The most beautiful places of Altai: Dwelling of the Gods, Dream, Fairy Tale and “Little Paradise
The land of seven thousand lakes, turbulent rivers and silent landscapes. Here rises the largest mountain in Siberia, and runs one of the most scenic roads in the world, archaeologists find ancient artifacts in the mounds, and shamans hold their mysterious rituals in the places of power.
Residents of the European part of Russia sometimes confuse Gorny Altai with Altai Krai. These two regions border the Siberian Federal District, but are quite different: the Altai Mountains are characterized by mountainous landscapes, but the Altai Territory is green steppes and mahogany hills.
In ancient times, the paths of nomadic tribes crossed in the Altai Mountains. Hundreds of thousands of years ago people already lived in these lands, their traces are found all over the territory: unique rock petroglyphs, burials in places of strength, and camps.
Throughout centuries this severe, but picturesque territory was a part of the Great Mongol Empire: horses of Genghis Khan’s army trampled delicate bowls of edelweiss in valleys and overcame steep mountain passes.
Now Gorny Altai is a republic, it has its own flag, constitution and two equal languages: Altai and Russian. Here they honor the traditions of their ancestors and warmly welcome travelers. About two million people visit Gorny Altai every year! Today I will tell you about what interesting things there are in this land and where to look for the most-important places.
Hiking, rafting and ethno-tourism – what to do in Altai
Altai is an ideal place for ecotourism. The main value of the region is its nature, and the way to the most picturesque places is often thorny, but the effort is worth it. Here you can organize a week-long hike, swim in one of the crystal clear lakes, go fishing or pick berries.
Another format of travel in Altai is ethnographic excursions. For example, in the yurt-gallery of Kalambina Zheltkovskaya visitors are introduced with traditional felt fabrics, and in the “Aychus” ethnographic workshop they learn Turkic patterns, learn to make dolls, amulets, and play national instruments: komus and topshuur.
And of course, extreme tourism! Climbing to the peaks, rafting on violent rivers of any difficulty level, mountain skiing: there are good tracks on the Teletskoye Lake, and “Manzherok” resort is not only slopes, but also the first professional bike park beyond the Urals.
The Chuisky tract is one of the most picturesque roads in the world!
The best option for exploring the Altai Mountains is to travel by car along the Chuisky tract. This 968-kilometer long federal highway that crosses the region from Novosibirsk to Mongolia is called the most picturesque road in Siberia. National Geographic Russia magazine even put it in the top 10 of the most beautiful roads in the world!
The section of the Altai Republic begins with a symbolic arch near the village of Dolina Svoboda. The route goes along the noisy waters of the Katun and Chuya rivers, winding among mountains and lakes. The majestic Babyrgan ridge is changed by shaman-trees near Arjaan-Suu spring, and Karakol cliffs with ancient drawings – by birch groves in the valley of Bolshoy Ilgumen river. You can travel along the Chuisky Tract by yourself in an off-road vehicle or by ordering a guided tour in Gorno-Altaisk.
Lakes of the Altai Mountains – inaccessible and beautiful
Thousands of Altai lakes shimmer with all shades of turquoise. Some of them, such as Uzunkel and Akkemskoye, are hidden among the mountains and surrounded by dense forests, on the shores of others there are small cozy villages. On the lake Dzhulukul you can meet colonies of seagulls and cormorants, and the landscape of the reservoir Talmen complement the numerous butterflies. Such diversity makes your eyes diverge, but I made an effort and chose for this review three most-savory reservoirs, which are definitely worth a visit.
Teletskoe Lake is a very popular attraction in the Altai Mountains. It is the largest lake in the region and the second largest reservoir of fresh water in the country after Lake Baikal. The depth of Teletskoye reaches 325 meters. On its shores are nestled three small villages: Yailyu, Iogach and Artybash. If you want to have a rest and bathe, choose one of the hotels on the southern shore: the water temperature rises up to +17°C – +20°C here in summer, but on the north, near Artybash, the lake is still cold even in hot weather – about +10°C. The water in the lake is much warmer.
The water in the Teletskoye is so transparent that even at a depth of 15 meters you can see the pebbles at the bottom. You can pitch a tent on the shore or enjoy the lake landscapes by taking a ferry: it goes from the Cape Kyrsay on the south shore to the pier in Iogache. 78 kilometers of the trip will give you both good impressions and beautiful pictures!
