A good choice for bear watching in Europe

Estonia has about 700 brown bears. That’s quite a lot when you consider the size of the country. In comparison, Finland is almost 8 times bigger than Estonia and is thought to have around 1,000 bears. Therefore, it is an interesting option for bear watching!

It may be quite common to see a bear when you go to the zoo, but when you see it in the wild it’s another kind of feeling!

Of course, it also means that nothing is guaranteed. If the bears decide to not show up, too bad for you! But it is estimated that when bear watching in Estonia, the chance to see a bear are at least 80%.

The region where it all happens is located in the eastern part of Estonia, where can be found the largest forest in the country.

Quick Info

GPS: 19°33’31.49″N, 103°25’0.31″E

Best way to go: Book a night in the hide online (see the link below)

Price: 95 Euros per person

Link: NaTourEst (I am not affiliated with them and paid the full price).

Duration: About 15 hours, from 5 pm to 8 am.

Best season: May to September

Good to know: You need binoculars!

Spending a Night in a Bear Hide

So how does it all work? When I booked this with my girlfriend, I didn’t really know what to expect. Would it be some kind of guided tour? Would we be on our own? Here is what happens after your booking:

The owner of the hide sends you and email to give you the GPS coordinates of the meeting point. You need to go there with a rented car, as it is in the middle of a lost countryside. The person will meet you there, and guide you through the forest to the place where you will be spending the night… a simple but well made wooden hut.

From now on, you are on your own! So it is basically like renting a hotel room, except that this hotel room is a bear hide lost in the Estonian forest.

When you are driving on the small road in this remote countryside, you wouldn’t expect so much is going on in the nearby forest! Indeed, every night, a rich but secret wildlife roams freely, including the imposing brown bears we are here for.

Bear watching Estonia

Estonian forest

Don’t expect to get much sleep in there, as there are many animals to observe. After all, it’s not every day that you are given the chance to watch such wild animals that are usually invisible to most people; so I think it’s worth sacrificing a bit of sleep to enjoy their presence.

You need to be motivated and full of hope to get the most of this experience. You lock yourself inside the hide at the end of the afternoon, and after that the only thing you can do is wait in silence with your camera ready.

The waiting time can be very long so you need to be armed with patience. It’s not a zoo, animals are free. They may or may not show up. Some people see something very early, some people see animals only when the night has come. It seems common to spot a fox or two in the evening or early morning, but we didn’t have much luck with them.

But anyway, it’s primarily for the bears that we were there, and yes we did see bears, phew! Cute raccoon dogs regularly showed up too, taking turns with the bear, avoiding to meet each other.

In our case, the bears took quite a bit of time to appear but when it did, the feeling was incredible! We had been starting to lose hope a little, when my girlfriend suddenly whispered “Bear! Bear! Bear!“. It was a mix of relief to have finally successfully spotted a bear, and fascination to see this big and fantastic animal walking a few metres from us.

I forgot to mention that an important thing, if not THE most important thing to bring is binoculars. Without them, you will definitely miss out, as the animals are close, but still not 2 metres from you… there is a small clearing between you and the animals.

We stayed awake until the middle of the night, watching the brown bears and raccoon dogs going about their business. We got 2 or 3 hours of sleep, then it was already time to wake up. We tried some more early morning watching, but didn’t see any mammal. Just a pretty woodpecker on the tree in front of us.

Bear Watching in Estonia Travel Video

Watch the video to see how it’s like inside the hide, and watch Europe’s largest predator roam around the hide!

Brown Bear Photography

Obviously, when you go for such an experience, you don’t only want to watch brown bears, you also want to capture beautiful pictures of them! The hide are very well made to discreetly use your DSLR camera, without the animals noticing you. There are some awesome pictures to be shot there!

Here is a selection of the pictures we took while staying at the bear hide.

Last Thoughts About Bear Watching in Estonia

If like me you are a nature, wildlife and photography lover, you can only want to book your night at the hide and try your luck at spotting a bear. Along with places like Soomaa National Park, it is a great example of the rich wilderness that can be found in Estonia, made accessible to everyone with this simple hide.

