Aukštaitija National Park: Lithuania’s beautiful nature

This post is about Aukštaitija National Park in Lithuania. This remote area of forests and lakes in the Northeastern part of the country became the first National Park in Lithuania in 1974.

Although Aukštaitija National Park is popular among local tourists, it is still an off the beaten path destination for foreign travellers. The lack of public transport and its remote location protects its natural beauty from mass tourism

Aukštaitija National Park
Aukštaitija National Park

Why visit Aukštaitija National Park?

At the moment Lithuania has 5 National Parks, but Aukštaitija National Park remains the most beautiful.

Aukštaitija National Park is a land of hills, forests and lakes with the occasional village of colourful wooden homes. There are more than a 100 lakes that are surrounded by vast pine forests. The landscapes reminded me a lot of my road trip through Swedish Lapland.

Aukštaitija National Park is famous for its incredible biodiversity and is home to a large number of rare animals and birds including deer, elk, fox, wild boar and golden eagles. 

Aukštaitija National Park is a heaven for anyone that loves the outdoors and nature. There are plenty of hiking trails and in summer you can go kayaking or canoeing on the lakes.

Lithuania is inspired by Scandinavia’s free access to nature. Lithuania’s national parks do not charge any entrance fees. You are free to wander in nature and pick berries and mushrooms as you like.

There is little public transport in Aukštaitija National Park, but even without your own car it is well worth a visit. For independent budget travellers it is best to base yourself in Paluse. 

Paluse is a small town scenically located on lake Lusiai and is the starting point for a number of hiking trails throughout Aukštaitija National Park.

Aukštaitija National Park
Aukštaitija National Park

Places to visit in Aukštaitija National Park

Lake Tauragnas

Lake Tauragnas is one of the deepest lakes in Lithuania. In summer locals come here to swim or to go fishing. On the southern shore you will find the Taurapilis hillfort. This was once home to the old Tauragnai castle. The castle was burned down by the Livonian order in 1433. 

Locals also believe there was once a church, but it disappeared inside the hill. On Saint John’s day the hill fort opens up for a few seconds at midnight. Those with good eyes might be able to see the derelict church.

The Taurapilis mound is well worth a visit, but more for the views over the lake than anything else. 

How to get there: own car

Lake Tauragnas at Aukštaitija National Park
Lake Tauragnas

Museum of Ancient Beekeeping

Aukštaitija National Park has lots of different species of plants. Some of them attract bees. As a result beekeeping and honey making is an age-old tradition in Aukštaitija National Park.

The museum of ancient beekeeping in Stripeikiai shows both the traditional and more modern ways of making honey. When I visited in winter it was unfortunately closed.

The village Stripeikiai is also very picturesque. Apparently it is one of the oldest villages in Aukštaitija National Park and it has lots of charming wooden homes.

How to get there: own car

Šiliniškės observation tower

The Šiliniškės observation tower is not for those with a fear of heights like me. If you dare climb all those steps I am sure that the view over Aukštaitija National Park is amazing. 

How to get there: own car

Siliniskes Observation tower in Aukštaitija National Park
Šiliniškės observation tower

Ginuciai Watermill

Ginuciai is another nice little village in Aukštaitija National Park. It is mostly famous for its traditional watermill from the 19th century.

There is also a small restaurant and museum and makes for a great lunch stop if you explore the park by car

How to get there: by car or hike from Paluse

Ginuciai water mill
Ginuciai water mill

Ginuciai castle hill

Not far from Ginuciai village is another large mound. Like the Taurapilis mound it was once home to a castle, but is now completely covered by the forest. 

Nothing of the castle remains and it looks like a normal hill. However, It does offer spectacular views from the top over lake Linkmenas and lake Ukojas. A stairway helps you to climb to the top.

How to get there: by car or hike from Paluse

Ginuciai castle hill
Ginuciai castle hill

Ladakalnis hill

Just south of the Ginuciai castle hill is Ladakalnis hill. This hill offers the best views as you can see 6 lakes. Ūkojas, Linkmenas, Pakasas, Asėkas, Alksnaitis and Alksnas.

