25 February 2020.
Meandering from the frigid shores of the Arctic Ocean to the rolling steppe of Kazakhstan, the crumpled folds of the Ural Mountains create a natural divide between Asia and Europe and at their southern tip lies Taganay National Park, a sweeping valley bound by rugged peaks and freckled with pristine mountain lakes and dense alpine forests.
Written as таганай in Cyrillic, this beautiful region in southern Siberia is incredibly popular among nature-loving Russians but welcomes surprisingly few international visitors. Yet for those traversing the country on the Trans Siberian Railway and craving some crisp mountain air and a chance to stretch their legs, Taganay National Park makes a remarkably easy and worthwhile side trip.
I struggled to find much information about actually visiting Taganay National Park, especially in winter, but after a wonderful two days in the area, here are all the nitty-gritty details you need to start planning your trip, including the best day hikes and overnight treks, where to stay and how to get around.
* This post includes affiliate links and any purchases made through these links will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you. *
Yekaterinburg to Zlatoust
Zlatoust (Златоуст), a small and uninspiring mining town, acts as the gateway to Taganay National Park and sits wrapped around a vast lake just 4-hours from Yekaterinburg.
Buses depart daily from Yekaterinburg’s Southern Bus Station (Avtovokzal Yuzhnyy) located right beside the Megapolis mega mall and accessible via the Chkalovskaya metro station or any street tram or city bus running along Ulitsa 8 Marta.
Check departures on the bus terminal website here.
I arrived a few hours early for my bus directly from the train station and was able to buy a ticket directly from the counter, but the bus was absolutely packed by the time we left. For weekends and holidays at any time of year, I’d highly recommend booking your ticket in advance or at least keeping an eye on how many tickets are available to avoid missing out.
The same goes for the return journey as Zlatoust’s tiny bus station is notorious for long queues and slow service and so it’s a good idea to reserve your seat back as soon as you arrive or at least a few hours in advance.
The journey takes 4 to 5 hours and costs around R600 (€8.50) depending on the bus company, plus around 150RUB (€2) for stowed luggage. As is always the case in Russia, you’ll need to show your passport and immigration card when boarding.
If you can’t find a direct bus, there are regular connections through Chelyabinsk in both directions.
Once in Zlatoust, the bus station is right on the main road at the southern end of town here.
Alternatively, Zlatoust is also served by trains, however they take over 8 hours from Yekaterinburg so are not something I’d necessarily recommend. The train station is also rather inconvenient to reach, located 8km north of the city centre.
For anyone taking the Trans Siberian and looking to cut down on travel time, there are also a handful of long-distance overnight buses, such as a service to Kazan, which will save you having to back track to Yekaterinburg.
Zlatoust To Taganay National Park
The entrance to Taganay National Park sits 11km from Zlatoust and is easily reached by either marshrutka or taxi.
Marshrutka travel regularly along Prospekt Imeni Yu. A. Gagarina, the main drag through town, often taking a detour around the Agat Mall to collect extra passengers before continuing on to the final stop which is a 10-minute walk from Taganay.
Buses run regularly – every 5 to 15 minutes – between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. when services are heavily reduced until 11 p.m. I always ended up on #29, but #26 and #28 should also travel the same route. Ask for ‘Taganay’ when you board and they’ll quickly tell you if you’re in the right place.
For the return journey, there’s virtually always a bus waiting at the bus stop so you’ll often be able to just step right on.
The trip takes around 30 minutes depending on traffic and costs R22 (€0.30) which you should hand directly to the driver when you get on.
Taxis are also very reasonably priced and a reliable way to arrive at the park. On my final morning, I ordered one through Yandex (similar to Uber) to collect me from my guesthouse and take me directly to the park for just R150 (€2).
Opening Hours | Hours are loosely based around the hours of daylight, opening in winter between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. on weekends, while the summer hours are much longer.
Entrance Fee + Registration | R100 (€2.15) per person per day, payable at the Taganay Visitor Centre. You’ll need to show your passport and register your visit with the staff.
