Driving to Karelia! An interesting route and tips

What is the best route to Karelia by car?

An independent trip to Karelia by car

Tips for travelers

For residents of the northern part of Russia, a very popular type of vacation is considered an independent trip to Karelia by car. Let’s describe the most convenient routes, prices, as well as the reviews of those travelers who have already been to this wonderful green land.

Today ecotourism is becoming more and more popular. Residents of megacities are trying to get away from big cities and go somewhere to the clean nature, fresh air. If you have your own car to travel can be with maximum convenience and at low cost.

Why go to Karelia?

Residents of the Leningrad region often travel to the more northern regions to enjoy the incredibly beautiful nature. The center of the Republic of Karelia is the city of Petrozavodsk. It stands on the shores of Lake Onega and in the outskirts of the region is available to find a number of amazing natural attractions.

Karelia's nature

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Without going abroad, without overpaying extra money, you can enjoy the beauty of wildlife at the weekend in the summer or on May holidays. This area is rich in protected areas, powerful waterfalls, dense forests, an abundant crop of berries and mushrooms.

It is also not uncommon for travelers from other regions to want to see in Karelia the monuments of wooden architecture, ancient petroglyphs, amazing handicrafts and products of local craftsmen.

Tips for preparation

Since the weather in this region is harsh and unpredictable, it is best to plan a road trip in summer or autumn. Then you’ll be surrounded by beautiful scenery all the way – green forests, smooth lakes, fragrant meadows with flowers, bustling rivers, picturesque nooks and gorges. But some people venture out there in the spring or winter, such as for New Year’s Day or March 8.

The waterfall

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In order not to spoil your mood for the whole vacation, you need to prepare carefully. To do this, pay close attention to packing. Experienced travelers give the following recommendations:

  1. Lay the route on the map in advance, so that you know what landmarks and settlements you will meet on the way.
  2. Clarify exactly where on the highway there are resting places, gas stations, sanitary areas.
  3. Since gas stations are very rare in this area, you should pick up an extra can of gasoline to be able to fill the tank at any time. As a last resort, look for someone from the local population in the nearby villages, they will definitely sell some fuel.
  4. Consider where you will be stopping along the way. Some people like to spend the night in the car, although it is tiring. Others prefer to camp wilderness, camping anywhere they like. Others like to settle in specially designed campsites or car parks for tourists. In each case, the cost of recreation will be different, and for some options should be prepared in advance, for example, to book a motel room on the way.
  5. Be sure to pack a raincoat, umbrella, waterproof awning for the tent, a dry change of underwear, socks, warm clothing. After all, even in summer it can be chilly here, especially at night.
  6. Before the trip, it is useful to make a technical inspection of the car and fix all the little things, so that on the way there are no damages.
  7. Stock up on paper maps of the area in different scales and a navigator.
  8. Remember, that in many parts of Karelia there is no cell phone and, moreover, no Internet. The signal is only available near the towers. But it won’t hurt to have your phone and charger on you.
  9. If you want to visit as many interesting places, museums, natural attractions, buy a guide to know how to get to each of them.
  10. Don’t forget to pack personal documents – passport, vehicle registration certificate, driver’s license, insurance policy. All of this should be on hand during the trip.
  11. If you want to have a rest in the nature take care about the necessary equipment – tents, fire blankets, sleeping bags, lanterns, rubber boots, campfire accessories, camp utensils, etc.

Remember that in the unfamiliar area it’s better to go only in the daytime and not to drive recklessly on the roads. Even on paved areas there can be potholes, bumps and other troubles for the motorist. There are also hills, sharp turns, where there is no proper lighting. So be very careful!

Route choice

The final point in Karelia is usually chosen the city of Petrozavodsk. You can get to it both from Moscow and from St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg). In the first case, the distance will be much more – 1027-1100 km, it all depends on the particular path. The second option is much easier and simpler in terms of travel – 428 km. Accordingly, the time on the road will take 13.5 hours or 4-5 hours.

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If you need to get from St. Petersburg to Karelia on your own, it is best to choose the highway E105, which passes through Lodeinoe field. On the road you will be able to pass Losevo, Priozersk and move in the direction of Sortavala. Note that the farther from the northern capital, the worse the condition of the roads, they are only covered with asphalt, and for the most part remain unpaved.

To get to Karelia from Moscow you have to leave very early. First, so you can get to the destination in one day, and secondly, if you leave the capital early in the morning (about 4 hours), then there is a chance not to get into traffic on the way out of town, which will greatly reduce the travel time.