Coordinates of Kersay cape: 51.363 980, 87.760 251.
They were formed as a result of melting of ancient glaciers. The lakes are situated in the center of the North-Chuysky ridge and are considered the most picturesque in the whole Altai! Their water is of fantastic bright turquoise color, and from the shores you can enjoy wonderful views of three Altai peaks at once: Dream, Beauty, and Fairy Tale.
You can get here as part of walking tours, which are organized by companies in Biysk and Gorno-Altaisk. The route starts from Chibit settlement and lasts about a week.
Coordinates: 50.106 689, 87.410 589.
This small lake near the village of Aktash does not freeze even in winter. Its water has an unusual pattern formed by circles of blue clay – they have been carefully “laid out” at the bottom by underwater springs. The pattern is not static and changes during the day.
Now the lake is the property of the tourist camp “Little Paradise”, which has recently rented it for 20 years. Every year this place is becoming more and more popular with travelers, so you should come here early in the morning to have time before the tourist groups. The entrance to the lake is paid: about 50 rubles.
Coordinates: 50.290 140, 87.673 125.
High-mountain plateau Ukok – a mysterious place of power
Located in the south of the Altai Mountains, near the intersection of the borders of four states: Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. Here, at an altitude of over 2200 meters above sea level, found 150 archaeological sites: prehistoric petroglyphs, deer stones, mounds Pazyryk culture with burials, Scythian tombs.
In 1993, archaeologists excavated a burial mound, which perfectly preserved the remains of a female mummy aged over 2500 years. She was named the “Ukok Princess” and taken to the Novosibirsk Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 2012, the “princess” was returned to Altai, and since 2014, the local council of elders has been seeking to have the find reburied: according to the elders, natural disasters struck Altai because the mummy was disturbed.
On the territory of the plateau is the Ukok Nature Park, which is divided into three zones: one of them prohibits any activity except scientific, the other allows only limited and regulated visits, and only the third is accessible to travelers. The fauna of the untouched plateau is very diverse: here you can easily see a wild horse, wolf, fox and even a snow leopard! And in the sky over the silent landscape of soaring eagles, golden eagles and black storks.
Hiking tours and yoga tours are organized on the plateau, esotericists often come to this place, and shamans hold their rituals here.
Coordinates: 49.360 813, 88.76 642.
Mount Belukha – the main peak of Altai
The highest peak in Siberia got its name because of the snow cap on the peak. Locals call it Uch-Syure, “the dwelling of the three gods”. This mountain can be seen on the coat of arms of the Republic of Altai. The famous Russian traveler and esoteric Nicholas Roerich depicted its southern slope in one of his paintings. He was convinced that the entrance to Shambhala was hidden here. “The Mistress of Altai” was how the artist called his mighty snow-covered muse.
The beauty of Belukha is best admired from the side of Akkem Lake. Your guide will cost about 30 thousand rubles per person. You can also see the mountain from the height of the bird’s flight, becoming a participant in the group helicopter tour from Gorno-Altaisk. It lasts 7-8 hours, and the cost per person – about 28 thousand rubles.
Coordinates of the top: 49.807 679, 86.590 023.
Katun River – the mistress of Altai
“Mistress” or “mistress” – that’s how its name is translated. The biggest river of the republic starts at the slope of Belukha and rushes 688 km away. On its way there are rapids and boulders, which then change to flat areas, and the total height difference along the stream reaches two kilometers! This explains Katun’s “restless nature”: it flows gently, then rumbles between the rocks. The river crosses all types of Altai landscape, so fauna and flora are very diverse along it.
In the Biisk area, the Katun meets the Biya, and the place where these two rivers meet is considered one of the most picturesque in Altai! Katun changes its color throughout the year, acquiring its famous turquoise hue in early fall.
Every year thousands of tourists flock to Katun: some of them go to its banks to have a rest in a tent or at recreation center, others to test their strength by rafting on the river. Most rafting routes begin in Katunsky reserve. This area is a border area, so before you visit it, you must obtain a pass in advance. To enter the reserve you also need to obtain a permit – you can do it in its administration, which is located in the village of Ust-Koksa.
Coordinates of the Katun spring: 49.779 318, 86.592 552.