Visitor Information | The staff at the Visitor Centre don’t speak much English, but they’re a wealth of information and are quick to bring up Google Translate to offer all the necessary advice, including detailed hiking directions with the aid of a park map.
Weather | Like much of Siberia, winter here means sub-zero temperatures and plenty of snow which often blankets the ground until late spring. In summer, temperatures are mild, generally hovering around 20°C and with a higher chance of rainfall.
Two-headed Hill is one of the most popular day walks in Taganay National Park and it’s not hard to see why.
This 15km return hike involves some incredibly steep climbs to reach the summit, but along the way you’ll experience the beautiful forests, some dramatic rock formations and be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views across the treetops from the southern peak of the Taganay ridgeline at 1,034m.
In Russian, the peak is written as ‘Двуглавая сопка’ or Dvuglavaya sopka, and also nicknamed ‘Feathers’ (пеpья or per’ya) which is what it’s labelled as on the park map and which often finds its way into the English name when translated from Russian.
The trail begins right behind the Visitor Centre, cutting a wide path through the forest and across the Bolshaya Tesma River.
Under a blanket of snow and with the glow of daybreak just beginning to illuminate the treetops, wandering through the forest to a soundtrack of twittering birds and falling snow was a wonderfully peaceful way to begin the day.
En route, you’ll pass a few major intersections but continue straight ahead following the blue and white tree markers.
After 6km or about an hour and a half, you’ll reach the White Spring Camp (also translated as White Key) or ‘приют Белый ключ’ (Priyut Belyy Klyuch) which is a collection of mountain huts and permanent tents clustered around a freshwater spring.
Until now, the trail is wide and flat or with a very gentle uphill slope, but things are about to get a lot more tricky.
To the left of the camp, you’ll find a staircase heading straight up through the trees beyond which a dirt trail climbs sharply and will have you scrambling up near vertical slopes and grabbing onto wayward trees for balance for the final 1km to the summit. In the snow it was a hard slog, navigating the powder still soft enough to give some purchase rather where it was compressed into a steep slippery slide. And if you’re anything like me, the past few weeks of train hopping and eating as much pelmeni as you can handle won’t have helped either.
As you near the top, you’ll pass a handful of viewpoints peaking through the trees. Jagged pinnacles of rock pierce through the foliage like the ruffled feathers of a forest bird that give the hike its nickname, steep ridgelines rise high above the snow-dusted forest and the endless sprawl of the valley extends beyond your feet.
The real highlight awaits at the summit though, where sweeping panoramic views are the reward for the thigh-burning uphill scramble.
For the return journey, either go back the way you came or take the alternate route which guides you along the ridge and back into the valley where you’ll rejoin the main path.
For this trail, continue around the rocky mound of the summit and you’ll be led immediately downhill toward the forest. There aren’t any signs along the way but the route is clearly marked on maps.me.
In winter, this alternate path receives fewer hikers and was not as well maintained as the way up, but the previous foot traffic meant the path was still easy enough to follow. This route also seemed much less steep, though I still spent plenty of time sliding down on my butt rather than on my feet which, in this travellers opinion is the far more fun option.
The recommended walking time for Two-Headed Hill is 6 to 8 hours, but at a good pace in the snow and with plenty of photo stops, I managed to complete the trail in 5 hours using the main trail up and the alternate route back. If you have just one day in Taganay, this beautiful hike is definitely the one I’d recommend you do.
River of Stones Or Big Stone River
Caught between the Bolshoi and Sredny ridgelines, the River Of Stones carves a wide path through the valley and is another popular place to visit in Taganay National Park.
Stretching on for 6km, this bizarre natural phenomenon is a fascinating sight where the river is essentially a vast tract of large boulders that reach several metres deep. In winter, the rocks are dusted in snow like a lumpy white carpet, but in summer, if you listen carefully, you can hear the rush of water trickling along the river bed far below.
Feeding through the valley forests and across gurgling streams, this hike is relatively flat and, at just 10km return, it’s a great alternative for anyone travelling with kids or not keen to tackle the steep slopes of Taganay’s peaks.
