Exploring the Wild Side of Estonia On Its Forest Biking Trails
Estonia is not often talked about on travel blogs, which is a huge injustice. This small, but proud European country sits cozily in the far north-east of the old continent and is home to just 1.3 million people. Expansive natural landscapes make it ideal to go biking in Estonia and explore the wild side – a must for every visitor.
Estonia is one of the rare countries in Europe whose forested areas have increased in the 20th century. Today, more than 50% of the country is covered in forests. Thanks to the Freedom to Roam right, natives and tourists alike can explore freely. Therefore, it goes without saying that Estonia should be on every nature lover’s bucket list!
Take A Week to Cycle Through the Country
The best way to experience its natural beauties of Estonia, if you have a week to spare, is on a mountain bike riding along some of the numerous hiking/biking trails that dissect the country. This is exactly what I did.
The two most popular and longest trails are called Peraküla-Aegviidu-Ähijärve and Oandu-Aegviidu-Ikla. The first one crosses the whole country from west to east, while the second one crosses it from north to south.
Recently, I was lucky enough to ride on the Oandu-Aegviidu-Ikla for the second time and experience it in a completely new light. It’s 380 km long, which means a week gives you plenty of time to complete it, as well as make a couple of detours to explore surrounding areas.
Coming from someone who has been living in Estonia for quite some time, the country is most beautiful in fall, when the trees turn a mixture of red, yellow, and orange, mushrooms abound, and the weather is still nice.
How to Get Started?
Even though Oandu-Aegviidu-Ikla is far from extreme, you should do some research online before heading out into the unknown, to avoid potential inconveniences. There are plenty of great sources that will tell you all that you need to know about the technical details, accommodation, and so on.
This destination is perfect for budget travelers, as there are no admission fees along the trail. The only expense I advise you make is buying the Hikers Passport (costs €10) which will give you full access to any facilities on the trail.
My adventure on the trail started in Oandu, some 80 km away from Tallinn, in untouched primeval forests that set the right mood for the rest of the week. You can get here in an hour on a bus, train, or a minibus; or, you can cycle all the way from Tallinn.
What Makes This Trail Special
Oandu-Aegviidu-Ikla is divided into seven stages, each ranging from around 30 km to 80 km (approx 18 to 50 miles). The trail itself is organized and maintained by the State Forest Management Center, who are doing an amazing job.
This route is perfect for nature lovers as it starts near the sea and the cliffed coast and ends near the Estonia-Latvia border. Between the two spots, you’ll witness breathtaking forests, the biggest bog in Europe, nine nature reserves, two national parks, sandy beaches, quirky villages, a plentitude of lakes, and friendly Estonian people.
Camping Along The Trails
The best way to completely immerse yourself in this unique landscape is by camping along the trail, rather than finding accommodation in places near the trail. Camping is legal and completely free on campsites maintained by RMK, which you can learn more about on their website.
These campsites usually include campfire sites, camping facilities, a dry toilet, and sometimes even primitive cabins that you can rent for €5 to €10.
My personal favorite is the Murki campfire site, which sits on the edge of the Murki bog, and includes beautiful shelters, benches, and plenty of space to pitch a tent.
Best Things to Do and See
The best way to experience Estonia is to do what Estonians do. These are some things that I enjoy doing while here and that you can do either on the trail or by making a small detour to a village nearby.
Pick Mushrooms and Wild Berries
If you take my advice and visit Estonia in fall, you will be able to pick mushrooms and different types of wild berries. Ask local bikers which ones are good (safe) to eat. Estonians love spending time in nature, and these are activities that whole families enjoy doing together.
Swim in a Lake
Along the 380 km of the Oandu-Aeviindu-Ikla route, you will be riding near tens of small and large lakes. The water in most of them is pristinely clean, so it is the perfect opportunity for you to relax at the end of the grueling day of cycling. My personal favorites are the Järvi Pikkjärv, Paukjärv, and Jussi Lakes.
Visit a Sauna
One of the favorite pastimes of Estonians, and part of many traditions, is spending time in Saunas. There are thousands of saunas in the country that you can visit. If you’re looking for accommodation along the route, look for a place that offers a sauna and see why Estonians love doing it.
Stay in a Guest House
I recommend camping as the main type of lodging on this trip. However, you should stay at an authentic guest house or a bed & breakfast place at least once or twice, to experience the authentic Estonian housing. If you do so, make sure to try some of the local specialties such as homemade black bread, elk meat soup, smoked ham and sausage, Estonian dairy products, and Kalev chocolates.
Things to Keep in Mind About the Trail
Finally, keep in mind that the trail is very long, so naturally, some parts are better maintained than others. In total, there are six big information boards along the trail, which will tell you the most important information. The markings on trees are not always perfect, so it’s possible to get lost on some parts of the trail. It’s best to use a GPS device every now and then to make sure you’re on the right track.
Moreover, cycling on boardwalks is not allowed since it would be hard to pass hikers if there are any. However, from my experience, you can do it if there aren’t any hikers in sight and avoid making long detours.
Also, depending on where you are on the trail, you might run into fallen trees and branches or unkempt bushes. I had to carry my bike several times for a couple of meters, but it’s nothing significant that you need to worry about.
If you’re a nature lover and an adventurer who’s looking for a destination that’s off the beaten track, Estonia is a place that you must visit. You can get to Tallinn on a cheap flight from most European countries in one to two hours, so there aren’t really any excuses not to include it on your travel itinerary for 2019. You will have the time of your life and see the side of Europe that you cannot experience anywhere else.
About the Author: Dusan is one of the lead writers at Bicycle-Guider, with a long experience of writing content for various niche-oriented websites. He is also a bicycle touring enthusiast who has cycled through more than 15 countries, covering more than 20,000 km. His passion is sharing his experiences with the world and inspiring other people to explore unique places around the world.