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Exploring The Largest Bog of Estonia

Riisa Ranch, 42 km / 26 mi east of Pärnu and gateway to Soomaa National Park, Estonia. This is the starting point of what turned out to be one of the most exciting days I had in the Baltic States. But I have to admit that even before leaving I was pretty excited to go for this tour.

The promise of an in-depth exploration and total immersion in a vast bog land is too exciting to ignore! I had seen some bog landscapes in Ireland before, but it was the first time I would actually hike on the bog itself. A totally new experience.

Soomaa National Park protects the largest peat bog in Estonia, as well as a network of rivers and extensive wetlands around it. It is a quite unusual landscape to walk in when you live near Paris, France, and even more so for my girlfriend who is from equatorial Singapore!

Since I wanted a comprehensive visit of this park, there wasn’t much hesitation to book both the day tour and the night tour. Indeed, they bring totally different experiences.

Quick Info

Address: Riisa Rantso, 86815 Pärnu County, Estonia

GPS: 58°28’1.22″N, 24°59’12.31″E

Best way to go: Book a tour online (see links below)

Tour prices: Day tour: 55 Euros (75 Euros with transfer from Pärnu); Night tour: 50 Euros (70 Euros with the transfer from Pärnu). Thus, for both tours I paid 75+50 = 125 Euros from Pärnu.

Links: Day Trip | Night Trip

Best season: Summer

What’s So Special About Peat Bogs?

Peat bogs are amazing environments. They are the result of an accumulation of sphagnum moss. As the moss dies and deposits layer after layer, it becomes peat.

It is a very slow process. As I explain in the video below, the bog in Soomaa National Park grows only 1 mm (0.04 inch) every year. In some areas the thickness of peat reach 8 metres (26 ft), which means it took 8000 years to accumulate all that moss.

It is easy to understand that bog lands are very fragile ecosystems and they recover painfully slowly (or not at all) if disturbed.

Plants growing in peat bogs are highly adapted and specialized. The bog is fed with rain water and is constantly waterlogged. Sphagnum moss also has intruiguing properties. It has antimicrobial properties that prevent its decomposition. As a result, when it dies it doesn’t decompose and becomes peat.

Sphagnum moss also makes its environment acidic. That’s a good way to eliminate competition from other plants. Moreover, peat bog water is very poor in nutrients. Now you understand why I say bog plants are highly specialized. Most plants would never survive in such conditions!

At first, all you see is an endless carpet of moss but if you look closer, you notice thousands and thousands of tiny carnivorous plants. These very pretty sundews (Drosera rotundifolia) are adapted to bogs and wouldn’t grow in your garden’s raised bed.

Another interesting thing to notice is the changing size of the trees. A thick forest grows around the bog. Pine trees seem to resist quite well to the difficult growing conditions in the bog. As you go deeper into the bog, pine trees gradually becomes scarce and dwarf.

The explanation is that when they grow deep into the bog, their roots can no longer reach the bedrock below the peat, which means less nutrients and less stability.

Soomaa National Park Travel Video

Check out the video for a good overview of the day and night tours.

The Day Tour – Bog Walking

The tour makes loop inside the park from and back to Riisa, that includes some forest, crossing a part of the bog, back to the forest until you reach the Raudna River. Then you paddle all the way back to Riisa on the Raudna and Halliste Rivers. You can check the map at the bottom of this page to see what it all looks like. 🙂

The fun and unusual feature of this tour is of course the use of bog shoes. Before travelling to Estonia, I had never heard of such a thing. They look very much like snowshoes you would use to walk on powder snow, and they are pretty efficient to walk on flooded carpets of sphagnum moss.

As a wilderness lover, I really enjoyed venturing deep into the bog, walking on floating moss with my bog shoes a little clumsily, observing plant life (I’m a botany enthusiast).

We even came across the remains of a plane crash that probably happened decades ago during the Soviet era. Almost no living plant can be seen in the immediate area around the crash. It shows how slow the recovery process is for the bog.

