Living in Colorado, we have an affinity for the great outdoors and our national parks. I knew that Kazakhstan had some spectacular landscapes. But really had no idea of the quantity and diversity of their national parks. Over a week in the Almaty region of Kazakhstan, our group had the opportunity to explore four of the Kazakhstan National Parks: Ile-Alatau, Charyn Canyon, Kolsai Lakes and Altyn-Emel. And, they were certainly diverse.
Special thanks to Kazakhstan Tourism and USAID for sponsoring this trip. All opinions are always our own. This post may contain affiliate links, where we receive a small commission on sales of the products that are linked at no additional cost to you.
Currently, there are fourteen national parks spread across the country, each offering unique landscapes, ecosystems, and wildlife. Many of the national parks in Kazakhstan were formed in the early 1990s, following the country’s independence, as a response to the growing need for conservation and environmental awareness.
Since then, these protected areas have played a crucial role in safeguarding Kazakhstan’s natural treasures and providing opportunities for visitors to explore, appreciate, and learn about the country’s rich biodiversity and stunning natural landscapes.
National Parks are frequently located away from cities, in nature, with a couple of exceptions. Some of the most spectacular are the hardest to reach. This is no different in Kazakhstan. I would recommend hiring a tour company to arrange transportation and overnight lodging, if needed. The roads can be bumpy and the small towns harder to navigate on your own.
Altyn-Emel National Park showcases one of the country’s mesmerizing landscapes. Covering an expansive area of over 4,600 square kilometers, the park features rich biodiversity. One of the park’s most notable features is the Singing Dunes, a unique phenomenon where the shifting sands emit a haunting melodic sound. These towering sand dunes, reaching heights of up to 150 meters, create an awe-inspiring sight and a memorable experience for visitors.
Altyn-Emel also boasts the majestic Aktau and Katutau Mountains, characterized by their distinct colorful rock formations, reminiscent of an artist’s palette. The park’s diverse ecosystems encompass desert, steppe, and mountain habitats, providing a haven for a wide array of wildlife, including rare and endangered species such as the Przewalski’s horse (last truly wild horse) and the goitered gazelle.
Nestled in the northeastern region of Kazakhstan, Bayanaul National Park stands as a testament to the country’s natural splendor. Established in 1985, it is one of the oldest national parks in Kazakhstan and covers an area of approximately 68,453 hectares. Bayanaul captivates visitors with its breathtaking landscapes, encompassing picturesque mountains, serene lakes, dense forests, and vast steppes.
The park’s centerpiece is the striking Mount Akshoky, known for its distinct shape resembling a sleeping woman. Outdoor enthusiasts come to to Bayanaul for its abundance of recreational activities, including hiking, rock climbing, camping, and boating on Lake Zhasybay. Wildlife enthusiasts enjoy by the park’s diverse fauna, including roe deer, wild boar, wolves, and various bird species.
Bayanaul National Park offers a serene escape from the bustling city life of Astana, immersing visitors in the tranquility of nature and leaving a lasting impression of Kazakhstan’s remarkable natural heritage.
Also known as the “Kazakh Switzerland,” Burabay National Park, is a picturesque destination located in the Akmola region of Kazakhstan, near Astana. Established in 2000, this enchanting park spans over 82,450 hectares and is renowned for its stunning landscapes and pristine beauty.
The centerpiece of the park is the mesmerizing Lake Burabay. Surrounded by lush forests and majestic granite cliffs that create a postcard-perfect setting. Visitors can embark on scenic hikes through the park’s trails. Marvel at the breathtaking views from the Kokshetau Mountain. Or explore the mystical caves that dot the area.
Burabay National Park is a paradise for nature lovers, offering opportunities for boating, fishing, and picnicking along the lake’s shores. The park is also home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, including rare bird species like the black stork and golden eagle.
Buiratau National Park is situated in the Kostanay and Akmola regions of Kazakhstan. This park showcases the country’s unique landscapes and rich biodiversity. Spanning over 2,205 square kilometers, it is characterized by its vast steppe plains, rolling hills, and shimmering lakes. One highlight is the iconic Blue Bay, a stunning lake with turquoise waters that create a striking contrast against the surrounding greenery.
Buiratau is also home to several archaeological and historical sites, providing a glimpse into the region’s ancient past. Nature enthusiasts can explore the park’s diverse ecosystems. Spot an array of bird species. And observe the native wildlife, including saiga antelope, steppe marmots, and wild boars.
Located in southeastern Kazakhstan, Charyn Canyon National Park is an impressive canyon stretches for approximately 90 kilometers. It features towering cliffs, intricate rock formations, and a vibrant palette of colors that shift with the sunlight. Often compared to the famous Grand Canyon, Charyn Canyon offers a mesmerizing landscape that captivates the senses.
The park is home to the Charyn River, which meanders through the canyon, creating picturesque valleys and serene oases. Hiking through the park’s trails allows visitors to explore its hidden treasures, including the Valley of Castles, an area with striking rock formations resembling medieval fortresses. Stand on the edge of the canyon to take in panoramic views that showcase the power and beauty of nature.
Here we saw both hikers and mountain bikers. There’s a quaint cafe at the entrance to the park serving refreshing juice and other snacks. It is the perfect place to cool down after exploring the canyon.
