Mongolia's National Parks
17 per cent of Mongolia's total landmass is now designated as one of four kinds of “protected area”: strictly protected areas, national parks, nature reserves, and natural historical monuments. There are 99 areas in total, with 24 National Parks. Melissa has written about her top five which are all unique to their respective regions and feature in many of our tours.
1. Khustai Nuruu
Having been a 'Specially Protected Area' since 1993, this national park is popular because of its successful reintroduction of the rare and endangered subspecies of wild horse: Przewalski’s Horse. I love that you can get within metres of these stocky, stripeless zebra-type animals as they come down from the mountains to drink with their young. Then to spot a red deer and enjoy the company of marmots; a humbling experience which gets you closer to nature than many other places in the world... and only 95km away from the capital city!
No fences, no restrictions and no speed limits – I love just getting on a semi-wild Mongolian horse and galloping down the valley! Within just two hours of driving east from Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar (UB), you can treat yourself to the natural delights of large, open steppe as well as forests and rolling hills. Whether it’s an action packed adventure of cycling, kayaking, horse riding, trekking and camping, a full immersion in nomadic life or a more leisurely and luxurious experience that you are after, this national park covers all bases.
3. Gobi Gurvansaikhan
Flying from UB, the view from the plane on a clear day is amazing. From the lush greens of central Mongolia, the landscape changes to the vast browns, reds and golds of the plains which spread across the Gobi Desert in the south of Mongolia. Gobi Gurvansaikhan, or the ‘Three Beauties’ is the largest of the parks in Mongolia stretching 380 km east to west and 80 km north to south. A haven for wildlife, although elusive in some cases, you can hope to see ibex, marmot, pika, hedgehogs, bearded vulture and gazelle but it has been known for some to spot the endangered snow leopard. Try camel riding – perhaps go for a multiple-day trek then climb the highest dunes in the country and admire the view.
4. Lake Khovsgol
An incredible place to take a deep breath of fresh air, enjoy the cooling water around your toes and even try spot of sun lounging on the pebbly shores of Lake Khovsgol. Being one of the seventeen ‘ancient lakes’ of the world, Lake Khovsgol and its idyllic landscape set the scene for an alpine journey in Mongolia. As you may have gathered, horse riding is a big draw for me in such open and unrestricted land; riding in this region it is just as exhilarating trotting in and out of woods, spotting deer close-by at dusk then returning along the lakeshore. Endless options for trekking in stunning hills covered in wild flowers, camping, ger stays – it really is the complete countryside retreat.
5. Altai Tavan Bogd
The main draw for me are the mountains – a hiker's paradise! From a couple of days to several weeks; go camping, meet local nomads (Kazakh, Tuvan and Oirat) and even learn about the ancient art of eagle hunting. The Golden Eagle Festival in October is an incredible experience and highly recommended – such an honour to share in traditions and be welcomed so warmly. Located near the Chinese border, just south of Tavan Bogd (and the highest mountain in Mongolia), this 6,362 km sq. national park is the home of three lakes (Khoton, Khurgan and Dayan) and is inhabited by species such as argali sheep, ibex, red deer, beech marten, moose, snow cock and golden eagle – so be sure to keep your eyes peeled!
Did you know?
Although the National Parks Service in the USA originated in the early 20th century, following Yellowstone National Park's establishment in 1882, Mongolia established the world’s first protected area 100 years earlier!
In 1778, the Mongolian governor of Khuree, Sainzaidorj, made a formal request for the protection of Bogd Khan Uul, the mountain just south of Ulaanbaatar, for purposes of public worship (UNESCO). The respectful treatment of the mountain had been a long established tradition for the Mongols, dating back to the days of the Khans. It was approved by the Manchu Lifan Yuan from Beijing that same year. Bogd Khan Uul is also the world’s longest continuously protected area - and one of our favourite places to escape to when we need a quick break from the city.