I’ve been back in the states for a few months, and I’m still wrapping my head around my thoughts, feelings, and stories from my time abroad. One of the most memorable evenings of my entire trip was spent in Terelj National Park, as part of our train trip on the Trans-Siberia Railway. Terelj was far from my radar, but once we heard about the horseback riding, hiking, archery, and other activities people embark on in this truly authentic Mongolian nomadic experience – I knew we had to see it for ourselves.
Terelj National Park is the third largest protected area in Mongolia, and it may be the most popular tourist attraction in the entire nation. If you find yourself in the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, spending a day (and night) in this neighboring national park is a must.
The park is about 80 km (50 miles) outside of Ulaanbaatar, and it’s easy to arrange cheap transportation there and back. Before going, talk to people around the city – your hostel manager, the tourism center, or a neighborhood restaurant owner will be able to give you advice on what to do in the park.
Here’s a breakdown of the different activities offered within Terelj:
Visit Turtle Rock. “Melkhii Khad” is a 80 ft. tall granite formation you’ll pass on your way into Terelj Park, where most people stop for a photo opp with this rock that bears striking resemblance to a turtle.
Overnight in a traditional Mongolian ger. There are dozens of camps hosted by local families who take in tourists for the night and provide freshly cooked food, plenty of tea, in the comfort of a mountainside ger (known to Westerners as a yurt). Your hosts may play traditional Mongolian music for you, or invite you to sing karaoke. Oddly enough, most of these gers feature karaoke.
Go horseback riding. The family we stayed with included horseback riding in our entire sleepover + meal package. We had to read a number of rules before mounting our horses, most of which hammered in the fact that “these are wild Mongolian horses” who don’t always listen to human instruction.
Try archery. What better place to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow than in wild Mongolia? These aren’t so much archery “lessons” as they are, “take these tools and teach yourself.” Unclear whether this could be combined with horseback riding, though that would be pretty sweet.
Take the challenging trek to Aryapala. This impossibly tiny and out-of-reach Buddhist temple is tucked between a rocky mountainside and looking out at the entire park. Getting there is the real test – you’ll cross the “Bridge to Heaven,” a long, swinging suspension bridge, and trek up 108 impossibly steep steps to the temple itself. Enjoy the views, and (do) look down.
Hold an eagle on your arm. Another popular point of interest for first-time visitors, you’ll see eagles and their owners all along the main road encouraging tourists to stop and take a photo with an eagle on their arm.
Hike. Probably the easiest and best thing to do in the park is to hike around and truly reconnoiter the area. There are no trails in the park, which makes exploring all the more fun. We visited towards the end of June and the sun didn’t set until after 11pm, so we embarked on an after-dinner mission up the highest peak we could find. At 10pm we stood on the summit with the sun barely hitting golden hour. It was a truly unforgettable experience.
Overall, my experience in the park was something out of a fairytale. I don’t think I ever imagined myself visiting this part of the world before these plans fell into place, and so seeing this remote culture was all the more inspiring and enchanting.
If you’re one of the unique, brave souls who has added Mongolia to their travel itinerary – Terelj National Park is an absolute requirement to add to your plans.