the Neris River. It boasted an armoury for forging weapons.
In 1986, archeologists found the remnants of an ancient city in the Pajauta Valley between the castle hills and the Neris. That city – LowerKernav – is believed to have been the first capital of Lithuania. According to archeologists, the first inhabitants settled in the Pajauta Valley in 8000 B.C. Lower Kernave prospered in the times of peace. However, when the attacks of the Crusaders began, the inhabitants had to leave Lower Kernave and move to the fortified holls.
The Church of the Holy Virgin Mary was erected in Kernave in 1910 – 1920. In 1987, the churchyard was decorated with stone mosaic.
Once one of the most important economic and cultural towns of Lithuania, today Kernave is an unmissable archaeological and historical museum where you see the life of the town as it was many centures ago. Once you are in the region, don’t miss the chance to stand in the very centre of Europe, as determined in 1989 by the French National Geographical Institute. This picturesque place, 24 km north of Vilnius.
Anyksciai, Asveja, Auksadvaris, Birzai, Dubysa, Grazute, Kauno marios, Krekenava, Kurtuvenai, Labanoras, Meteliai, Nemuno delta, Nemuno kilpos, Neris, Pagramantis, Pajuris, Panemuniai, Pavilniai, Rambynas, Salantai, Sartai, Sirvena, Tytuvenai, Varniai, Veisiejai, Venta, Verkiai, Vistytis, Zagare.
Here agricultural activities are controlled by the agencies of environment protection. They are suitable for recreation at any time of year, especially in summer and autumn, when one hears a rustle of the forest, a babble of crystal clear streams, when wild berries ripen and wild mushrooms raise their caps. Winter offers ski tracks, ice fishing or hunting. In many parks a visitor will discover mysterious mounds and sacred forests from heathen times.