Europe is home to vast swathes of pristine natural land to explore, and the Baltics are no exception. Encompassing more than 67,000 square miles across three counties, the combined territory of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia is rife with natural beauty spanning from the shores of the Baltic Sea to the heavily-wooded landscapes along the Russian and Belarussian borders. As you plan your next nature-focused European vacation, don’t miss out on these spectacular wildlife-filled preserves.
Curonian Spit National Park
Running roughly 60 miles across the Lithuanian-Russian border, the Curonian Spit is a particularly fascinating natural region to explore—and the aptly-named Curonian Spit National Park provides ample opportunity to do so. This sprawling preserve is best known for its sweeping sand dunes, with the renowned Parnidis Dune serving as one of the area’s most popular hiking destinations. While the coastal landscape is incredible to take in, be sure to keep your eye out for some of the region’s native flora and fauna as well. Mammals like the moose, river otter, and red fox can all be spotted on land, while close to 300 different varieties of bird have been recorded in the park over the decades.
Matsalu National Park
Birders take note—Estonia’s Matsalu National Park offers a level of avian biodiversity that’s tough to find elsewhere across Europe. This wetland-rich landscape is perched perfectly along the East Atlantic Flyway, ushering in a massive array of migrating species each spring. The bulk of these visitors are waterfowl—barnacle geese, tufted ducks, and common mergansers, to name a few—while mammals like moose and golden jackals can also be spotted roaming throughout the marsh. During the autumn, massive common crane flocks descend upon the park, using the area as a resting point before heading south for the winter.
Ķemeri National Park
Planning a trip to the charming Latvian capital city of Riga? Don’t miss out on Ķemeri National Park, a vast preserve that’s found less than an hour west of city limits. While the bulk of the park is made up of dense forest, Ķemeri is best known for its pristine bogs, offering visitors an opportunity to get up-close with some of Latvia’s native plant species. The Great Kemeri Bog Boardwalk is a popular destination within the park, equipped with a roughly two-mile-long raised path and observation deck that offers a great view of the surrounding landscape. For visiting birders, Lake Kaņieris provides guests with a wide array of native shorebirds and passerines to discover.
Aukštaitija National Park
Deep in the eastern reaches of Lithuania, a pristine hub for native flora and fauna exists in the form of Aukštaitija National Park. There are more than one hundred lakes scattered throughout the preserve, making it a top destination for kayaking and swimming, along with multiple lookout towers that provide visitors with stellar views of the surrounding landscape. A paradise for plant biodiversity, Aukštaitija National Park is home to more than half of all plant species recorded across Lithuania—many of which provide some much-needed nectar for the region’s bees. For a little insight on how Lithuanians have lived in harmony with these insects over the centuries, head to Stripeikiai to explore the village’s top attraction, the Museum of Ancient Beekeeping.
Lahemaa National Park
Located roughly an hour east of the Estonian capital city of Tallinn, Lahemaa National Park serves as the perfect outdoor escape for those who need a break from city life. With more than 288 square miles to explore, Lahemaa is the largest national park in the nation, and its vast forests provide refuge for a wealth of iconic European mammals including brown bears, gray wolves, and Eurasian lynx. While there are spectacular natural landscapes to explore all throughout the park, Lahemaa is also known for the opulent historic mansions scattered across its grounds, including the charming centuries-old Sagadi Manor in the eastern reaches of the preserve.