Swamp Thing Trail: Exploring The Estonian Taiga
The Wild Side
The Swamp Thing Trail is a 386km route that runs from south to north through the nation of Estonia, one of the most forest-rich countries in the world. The route is named after The Swamp Thing, a comic book from the 1970s which depicts a swamp monster — a humanoid mass of vegetable matter — who fights to protect his swamp home and the environment in general. The route name is fitting not only for the unique ecosystems and scenery which it passes through, but also considering Estonia’s environmental plight. After regaining independence in the 1990s, Estonia has made an effort to protect and enhance its flora and fauna throughout the country.
The ride starts from Pärnu, a small city on Estonia’s west coast. After penetrating a majestic coniferous forest, a rusted and decorative bridge along an old abandoned railway escorts in the Laiksaare forest. From there, a series of empty gravel roads alternate with singletrack to immerse you in the Estonian wilderness, between carpets of moss and lichens, wild berries and mushrooms. The primordial bog landscapes offer a spectacle like no other, where the lights of dusk and dawn move with the mist along these endless lowlands. The observation towers are the best place to watch this unfold.
The singletrack is never overly technical, and there is very little elevation gain. What makes this route deserve a seven on the difficulty scale are the constant mosquitoes as well as the ever-present challenge to access drinking water. The water resupply points are very rare and the rivers and channels have a brownish-orange color and must be purified. Another pitfall is the unpredictable flooding which can require waist-deep wading, or in extreme cases, improvisation of alternative tracks to continue the route.
After crossing the Soomaa National Park and Kõrvemaa Landscape Reserve, estonian forest will take you through the Lahemaa National Park in one of the most amazing places of the entire route: Mädalaht bay on the Käsmu Peninsula. Large stone fields, fine sand, tall conifers right on the coast, and Devil’s island on the horizon make this the most incredible place on the Baltic Sea. And don’t forget to take a dip in its icy waters.
240 Mi.(386 KM)
% Rideable (time)
- Must Know
- Surju Train Station was built in 1896 under the Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia. It’s an estonian cultural monument.
- Farm Museum of C. R. Jakobson at Kurgja and The flour and saw watermill, built in 1879, at the Pärnu River worth a visit.
- Soomaa Nature Center in the Soomaa National Park. Here you can have information materials and watch films about the Park. You can also explore the flora of Central Estonia, the cultural history, and experience the fifth season of Soomaa – the flood.
- In the Centre it’s possible to see the exhibition of the epic “Fifth Season” of 2010.
- Estonian forests are populated by european lynx, brown bears, wolves, moose, beavers and flying squirrels that can only be seen in Estonia and Sweden. You can also meet a lot of galliformes as the Hazel Grouse, the Capercaillie and the Grouse. Flocks of white storks will often accompany your trip.
- Observation tower near Lake Paukjärve. A sort of time machine on which it’s worth going to watch the primitive bog landscapes.
- Swimming in the Baltic Sea. The Mädalaht bay, at the end of the trail, is the best place to do this, and have chilling time and a beer!
- The best time to tackle this route is from June to August, with temperatures ranging from 10° C to 20° C. July and August, however, are the wettest months.
- Pärnu, the trail starting point, is easily reaching by train from Tallinn and bikes may be transported without additional cost.
- Don’t forget anti-mosquito net hat and a ton of repellent.
- If anybody should give you a Vodka, drink it in one shot without coughing!
- The trail is mainly made up of empty gravel roads and singletracks, never really technical except in brief steps.
- The floods can inundate large areas, and you may find yourself facing deep fords without the possibility of bypass them. Crocs might come in handy.
- Along the trail we counted 9 campsites and 18 campfires, equipped with outdoor fireplaces, fire rings with barbecue grill, shelters with table and benches, trash cans and dry toilets.
- There are 5 forest huts that can be used free of charge. Inside you will find tables, benches/platform beds and in someone even fireplace.
- There are 3 points for sourcing of drinking water along the trail: a well near the Laiksaare Forest District and two fountains, one at the Sooma Nature Center and the other in the Campsite of Võsu (All noted on the GPX). The water has a metallic taste, but you will appreciate it.
- Along the trail you can pick wild blueberries and apples. Super tasty and great natural energy if necessary.
- In the town of Kurgia, inside the water mill, near the “Farm Museum of C. R. Jakobson,” you can buy mineral water bottles.
- There’s a general store in the borough of Lelle, about halfway through the route. It is small but well-stocked.
- The second and last market where you can resupply is in the village of Aegviidu.
- rmk.ee – the official webpage for State Forest Management Centre. The site contains useful information about campsites, campfires and huts along the route.
- Visit MontanusWild.com – For the full set of photos from this trip.