Big Chulchinskiy waterfall or Uchar
The highest waterfall in the Altai Mountains! Its waters cascade down from 160 meters high in a loud and spectacular way. It is located on the territory of the Altai State Reserve.
“Uchar” is translated as “unassailable”, and the waterfall justifies this name: the way to it across the picturesque landscape of the Reserve takes about four hours and requires good physical preparation – the route goes over the cliffs, which you have to overcome by ropes.
Coordinates: 51.118 079, 88.91 675.
Who is suitable for rest in the Altai Mountains?
This region is for those who are willing to sacrifice comfort for the sake of seeing incredible landscapes and pristine nature with their own eyes. Here you often do not get a network, you can pass only in an off-road vehicle, and from the nearest village to the next lake or mountain you have to walk for several days. But it’s in these places you have a rest from the city, to tidy up your thoughts and recharge your batteries!
Liked the review? Read my other articles: about Baikal and ski resorts near Moscow.
“Solnechny” – a park-hotel near Moscow with the largest spa center in Russia. Cuva – certificates for hotel vacations
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Where to go in Altai: 28 most beautiful places to visit
We made a selection of the most beautiful and interesting places in Altai for those who have never been there. You’ll find out where to go for the first time to see the real beauty of the Altai Mountains and not get caught in the crowds of tourists. We’ll tell you what these places are and where they are.
The main tourist road in Altai is the Chuisky Tract. It leads from Novosibirsk through Barnaul, past Gorno-Altaisk to Mongolia. The most beautiful places are to the south of the village of Aktash, in the Chui and Kurai steppes. This is a true Mountain Altai, far from civilization, inaccessible to most tourists. From Gorno-Altaisk to Aktash it is350 km.
Below you will find all the landmarks on the map, and at the end of the article there is a short clip about Altai by Garik Sukachev.
A car is the best way to travel in Altai. Fly to Barnaul, rent a car, and go. You don’t necessarily need an SUV, you can do with a Logan.
The Dorogi-ne-dorogi.ru site has a detailed itinerary for six days along Chuisky Trakt. You can take it as a base for your auto-travel in Altai.
Altai sights on the map
Geyser Lake with thermal spring
Thermal Geyser Lake
The lake has several names: Silver, Geyser, “Eye of the Earth”. Through the crystal clear mountain water you can see the clay and sand bottom with blue, turquoise and blue colors.
To get to the lake, you need to climb to a mark of 1370 m. It is better to come in the evening or early in the morning, otherwise you will get into a crowd of tourists.
The nearest settlement is Aktash village in Ulagan district.
View of snow-covered Belukha
The height of the mountain is 4,506 m. Belukha is one of the highest mountains in Russia and the highest peak in the Altai Mountains. It is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Here is the state border between Russia and Kazakhstan. The Belukha Mountain slope is the source of the Katun River.
The nearest populated area is the village of Tyungur.
Achik Pass – a gorgeous view of Belukha
You can get here only by off-road car: almost 20 km – off-road.
The road to the pass begins near the village of Bely Bom (or Ak-Boom). The highest location on the pass is at an altitude of just over 2 km. There is a retransmitter tower there. Through Achik the way to the river Shavla and to the observation deck near the repeater. From here is one of the best views of Belukha Mountain. If you have an off-road vehicle, it is worth climbing up here. You will see the mountain and take many spectacular photos.
It is better to drive here in the first half of the day, otherwise you risk not to see Belukha because of clouds.
Chagan-Uzun and Martian landscapes
Martian landscape in the Altai.
This is a small settlement with just over 400 people.
Tourists come to Chagan-Uzun to see the dry waterfalls. Their age is about 1.5 million years old. Be sure to visit the local spring, the water of which is rich in calcium. Its composition repeats the therapeutic mineral water “Essentuki”. It is believed that the water in the spring treats the eyes.
But the most beautiful thing here is Altai Mars . On the undulating terrain red clay comes to the surface in strips. You will find it by the signs that lead from the settlement of Chagan-Uzun to the place.
Katu-Yaryk looks like a narrow and steep serpentine. Its length is 3,500 m. There are 9 loops on the route and the road is one lane wide – one can drive apart with the oncoming transport only in “pockets” on the turns.
The views are beautiful there.
