The Republic of Karelia

Paanajärvi National Park

Paanajärvi National Park is in the northwest of Karelia, in Loukhsky district, near the Arctic Circle. Like the coastal village of Paanajärvi, it was named after the most popular natural site on its territory, Lake Paanajärvi, which has been the centre of these lands since ancient times.

Until 1944, this area belonged to Finland, and then, until the early 1990s, the 30 km border zone was not readily accessible to the public, which contributed to the preservation of the pristine nature on the spurs of the Maanselkä ridge. Paanajärvi National Park was established in 1992, among the first in Russia. The state border separates it from a similar Finnish nature reserve, Oulanka. The mountains and lakes of both parks form a single natural area. It is possible to visit both: Russian tourists go to Oulanka, and Finns enjoy fishing in Paanajärvi.

Paanajärvi is the only nature reserve in Russia included in the PAN parks system. This international organisation, created under the auspices of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), unites the 'wildest' national parks in Europe: those where tourism is combined with environmental education and the utmost respect for nature.

Address: 32 Druzhby Street, Pyaozersky urban settlement, Loukhsky district, Republic of Karelia
Phone number: +7 (81439) 4-85-04
Site on the map

The landscapes of the National Park are shrouded in the romantic and harsh spirit of the Scandinavian North. Paanajärvi even has 'its own' artist: Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931), the creative mind behind the iconic illustrations for the Kalevala, spent the summer here in 1892 and painted several landscapes of nature. The most striking painting is 'Mäntyjoki', a picture of a magnificent three-tiered waterfall on the river of the same name.

The Mäntyjoki River flows into Lake Paanajärvi. On the lakeshore, not far from the Mäntyjoki waterfall, the steep 60-metre cliff Ruskeakallio rises straight up from the water. Ruskea means 'brown': the red-brown vertical wall overgrown with brown lichen looks especially impressive in the rays of the setting sun. The deepest point in the lake is located near the rock, a crevice with a depth of 128 m. Paanajärvi is one of the deepest lakes in Northern Europe and is distinguished by its pure, oxygen-saturated water. In summer, tourists admire the beauty of the lake from a boat, which can easily be booked at the visitor centre or through the park inspectors. Like other bodies of water in the park, the lake is perfect for fishing: whitefish, bull trout, grayling, pike, perch and vendace can be caught here. Next to the rock, there is a fire pit and a shelter for spending the night.

The picturesque coastal relief of Paanajärvi reminds of fjords, and Mount Nuorunen is a real fjeld: as mountains topped with treeless plateaus are called in Scandinavia. Nuorunen is the highest point along the Maanselkä ridge ('ridge of the Earth' in Finnish) and the highest peak in Karelia (576.7 m). This is a zone of mountain tundra, and as you climb up, you can observe how coniferous forests are replaced by lichens, mosses and stones. As a pleasant surprise, you can find lakes and marshes formed by rain and melted snow that has accumulated in the fractures of the granite. They are called 'hanging lakes'. On the flat top of Nuorunen, you can see many sacred megaliths, including the largest seita in Karelia: a boulder placed by the Sámi in honour of a deity. The summer ascent of Nuorunen is a 21-km route, a serious hiking trip that usually takes two days with an overnight stay. In the winter, a snowmobile will help you get to the top.

From the round top of another mountain, Kivakkatunturi (499 m), you can see Lake Pyaozero, the winding Olanga River and the Kivakkakoski waterfall near Mount Kivakka, the largest in Karelia (12 m). There are ecological trails with convenient bridges and paths, and even benches for taking a rest. Nearby is the Vartiolampi tract, where an ancient village of Karelian Old Believers once stood. Now a wooden hut called Vartiolampi has been recreated there: a 48 m2 guest house, and next to it there is a tent camp of the same name. Almost two dozen such guest huts have been built in the park, some larger, some smaller, designed for a varied number of guests.

To visit Paanajärvi, you need to make a request in advance by calling the tourist department of Paanajärvi National Park at 8 (814) 39-48-504 and confirm it two weeks in advance. The park is very popular, but visits are limited, and in the summer season, it is usually booked out: no wonder that applications for the following summer are accepted in winter. The Paanajärvi Visitor Centre is located in the village of Pyaozersky (Druzhby Street, 31). In addition to the office, the visitor centre houses the national park's museum, a library and a conference hall. There you can also book a tour, book a house, purchase a fishing license and buy souvenirs.

The best period to visit begins in mid-June when it is already warm and there are not many mosquitoes. The season continues until September. In summer, the temperature can reach +30°C, but it is +15°C on average. It gets colder in September, but the autumn colours add a vivid beauty; besides, the northern berries and mushrooms will be ripe. You can collect them and take them with you. The National Park is open all year round: in winter, people go to Paanajärvi to ski and ride snowmobiles.

There is a helipad on the shore of Lake Paanajärvi. In the reserve, there are special highways, paths, and footbridges over streams and swamps. There are many dedicated areas for short-term overnight stays and campfires. There are information boards along the routes.

There is no electricity in the national park, but a generator can be used if necessary. In the event of an emergency, you need to contact the gamekeepers: they maintain radio communication with the visitor centre.

Hunting, rafting on the rivers, spending the night and making fires in places not equipped for such activities, as well as moving by car of beyond the delineated tourist routes are prohibited. Before the trip, you should study the rules for visitors, which are available on the official website of the National Park.

From Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Petrozavodsk you can reach the Paanajärvi Park from the village of Loukhi which can be reached by car along with the Saint Petersburg – Murmansk road or by train to Loukhi station. Then, go 110 km to the west on the road to the village of Pyaozersky. A 253-km dirt road leads from the town of Kostomuksha to the village of Pyaozersky, through the village of Kalevala.