National Parks of Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world. Its territory is huge, and the nature is amazing and diverse. Kazakhstan has deserts and steppes, dense forests and the highest peaks covered with glaciers. In the south and southeast there are the Tien Shan and Altai mountains. Northern Kazakhstan is known for its lakes and forests. The western and central parts of the country are mainly represented by deserts and semi-deserts, they form 60% of the total area of the republic.
With such dimensions, our country remains one of the most sparsely populated in the world - with an area of almost 3 million square kilometers, just 19 million people live in Kazakhstan. Therefore, we have the opportunity not only to travel for weeks without crossing the borders, but also to preserve the unique nature. We can afford huge National Parks!
There are 13 National parks (and 10 reserves) in Kazakhstan. Acquaintance with the nature of the country, of course, should begin with visits to the Parks. Each of them is unique, and the choice of where to start is yours.
1. Ile-Alatau National Park
Mountains around Almaty. Ile-Alatau is one of the oldest parks in the country, founded in 1996.
It is located in the Almaty region and includes almost the entire ridge called the Zailiysky Alatau (or Trans-Ili mountains). The area of the park is almost 200 thousand hectares.
The Trans-Ili Alatau is one of the two ranges of the Northern Tien Shan. The second, southern ridge is almost entirely located in Kyrgyzstan, and only its eastern part is located in Kazakhstan (Kolsai region, Kolsai Lakes National Park). The national park is located within the height range from 600 to 5000m above sea level. The nature of the park is based on picturesque forests, where you can see the Schrenk spruce, Sievers apple trees (the ancestor of all apple trees on earth), gardens of wild apricots and mountain ash. The park is unique - literally within one day you can travel from the Kazakh steppe to the Arctic, passing from the sultry semi-deserts to dry steppes, then through the coolness of alpine meadows to the tundra zone, and, finally, reach the snow-covered peaks of the highlands.
Read more about Ile-Alatau National Park.
2. Altyn Emel National Park
Deserts and singing sands. Altyn-Emel Park was also established in 1996, and is located in the north of the Almaty region, on the right bank of the Ili River. Its area is about 520 thousand hectares - today it is one of the largest national parks in Kazakhstan. Its territory consists of the western spurs of the Dzungarian Alatau, the desert mountains of Katutau, Aktau, Ulken and Kishi Kalkans, and the famous Singing Dune.
Altyn-Emel is known not only for its deserted landscapes and sands, but also for its unique nature - herds of goitered gazelles (Persian gazelle), wild asses (Turkmen donkey), camels and Przewalski's horses graze here under protection. There are also famous archaeological sites. The most impressive of them are the so-called royal mounds of Bes Shatyr, surrounded by ancient dolmens.
Here is a guide by Altyn-Emel National Park.
And here is more about Park's nature and wildlife.
3. Burabai National Park (Borovoe)
A forest oasis in the middle of the steppes of Central Kazakhstan. This is the land of transparent lakes and bizarre rocks surrounded by dense pine forests. Area - 130 thousand hectares; located in the Akmola region, not far from Astana. 305 species of animals live here, which is 36% of the entire fauna of Kazakhstan - elk, deer, wild boar, lynx. The lakes are especially beautiful in spring and autumn, when flocks of migratory birds stop here.
The infrastructure of the Park is quite developed; in recent years, many hotels and sanatoriums have appeared.
What to do: in addition to walking, fishing, picking mushrooms, people practice here treatment with healing mud and mineral water (sanatoriums). Borovoe is also a local climbing Mecca, athletes from all over the country come here for training and competitions.
4. Sairam-Ugam National Park
Mountains of South Kazakhstan. The park is located in the Turkestan region, not far from Shymkent. The area is almost 150 thousand hectares.
Sairam-Ugam is a piece of wild and stunningly beautiful nature in the south of Kazakhstan. One of the few places where rare animals can still be found, such as the Turkestan lynx, mountain sheep (argali) or Indian porcupine. And the Sievers apple tree grows here - the genetic ancestor of all living apple trees.
