Soomaa National Park

Established in 1993, the Soomaa National Park is the second largest national park in Estonia, with half of its 39,884 hectares being covered by different wetlands. Soomaa, located on the border of Pärnu and Viljandi County, is one of the gems of Estonian nature with its large bogs almost untouched by human activity and rivers in natural beds. The flooding that is characteristic of Soomaa can cover up to 17,500 hectares of the park, and is referred to as the fifth season by locals.

With its expansive bogs, the national park has been recognised:

  • as an internationally important bird and biodiversity area (IBA) since 1989,
  • as part of the List of Wetlands of International Importance (The Ramsar List), since 1997,
  • as a nature and bird area and part of the Natura network of nature protection areas since 2004.
Riisa Bog (Photo: Priidu Saart)

Activities in Soomaa

In additional to the national park, the Soomaa region is also home to a great number of cultural historical values: Suure-Kõpu Manor, the Tori Horse Breeding Farm and the Kurgja Farm Museum, which are bound together by the diverse and seasonally suited nature tourism services of the region’s businesses. Bog hikebog shoe hike, bird watching and nature safari, and canoe ride are opportunities to discover Soomaa, offering the opportunity to venture into the half-wild embrace of the national park.

For those hikers who are heading out on their own, there are a total of more than 50 different RMK rest areas in Soomaa National Park and the surrounding area, from Kurgja to Viljandi and Pärnu, which are open to everyone. Take a closer look HERE.

Canoe trip at Soomaa (Photo: Innervisionteam)

Five seasons

Soomaa, with its unique landscape, bogs, flood-meadows, and dunes, is new and unexpected in every season. Soomaa’s most distinctive feature is what the inhabitants of the local villages refer to as the ‘fifth season’: in addition to spring, summer, autumn, and winter, they have the high water season.

In days of yore, when people got out of their beds in the morning and their feet splashed in water, they used to say: ‘Look! A visitor in the room!’ During the high water period, the landscape is accessible primarily via canoe, kayak, or a traditional dugout canoe, offering views of areas that would otherwise only be accessible when covered by snow and ice during the winter. The skill of making a dugout canoe has survived to this day. Efforts are currently underway to have the Soomaa dugout canoe added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Bride and groom arriving in a dugout canoe

Rivers and riverside grassland meadows along with bog forests have retained their natural appearance and primacy. Thus, by gliding along the river during the high water period, it is possible to see animals and birds which would otherwise go unnoticed by human eyes in the depths of the forest or in the shadow of riverside trees. Fortunately, many of Soomaa’s study trails are walkable and meander through the changing landscape.

In spring, the water sometimes rises so high that it moves woodpiles and lighter buildings out of place. Rivers and their flooding have helped in the development and preservation of several traditions in Soomaa. One of the most expressive of these is the primitive dugout canoe.

In days of yore, preparations were made well in advance for the high water of early spring – bread was baked, woodpiles were tied to fences, grain chests were lifted onto stands, and boards were nailed crosswise onto floors – the high water level sometimes lasted for a couple of weeks. Houses in Soomaa are built differently than elsewhere in Estonia – with the front door facing the river. Many buildings are built higher, thereby enabling the water to pass under the house.

House at Soomaa (Photo: Dream Beach Media)

Soomaa tips

How to get to Soomaa? Where to stay in Soomaa and what happens during the fifth season?