I would rate the comfort inside the hide satisfactory, but in the morning I had the unpleasant surprise of finding some bugs on me. They were probably inside the sleeping bags that are available inside the hide. So it’s a good idea to check them before you use them.

In any case, this will remain a really cool experience, and spotting you first wild bear walking in the forest is for sure a memorable moment!

Virtual Tour Map

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20 Comments
  1. Amy Alton 6 months ago

    I had no idea you could do that! How fun. Great shots of the bear.

  2. Jackie 6 months ago

    Wow, I never knew places like this existed! What an incredible experience to be able to safely watch and photograph bears in their natural habitat. I really enjoyed your video, too! Very interesting piece.

    • Author
      Julien 6 months ago

      Thank you Jackie! It’s an amazing experience that anyone traveling to Estonia should consider

  3. Jack 6 months ago

    Great article! Went to Estonia but didn’t have time to explore much of the widerness, bear watching is certainly a great activity since there aren’t too many countries in Europe with a large bear population, thanks for sharing!

    • Author
      Julien 6 months ago

      Thanks for your comment Jack! It’s true that bear watching isn’t the most common activity but certainly one of the most memorable ones!

  4. Soaringtraveler 6 months ago

    What a fun trip! I live in a part of the US that has a lot of black bears. We see them hiking and sometimes in the wooded area right near the house. They can be a little scary, but they are interesting to watch from a safe distance or a protected spot.

    • Author
      Julien 6 months ago

      Wow that’s really awesome! You are very lucky to be able to see these beautiful animals so easily, in Europe it’s not so easy!

  5. Kerri 6 months ago

    I had absolutely no idea that such an experience existed! Love it! This is totally something we would love to do and as Estonia is still on our “to do” list, so too now is the bear hide. Gorgeous photos Julien. I felt like I was right there with you.

    • Author
      Julien 6 months ago

      Thank you so much Kerri, I was also shocked to learn that bear watching was possible, so I made a point to go during my trip in the Baltics – it was one of the highlights! Estonia is really underrated, I had a great time there.

  6. Bernie 6 months ago

    What an incredible experience! I can’t begin to imagine the thrill of seeing your first bear lumbering towards you from the trees. Although it sounds as though there is plenty of other wildlife to spot too. Tallin may be beautiful, but this would definitely be my first choice of Estonian experiences, despite the lack of sleep.

    • Author
      Julien 6 months ago

      Thanks for the comment Bernie, bear watching is definitely a one of a kind experience and it’s worth sacrificing some sleep!

  7. Lara Dunning 6 months ago

    I’ve seen bears in the wild but never like this! Sounds like a lot of fun and I love that part of the experience was spending the night in a bear hide. I wouldn’t be into finding bugs in the morning tho. But, that is part of the wilderness too.

    • Author
      Julien 6 months ago

      It’s not everyday you get to spend a night in a hide, and for a wilderness lover it’s just amazing! The bugs are just a detail in the whole experience 🙂

  8. Helena 6 months ago

    Bears are definitely one of the coolest animals around! It is so cool that you could just sit up in a little cabin in the middle of the forest and watch for the wildlife. It would definitely be a test of my patience but one I would definitely love. Great shots as well 🙂

    • Author
      Julien 6 months ago

      Thanks Helena, it’s true you need quite a lot of patience and faith! You never know if animals are going to show up or not – But when you do see them it’s amazing!

  9. Steph Dobson 6 months ago

    I had no idea you could go bear watching in Estonia! I don’t know much about the country, so I always enjoy when others share unique adventures 🙂 Look forward to sharing this with my travel friends.

    • Author
      Julien 6 months ago

      Thank you Steph, I was also surprised it is possible to do that in Estonia and I am glad I gave it a shot!

  10. Bailey 6 months ago

    I think this is 100x scarier than swimming with sharks.. Sign me up lol! Seeing so many bears in their natural habitat would be an amazing experience. Thanks for the awesome article and photos!

    • Author
      Julien 6 months ago

      Thaks Bailey, it’s actually not that scary because you are safe inside the hut and bears would be afraid and run away if they saw us 🙂

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