Ile-Alatau National Park, nestled in the picturesque Zailiysky Alatau mountain range is very near Almaty, Kazakhstan. The park os a paradise for outdoor enthusiastis, nature lovers and families. For International Children’s Day many kids were enjoying the park. This expansive park covers an area of over 200,000 hectares. Here you will find breathtaking alpine landscapes, dense forests, sparkling lakes, and snow-capped peaks.
The crown jewel of the park is the iconic Peak Talgar, standing tall at an elevation of 4,979 meters. This peak attracts mountaineers from around the world. Ile-Alatau features diverse flora and fauna. Rare and endangered species such as the elusive snow leopard and the charming Ili pika can be found here. Visitors can explore the park’s numerous hiking trails. Camp in scenic spots. Indulge in birdwatching. Or simply immerse themselves in the serene beauty of nature.
Just outside of Ile-Alatau is Falcon Farm Sunkar. Here you can see firsthand the skill that goes into falcon training from the entertaining falcon trainer, Paul.
Karkaraly National Park is located in the Karaganda region of Kazakhstan. This pristine park covers an area of approximately 90,300 hectares and offers a diverse range of landscapes and ecosystems.
Its most iconic feature is the Karkaraly Mountains, a range of ancient granite peaks that provide a dramatic backdrop to the park. Within its boundaries, visitors can explore dense forests, crystal-clear lakes, rolling hills, and expansive steppe plains.
Karkaraly is known for its rich biodiversity, housing a variety of wildlife, including deer, foxes, hares, and numerous bird species. The park offers an array of activities, from hiking and horseback riding to fishing and wildlife spotting.
Katon-Karagay National Park is located in the easternmost part of Kazakhstan near the border with Russia and China. Established in 2001, this vast park spans over 643,000 hectares. And encompasses a diverse range of ecosystems, from majestic mountains to pristine rivers and lush forests.
The park’s centerpiece is the stunning Altai Mountains, adorned with snow-capped peaks, alpine meadows, and picturesque valleys. Katon-Karagay is home to a remarkable variety of flora and fauna. This includes rare species like the Argali sheep, Siberian ibex, and snow leopard.
Visitors can explore the park’s extensive network of hiking trails. Go camping in serene spots. And witness breathtaking landscapes at every turn. The park’s crystal-clear lakes and rivers offer opportunities for fishing, boating, and birdwatching.
Kokshetau National Park is located in the northern part of Kazakhstan. Established in 1996, this expansive park covers an area of approximately 82,000 hectares. It is home to historical attractions, in addition to its blue lakes and mountains.
The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including Siberian Roe Deer, boars, and a wide range of bird species.
Zerenda resort area is a popular destination withing the park. It offers the beauty of nature with its blue lakes and crystal clear springs along with fun outdoor activities.
Kolsay Lakes National Park, nestled in the beautiful Tian Shan Mountains of southeastern Kazakhstan features four spectacular lakes. It offers stunning alpine landscapes and pristine lakes.
The park features four mesmerizing lakes. The lower, middle and upper Kolsay Lakes showcase crystal-clear turquoise waters surrounded by dense forests and snow-capped peaks. The lower lake is easily accessible with a short walk from the parking lot down to the dock. And, there are hiking trails taking you around this scenic lake where you can also rent peddle boats.
Kaindy Lake is also a part of this national park. It requires a ride across a river and up some elevation first in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Then either a hike, horseback ride or jeep taxi ride up to the lake itself. This lake is quite unique with dead spruce trees reaching up from the still waters. A earthquake in 1911 cause a limestone landslide. This in turn created a dam to this gorge filling it with water and limestone deposits. The still blue green water creates stunning reflections of the spruce trees making it a popular Instagram spot.
Sairam-Ugam National Park is located in the southwestern part of Kazakhstan. It offers a diverse range of landscapes, including majestic mountains, picturesque valleys, and lush meadows. The park is home to the Sayram-Ugam mountain range. Its towering peaks reaching heights of over 4,000 meters, providing a breathtaking backdrop to the park. Sayram-Ugam National Park offers stunning natural beauty but also for its rich cultural and historical significance.
The region features ancient mausoleums, sacred sites, and traditional settlements, reflecting the deep-rooted heritage of the Kazakh people.
Visitors can explore the park’s trails, go horseback riding through scenic valleys. Here witness the abundant wildlife, including the endangered Menzbier’s marmot and numerous bird species.
Tarbagatai National Park is located in a remote northeastern part of Kazakhstan. This expansive park showcases a diverse range of landscapes including rugged mountain peaks and deep river valleys to sprawling grasslands and dense forests.k
Established in 2021, Ulytau National Park stands as the newest addition to Kazakhstan’s impressive array of protected areas. Nestled within the Ulytau region, this park was specifically founded with the purpose of revitalizing and safeguarding the unique mountain-steppe massif of Ulytau.
Zhongar-Alatau National Park in the Zhetysu region is home to the peak of renowned explorer Semenov-Tien Shan. This park serves as a sanctuary for numerous rare animal speciess. Additionally, there is a great emphasis on preserving and revitalizing of the park’s indigenous flora. Tthe restoration and conservation of wild fruit trees, particularly Sievers Apple orchards, is a priority.