In the crystal-clear ponds inside the bog, it was possible to swim – I would have loved to but the water was way too cold for me!

The canoeing was also delightful. The water is so calm that it is a flawless mirror of the trees around and the sky.

The Night Tour

After the tour, we were left at a small restaurant where we could relax and get something to eat. We have shared the day tour with 2 other friendly young couples, but me and my girlfriend were the only ones going for the night canoeing tour.

What’s so different from the canoe ride we just had? Well, the night canoeing is more wildlife watching-oriented, and the atmosphere is really completely different as the light is declining and the air gets colder. The quietness of the place was unbelievable. The mirror effect of the river was ever more striking than during the day tour.

Seeing animals is a matter of luck but just for this experience of paddling in the dark, it’s well worth going for the tour!

You need to paddle really gently, avoiding any unnecessary noise or splash, to increase the chances of seeing an animal. The most commonly seen animals in these rivers are the beavers.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to get a clear view of a beaver, but we caught some of them diving when they noticed our canoe, and firmly splashing their tails on the surface of the water to warn the other beavers around.

What we did see is a beaver nest, an impressive accumulation of branches almost as tall as me! I was also pretty impressed to see whole trees that has been gnawed and fallen by beavers.

But the most beautiful moment of this evening is probably when we met a beautiful elk that was eating. It didn’t hear us coming because the sound of our paddling was covered by the sound of nearby flowing water. It was a surprise for both us and the elk! It’s not often that you can see such a fantastic animal from up close in its natural environment, it’s a moment that will remain in my memory for a very long time.

Last Thoughts About Soomaa National Park

This was clearly a highlight of my trip. If you are travelling to the Baltic States and want to get a good overview of this bog land environment that is a common feature of their territories, Soomaa National Park is probably your best option.

You may get a shower or two while hiking on the bog, and your shoes might get a little wet, but all these don’t matter when compared with the whole experience. The tour is led by very nice people and you are guaranteed to have a good time!

A really cool experience I recommend to anyone who is fond of nature and wild spaces.

The Map

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  1. This was very interesting. I had no idea that bogs grow that slowly! It looks beautiful – I loved the pictures!

    • Author
      Julien 4 months ago

      Thanks! Bogs are amazing environments

  2. Don 4 months ago

    Nice layout of your post! I like how the information is presented and the pictures! And interesting excursion you have there!

    • Author
      Julien 4 months ago

      Thank you very muc, glad you enjoyed it

  3. Wow that is amazing! Estonia is one of these undiscovered destinations, and I love reading articles like this. When I first saw your pictures I thought it was somewhere in Africa. Great article!

    • Author
      Julien 4 months ago

      Thank you Jo, Estonia does have some surprising and interesting landscapes

  4. Estonia looks to be so beautiful, I have not read must about this area of Northern Europe. The night canoe trip sounded like a fun time too! Love all your photos and your 360 degree heading I will admit I played with it for a few minutes!

    • Author
      Julien 4 months ago

      Thank you Sherrie glad you liked it!

  5. RJ 4 months ago

    Wow! This is interesting.. I didnt know that muc about bogs hahaha thanks for posting.. Estonia is a great place to visit.

    • Author
      Julien 4 months ago

      Haha we always learn a lot when we travel, and yes Estonia is awesome!

  6. Samantha 3 months ago

    This looks like such a great place to explore for the nature enthusiast! I’ve never heard of thes peat bogs before! I like that you put that quick info on the side so people who want to enjoy can easily find the info they’re looking for.

    • Author
      Julien 3 months ago

      Thank you Samantha! Peat bogs are not the first kind of environments we usually think of exploring but they are well worth it!

  7. Emmalene 3 months ago

    Wow, that is something I would never think of doing but it looks like so much fun and you get to see a whole new environment and ecosystem. I can imagine that night canoe trip being very peaceful – maybe not for the young elk though!

    • Author
      Julien 3 months ago

      Thank you Emmalene, the canoe was extremely peaceful indeed, I just wished we had seen beavers. The elk got disturbed while eating but well… we didn’t chase it or anything. And it was wonderful to see it!

