Kolsay lakes

Where is it

Kolsai lakes (three lakes: "Saty" at 1800m, "Mynzhylgy" at 2000m and Third lake at 2500m) are located in the Kolsai National Park. There are 330km to the East from Almaty (5 hours)
First Kolsay lake: 42.98443, 78.32479

What to do

- hiking and horse riding around the First lake
- trekking to the upper lakes
- camping at a lakeshore and enjoying the wildlife

How to get there

By A351 highway via Chilik town, and then by P16 to Saty village (281km) where the entrance to the Park is located. There is a bus connection between Almaty and Chilik town. There is a chance to take a minibus-taxi to Saty, but this way of connection is irregular.


The best season to visit Kungei Alatau area is mid April through end of September. In winter season the roads can be dangerous. May and June are the wet months: it is raining almost every day in the afternoon. Normal day temperature in Kolsay and Kaindy area in July is +15..+20C, night +5…+12C.

What's interesting

Three big lakes with turquoise water, in a pictorial gorge. Relict forests and waterfalls, wildlife of Kungei Alatau: eagles and hawks, mossy grass, local rainbow trout called “osman”. Fantastic Kaindy lake, that is located in the same Kolsai National Park.


- Zhybek Zholy hotel, at a First lake
- guest houses in Saty village, homestay
- small wooden huts and yurta at a lakeshore (1st lake)

Kolsai is a name for a cascade of three lakes in Kungey Alatau ridge. The lakes are dark blue in color and filled with pure glacial water. There is a spectrum of high-altitude landscape zones with specific flora and fauna like snow leopard, brown bear, maral, roe, blue whistling-trush and golden eagle.
Kungei Alatau is one of the ridges of the northern Tien Shan, which limits in the north the Issyk-Kul basin, and joins in the south the Zailisky Alatau ridge. These two great ridges are divided with the vast valley of Chilik river in eastern part. Kungei Alatau is famous for its lakes, which are the real gems of the North Tien Shan. Gorges, in which the rivers are located, are situated near the village Saty. The formation of these lakes have been linked to a powerful earthquake that took place in the late 19th century (1887, 1889). Massive stone avalanches blocked the gorge in a few places and formed a natural dam. 

Kolsai lakes are located in the same valley but at different altitudes. The first lake is at a height of about 1800m asl. It looks like a “stretched mirror” along the gorge and has approximately 2 km in length (80m deep). The road goes very close to the lakeshore, from the north. Hotels and cafes are located on the natural dam. The steep slopes lead down to the lake and covered with dense spruce forest. There are several poplar groves on the shore. Many beautiful plants can be met of the slopes, including fantastic “Alfred snow”, which blooms in August: its nectar attracts a lot of insects. Many species of butterflies can also be found in dry meadows, they are active in sunny days. The most common of them – Traurnitsa, Vanessa red, pearl Pandorra, copper-butterfly Damon and rare endemic Karanaza Regel. But the White Apollo, which differs in this area with a huge number, catches the eye more than others. Flocks of trout can be observed in clean, clear water: they can grow as big as 50-60cm. It should be noticed that Tien Shan spruce or so called Schrenk spruce, has a narrower shape of the crown in this certain area. For this reason, the tree looks very straightforward and charming. Another attraction of the Kungei forest is the relict moss – “mossy grass”, in some places it reaches meters thick and has few layers of different colors. 
Kolsai lake Kolsai lake

There is a well-marked trail up to the second lake, which winds along the spruce forest and follows the river. There are a lot of shrubs under the canopy: various kinds of rose, cotoneaster with red and brown berries, red and black honeysuckle, currant of Meyer and raspberries. Blackberries, strawberries and bramble are often found in the riverside. By the steep slopes the river flows as series of small waterfalls: in such places the rocks along the stream are covered with moss. Here you have a chance to see the famous blue bird. In sunny days the forest is full of twittering of various birds like nutcrackers, grouse birds – a rapid predator Sparrow hawk hunts them. In the evening or in very bad weather a real owner of this place appears – a bear. 8-kilometers path leads us to the second lake, located at a height of 2000m asl. It has a diamond shape with small elongated bay, at the confluence of river Kolsayka. Sheer cliffs on three sides surround the lake and almost all the slopes are covered with deep spruce forest interspersed with ash trees. There are good places for tent camping on the north coast. 

Kolsai Kolsai flora

The trail goes up by the eastern shore. The river appears in a form of large crystal stream. It begins with many small springs that trickle right out of a steep slope, densely wooded. At this altitude, the forest is very rich in various types of mushrooms, the most valuable of which include milk mushroom and saffron milk caps. It is usually rainy in the first part of summer, therefore there are a lot of mushrooms in the grass. Having passed over the last steep slope, you’ll see the third lake located at a height of 2500m asl. Its surface is approximately 2 times smaller than the second lake. The natural dam made of huge boulders is overgrown with forest. There is a relict grove of juniper tree near the water, on the north shore. The height os certain trees is up to 4 meters. It is well know that juniper is one of the most long-lived tree in Kazakhstan, it can reach the age of 800 years! Another interesting plan is ruffed Karagana that can be found above the lake. This shrub grows up to 2,5m, and it is can be easily recognized with its stem covered with long 5-centimeter relatively soft spins: it looks like cactus. The zone of alpine meadows begins above the lake and the path goes up by these pictorial fields. After another hour of hiking up you will meet a small lake, which in some years dries so looks more a damp meadow. The pass just above the lake is a good point to see the famous Issyk-Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan. 

Kolsai lakes Golden Ring of Almaty Kazakhstan wildlife