The dangerous Altai Pass is near the village of Balyktuyul. There is a weak traffic junction: Katu-Yaryk is the only road connecting Chulyshman valley with Ulansky plateau. Do not go down to the valley by car, if you do not have four-wheel drive, you may not come back.
The confluence of the Chuya and Katun rivers
This is how the place of the confluence of the Chuya and Katun rivers looks from a height
The clear-blue waters of the Katun River and the clay-muddy waters of the Chuya River merge here. It is a mistake to go here in spring, expecting to see turbulent full-flowing rivers. The most saturated colors of the river waters will be in mid-autumn.
At the mark of 713 km of the Chuysky Tract, near the village of Chuy-Oozy, the two main rivers of Altai meet.
The Bolshaya Ilgumen River flows into the Katun River here.
The mountain rapids are located on the Katun River. The difficulty of the threshold is the fourth category. Its length is just over 300 meters.
The reference point for tourists is 678 km of the Chuisky highway. Tourists come here with the aim of extreme rafting. You must be 18 years old to go rafting. You do not need to raft, but it is interesting to watch how others do it.
Cascade of mountain lakes is located at an altitude of 2000 meters. The ascent to them is difficult.
People go fishing all year round to the lakes. One can reach them only by off-road vehicle. The climate here is harsh, even in summer there is snow. The lakes are located in Ulagan pass, which you should look for 26 kilometers of the road between the villages of Aktash and Ulagan.
Here the road is carved among the rocks. It is a popular place for taking selfies over chasms and mountain serpentine. At the pass, leave your car in the parking lot and go up to the colorful local market, where the observation decks are placed.
It is located at an altitude of 1,295 m, where the Chuysky Route (659 km) runs through a picturesque spur of the Terektinsky Ridge.
The largest lake in the Altai.
Local people call it “the golden lake”. This is the largest lake in the Altai region.
The water body is included in the TOP 15 of the deepest and cleanest lakes in the world.
Near the lake there are two settlements – Artybash and Yailu. You can take a shuttle bus from Gorno-Altaisk to Arzbash.
These places are lively and beautiful, with the most developed infrastructure, one of the most touristy in the Altai. Do not look for peace and solitude here. But you can come here with children, stay at the camping site and rest without worrying about anything.
Belokurikha and Tselkovka mountain.
Tselkovka mountain with a cross
In Belokurikha, visit Mount Tserkovka. The top of the rock looks like the shape of a church dome, which is crowned by a large cross.
You can climb the 815-meter peak on foot or with the help of a cable car. There is a café at the top with a panoramic view of the mountain.
An aerial ropeway on Manzherok
A small resort settlement on the shore of the Katun River (470 km of the Chuisky Tract).
The only alpine skiing complex in Altai is situated here. There are pistes for extreme cycling, skating rink, tubing and other entertainment.
The climate here is mild. The place is suitable for family vacations. Among the main natural attractions of Manzherok are the lake of the same name, Kamyshlinsky waterfall and Sinukha rock.
A large freshwater lake, 17 km from the village of Maima.
The name means “moon” in Turkic (the shape of the lake resembles a crescent moon). The depth is 22 meters. In summer the water gets warm up to +20-22°C.
On the shore are equipped with clean beaches, a wide variety of water attractions. You can stay at the tourist center.
The Uchar waterfall on the Chulcha river
This is one of the largest cascading waterfalls in the Altai Mountains.
During the course of half a kilometer, the mountain river loses 250 meters in height, where the cascades form. The waterfall is so powerful that you can’t hear a person standing nearby screaming.
To get to the waterfall, you have to walk 12 kilometers through the Altai Nature Reserve.
This location is a 5-minute walk from the tourist village of Estyuba.
The water falls from a height of 300 meters. When it breaks on the rocks, it forms several rainbow arcs at once. It’s better to come here in spring, when the waterfall is at its fullest.
To get to Estyuba by car is impossible. You can only get there by rafting on the river or by boat from the villages Iogach and Artybash.
The waterfall of Korbu – the pride of the Altai Nature Reserve
The river, which carries water to the Teletskoe Lake, forms a 12-meter waterfall among the rocky shore. In the reserve there are excursions on the trails of wild animals. Children will be interested to see rare insects and birds. The waterfall is open from May until the end of September inclusive.
There is only a water route to the waterfall – 25 km from Artybash village.
