These 12 natural sights, from the vast Golden Mountains of Altai in Southern Siberia to the sandy Curonian Split on the Baltic Sea coast, represent just a fraction of the beauty that Russia has to offer.
The Golden Mountains of Altai
A vast area that includes the Altai and Katun Natural Reserves, Lake Teletskoye, Belukha Mountain and the Ukok Plateau, the Golden Mountains of Altai is one of the most jaw-dropping natural sights of Russia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Golden Mountains are home to endangered species like the snow leopard and the Altai Argali, the largest species of sheep in the world. Located in Southern Siberia, this region is very difficult to access, and some areas are so remote, they can only be reached by helicopter. The Altai Mountains include about 1,500 glaciers, and ridges that represent the highest point of the Arctic Ocean watershed.
Lena’s Stone Forest
These images hardly do justice to the beauty of the Lena Pillars, also known as Lena’s Stone Forest or the Stone Forest of Yakutsk (see some fantastic photos at Worldwide Traveling). The natural rock formations lining the banks of the Lena River in far eastern Siberia have been separated from the rock further inland by erosion. Because there are so few amenities in this part of the world, most of the people who get to view them do so from a cruise ship along the river.
The oldest and deepest lake in the world – not to mention one of the clearest – Lake Baikal is truly one of Russia’s must-see natural features. It contains about 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water and reaches 5,387 feet into the earth at its deepest point. Two-thirds of its 1,700 species of plants and animals don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Referred to as the ‘Pearl of Siberia’, Lake Baikal is a popular tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Valley of Geysers
Found in the Kronotsky national reserve in Kamchatka, the far-eastern peninsula of Russia known for its volcanoes contains about 90 geysers and many hot springs. Unfortunately, the region’s most popular tourist attraction suffered heavy damage in a massive landslide in 2007, with some fearing that the geysers would be wiped out altogether. The landslide, likely caused by an earthquake, had blocked the Geyser river. Once the mud and waters receded, however, the geysers reappeared.
A non-active volcano that last erupted in the Holocene, Mount Elbrus is one of Russia’s most stunning peaks. Located in the western Caucasus mountain range, Elbrus stands at 18,150 feet in height. During the early years of the Soviet Union, it was a popular site for mountaineering, and between 1959 and 1976 it actually had a cable car system that took visitors as high as 12,500 feet. Mount Elbrus still sees a lot of hiking traffic in the summer, though winter is far to harsh to welcome any but the most experienced mountaineers.
The Volga is the largest river in Europe, flowing through central Russia and most of the nation’s biggest cities, including Moscow. It feeds some of the largest reservoirs in the world, which provide both irrigation and hydroelectric power. It freezes most of its length for three months out of the year and is home to pelicans and flamingoes. The river plays an important role in Russian myth and fairytales.
Virgin Komi Forests
One of Russia’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Komi is the largest virgin boreal forest in Europe and is rich in conifers, aspens, birches, peat bogs, rivers and natural lakes and home to elk, gray wolves, beavers, wolverine and Eurasian otters. Locate in the Urals region; the Virgin Komi Forest was named a World Heritage Site in 1995, saving it from imminent logging. Illegal logging and gold-mining is still a problem, and local governments often make efforts to move the site’s borders in order to access the lucrative gold-rich areas.
Among the most remote and untouched areas of Russia, the Putorana Plateau is a high-lying basalt plateau in the geographic center of Russia. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the plateau includes sub arctic and arctic ecosystems, an isolated mountain range, forest tundra, arctic desert systems and untouched cold-water lake and river systems. It contains some of the largest-known nickel deposits in the world.
The Curonian Split
Spectacular shimmering sand dunes and wide, fine beaches are among the highlights of the Curonian Split, which separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea coast. Stretching from Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia up to Lithuania, the Curonian Split is home to the highest drifting sand dunes in Europe, some of which can get up to nearly 200 feet in height.
The Kungur Ice Cave
Famous for its ice formations, the Kungur Ice Cave gets at least one hundred thousand visitors every year, with a total number of tourists exceeding 5 million. And yet, for all of this traffic, only a small part of the cave has actually been explored. Nobody’s quite sure who discovered the caves, or exactly when. The ice formations inside often have a sculptural look, and the cave is also full of stalactites and stalagmites. See some amazing photos of this underground wonder at English Russia.
Maly Semyachik Volcano
This stratovolcano in the eastern part of Kamatchka Peninsula, Russia is filled with a hot, acidic crater lake in a shocking shade of blue-green. Adventurous travelers hike up the mountain to get a look at the lake in person. The lake is located within the active Troitsky crater, and measures 600 meters in diameter. Minerals like aluminum and copper are thought to give the lake its unusual hue.
Not far from Maly Semyachik and the Valley of the Geysers is the Uzon Caldera, a vast field of geothermal craters and active volcanoes, stretching over 6,200 miles wide. The Uzon Caldera also contains poisonous mud cauldrons, freshwater lakes, a berry tundra and a birch forest. The mud cauldrons are home to some of the world’s most extreme bacteria, which can thrive in some of the least hospitable environments on earth.