Ladakalnis hill was a holy place. In pagan times it was probably a place where people offered sacrifices to the goddess Lada. Up to this day it is a custom for people to bring stones and put them near the oak that grows on top of the hill. 

How to get there: by car or hike from Paluse

Ladakalnis hill in Aukštaitija National Park
Ladakalnis hill

Linkmenys church

Linkmenys is one of the larger towns in Aukštaitija National Park. It is not the most beautiful town, but it is worth a quick visit for its 19th century church

How to get there: by car

Linkmenys church
Linkmenys church

Bird village and farm

Not far from Linkmenys is a bird village and farm. In winter the farm was not open although you could walk around the farm and see some of its animals.

In summer there seems to be more activities here and it is a nice place to visit for families with children

How to get there: by car

Aukštaitija National Park
Bird village

Paluse and lake Lusiai

Paluse is a small town with a few guesthouses and restaurants. It is one of the few places in Aukštaitija National Park that you can reach by public transport.

From Ignalina there are a couple of buses per day to Paluse. It is a nice small town that has a scenic location on the shores of lake Lusiai. It is also the starting point of a number of hikes in Aukštaitija. This is a great place to base yourself to see the park. 

How to get there: by bus from Ignalina

Lake Lusiai in Aukštaitija National Park
Lake Lusiai

Gaveikenai

Gaveikenai is a small village in Aukštaitija with beautiful traditional wooden homes. One of them is also a watermill, but a more modern one than the watermill in Ginuciai. 

The village is located in between Paluse and Ignalina and makes for a nice short hike from both of them

Gaveikenai in Aukštaitija National Park
Gaveikenai

Ignalina

Ignalina is the largest town in Aukštaitija National Park. It has both train and bus connections with Vilnius and is therefore the first place you reach. Personally I found Paluse more scenic. But, Ignalina is like a small city and as a result the facilities were better. Therefore Ignalina is also a good option to base yourself.  

Hiking in Aukštaitija National Park

Lake Ilgis trail

Lake Ilgis near Ignalina is a very small lake. There is a short hiking trail of about 4 kilometers that runs around the lake. The Lake Ilgis trail goes through the forest so the views on the lake are a bit obscured, but it is a nice hike nevertheless. 

Lake ilgis in Aukštaitija National Park
Lake Ilgis

Ignalina to Paluse

There are buses between Ignalina and Paluse, but it is also possible to hike. There are trails along lake Pavlovinis and Paulakinis and then through Gaveikenai to Meironys where you walk down to Paluse on the shores of lake Lusiai. 

The hike is about 8 kilometers one way. 

Aukštaitija National Park
Paluse Ignalina trail

Paluse to Ginuciai

One of the most beautiful hikes in Aukštaitija National Park is from Paluse to Ginuciai. The hike is 16 kilometers one way and passes by Ladakalnis hill, Ginuciai mound and ends at the Ginuciai water mill. 

One can stay the night at Ginuciai and then hike back the next day

Aukštaitija National Park
Ladakalnis hill

Šiliniškės Ridge route

The Šiliniškės trail follows the Šiliniškės Ridge from Ladakalnis hill to Stripeikiai. It is a 15 kilometer hike one way and passes by Ladakalnis hill, Ginuciai mound, the Šiliniškės observation tower and the beekeeping museum in Stripeikiai

It is possible to connect the Paluse to Ginuciai hike with the Šiliniškės Ridge trail in a multiple day hike staying the nights in Ginuciai and Stripeikiai. 

Siliniskes Ridge route in Aukštaitija National Park
Šiliniškės Ridge trail

Aukštaitija National Park travel tips

Where to sleep in Aukštaitija National Park

Ignalina: in Ignalina I can recommend hotel Zuvedra. The rooms are a bit outdated, but it has good facilities. There is also a restaurant with great food.

Paluse: There are not many places to stay in Paluse. Karolio Sodyba has a central location with good reviews.

Ginuciai: Ginuciai is a small place with few facilities. Sodyba Gervina is a good place to spend the night if you are hiking from Paluse to Ginuciai and back.

