Aukštaitija National Park is a national park in northeastern Lithuania, about 100 km north of Vilnius. Established in 1974, it is the oldest of the five national parks in Lithuania. At first it was named Lithuanian SSR National Park to emphasize that it was the first such park in the republic. In 1991, four other parks were established and were renamed after ethnographic regions of Lithuania. The park was renamed after Aukštaitija region.
Park territory occupies 405.7 km². Ignalina district municipality controls about 50% of the area. Utena and Švenčionys district municipalities control 25%. Strictly protected areas occupy 2.1%. Over 70 percent of its territory is covered by woods. 80 percent of woods are pine stands, some reaching 200 years old.
Aukštaitija NP was established to preserve and restore the natural and cultural heritage of the Aukštaitija ethnical region, as well as to organise a sustainable use of its resources, to spread environmental ideas and raise eco-awareness. The core of the national park were Ignalina Landscape Reserve and Ažvinčiai Wood Botanical-Zoological Reserve established in 1960. Later by the initiative of Prof. Č. Kudaba the first planning scheme of Lithuanian National Park was drawn and approved by the Lithuanian Council Of Ministers on March 29, 1974. This day marks an official birthday of the oldest of the five national parks of Lithuania.
The name of the national park recalled many discussions. There were plans to establish more national parks and name them according to the region. But stressing the importance of the first park, instead of Aukštaitija NP it was named the National Park of Lithuanian SSR. The original name of Aukštaitija National Park was given only after Lithuania became independent state again and new national parks were declared.
In 2010 authorities of Aukštaitija National Park and Labanoras Regional Park merged. Headquarters are located in Palūšė, Ignalina dst.
Flora and fauna
Vegetation varies from steppe to tundra species, many rare bird and animal species find a sanctuary in the park. Sixty-four species of plants, eight species of fungi, and 48 species of birds that are found in the park are included in the Red Book of Lithuania. The park is famous for its biodiversity - 59% of all native plant species in Lithuania can be found in the park which covers less than 1% of Lithuania's territory. Representatives of almost all Lithuania’s species of vertebrates constantly reside in this area and some beetle species haven’t been found in other places of Lithuania.
Fees and permits
There's no park entrance, vehicle use or camping fees. However 2.1% of the park are strictly protected areas (reservations) that may not be entered without obtaining permit from Aukštaitija National Park Headquarters. It is also prohibited to visit strictly protected areas without accompanying employee of the park.
Fishing and hunting is regulated by the fishing and hunting rules approved by the Ministry of Environment. Therefore park visitors who intend to engage in such activities must have valid fishing and hunting licenses.
Other non-park-specific permits might be needed (for example to use motorboats).
There is only one campsite suitable for autocampers in Palūšė. Facilities such as electricity, showers, toilets and kitchen are available.
There are also 10 tent camping sites situated along several lakes. These have camping facilities such as picnic shelters, benches, field toilets. Logs for campfires are provided. No showers or water supply, however it is possible to use clear water of national park lakes (sterilization needed before drinking). Small fee of several euros might be collected by park staff. Campsites are listed in the following table:
|Camp name||Lake name||Location|
|Almajo||Almajas||Ginučiai, Ignalina dist..|
|Asalnų||Asalnai||Puziniškis, Ignalina dist.|
|Gaveikėnai||Dringis||Gaveikėnai, Ignalina dist.|
|Linkmenas||Linkmenas||Ginučiai, Ignalina dist.|
|Meironys||Asalnai||Meironys, Ignalina dist.|
|Pakretuonė||Žeimenis||Pakretuonė, Švenčionys dist.|
|Palūšė 1||Lūšiai||Palūšė, Ignalina dist.|
|Palūšė 2||Lūšiai||Palūšė, Ignalina dist.|
|Salos||Asalnykštis||Salos, Ignalina dist.|
|Vaišniūnai||Dringis||Vaišniūnai, Ignalina dist.|
Hundreds of picturesque lakes, wast pine tree forests, abundance of wild fauna and flora and sparse settlements means that Aukštaitija National park is one of the best places for wildlife experience in the country. Combined with the law of free passage and free collection of forest bounties this makes the park a popular back country destination. By law, one is allowed to travel free across both public and private land (except the residential land and crops). One is also allowed to pick up berries and mushrooms and collect dead wood in small amounts in both public and private forests provided that he does no harm to the forest.
According to park rules, camping and making campfires are allowed only in the aforementioned sites. However park attracts much more visitors (and nature loving locals) than would fit into those few campsites. As a consequence there are many more unofficial campsites along virtually every lake and river. As a rule of thumb it is ok to camp in those established sites, provided that you do not further expand its territory, do not litter, do not cut live trees and are very cautious with fire. One thing that is strictly prohibited everywhere in the country is parking cars less than 20 m from natural water bodies. Those campsites are not marked on the official maps and sometimes it may be difficult to find one. However smaller tracks usually branches of the bigger roads when they pass water bodies. Another thing to keep in mind is that on hot summer evenings best campsites along the lake might attract festive local youth. So instead of having a quiet night rest you might find yourself participating in the all-night lake-side party. If you are camping light is possible to camp virtually anywhere except on residential land. However campfires are to be avoided except in established and safe to use campfire sites. Pine forests are very prone to fires especially in dry summer months.