There are seven natural zones in the park, from the steppe at the foot of the mountains to the highlands. The highest point is Sairam peak, 4236m above sea level.
Things to do: Hiking to the mountain lakes Makpal and Susyngen, trekking, horseback riding, viewing rock art
5. Kolsay Lakes National Park
Ridge Kungei Alatau (mountains of the Northern Tien Shan). The park is located in the Almaty region, near the border with Kyrgyzstan. Its area is 161 thousand hectares.
Kolsai represents Kazakhstan on most of the pictures, the panoramas of its famous lakes adorn any guidebook. In general, Kolsai is the name of a cascade of three lakes located in the Kolsay gorge. The lakes are beautiful at any time: incredibly clear water, virgin forest around and amazing nature fascinate. Here you can see wild argali (mountain sheep), Tien Shan bear, Turkestan lynx and even snow leopard. In the lakes there is a local trout - osman.
Another attraction of the Park is Lake Kaindy, located in a nearby gorge. This is exactly the turquoise pond with trees "growing" out of the water that you can see in advertising.
On the First Kolsai Lake there is an infrastructure for living, boating and catamarans.
Things to do: Hiking from First to Second Lake, trekking, horseback riding, boating and catamarans
Read more about Kolsay Lakes National Park.
6. Charyn Canyons National Park
Deserted canyons. The "Charyn Canyons" park is huge, its area is 127 thousand hectares and includes several lateral tributaries (canyons) of the Charyn River and adjacent territories. The most visited canyon is called the Valley of Castles. It makes an indelible impression on any traveler. While walking along the bottom of a rocky gorge, you see the colorful walls with amazing shapes, hanging over above your head. You get the feeling of complete immersion in the world of the Looking Glass. It is also worth exploring other canyons - Red (Bestamak) and Lunar (also Yellow or Zhabyr). Nowadays other locations of the Charyn Park are also gaining popularity - the red mountains of Boguty and the Ash-tree Grove, where you can walk among the 600-year-old gigantic ash trees (a relic Sogdian ash tree that survived the Ice Age).
7. Katon-Karagai National Park
Mountains of Southern Altai. The largest natural park in Kazakhstan, its area is 643 thousand hectares. Located in the East Kazakhstan region, not far from Ust-Kamenogorsk.
This is the best place to get acquainted with the unique nature of Altai, which is worth starting in the village of Katon-Karagay. The park includes the mountains of the Southern Altai, with its highest point peak of Belukha (4506m). Visitor is welcomed to admire the magnificent lakes (the largest is Rakhmanovskoye), plunge into the thermal radon springs "Rakhmanovskie Kluchi". You can walk or drive a jeep along the Old Austrian Road - it's almost 150km through passes and gorges. The road was intended for the transfer of forces and weapons to strengthen the border of the Russian Empire with China, and was built by captured Hungarians, Czechs and Slovaks who fought on the side of Austria-Hungary in World War I. By this road, you can directly get to Lake Markakol - another attraction of the Park.
Things to do: hiking and trekking, mountain climbing, horseback riding, hydrotherapy in thermal springs. Treatment with maral antlers.
8. Bayanaul National Park
Rocks and lakes of Northern Kazakhstan. The park is located in the south of the Pavlodar region, it is the oldest in Kazakhstan (founded in 1985 in order to preserve the nature of the Kazakh sand-hills). Its territory is 68.5 thousand hectares.
Bayanaul is a favorite vacation spot for residents of the cities of Central and Northern Kazakhstan. The largest lake here is Sabyndykol (“soap lake”), on the shore of which the village of Bayanaul is located. The lake is named so due to its special, soft water, as if soapy to the touch. Lakes Byrzhankol and Toraigyr are not so big, but they are famous for fish - they are home to different carp types.
The park has a large number of houses and recreation areas.
Things to do: people come to Bayanaul not only to swim, but also to climb rocks, ride a bike, and fish.