  8. Renata Green 3 months ago

    I wanted to go to Estonia forever, but unfortunately flights are quite expensive resp. not as cheap as to other destinations. But your post and especially the pictures prove that I have to bite the bullet and go. The wilderness looks amazing and I’d love to do the nigh canoe trip – I want to see an elk, too!

    • Author
      Julien 3 months ago

      Thanks for the comment Renata! I am lucky to live in France so Estonia is quite close and cheap to get to for me, but I think it’s well worth the trip in any case! There are lots of things to discover in terms of history, culture and nature. Discovering the bog ecosystem was awesome and seeing the elk probably the most beautiful moment of the day!

  9. Jessica Carpenter 3 months ago

    When I first started reading, my thought was “what’s so great about a bog?” Haha. But wow! The fragility and time involved and the different species…I can see why you’re into it and why it’s exciting. And I LOVE that 360 degree photo at the top. Amazing!

    • Author
      Julien 3 months ago

      Thank you very much Jessica! I understand that a bog does look like much at first sight, but it’s a fascinating ecosystem! Glad you liked the virtual tour 🙂

  10. Bernie 3 months ago

    Those bog shoes make a tremendous amount of sense. And I love those pictures of the carpet of foliage at the bog. There are so many diverse and beautiful plants all picked out in such beautiful detail. It shows how Nature is such a fine artist. It must be a brilliant experience to do the night paddle too, trying so very hard not to splash and watching for the signs of the animals.

    • Author
      Julien 3 months ago

      Hey Bernie, thanks for the comment! Bogs are really rich ecosystems and I probably only scratched the surface! The night paddle was amazing, we were really making one with nature.

  11. Brianna 3 months ago

    To be totally honest, I was not sure what a bog actually was before reading this. I thought it was pretty much a swamp, so I was thinking “Why would you want to visit a swamp?” But this actually looks really interesting! Especially those oh so fashionable bog shoes 😛

    • Author
      Julien 3 months ago

      Glad you learned something new Brianna! Bogs are a bit mysterious but quite fascinating environments! And I know, I look great wearing these bog shoes!

  12. Carmen Edelson 3 months ago

    Wow, I had never even heard of peat bogs until now! I love that moss look. That beaver next is very impressive! I’d love to have an evening experience here, thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Author
      Julien 3 months ago

      Thanks Carmen, glad you enjoyed it and got to learn about peat bogs! I can only recommend this tour, it’s a great experience.

  13. Jing 3 months ago

    What an interesting read! It’s like watching National Geographic. I didn’t know that a bog takes that much thousands of years to form. I do hope that tourism activities in this national park is kept at a sustainable level, with more people discovering its beauty while keeping the wildlife protected. Thanks for introducing me to the “bog life”. 🙂

    • Author
      Julien 3 months ago

      You’re welcome Jing! Thanks for your comment – I believe the bogs in Estonia are well protected and I don’t think tourism is really harming them.

  14. Meagan 3 months ago

    As someone who knows next to nothing about peat bogs (or Estonia, for that matter), this looks SO COOL, and I vastly appreciated all the educational bits you included along with your gorgeous pictures. Literally just yelled the growth rate of a peat bog up to my boyfriend/travel parter because I was so fascinated. Great write up, and it looks like you had a really unique, very cool experience!
    Meagan recently posted…Town of Banff: A perfect Canadian Rockies townMy Profile

    • Author
      Julien 3 months ago

      Hey Meagan, thank you for the comment! I am glad you learned more about bogs, they are unique and fascinating ecosystems!

  15. Grace 3 months ago

    Wow! What an incredible experience. I’ve seen bogs in Ireland, but I had no idea what they were really made of. Such a unique environment! A night tour sounds fascinating! I imagine it’s a bit eerie to be out there all alone. Thanks for sharing this! The pictures are incredible.

    • Author
      Julien 3 months ago

      Thanks Grace! Bogs are really underrated and mysterious for most people, I can only recommend getting to know them better with such a tour.

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