Today, the most popular route is via Tver, on the M11 freeway. But you need to remember about some nuances:

  • This road is a toll road;
  • On the way there are no gas stations, cafes and other facilities;
  • the highway is fast – available speed up to 130 kilometers per hour;
  • signs of settlements are still rare here.

Less safe, but completely free, is the M10 highway. It goes through Veliky Novgorod, Kusino, Kirishi. On the way you can go to Torzhok, Valdai, Volkhov, and other interesting cities. In each of them there is something to see. You can visit fascinating museums and places of interest. True, then the way will have to stay for more than one day.

M10 highway

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This road may be preferable for trips with a child, as on the way there are often gas stations, cafeterias, motels and sanitary areas.

Also manage to drive to Karelia on the highway A114. Then on the way you stop by Sergiev Posad, Ustyuzhna, Lodeynoye Pole. Some people prefer another route – along the M8 and P5 highways, that is, through Rostov Veliky, Vologda and Lipin Bor. It is better to ask in advance about the reviews of tourists, who have recently arrived from Karelia, to clarify the current state of the roads and other nuances.

Where to Stay?

Since the family goes on such a trip for more than one day, it is necessary to solve the question of where you will spend the night. To do this, you should opt for one thing. There are enough well-equipped guest houses, hotels of different levels, fishing and tourist bases, cottages. Nature lovers and tent campers will even be able to stay in the forest on a glade they like.

Overnight stay

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If you decide to rent a hotel room, it will be relatively inexpensive – about 1400 rubles per person. A cottage will cost more – 2500 rubles per night, but you will have a comfortable accommodation for the whole company. You can get the cheapest room at the camping house at 500 rubles. Keep in mind that if you plan to stay in hotels or tourist bases, especially in the summer season, it’s better to book them in advance.

Along the way there are also many places where you can stop for lunch or overnight if your trip takes longer than you expected. Along the way there are a lot of settlements, which have catering establishments and hotels for every taste.

If you want to be wild in the middle of the forest, you must remember one rule. In Karelia, there are many protected areas, where camping is strictly prohibited. This is reminded by appropriate signs. But there are always camping sites near popular attractions, where you can park your car or even pitch a tent.

What is there to see?

Karelia has an incredible number of beautiful landscapes, natural beauties, protected areas, forests, canyons, caves, rivers, lakes, waterfalls. Even walking through any part of the region on your own will give great pleasure to lovers of pure and wild nature. But to get the most information and positive emotions it is desirable to go on an excursion program with a guide.

Wild nature

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Almost all routes tourists start from Petrozavodsk. Therefore, let us describe popular destinations depending on their distance from the central city:

  1. Petrozavodsk itself is a very interesting settlement, which has enough entertainment and attractions. Here you can visit several museums, House of Dolls, walk along the waterfront or go on a boat trip.
  2. Special attention deserves a tour to the island of Kizhi. You can reach it by “Meteora”, snowmobile, helicopter, and other local transport.
  3. Very close to Petrozavodsk (30 kilometers) is the Sampo mountain. It is necessary to ascend to the top, because from there you can see the city and its surroundings, and according to the legend it is there where the wishes come true.
  4. Kivach waterfall is considered one of the most attractive natural attractions. You can reach it by a fully asphalted comfortable road. It is located 79 km from Petrozavodsk and is part of the protected area. The entrance to the territory costs 150 rubles per person. It is also worth visiting the arboretum, to see other waterfalls, and ancient wooden sculptures.
  5. The distance from the city is 85 km to the cape of Besov Nos. Here tourists expect the ancient petroglyphs with the image of incredible creatures up to two and a half meters in size. You’d better come here in summer and in good weather, because there is no asphalt road.
  6. No less attractive is the Girvas waterfall, as well as the paleovolcano of the same name. It is believed that the most beautiful landscapes in this area are observed during the watershed, when the water level rises.
  7. One of the region’s highest points is Mount Vottovaara. It reaches 417 meters in height. This natural landmark is located in the Muezersky district and the mountain offers a magnificent panorama of Karelian lakes and forests. According to local beliefs, it is considered mystical.
  8. To the mountain park Ruskeala is a little longer – 259 km, but it is worth it. This is one of the most attractive excursion routes in Karelia. It is a real marble canyon. Here you can walk not only on its outer part, but also sail on the lake by boat or go on a trip to the “Underground Ruskeala”. Tickets cost from 300 to 1200 rubles, depending on the selected tour.
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And this is not the whole list of interesting routes in Karelia. Kumi waterfalls, Akhvenkoski, White Bridges, Valaam Island, Sortavala town, Protosaamsky labyrinth, ski resort, Solovetsky islands – all this is of incredible interest to fans of ecotourism and wildlife.