9. Kokshetau National Park
Granite mountains, lakes and forests of Northern Kazakhstan. The park is located southwest of the city of Kokshetau. On its territory of 182,000 hectares, there are lakes Shalkar and Zerenda, surrounded by beautiful green hills. The region is called Kazakhstan Switzerland due to the similarity of landscapes. For 60% it is covered with forests, which alternate with steppe and meadow zones.
Park "Kokshetau" is known for its rich fauna - 47 species of mammals are found here, including elks, roe deer, foxes, oxen and badgers, as well as 7 species of fish. History buffs also have something to do here - in the Park, under the protection of the state, there are 185 monuments of ancient archeology, history and architecture. In the village of Syrymbet, a monument of architecture of the 19th century, the estate of Shokan Valikhanov, was recreated.
Things to do: Hiking in a pine forest, cycling and horseback riding, picking mushrooms and berries, fishing
10. Karkaralinsky National Park
Forests and lakes of Central Kazakhstan. The park was founded in 1998 in the eastern part of the Karaganda region. Known for its unique nature - clean lakes, forests and springs with healing water. On the territory of the park, with an area of 112 thousand hectares, there are 5 mountain groups: Airtau, Buguly, Kent, Maten and Shankoz. The highest points are in the Kent ridge (1400m ASL). Among the lakes, the most famous are Bassein (Pool) and Shaitankol (Devil's Lake), to which good trails lead. The flora and fauna of the park is very diverse - here you can find argali (mountain sheep), rare black storks, relict trees and even sphagnum swamps covered with a dense layer of moss.
Things to do: hiking and trekking, rock climbing, cycling
11. Zhongar-Alatau National Park
Mountains of Dzhungaria, Southeast Kazakhstan. The park was founded relatively recently, in 2010. Its area is 356 thousand hectares, it is located on the northern slopes of the Dzhungarsky (also Zhetysusky or Semirechensky) Alatau mountain range. Dzhungaria is a real pearl of Kazakhstan, practically unexplored and fertile land. It is also the source of the seven great rivers of the Almaty region, thanks to which our region is called flourishing.
The park is known for its unique mountain landscapes and vegetation. In general, the purpose of its creation was the preservation of forests and orchards where the Sievers apple tree grows - the progenitor of all cultivated varieties of apple trees on earth. In addition to rich flora, more than 50 species of mammals live in the Park, including deer, bears, and roe deer. Endangered species of animals are also found here: the Central Asian toad and the Dzhungarian frogtooth (newt), black stork, snow leopard, etc.
The famous Zhasylkol lakes, the Lepsy nursery, unique rock paintings and petroglyphs are also located in Dzhungaria.
What to do: hiking and trekking in the highlands of the Dzungarian Alatau, visiting the reserves of Sievers and Nedzvetsky apple trees, viewing rock art
12. Buiratau National Park
Forest-steppes of Central Kazakhstan. The Buyratau park is located on the territory of two regions: Akmola and Karaganda, and has two branches. Its area is almost 89 thousand hectares, this twelfth national park in Kazakhstan appeared in 2011. The purpose of its creation was to preserve the unique nature of the steppes, but it is known primarily for its largest aviary, where marals (red deer) are bred. Over the entire history of the enclosure, over 247 red deer have been released into the natural habitat. People from all around come here, to the Belodymovsky branch, to see not only deer, but also migratory birds - swans, cranes and geese nesting on lakes Azhbai and Bozaigyr, and to fish with a bait.
Things to do: Lake walks, bird and animal watching, fishing
13. Tarbagatai National Park
Tarbagatai mountains, East Kazakhstan. One of the youngest parks, founded in 2018 in the east of the country. Its area includes not only the Tarbagatay Mountains, but also several rivers. Here you can find over one and a half thousand plant types and about 400 species of animals, including birds. There are 16 species of fish in local rivers, and most of them are listed in the Red Book. The total area of the national park is 144 thousand hectares.
Tarbagatai is worth visiting because it is not yet so famous among tourists, which means that almost no one will interfere with your acquaintance with kazak nature. It is one of the best places to see how the Sievers apple tree blooms at an altitude of 1100 meters, to meet wild animals far from civilization and enjoy the beautiful mountain landscapes.
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