Beginning behind the Visitor Centre, follow the main trail between the forests for 1.7km where you’ll find a major sign-posted intersection. Take the fork right which will lead you downhill, deeper into the valley.
On the park map, you’ll be aiming for Cmоянка Веселый Ключ (Smoyanka Vesely Klyuch) or Merry Spring which is a small camping area beside the river and is sometimes translated as Funny Key Parking. No joke! With examples like this, is it any wonder things get lost in translation.
Unfortunately, this place is not labelled on maps.me, but generally you’ll be heading in the direction of Zheleznyy Most, a small bridge which will take you across the Bolshaya Tesma River. Shortly beyond this, the trail veers left through the forest and follows the contours of the rocks to the Merry Spring camping ground which offers up a perfect vantage point overlooking the River Of Stones. This is the official endpoint of the trail, but just 1km further along you’ll see another viewpoint marked on the maps.me if you have some extra time to spare.
The suggested time for this hike is 4 to 6 hours, though at a good pace it can be completed much faster. I took a longwinded detour on the way there in search of a viewpoint that didn’t exist, struggled along a very uneven backcountry snow trail and stopped to take plenty of pictures and still managed to finish in under 4 hours.
Other Taganay Hiking Trails
For a one or two day visit, the above hikes are a great way to enjoy the wonderful views and verdant forests on a short mountain escape, but for those with more time, there are a couple of long-distance trails that might be more appealing.
Response Ridge and Mitkin Rocks | These impressive rocky pinnacles that you’ll see from the top of Two-Headed Hill are also accessible on a long day or overnight hike. Follow the upper trail beyond White Spring Camp where you’ll be led steeply upwards to these dramatic rock formations. Also nicknamed the Echo Wall, test your vocal cords out against Response Ridge to find the best reverberation. The hike is 22km return, plus 3km if going via Mitkin Rocks, with the option to overnight at White or Rattling Spring Camps.
Russian: Откликной гребень (Otkliknoy Greben) and Митькины скалы (Mit’kiny Skaly)
Kruglitsa | The highest point along the Taganay Range, Kruglitsa is an epic 2 to 3-day hike that follows the lower trail up the valley before climbing steeply to the peak and returning via the scenic upper ridgeline which takes in the romantically named Valley Of Fairy Tales as well as Response Ridge and Mitkin Rocks. The entire trip is 55km and it’s recommended to stay overnight at the Taganay Shelter and Rattling Spring camp (also referred to as Explosive Key).
Russian: Круглица (Kruglitsa)
Eternal Wind And Weather Station | This 4-day 65km trek takes you into the farthest reaches of the national park through pristine wilderness and alpine tundra where few visitors venture. The hike follows the lower trail and takes in Itsyl Peak and the former weather station at Dalniy Taganay (Far Taganay) with the option to return along the same route or via Kruglitsa and the upper ridge trail.
Russian: Ицыл (Itsyl) and вечному ветру, mетеостанция (vechnomu vetru, meteostantsiya), or Дальний таганай (Dalniy Taganay)
You can find further details about any of these trails on the national park website here.
Prefer to Ski Instead of Hike?
Though I’m much more comfortable in boots, it’s definitely possible to cross-country ski in parts of Taganay National Park. There are no carved tracks like you’ll find in ski-obsessed countries like Finland, but many of the main trails are wide and flat with enough space to glide alongside the hikers.
I also bumped into a handful of skiers enjoying the remote backcountry trails, though I would suggest only venturing out here if you’re more experienced.
In Zlatoust, the Sports-Exteme ski resort behind town also boasts several runs for both downhill and cross-country skiing enthusiasts. During winter, you’ll also see plenty of people skiing across the lake which freezes over completely.
Tips For Hiking In Taganay National Park
Take Note Of Daylight Hours | The hours of daylight here vary drastically during the year, lasting just 7 hours in winter and as long as 17.5 hours in summer. Completing any of the full-day trails is easily possible during the long summer days, but in winter it can be tricky. Pay close attention to the times of sunrise and sunset, and leave early enough in the day to complete your hike before nightfall.
