Lahemaa National Park, a Window To The History And Preserved Nature of Estonia
The Lahemaa National Park protects a whole portion of the northern coast of Estonia, deeply cut into capes and bays. If there are numerous landscapes and untouched environments to be preserved in the area, Lahemaa has some additional features.
National Parks in Estonia are not all about nature. Lahemaa is more like a generally preserved region with various points of interests dispatched in the nature and the countryside. These spots tell the History of Estonia, with the long succession of independant periods and Soviet domination periods.
The park can definitely be visited on your own with a rented car, but sometimes it is also interesting to join a small tour group and get all the interesting insight from the guide to truly appreciate the places you are visiting. And that’s exactly what I did!
This tour was an interesting mix of Historical places, Soviet-era ruins (I particularly enjoyed the old submarine base!) and beautiful nature when we got to cross the Viru Bog.
I will split this article following the stops inside the park:
Best way to go: Tour from Tallinn
Price of the tour: 55 Euros per person
Duration of the tour: 9 hours
Link: Lahemaa Day Trip (I am not affiliated with them in any way and paid for my tour).
Lahemaa National Park Video
Stop at the Jägala Waterfall
On the way to the national park, the roads passes by the highest natural waterfall in Estonia. It would be to bad not to stop! It has the grand height of… 8 metres (26 feet). Yes, Estonia is a pretty flat country. But its width makes up of for it, it is more than 50 m (164 ft) wide!
The day of my visit, the flow of the waterfall was really quite impressive. As a matter of fact, the guide told us he had never seen it with so much water! We had the time to walk down the falls and take a few pictures before getting back on the van to Lahemaa National Park.
This is the first stop in the national park. It is also the first ruins that we saw for the day, like an introduction of the much bigger ruins that we will see later at the submarine base.
It all starts with a nice little walk in the woods, along the river. Here again, the flow of the river was quite big and it was certainly not the time to be clumsy and fall in the water.
The abandoned facilities that we found in the forest used to be a power plant, supplying power to a paper factory in the 1930’s. This was during the first period of independance of Estonia. Unfortunately, the factory burnt down in the 1950’s.
This was a rather quick visit and there aren’t much ruins but it was still fun to see and explore.
Welcome to the Sagadi Manor, one of the best preserved manors in Estonia. It dates back to the 18th century and has belonged to various Baltic German families.
The Baltic Germans were a class of nobles and land owners that settled outside of Germany, an elite ruling over the rural local people. When World War I and the Russian Revolution occured, the Baltic Germans got pushed away and fled back to Germany.
Nowadays, the Sagadi Manor houses a hotel.
As the morning was coming to an end and stomachs were getting noisy, it was time for lunch. It is in the peaceful Käsmu that we had a meal all together around a large table.
Next to the house, an observation tower enabled me to capture this panorama offering a general view of the place.
Käsmu also has its history. It used to be a training ground for Soviet border guards. An evidence of this is a concrete slab under a tree, that you would totally miss if the guide wasn’t there to show it to you.
On of the very first lessons of the budding border guards was to learn how to recognize different footprints. Thus, on this concrete slab can be found a whole series of footprints – human with boots, human bare foot, wolf, bear and other kinds of animals.
As the guide put it, the story doesn’t say how they convinced the bear to leave its footprint in the fresh cement. In any case, it shows how highly they were thinking of their newly recruited guards!
It’s really amazing and funny that someone actually thought that the recruits would never be able to differentiate a human footprint from a bear footprint without this concrete slab!
Hara Submarine Base
The long-awaited stop has finally arrived! The Hara Soviet Submarine Base was definitely a highlight of this tour, and a really fun exploration.
I have never practiced urbex before but after this modest introduction to visiting an abandoned building, I think I would really enjoy that activity.
The Hara base was a demagnetizing submarine base during the Soviet occupation of Estonia. It was abandonned after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991.
The concept is a little complicated but I will try to summarize it for you. Submarines are made of steel, which is a magnetic material. The problem with being magnetic is that it makes the detectable, which is obviously not great for a submarine. As a result, submarines need to be regularly demagnetized.
The technique that was used is first lifting the submarine out of the water with a crane and coil a copper cable all around it. By sending an electrical current through the cable, they neutralize the magnetic signature of the submarine. It is then ready to be put back into the water.
From the abandoned base, the panoramic view to the Hara Bay is wonderful. As you attention is caught by the submarine base, it’s easy to just forget to look at this beautiful area of Lahemaa National Park.
Let’s now get to the nature part of this day. After all, it’s a national park we are visiting!
After my awesome adventure in the Soomaa National Park, I was delighted to get immersed once again in this very special peat bog environment (even if there are no bog shoes here).
The 3.5 km (2.2 mi) boardwalk crosses the whole bog and features an observation tower. I found the succession of pools that come after the tower (last panorama) particularly beautiful.
I really like the style of the boardwalks they build in Estonia – so many times around the world I have seen gorgeous natural spaces disfigured by bulky concrete structures.
Here at least, they build wooden, minimalist and light structures that have a very minimal impact on the environment and respect the natural atmosphere of the place. And it doesn’t make them less efficient to get you into the heart of the landscape. In addiciton, the boardwalk is even accessible to wheelchairs.
This tour is a convenient and complete way to discover the multifaceted nature of Lahemaa National Park, and a great opportunity to learn more about the History of Estonia.
Armed with this knowledge, I would be happy to go back to the places I liked most (the Viru Bog and the abandoned submarine base in Hara) on my own with a rented car.
I hope that this page will inspire you to visit Lahemaa National Park, and help you decide whether going on your own or taking a tour from Tallinn. In any case, a nice day is awaiting you no matter what you do!