Vast marshes and bogs, wet meadows, unregulated rivers and dense forests together form a mosaic – the „capital of Estonia’s wilderness” and the „land of bogs” (soomaa in Estonian). It is home to wolves, brown bears, lynx and rare bird species including: capercaillie, lesser spotted eagle, golden eagle and black stork. Established in 1993, the Soomaa National Park is also a Natura 2000 protected area, a wetland of international importance listed by the Ramsar Convention, in addition to being a member of the EUROPARC network.
Five seasons at Soomaa National Park
by Dominika Zaręba, Aivar Ruukel
The park’s 390-square-kilometer area is only partially open to visitors for environmental education and nature tourism. Snowshoe tours through marshes, canoe trips in the Pärnu River basin, animal observation, mushroom hunting and forest fruit picking as well as cooking workshops are the main ways to experience the park. Soomaa’s biggest highlight is its “fifth season,” associated with the flooding of the area by rivers in early spring, when the water level rises significantly. During these seasonal natural floods, boats are the main means of transportation for locals. Ecotourists take advantage of these unusual conditions to paddle through the wetlands in a canoe. Telling the history of the place, showing the relationship between man and nature in the wetlands, and sharing knowledge about the rich flora and fauna of this fascinating ecosystem – are all important elements of any trip to Soomaa.
Ecotourism and heritage interpretation create green jobs for residents living near the park. A special attraction of the park is a multi-day workshop on building traditional haabjas – logboats – used by Finno-Ugric and Siberian tribes. They are made from a single aspen trunk. Soomaa is one of the last places in Europe where the tradition of dugout boatbuilding, handed down for centuries from generation to generation, has been preserved. In 2021, this ancient practice was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.