Take A Map | For hiking, I always rely on maps.me, but the issue with Taganay is that there are so many small trails marked in the App that it can be confusing to figure out exactly which one you want to take before arriving. Thankfully, signage within the park is great, albeit mostly in Russian, so I’d suggest coming armed with maps.me on your smartphone and a paper map from the Visitor Centre with the verbal instructions they provide to ensure you know where you’re going.
The Names | Throughout this guide, you may have noticed that some locations are referred to by several names which are often completely different. Generally, there’s the Russian name, the official English name and then some bastardised translation that falls somewhere in between. Merry Spring Camp and Funny Key Parking are a prime example. Hopefully by knowing the main variants, you should be able to muddle your way through and find the correct locations.
There’s An App | Taganay National Park has has an App to help visitors explore the park. In all honesty, it’s not perfect, particularly as many of the smaller hiking trails are not marked and it is often glitchy when it comes to tracking your movement via gps, but it’s helpful for locating key viewpoints, camping grounds (translated as parking) and mountain huts (shelters) within the park which are not marked on most other online maps. You can find the desktop version here or download it from here. Click the three-lined icon in the menu to choose the English version.
Upper Or Lower Trail | There are two main arteries that run parallel to each other through Taganay National Park. The lower trail leads through the base of the valley and lies on the right-hand side on the map, while the upper trail runs along a higher section of the mountains and appears on the left-hand side. There are a couple of cross trails that link them within the valley, but when setting off on any long-distance hike, make sure you’re on the correct one.
Paths Are Well-Maintained | Even in winter, the main trails are all clearly signposted, well maintained and have been traced by machines to create an obvious trail. Some of the smaller, less-trafficked routes are not as defined but still manageable.
Bring Snacks | There’s nowhere to eat within the park so bring a packed lunch or enough snacks to last you the day. For water, you’ll find several freshwater springs found around the shelter and camp areas, however only some flow year round while others freeze in winter or dry up in summer so it’s a good idea to bring plenty of water and confirm whether they’re in use when you arrive.
Zlatoust clings to the edge of a large lake and sprawls across a wide area of the valley so if you’re relying on public transport I’d suggest choosing somewhere close to the town centre where you’ll have easy access to restaurants, supermarkets and all transport. Most accommodation in town is made up of simple family-run guesthouses so don’t come expecting any lavish alpine resorts.
Guesthouse Domashniy | I booked very last minute on a wintery weekend in December and this was where I ended up staying. Located 10-minutes from the bus station, this large guesthouse is nothing special but prices are very reasonable and most rooms include a kitchenette making it a decent option for those travelling on a budget and looking to self-cater. Check rates and availability here.
Guest House Puteshestvennik | Set 10-minutes uphill from the town centre in a quiet residential area, Puteshestvennik is one of Zlatoust’s best-rated options offering bright, spacious rooms right beside the ski slopes. Breakfast is included and most rooms have self-catering facilities. Check rates and availability here.
Bellmont | One of few hotels in Zlatoust, Bellmont sits a short way to the north of town and offers spacious rooms with a free breakfast at reasonable prices. The place is a little dated but facilities include an onsite restaurant, a traditional Russian banya, a large kids play area and an open-air terrace. Check rates and availability here.
There are a few nicer resorts and guesthouses elsewhere in the valley, but for these you’ll need to venture much further from town. Search for other options here.
Though most visitors will base themselves in Zlatoust and travel into the park each day, it’s also possible to stay within Taganay National Park at any of the basic mountain huts or camping areas. These are perfect for anyone hoping to hike one of the longer trails and are particularly popular in summer and on weekends so be sure to make a reservation well in advance.
The full list of camping grounds and permanent camps can be found here. Prices start from R150 (€2) for a bed in a communal tent and climb to 3,500 (€215) for an entire 10 person cabin. See here for reservations.
Also note that you’re often required to bring your own bedding and cooking equipment for all these options.