A 15-meter waterfall, which can be reached on foot from the 759th km of the Chuy highway. The waterfall is high and narrow, and the rock resembles a maiden’s face. Hence the second name of the sight – “Maiden’s tears”.
There are outdoor gazebos near the waterfall, and you can have a family picnic at the foot of the mountains. If you want to see the waterfall up close, you will have to climb up the rocks.
Kurai and Chuya steppes
These are good places for camping in Altai.
It is recommended to travel by off-road car, surrounded by endless steppe and high mountains with snow-covered peaks. On the way there are rarely settlements.
The main tourist landmark is the Red Mountain. It is located at 868 km of Chui highway, near the village of Chagan-Uzun.
Petroglyphs of Kalbak-Tash tract
Natural archaeological complex with petroglyphs.
It preserved the largest number of man-made images among all Altai petroglyphs. Some paintings resemble fantastic beasts and spaceships.
You have to pay an entrance fee to the complex; you can visit the petroglyphs only with a guide. The tract is located at 723 km of the Chuy highway.
Archeological complex Adyr-Kan.
The oldest sanctuary of the Altai. There are preserved petroglyphs, nomadic mounds, and reindeer stone. If you dare to go, be prepared for a long hiking route.
The complex is located at 723 km of the Chuy highway, near Kalbak-Tash and near the villages Inya and Iodro.
The Rock of Red Gate
A narrow passage in the rock of a brick-red color. The rocks received this hue due to the high content of mercury ore. Some consider the Red Gate a natural phenomenon, but in fact it is the result of human activity.
The mountain isthmus is located 15 km from the village Aktash.
Mountain Devil’s Finger
Rocky ledge height of 250 m, which got its name because of the resemblance of sticking out of the ground finger. Crowned by the mountain stone tip, similar to a claw. The place is popular with fans of spiritual practices and esoterics.
Lake Aya and the Katun River are visible from the top. The ascent to the mountain is easy and suitable for beginners.
It is 1.3 km from the Chuysky Tract near the village of Nizhnekayancha.
Mountain Multinskiye lakes
The largest water bodies are Lower and Pereerechnoye, and the most picturesque ones are Achkan, Upper and Kuyguk. A good place for couples or with children. You can camp near the lakes at inexpensive camping sites and pitch your tents on the shore.
The system of mountain lakes is 20 kilometers from the village of Multa. You can find them on the Katunsky Ridge at an altitude of 1710 and 1740 m.
A trio of reservoirs 25,000 years old.
The name is due to the rich blue hue of the water. Locals believe that these lakes heal the eyes. Nearby there are hot springs, so even in winter the blue lakes do not freeze, their temperature does not fall below +9 ° C. Visitors visit the ponds all year round.
Visitors visit the bodies of water all year round. The location is 5 km from the village of Askat.
Uch-Enmek Karakol Nature Park
Uch-Enmek Nature Park
It is best to come here with children to see rare black storks, badgers, squirrels, and roe deer. This is a protected area in the Karakol Valley, close to the Terektinsky Range.
The nearest settlements to the park are the villages Inya and Ongudai.
The Gorge or the Valley of Spirits
Located in the tract Che-Chkysh (Chemalsky district).
There are three limestone mountains 150 m high each. The place where the gorge narrows to 12-15 m is considered a dwelling of spirits. It is customary to leave gifts here: visitors to the tract bring fruit, sweets, jewelry.
Entrance to the gorge is paid.
Museum in Gorno-Altaisk
Another place for those who came to Altai with children.
A distinctive feature of the museum – modern exhibits and the presence of interactive stands. Children will be fascinated by the process of studying the installations about the nature, archaeology and culture of the region.
This museum houses the Ukok Princess, a mummy of a 30-year-old woman found in the Ak-Alakha burial ground of the Ukok tract in 1993. It is shown to visitors only during the waxing moon.
The museum is located in Gorno-Altaisk. Before visiting, find out the schedule on the website.
Seminsk pass – the gateway to the Altai Mountains.
We placed it last. It is not the most beautiful place, but this pass separates promoted tourist Altai from Altai reserved, for rare travelers.
The Seminsky Pass is one of the highest in the Altai. Its height is 1717 m. There is a smooth road without any sharp turns at the top. The reference point of the location is 583 km on the Chuisky highway, near the village of Topuchaya.