Also in Karelia you can go rafting, pick mushrooms and berries, fish, ride huskies and snowmobiles, swim. And even in itself a passive vacation in the middle of the forest is already considered healthful, because the abundance of conifers saturates the air with useful substances. This vacation will leave a bright pleasant impression and make you distract from everyday problems and worries.

To calculate how much a trip to Karelia by your own car, you need to take into account all the costs:

  • For tourist equipment, if you don’t have it yet (tents, sleeping bags, kettle, camping utensils, etc.).
  • For gasoline will leave about 3500 rubles one way if you go from Moscow, and 1500 when traveling from St. Petersburg.
  • Depending on how many days and in what hotels you will stay, and the price differs – from 500 per night, although you can rest for free, camping on free glades.
  • The fee for the M11 route is 730 rubles.
  • Include the cost of food.
  • Count separately excursion program, the cost of which depends entirely on where you will visit.

But in any calculation such a holiday will be inexpensive. If you go as a group, then some costs will be even lower.

Video: traveling by car – Karelia.

Reviews

Andrew: “Go to Karelia need the right car. A simple car will not let you to drive to the most interesting places. Therefore, organize such a trip only by a car with cross-country ability.

Alena: “Always take warm clothes with you. The weather here is very unpredictable. And the experience of rest strongly depends on it. If it’s raining you won’t have a lot of pleasant emotions. But on a warm day tour to the reserves is incredibly interesting.

Olga: “Rested here as a family a month. Very much I liked it! But such a trip on the strength of only those who are not squeamish to sleep in a tent and bathe in the lake. Those who like comfort will not be satisfied.

What to do not to burn in the sun or if you have already burned. Discounted Tours from Travelata.

How to travel in Karelia by car

A trip to Karelia by car

Instruction, how to go to Karelia by car. Telling about my experience and giving advice. We plan the route of interesting trip by the car along the main sights.

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So, you have decided to go to Karelia by car. This is a great idea! You can’t think of a better format to explore this beautiful land of mossy forests and mirror-like lakes. Anyway, it’s distanced there, you can’t see much by public transportation, and tours in the country are wicked expensive. So it is brave to drive the car and go on a journey!

However, if you want to rest and not drive, then it is better to take a ready-made tour of Karelia – a huge selection of interesting programs have a tour operator “Big Country”.

In this review I will help you organize a trip so that everything went smoothly, interesting and inexpensive. I will tell you what to see and where to go in Karelia. If you are a seeker of adventure and beauty, as I am, then you have to get ready to see all the main attractions of the region: skerries, forests, waterfalls, Vottovaara Mountain, ancient petroglyphs, picturesque villages and the famous monuments of wooden architecture. Let’s go!

Contents:

Where to go in Karelia by car

View of the Ladoga skerries from the observation deck on the mountain near Sorolansaari Island.

How much to drive to Karelia

My trip to Karelia and the Kola Peninsula by car, along with the road, took one month. But don’t be too scared! I, a renowned auto-traveler, simply do not leave home for a shorter period, and I was going with my crew all the way from Perm. But for the citizens of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Leningrad region, Yaroslavl and other western regions of Russia even some days will be enough for the first acquaintance with Karelia. But if you wait a week or two, you will be able to see almost all the most interesting spots on the map of the republic. So you can go for any period and in any case, you can have a great time.

You can go from St. Petersburg to Karelia in two ways: from the southeast of Lake Ladoga or from the northwest through Sortavala. It all depends on your interests and the end point of the trip. Perhaps, the second route is more interesting because in a couple of hours of driving from St. Petersburg you get to Ladoga skerries, numerous camping sites and places for fishing. Highway A-121 to Sortavala now in splendid condition, you can reach in three hours. A trip from St. Petersburg to Petrozavodsk by road R-21 “Kola” takes about 5-6 hours (430 km).

