One of the coolest things about Tallinn is how close it is to some spectacular natural areas. Less than an hour drive out of the city, you can see Jägala waterfall and spend the day at Lahemaa National Park.
Estonia’s highest waterfall is just 30 minutes outside of Tallinn by car. It’s not the most spectacular waterfall in the world. In fact, it’s quite small. And now that it’s spring and snow is melted, a lot of it looks brown and muddy from the melted snow. Google Maps takes you to “the wrong side” of the waterfall. There’s a small parking lot and though you’re facing it directly, there is no staircase to go down to see the waterfall from the bottom. On the other hand, the brown mist from the waterfall isn’t spraying you in the face from the wrong side.
To get to the other side of the waterfall, set your directions to take you to Jägala Joa parkla (the waterfall parking lot). Then you can take the wooden stairs down to the bottom of the falls.
Lahemaa National Park
I wouldn’t go even 30 minutes outside of Tallinn for just the waterfall, however. (Though in the winter when it’s frozen, it’s probably a sight to see.) Instead I suggest driving another 15 minutes or so to Lahemaa National Park. This massive park has a couple of sights that it’s known for.
One of the popular hiking trails is Viru Raba, which is a vast swampland. There is a trail that can take up to 1.5 hours through the bog. There’s a small observation tower in the middle of it and the rest of the way is on a small wooden path over the water.
There isn’t a ton of wildlife, aside from birds and butterflies, but the trees are beautiful. During the spring when the waters are thawing out, the colors in the bog are spectacular. At the end of the path, it kind of opens up to the open forest, but you can follow the green circles that are painted on trees. Google Maps isn’t terribly precise when it comes to the trails. My friends used an app called Mapy.cz. Though it’s a Czech app, the maps are very detailed and show a lot of trails that on Google Maps are just green areas.
The other point of interest and hiking area is Majakivi, which is a giant moss-covered boulder in the middle of the bog. This hike is considerably easier. Only about a half hour walk on foot from the parking lot. That is, unless you take the Pikanõmme hiking trail. It’s technically closed until the end of 2018, but we did it anyway. There are many half downed trees, likely as a result of storms. And the path, which in the rest of the park is secured firmly to the ground, here is not so much.
There are planks, the beginnings of a new path, but they’re not nailed into anything so you have to just trapeze your way across over the bog. It’s not for the faint of heart. At the end of the trail, there’s an observation tower, construction of which will probably be complete by the time it opens in November.
It’s not an impossible hike and you probably won’t die. The worst that can happen is that you’ll lose your footing on a lose board and fall into the bog. The correct path is obvious the whole way, even if it’s all kinds of fucked up. There’s also a dirt path shortcut to the Majakivi boulder that allows you to skip the wettest part of the bog.
There are some large boulders scattered around the area, but certainly none are as impressive as Majakivi.
Eating at Lahemaa
It was our intention to hike Viru Raba in the morning, Majakivi in the afternoon, and have lunch in a small town nearby in between. We found a very well-reviewed restaurant, Jaaniranna OÜ nearby. And we went out of our way to try to find it in a sleepy town on the edge of Kolga Bay. When we arrived, we realized there was one party seated in what is essentially someone’s house and that you have to reserve this table in advance. So we went about 30 minutes to the next peninsula, Viinistu, where we were able to find an open restaurant.
This is probably due to the fact that it’s off season, even though it was a weekend. But knowing this, I would probably take lunch just in case. Viinistu Korts, the restaurant where we managed to find food, ended up taking forever in addition to the detour we took to get there.
Altogether without sitting down for a couple of hours for lunch, you can do this in a little over a half day if you arrive in the morning. And about a half day if you cut out the treacherous bog hike that’s not supposed to be open for visitors. But you know, live dangerously.