Where to eat in Aukštaitija National Park

The best places to eat in Aukštaitija National Park are in Ignalina. Both Hotel Zuvedra and Romnesa Ignalina offer great Lithuanian food. Romnesa has a bakery too where they make Sakotis (lithuanian spit cake). Some of the other local specialities are potato pillows (svilpikai) in a mushroom sauce and dumplings.

When it is hunting season you may be lucky to see wild boar and deer on the menu.

Sakotis
Sakotis

How to get to Aukštaitija National Park

Unfortunately, public transport in Aukštaitija National Park is limited. The most accessible town is Ignalina. There are frequent buses and trains from Vilnius to Ignalina. From Ignalina there are buses that go to Paluse. 

For the bus times and buying bus tickets online you can check autobusubilietai.lt

For the train times and buying train tickets online you can check traukiniobilietas.lt

How to get around

The best way to truly explore Aukštaitija National Park is by having your own car. In my opinion it is worth the money to hire a car for a day or two.

That said, it is doable with public transport as well. If you love hiking it is very well possible to see the major sights when hiking from Paluse to Ginuciai (16 kilometers) and the Šiliniškės Ridge trail (15 kilometers). 

Because there are no buses back on the end of the trail it does require a multiple day hike. 

Aukštaitija National Park
Aukštaitija National Park in winter

When to visit Aukštaitija National Park

The best time to visit Aukštaitija National Park, Latvia, largely depends on your preferences and the activities you want to engage in. Aukštaitija National Park experiences a Northern European climate with distinct seasons, each offering unique attractions:

Spring (April to June): Spring is a lovely time to visit Aukštaitija National Park when the weather starts to warm up, and nature comes to life with blossoming flowers and greenery. The temperatures are moderate, making it a pleasant time for outdoor activities.

Summer (July to August): Summer is the peak tourist season in Aukštaitija National Park. The weather is typically warm, and the days are long. This is an ideal time for outdoor activities in the park, but also peak tourist season with higher prices. It is a popular time for locals to come to hike the forests and swim in the lakes. 

Autumn (September to November): Autumn brings colorful foliage to the landscape, creating a picturesque setting. The temperatures start to cool down, and it’s a great time for hiking in the crisp air. The autumn colours are amazing and you can gather mushrooms in the forest.

Winter (December to February): I visited Aukštaitija National Park in winter. A very beautiful time when the lakes are frozen and everything is covered in a white layer of snow. It is an easy to spot wildlife as well. We saw deer, fox and wild boar and many more animal tracks in the snow. 

What to bring

What to bring to Aukštaitija depends a bit on the season. In winter bring enough warm clothes as it can be very cold. Summer brings lots of mosquitoes, so bring mosquito repellent.

In any case bring sturdy shoes and sunscreen. Even in winter the sun can be very strong. The trails are not difficult, but sturdy shoes will help. 

Sustainable Travel in Aukštaitija National Park

Like in many Scandinavian countries, such as Swedish Lapland, there is free access to nature. The beautiful forests and lakes of Aukštaitija National Park do not charge any entrance fees. You are free to wander in nature and pick berries and mushrooms as you like.

The northern ecosystems are fragile though. Traveling sustainably to Aukštaitija National Park is essential to minimize your environmental impact and preserve the area’s natural beauty for future generations.

Support the community: You can support the community by purchasing goods and services from local markets and restaurants. It is better to try Baltic cuisine that uses local ingredients rather than imported foreign foods.

Stay in small scale sustainable hotels: It is also better to stay in small-scale guesthouses or homestays to support the local economy directly. These accommodations often have a more positive impact on the environment compared to large hotels. You can also look for hotels that prioritizes sustainable practices.

Leave no trace principle: When hiking in Aukštaitija National Park, stick to designated trails to protect nature. Straying off the marked paths can cause soil erosion and damage to plant life. If you are lucky enough to spot wildlife, observe quietly from a distance to prevent disruption to their habitats and help maintain their natural behaviors.

I encourage you to take all your trash back with you and dispose of it responsibly. In other words, leave no trace of your visit. Even better is when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.

To avoid single-use plastics, invest in reusable items. For example, you can bring your own water bottle with a filter. At last, use biodegradable and eco-friendly personal care products to minimize pollution of water sources.

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