9 admirable sights of the Altai Mountains
When it seems that you have already seen everything, Altai can still surprise you. There are many hidden places here that are not easy to get to: you have to drive high cross-country cars or horses or go on a long hike. It seems to me that the inaccessibility of the stunning natural sights helps to preserve them.
I have been to the Altai Mountains twice – I took a jeep tour and went on a 12-day trek to the foot of Mount Belukha. Both times I was struck by the beauty of places around me: clear lakes, high mountains, wild rivers, alpine meadows and snowy peaks.
I will tell you about nine natural sights of the Altai Mountains that impressed me, and how best to visit them.
What I will tell about
Where is it located: Ust-Koksinsk district, on the border of Kazakhstan and Russia Distance from Gorno-Altaisk: 383 kilometers to the nearest settlement – Tyungur When to go: May – October Can you get there by car: no
Mountain Belukha – the highest point of the Altai Mountains. Its height is 4,509 meters, and from its slopes comes the Katun River, another important landmark of the region. The Belukha National Park is situated around the mountain, which includes all the adjacent areas.
It is impossible to conquer Belukha during a tourist trip: it is one of the most difficult peaks to climb in Russia. But to the foot of the mountain – Akkemskoye lake – is often taken on hikes. The lake is located at the height of 2050 meters and from tourist camp on its shore one can enjoy the tremendous view of Belukha.
There are several hiking routes to Akkemskoye Lake, but the most famous is the circular route: Tyungur village – Kucherlinskoye Lake – Karatyurek Pass – Akkemskoye Lake – Tyungur again. Its length is about 90 kilometers, the route takes 10-12 days.
I hiked to the foot of Belukha as part of a tourist group in 2018. It lasted 12 days, was not easy physically and emotionally, but all the effort was worth the views of the Altai Mountains that I discovered. We spent 3 nights at Akkem Lake: we lived in tents, went for walks to other natural beauties during the day, and in the evenings we sat around a campfire and sang with a guitar. It was magical.
Valley of the Kyzyl-Chin River
Location: Kosh-Agachsky district, 864 km of Chuisky Tract Distance from Gorno-Altaisk: 437 km When to go: May – October Can we drive: yes
Altai Mars, or Kyzyl-Chin river valley, is gorges and mountain plains with earth of all shades of red, orange, yellow and even purple. The reason for this variety is the high content of metals in the soil. The valley is at an altitude of 1800-1900 meters above sea level. It is deserted and there is little vegetation because of the strong winds and drastic changes in temperature.
The mountains are called Rainbow Mountains, and the locals call them Martian Landscapes. I really liked them: you feel like a little grain of sand in the big world.
The gorge is divided into three areas: Mars-1 , Mars-2 and Mars-3 . The first part, which is located below and begins from the spontaneous parking lot near the river, is easy to get to by car. The second part can only be reached by off-road vehicle or on foot for 6 kilometers from Mars-1. You will have to climb into the mountains: you will have a view of the entire gorge from above, you can see the variety of colors. The third part is better to visit only with a guide: there is no road, it is easy to get lost. This is a more remote area, I have not been there.
I advise to come to the valley in sunny weather in the early morning or late evening, when the light is soft and the colors are richer. When it rains, you should only drive a four-wheel drive off-road vehicle: there is a dirt road from the Chuysky Tract to Mars.
Where to go: the North-Chuysky ridge, Kosh-Agachsky area Distance from Gorno-Altaisk: 391 kilometers to the nearest populated area – Kuraya When to go: all year round Can you get there by car: only with high-passable
Aktru is the name of the mountain base, a group of glaciers and a peak 4075 meters high. At the foot of the glacier at an altitude of 2,150 meters there is an alpine camp from where travelers and their guides go to climb. The place is awesome – even if you’re not ready for a challenging hike, I suggest coming to this base and staying for a couple of days, going on day treks and enjoying the mountain atmosphere. Here you can rent a cabin, there’s a cafe and a sauna. And all this – surrounded by snow-capped peaks up to 4000 meters high.
It is not easy to get to the mountain base “Aktru”. There is practically no road – only puddles, stones, mud and bog all year round. It took us about two hours to walk eight kilometers. To the base get or four-wheel drive jeeps with the driver, who understands all the horror of this road, or a local abstraction. Uaz or Zil-131 runs twice a day from “Perevalka”, which is the entrance to the Aktru valley, to the mountain camp. For four people they ask for 8000 R .
The price of huts for rent depends on the level of comfort. They offer tent-type accommodation with a stove and a log floor, and more comfortable options. Prices for accommodations in cabins range from 600 R per person. We rented VIP houses with two floors, central heating and good furniture. Each accommodated six people and cost 14,000 P per day.
The weather here is changeable, so it’s worth preparing for the cold. We vacationed at the beginning of September: the first day it was +5 °C, cloudy and rain changing to snow; the next day it was -9 °C, sunny and everything was snowing. I wore all the clothes I had on. The good thing was that the cabin where we were staying was warm.
Because of the cold weather we decided to go only to the Maly Aktru Glacier and Blue Lake. It was cloudy, but no wind and wet snow: beautiful and fabulous, although we did not see all the snowy peaks. The hike took about seven hours, but we did not get to the final point – the lake: interfered with the snow.
From the mountain camp hikers go to the Baranyi Lby rock and other glaciers in the area – these are day-trips. It is better to learn more on arrival to the camp: local guides will tell about passability of the path and weather conditions.
Where to go in Altai: 28 most beautiful places
We have made a selection of the most beautiful and interesting places in Altai for those who have never been there. You will learn where to go for the first time to see the true beauty of the Altai Mountains and not to get into a crowd of tourists. We will tell you what these places are and where they are located.
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 will be 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 iridescent arcs. 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 Chuisky Tract, 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 bodies of water are Lower and Pereerechnoye, and the most picturesque are Achkan, Upper and Kuiguk. 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 tract near the village of Topuchaya.