To go to Karelia from Moscow you can also take two roads: via Veliky Novgorod or via Yaroslavl and Vologda. Do not hesitate to choose the first option: via Tver, Novgorod, Volkhov, Svyatozero. It is necessary to drive 1020 km, so calculate 12-14 hours. It is better to leave from the capital at night or early morning, while there is no traffic jams and free exit from the city. If you have time and desire, go to Novgorod the Great, and take a look at the Novgorod Kremlin and the Savior Transfiguration Cathedral of the XIV century, where there are frescos of Theophanes the Greek. But if you don’t mind, make an extra day in your schedule, because you can’t get to Karelia in a day. In Kirishi you can see the memorial “Echo of War”, and in Volkhov – the old hydroelectric power station.

Don’t even think about going to Petrozavodsk by the South-West of Onega Lake through Oshta – there is practically no road there, besides there is a ferry crossing. You may, of course, bypass Onega to the north through Pudozh and Medvezhjegorsk, but it’s a big detour. But if you want to have a rest in Karelia in the wilderness, the northern part of Onega will suit you very well: it’s very wild, unpopulated and charming in its own way. We’ve been there twice, the road is good and absolutely free, but keep in mind that gas stations are rare.

If you want to rest on Lake Ladoga, then go through Peter and then north along the A-121. To Sortavala drive 980 km – it’s about 11-13 hours.

Highway A-121, somewhere between Sortavala and Petrozavodsk. Great road! The A-119, somewhere between Pudozh and Medvezhegorsk. The road here is good, and the edges are wild. Fabulous Karelian forest.

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Roads in Karelia

An independent trip by car in Karelia will bring you great pleasure! The roads wind through pine forests, past lakes, noisy rivers and picturesque rocky escarpments. All the main highways in the south of the republic are of excellent quality, the asphalt is perfect, the traffic is rather low, the drivers are mostly adequate. In general, it’s easy and pleasant to drive in Karelia.

However, some places are not accessible by good roads, or even by bad roads, so it is better to find out everything about every road to your place. In our guidebooks about Karelia we always write about the quality of roads to the sights. While planning your route you should also take into account the effects of rain and snow on the roads’ passability. Don’t forget to fill up a full tank of petrol if you’re going in the middle of nowhere (north-east of the Onego Lake, Vottovaara, north-west of the republic).

Route R-21 “Kola” is maintained in good condition, but many parts are repaired, because of that you have to waste time.

Pink Karelian sunsets. P-21 “Kola” Highway. To many places of interest you may drive on unpaved road, and it is usually of good quality. This is the exit to Koirinoja waterfall (Nizhny).

Itinerary of Karelia trip

What to see and where to go on a trip by car in Karelia? I’ll tell you about the route of our trip. We visited almost all the most famous sights and saw different parts of the republic. It took us about 10-12 days – that’s enough time for a long and interesting trip. Then we went further north, to the Kola Peninsula, but it was a completely different story (though, I tell you a secret, even more interesting than the Karelian one).

Your itinerary in the republic is worth planning, taking into account what car you are going to drive in Karelia. Your SUV will take you to almost all the sights, but you can practically do without it. Many places of interest are well paved and unpaved roads that are accessible to any car. I myself travel around Russia in my UAZ “Patriot” because I like to get into the middle of nowhere, and I need a huge trunk to accommodate all our equipment and provisions.

I’m not going to talk about the sights themselves here, but only give a reference of the distance to them and outline our route. For more information, check out our travel guides at the links below.

Our travel itinerary for Karelia : Northeast of Onega Lake, wooden St. Nicholas Church, Kinerma (the most beautiful village in Russia), abandoned factory in Lyaskelya, Ruskeala mountain park with famous marble canyon, nice town Sortavala with unusual northern modernist architecture (ferries to Valaam go from here), church in Lumivaara and Finnish cemetery, Ladoga skerries, Hiidenvuori mountain, Kitele pomegranate deposit, Koirinoja waterfall (accessible by any car), paleovolcano Girvas, mystical mountain Vottovaara, Belomorsk petroglyphs, depressive Belomorsk town, wooden 17th century Peter and Paul church in Virma, setting for film “Island” by Lungin, wooden Dormition cathedral in Kemi.

All these places can be reached by any car. The exception is Vottovaara Mountain: any car can get to the nearest tourist base, but only a cross-country vehicle or a reliable crossover can get to the mountain (20 km). If you don’t have a cross-country vehicle, the base will organize a lift, so it’s not a problem to get to the mountain. The road from Belomorsk to Virma is really bad – it is hell, horrible holes, but it is possible to pass by on cross-country vehicle, but keep in mind, that it is exhausting.

