Prielbrusie National Park
Republic of Kabardino-Balkariya, Zolsky and Tyrnauzsky Districts
The unique nature of Prielbrusie (literally “by Elbrus”) attracts tourists from all over the world wanting to enjoy views of the majestic Elbrus, snowy peaks, and picturesque canyons of the North Caucasus. Marvellous landscapes, crystal clear mountain air, bubbling springs, snow that sparkles in the sun—you’ll find all of this in abundance.
Prielbrusie National Park, encompassing an area of 101,000 ha, was created in 1986 to preserve this one-of-a-kind natural landscape and develop sustainable tourism in the region.
The park is situated in the Central Caucasus, and includes part of the main Caucasus ridge as well as smaller break-off ridges.
The most famous attraction in the park is Mount Elbrus (its two peaks stand at 6542m and 5621m), an extinct volcano whose eastern peak belches out sulphuric gas—a sign of ongoing volcanic activity.
Many lava flows seep from the mountain into and along the region’s main river valleys—the Malka river valley is home to a lava flow measuring more than 23km. Around 15% of the park’s entire territory is covered by snow and glaciers.
The park contains more than 100 springs, and plenty of beautiful lakes, the most interesting of which is Syltran-Kyol, situated on the upper reaches of the river Syltran.
The rivers of Prielbrusie are known for their waterfalls, including the “Maiden’s Braids” waterfall, which appears in the book “World’s 100 Most Beautiful Waterfalls”, the Sultan and others.
The climate is generally considered temperate continental, with cold winters and hot summers. The terrain’s very steep relief, the elevation variation, glaciers, and proximity to the Black Sea all ensure a fairly sharp difference between this region’s climatic features and those of other regions. The coldest month is February with an average temperature of -17.7ºC at an altitude of 4100m, and -3.4ºC at 1467m. In August, temperatures at 1467m reach +17ºC, and at 2600m +0.2ºC.
Flora and fauna
As weather conditions change with the elevation, this creates an interesting patchwork of vegetation—the large coniferous forest beltis replaced by a narrow strip of sparsely-wooded shrubland, which subsequently turns into subalpine and then alpine meadows. The park’s most interesting plant species is the Caucasian rhododendron, the largest in the Ericaceae family; its lush flowers of cream and pale pink form vast fairytale-like flowerbeds, beautifully complimenting its dark green leaves.
High-altitude forests are packed with mushrooms, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, and stone bramble. Buckthorn can be found everywhere and thickets of it along the Baksan River are strictly protected.
The park’s fauna is quite similar to much of Asia, due to the fact that the Caucasus has been a gateway region for much of its history.
One of the most ancient relicts is the tur: both West and East Caucasian turs can be found here, and it is probably the most well-known animal in the Caucasian highlands. Other mountain forest-dwellers, such as wild boar, are quite common, and share their habitat with wolves, jackals, foxes, rats, and brown bears. Chamois are quite rare.
Of the mammals living in the park, eight appear on Russia’s Red List, including the Persian leopard, Caucasian wildcat, lesser mouse-eared bat, and the greater noctule bat.
Of the birds in the park, 11 are on the Red List, including the Caucasian grouse, Saker falcon, Golden eagle, Eastern imperial eagle, peregrine falcon, bearded vulture, Egyptian vulture, white-tailed eagle, and others.
What to see
The park hosts a huge number of amazing places well worth visiting. It is a plethora of natural attractions: Narzan Meadow, the upper reaches of the Malka river, the Sultan waterfall, the geothermal waters of Dzhily-Su in the foothills of Elbrus, and more.
Remnants of residential and domestic buildings are the main archeological and ethnographic finds, as well as burial sites.Near the park’s entrance in the Baksan River valley, a cultural zone has been created with a network of historical & ethnographic excursions and tours, as well as workshops in local handicrafts.
While you’re here, pay a visit to the astronomical observatory, or head to Azau for the Museum of Glaciology.