We will go to lake Baikal for one week, to hike and camp there. And then we will go to Altai mountains for one week. This is how our Russian friend replied to me on WhatsApp, when I sent him a message saying that we will be in Russia this summer.
And so we did – in summer of 2016 we traveled to Russia for the first time. We spent 1 month there. And one third of this time we were either somewhere near Baikal or on our way to or from it. 5 out of 29 days we were in Russia we spent on public transport, mostly on trains. Read more about traveling by train in Russia.
At this moment it’s also important to mention that not only Russia is a big country, lake Baikal is huge, too. It’s 7th biggest lake in the world. It is about 600 kilometers long and about 50 – 70 kilometers wide. Which means even if you have a week to spend by lake Baikal you need to choose where exactly you will go. Because you simply can’t do it all.
We (read: our friend) chose to go to Circum Baikal Railway (2 days, 2 night) and Olkhon island (3 days, 3 nights). And we weren’t disappointed. Far from that. If we would not have a train to catch, we would stay at Olkhon island longer. This place is truly magical if you love to have a freedom of going where you want, camping where you want and overall being a little bit away from the civilization at the same time being not too far away.
1. Circum Baikal Railway – Siberia, Russia
Circum Baikal Railway is a historical railway, running along the Northern shore of lake Baikal. Once a part of Trans Siberian Railway now it’s mostly known as a scenic hiking trail, used by local and foreign travelers willing to see the beauty of lake Baikal. And only rarely nowadays here you can see a train passing by. Local trains are going like only once or twice a day. One day in one direction, another day – opposite direction.
To get to Circum Baikal Railway we took a local train (journey was 2,5 hours long) going from Irkutsk to Slyudyanka.
There are at least few every day, and you can buy a ticket once you are in the train station. You can go to the last station or you can do like we did – get out at the station called Temnaja Pad (“Тёмная Падь”). Once you get out at Temnaja Pad (“Тёмная Падь”), you need to cross the railroad and on the left side there you will see a trail going into the woods. Just follow this trail and in 40 – 60 minutes you will be on the Circum Baikal Railway.
From here you just need to follow the railroad. In some parts you will need to walk on rails, in others you will have a choice to walk either on rails or to take a path following the rails.
With lake Baikal always on your right side scenery here is really beautiful. Only it’s also more or less the same all the time. So 1,5 – 2 days of walking is completely enough here.
There are few accommodation options along the way, but I recommend you to take a tent and camp. This way you will make things much easier for yourself and more interesting as well. As you can camp everywhere. And, hey, how often do you wake up with a view of Baikal? It is your chance to change it. You can get drinking water straight from the lake (boil it, if in doubts about its purity), but food either way you will need to carry with yourself as there are no shops and restaurants.
As trains here are going so rarely do check a timetable before! You can check it on the website tutu.ru, in the section Электрички. This section unfortunately is available only in Russian.
To know on which day and at what time you can get back to Slyudyanka and afterwards to Irkutsk or any other place where you want to get. There is a train stop every few kilometers. And it’s possible to check a train timetable there as well. But it’s all only in Russian, too.
Few Photos from the Hike by Circum Baikal Railway
For more photos check out this gallery on our Facebook page!
2. Olkhon Island – Siberia, Russia
Olkhon island is the only island in lake Baikal, and it’s also the fourth-largest lake-bound island in the world. It is approximately 70 kilometers long and 20 kilometers wide. Being few hundred kilometers away from Circum Baikal Railway and Irkutsk Olkhon island requires almost one full day to get there.
Main town on Olkhon island is Khuzhir (Хужир). There are shops, cafes, tour agencies and guest houses. Something kind of camping site is only 10 minute walk away. I’m saying “kind of” because on Olkhon island you can camp everywhere where you like. Here the main difference when comparing to some more wild place is that town isn’t far away, thus there is mobile coverage, there is also (at least) one outdoor toilet and also other people around.
We took a minibus (marshrutka) going from main bus station of Irkutsk to Khuzhir (Хужир). Journey was about 6 hours long, and that’s with one 30 minute lunch stop at about the middle of the trip. There are other options to get from Irkutsk to Olkhon. Just ask at your hotel or hostel in Irkutsk. Chances are pretty high that they will be able to help you out.
What I knew about Olkhon island prior to arrival is that it’s a very touristy destination, one of the most popular choices for people going to lake Baikal. What I didn’t think about is that touristy in Russia doesn’t mean the same as touristy in, let’s say, Spain. Now I wouldn’t say that Olkhon island is touristy place. Especially if you are going here to do hiking. Yes, there are quite a lot of other people in towns and at campsites.
But once you leave that town or campsite you are on your own. You can have nice beach all for yourself. As well as you can easily find a nice spot where to set up your tent, with no other people around.
This time our hiking plan looked like this – to walk in the direction to North, and to hitchhike back on our last afternoon on the island. If our plan wouldn’t work out like this we were ready to walk all the way back. Walking through the night we would make it in time anyway, or so we thought. But it wasn’t necessary because we got a lift, and tourist bus, full with Russian tourists, brought us and two other hitchhikers back to Khuzhir.
Next time I would find a way to get to the very North of Olkhon island right at the beginning. And then I would walk back for 3-4 days.
Few Photos from the Hike on Olkhon Island
For more photos check out this gallery on our Facebook page!
Now when looking back we see how lucky we were with the weather while hiking at lake Baikal. Mostly it was sunny. Time after time sky was cloudy and it was raining a little bit as well. But as we learned later, while rafting near Novosibirsk, weather in Siberia can be much worse. It can change really fast. So warm clothes, rain jackets and rain covers are necessity when coming here.
If you have any questions about traveling in Russia, contact us!
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and a travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they have been traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On We Are From Latvia they share their experience and things learned along the way.