Islands . You can get to Kizhi island by ferry from Petrozavodsk, to Valaam – from Sortavala, to Solovki – from Belomorsk or Arkhangelsk. It is worth to spend at least one full day on the islands, or better a couple. We were thinking and thinking, but we didn’t go there: the price was too high, time was not enough, and the summer crowds of tourists would definitely spoil the atmosphere of these places, and hence our impressions. We will go another time.

Other interesting places in Karelia, where we hadn’t been yet: Onega petroglyphs on cape Besov Nos (not easily accessible), Paanayarvi national park in the north, near the Finnish border, White Bridges waterfall (Yukankoski, the highest in Karelia). There was not enough time for these places. And we did not have time to live in the nature on some pleasant recreation center and ride a boat on Lake Ladoga. And the islands were not visited. So there are reasons to go there again.

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The most convenient way to start the trip around Karelia is to go to the North-West of Lake Ladoga and Sortavala, where you can stay for several days. Then go to Petrozavodsk, see the sights on the way and in the vicinity of the regional capital. Then go to Vottovaara Mountain and then drive further north, if you still have time and desire.

Install the Maps.Me app on your smartphone – these are very handy offline maps. Read also about other useful travel apps.

How much to drive from Petrozavodsk to the main sights of Karelia:

Distance, km Travel time, h
Marcial Waters Resort 51 0:30
Kivach waterfall 79 1
Ruskeala Mountain Park 259 3-4
Sampo mountain 30 0:20
Girvas Waterfall 102 1:15
Kumi Waterfall 620 8
Protosaamsky Labyrinth 332 5
Vottovaara Mountain 210 4

Map of interesting places in Karelia

We didn’t visit Kizhi, but found a lot of other ancient wooden churches, which are not often visited by tourists. Wooden Assumption Cathedral in Kemi. Vottovaara mountain.

Lodging and rest in Karelia by car

In Karelia, there are plenty of different types of accommodations. In the priority of tourists – recreation centers, where you can rent a room in a cabin or a whole cottage. There people relax in nature, fish, try the local cuisine and delicacies, in general, enjoy life. What a shame, most tourists don’t give a damn about all the Karelian sights and come just to have a rest in nature. This is probably a great vacation, but we, being travelers and not just vacationers, missed this story. We spent every single day traveling, and we only needed lodging for overnight stays. For these needs, motels on the highway, daily rental apartments, or guest houses are better suited – that’s what we focused on.

I advise to search and book vacation bases, motels and apartments in Karelia on Yandex.Travel. And it’s better to do it beforehand! Ideally, even a few weeks beforehand, you should plan the route of your car trip, plan the stops, and choose the lodging there. Karelia is a popular destination, so during the season, and especially at weekends, all the best and cheapest are sold out quickly. Looking for lodging on the spot is not an option – a waste of time and effort.

Yandex.Travel is a handy site for finding hotels and other lodging, but also check the prices of lodging on Hotelluk. Sometimes the same hotel and campground can be booked cheaper on other sites. On these services you can also look for apartments and cottages.

Karelian nature is favorable for traveling wilderness. Many tourists, when traveling by car in Karelia, take with them all the necessary equipment for overnight stays in the field: tents, sleeping bags, mats, camping utensils and burners. It is very comfortable, because it’s possible to camp or to have dinner in any place you like. And in Karelia there are lots of beautiful places! We also always take everything we need for a wilderness vacation, but this time the tent wasn’t unpacked. Just time for this was not at all, too busy we had too busy a road trip.

Bivouacs are allowed almost everywhere, except of the reserved territories. Near natural monuments there are usually special places for camping. There are camping sites for auto-tourists in Petrozavodsk, Ruskeala and in the settlement of Sopokha.

Furry Karelian forest. Photo: Freegreen cottages.

Conclusions

The advantages of traveling by car in Karelia:

  • Complete freedom! You plan your own route and schedule.
  • Thanks to the car you can easily get to places where buses do not go or go very rarely.
  • You can relax in the wilderness, where only you will not be anyone.
  • No need to buy expensive excursions.
  • It is easy to combine the trip by car with fishing, gathering mushrooms, berries and swimming in the lakes.

The disadvantages: none. There is only one: even if you read all our guidebooks about Karelia, you still have to spend time and effort to plan your trip. If you want to shift the burden of organizing a holiday on someone else’s shoulders and quietly enjoy life, then I advise to take a tour of Karelia from “Big Country”.

In general, a trip by car is the best option to travel in Karelia. It is safe, comfortable, affordable and very exciting. We were completely satisfied with our auto-trip. I wish you good luck, too!

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