Gauja National Park was established in 1973 and is the second oldest national park in what was once the territory of the former U.S.S.R. It is located in a very lovely and picturesque stretch of the Gauja River valley stretching from the city of Valmiera to Murjani. There is so much to see and enjoy altogether there are over 500 cultural and historical monuments, castle mounds, masonry churches, manor houses, water and wind mills. Tourists have been flocking for years to this ancient valley of the Gauja River. Gauja National Park has become the most popular tourist destination in Latvia. In this area visitors as far back as the 19th century have been hiking in the Sigulda area with walking sticks which have become popular symbols.
Gauja National Park includes some detached areas which have special biological value such as Nurmuizu Gravis, Rocu Forest, Inciems ancient banks and Sudas marsh reservation. The park has the largest Devonian rock exposures in Latvia, sandstone steeps, fascinating rock formations Raven Gorge, Devil’s Cave Rock, Springu Rock, Fine Clay Rock, Zvartes Rock, Maiden Rock, Kuku Rock, Eagle Rock, and Riddle Rock. Among caves there is Gutmans Cave in Sigulda which is the widest and the highest cave in the entire Baltic region and is rich with legends and tales attracting thousands of visitors.
After exploring Gauja National Park people also visit Sigulda which is a lovely town commonly referred to as the ”Switzerland of Vidzeme”. Within the park is also the ruins of Turaida Castle where you can climb up to the very top and see all of Gauja River valley spread out before you. For those who enjoy nature and hiking there are the Ligatne nature trails along which you can see various wild animals. Among the animals seen on the nature trails are elks, foxes, bears, does, raccoons, lynxes, wolfs, wild boars, squirrels, and hedgehogs. Birds you can see are eagle-owls, owls, and storks.
Those visitors who are fans of military heritage will enjoy exploring the Ligatne secret underground bunker which was once built for the Soviet Latvia Leaders in case of a nuclear war. There is also a special kind of entertainment a vertical wind tunnel Aerodium and here one can enjoy free flight. In both the winter and summer rides are offered to people at the Sigulda toboggan and bobsleigh track. This is the track where champions and participants of the Olympic Games have their training.
A most beautiful time to visit Gauja National Park and Sigulda is during the spring when cherry trees begin to bloom painting the Gauja River valley white with their blossoms. Also in the summer when one can watch the boatmen on the river and in the autumn when the leaves are changing color and painting everything in red and gold. In the winter Sigulda becomes a skiing center and there are several ski runs on the steep slopes of the valley. There are routes offered for car tourists, cyclists, and hikers. There are places to camp and overnight accommodations. Visitors can also spend time on the banks of the Gauja, Amata, and Brasla Rivers.
So if you’re visiting Gauja National Park stop by the Gauja NP Visitor center near the Ligatne Trails where you can get information about the animals along the nature trails, feeding hours and have the opportunity to walk the route with animal caretakers. You can also pick up information about excursions and hikes as well as catering places and accommodations. There are also guide services available.