While traditional tours to Russia generally focus on exploring the cities of Moscow or Leningrad, it is the unforgettable view of the ancient and majestic Ural Mountains stretching over 1500 miles (2414 kilometers) across west central Russia that represents one of Russia’s hidden treasures still fairly undiscovered by world travelers.
Offering the chance to revel in refreshing outdoor activities such as camping, hiking and skiing and the ability to see dozens of delightful sites from the Ice Caves of Kungar to the stunning beauty of the Virgin Komi Forests, the Urals promise to captivate even the most seasoned traveler with its charming people, awe-inspiring mountain ranges and eclectic variety of things to see and do.
The Fascinating History of the Urals
Geologist estimate these mountains erupted 250 million years ago as one immense continent called the Euramerican continent powerfully collided with the smaller continent named Kazakhstania.
After nearly 90 million years of one continent pushing vigorously against the other, majestic mountain peaks were forged into the landscape, with some eventually rising 6300 feet (1920 meters). Although these mountain peaks have eroded over time, they are still one of Russia’s – and the world’s – most awe-inspiring sights to behold.
Often referred to as the geographical dividing line separating Asia and Europe, the Urals provide the Russian Federation with a wealth of mineral resources as well as non-metallic substances consisting of talc, emeralds, fireclay (a material used in making ceramics), amethysts and topaz.
Ore deposits found in the Urals also hold rich amounts of copper, nickel, gold, bauxite, platinum and chromite. Additionally, natural gas and petroleum deposits lie in the Krasnokamsk and Ishimbay areas of the western Urals, where mining of lignite (predominantly used in operating steam-electric machinery) and coal occur year around on mountain slopes.
The Forests of the Urals
Sheltering a fascinating variety of wildlife while also regulating hundreds of streams and rivers that flow down the Ural mountain slopes, the diverse forests carpeting these ancient mountains consist of towering coniferous trees (spruce, firs and pines) in the west and deciduous/mixed woods in the south.
Alternately, visitors taking Russia tours to the Polar (Arctic) Urals will see sparsely forested areas dotted with bogs, lichens, swamps and shrubbery as well as mountain tops that are sharper and less rounded than the southern Urals.
Also found in the Polar Urals is a World Heritage site called the Virgin Komi Forests, known for its pristine scenery, beautiful Siberian fir and spruce trees and abundance of wild animals such as the reindeer, mink, the wild hare and the sable. Other animals inhabiting the vast range of the Urals include elk, lynx, brown bears, wolverines and wolves.
Cities Surrounding the Urals
Chelyabinsk, Ufa and Yekaterinburg are the three major cities found in the Ural region. Visitors to the Urals can fly into Chelyabinsk and tour several museums in addition to attending the Mikhail Glinka Ballet and Opera Theater or taking a walk through Pushkin Park. The city of Ufa also has an airport and is conveniently connected to most of Russia via modern railways.
Originally constructed as a fortress according to instructions given by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, Ufa is now a major economic, industrial and cultural center of Russia where visitors can enjoy ballet, dramatic theater and orchestral music in the towering shadows of the Urals.
Yekaterinburg has the biggest airport in this region and accepts direct flights from Frankfurt, Dubai, Prague, Helsinki and Beijing. While staying in Yekaterinburg, make sure to visit the Urals Mineralogical Museum for an amazing introduction to the mountains’ semiprecious stones, part of Vladimir Pelepenko’s personal collection of crystals, stones and minerals that have been made into stunning pieces of jewelry and artistic items.
For tourists staying in St. Petersburg or Moscow who wish to visit any of the cities in the Urals, intercity buses and trains provide rapid and convenient transportation while also giving visitors a chance to see the simple yet arresting beauty of the Russian countryside.
Things To Do While Visiting the Urals
Skiing, hiking, hunting, fishing and camping are just a few of the outdoor activities in which tourists can participate while visiting the Urals, especially when Russia tour guides are not busy showing you around charming Ural towns and villages.
Cuisine in this area of Russia is famous for its large portions and emphasis on meat and bread, such as a dish called pelmeni, which consists of beef-stuffed dumplings liberally covered in butter, sour cream and vinegar.
Popular beverages around the Urals include vodka (welcome to Russia!), a non-alcoholic drink called kvas and mors, a traditional beverage made from wild berries.
When taking a comprehensive tour to Russia, adventurous spirits should not miss viewing and experiencing the enduring magnificence of the Ural Mountains as well as the many thrilling activities provided by its surrounding cities, natural countryside and sparkling lakes and rivers that are warmed by the Russian daytime sun and watched over at night by a luminous Russian moon.
Expert advice for this story is provided by our friends from Travel All Russia – world’s leading agency for tours to Russia.