I admit that despite being Latvian and having explored my own country quite well, I had never heard of the possibility to hike along the banks of the Brasla river, which flows through the territory of the Gauja National Park. Even more – that there are numerous red coloured rock formations that you can see along the way. Some sources in English use the word cliff. After comparing definitions of both, I’ll stick with rock.
I found out about the trail from Instagram. After doing some research, I was still unsure if it’s doable with kids. First of all, the trail is not popular even among the locals, not much information is available for hikers. Secondly, there is no official trail – no signs, no anything. It’s more like a walk in a wild environment. Especially in early spring when the bits of snow are still there. But since it seemed like the route is linear, I thought there’s nothing to lose – we can walk as far as we want and turn back at any point.
Our verdict after completing our planned itinerary? It’s totally doable with kids IF your kids understand the concept of keeping themselves safe when walking next to a river and crossing pretty high rocks and if they are old enough to walk by themselves along a rough terrain for about 3 hours or so.
How to get there?
It’s possible to get there by bus (Rīga-Valmiera or Rīga-Valka route) and to get off at the Brasla stop. However, I would suggest this only to travellers without kids as you will need to walk a couple of additional kilometers to get to the river and the trail.
Car is the most convenient option. Again, if you travel without kids and are fit enough, leave your car at the roadside cafe/motel “Zandarts”, then cross the road and start your journey towards “Braslas zivju audzētava” (the Brasla Fish Farm).
If you travel with kids or just want to decrease the total amount of steps walked that day, then take the dirt road on your right just after you pass “Zandarts” and drive until you see the no-entry road sign. Park your car there and continue on foot.
What to expect?
The trail goes parallel to the Brasla river. The river flows through a valley and there are numerous red sandstone rocks on both sides of the river. You can hike on any side of the river but we chose the left bank as some people had mentioned that this way there’s a chance to see more rocks than if you walk along the right bank. I can’t confirm the accuracy of this statement. The trail is quite extreme no matter what side you choose- you’ll have to climb up and down an uneven terrain, cross some springs, go through a muddy and swampy area. If you are ready for what expects you and you are dressed accordingly, it’s all doable and the views are rewarding.
Where to start?
At the dam just before the Brasla Fish Farm. You will see your first iezis (rock) there, which is Aņītes iezis. We started walking along the left bank from there and saw another iezis but being there felt weird as there are some houses nearby and the trail is not really visible. You can skip this part and just follow the brown sign to the fish farm (Braslas zivju audzētava) along the dirt road. Once you are there, take the left side of the fence along a very narrow trail. As soon as you pass the territory of the fish farm, just follow the trail, look for the next rocks and enjoy the views all around.
- Appropriate footwear is a must! We hiked in early spring and wore comfortable waterproof winter boots as we knew that there still will be snow in some parts of the trail. In summer, choose good hiking boots or at least comfortable sports shoes.
- Choose a sunny day. I wouldn’t advice hiking this trail in rain.
- Pack some food for a picnic. There are a few picnic spots at Virtakas iezis (on the left bank of the river), where you can make fire and relax.
- A part of this trail is a nature reserve. Please use the trail responsible and take all your trash with you. The bins are not provided.
- If you want to get some extra karma points, take a bag and pick up some of the trash others have left behind.
- If you arrived without a car, you can go up to the point where the Brasla flows into the Gauja river and find your way through the woods to Inciems, from where you can catch a bus back to Riga. Make sure you check the timetable beforehand! Also, please download the map in an offline mode or print one out. The mobile network coverage is not reliable at some parts of the trail.
- If you parked your car before the fish farm, go up to Buļu iezis and then turn back. This route will be approximately 7 km long and take about 6 hours to complete (picnic time included).
- Whenever the water level is low, you can try to cross the river near Buļu iezis or wherever you reckon the river is shallow enough and go back along the other bank. Please take your own risk and responsibility when doing so! I would not try this with young children unless you can clearly see the depth of the river.
- The names of the rocks in the order of appearance are as follows:
– Aņītes Garais iezis. Near the dam. 380 m long, up to 7 m high, partly flooded.
– Varšavu iezis.
– Kraukļukalna iezis.
– Aņītes Mazais iezis. These three are near and around the territory of the fish farm and might not be visible when hiking. Some can be seen only from a boat.
– Jāņavārtu iezis. With three caves. In winter, up to 7 m high “icefalls” can form.
– Aņītes Augstais iezis. The highest point where you get if you hike along the left bank.
– Slūnu iezis. The most impressive out of all. 180 m wide, 20 m high. The high voltage power line built above it kind of spoils the view though.
– Melnais iezis with two caves. On the right bank. A recently discovered castle mound that has been there since the 13th century, if not longer, is above this rock.
– Baltais iezis just across the Melnais iezis. On the left bank. Try shouting something at this spot. We had so much fun with echoes!
– Virtakas iezis. About 230 m wide with a 2.5 m tall cave. Just before this one, there are picnic spots available.
– Buļu iezis. 110 m wide, 3 caves. One more has collapsed and only the legends about robbers using it remain.
- Some of the rocks hold inscriptions in Latvian, German and/or Slavic writing. Both ancient/mystical and also some recent ones. Please remember that it is prohibited to damage the rocks in any way!
- If you travel by car, this hike can be joined with driving through Turaida. There is an tourism information centre near Gūtmaņa ala. You can get printed maps and extra information there.
- You can print some useful information in various languages from this site as well: http://www.entergauja.com/en/enter-gauja/downloads/brochures
- Kids will love this: http://www.entergauja.com/userfiles/files/Susuris_EN.pdf (printed version available at all Gauja National Park tourism information centres).
- If you don’t feel like hiking, there’s always an option to rent a boat/canoe/kayak and enjoy the red rocks on both sides of the Brasla river. More info here.