The fifty kilometres to the picturesque Sigulda can easily be covered by train or by bus, and then you can walk around this beautiful town on the banks of the Gauja at a leisurely pace. On your way, you can look at the Gūtmaņa Cave, the grave of the legendary Rose of Turaida, the Turaida Castle – where you can climb the tower.
Down the road from Sigulda is Līgatne with its nature park featuring hiking trails over five kilometres in length past enclosures containing bears, bison, elk, wolves, lynx and other representatives of Latvian fauna. Also by train, you can easily reach Jūrmala (20 kilometres from Riga) where you can have a substantial walk, taking in the resort city’s rich architecture and the refreshing breath of the nearby sea. Being a coastal country, Latvia is very much suited to seaside walks. Jūrmala is not the only destination to try: you can just as well head over to Saulkrasti or Lapmežciems. The latter is an ancient fishing village 48 kilometres from Riga (well served by bus lines); after a few hours of hiking along the sea, you can go for a delicious meal in one of the taverns – where we recommend sampling some smoked fish.
Similar one-day hikes are available for those staying in Liepāja or Ventspils. You can take the bus to Bernāti or Kolka, where you are guaranteed pleasant adventures. Lauku ceļotājs, the countryside travel association, recommends the one-day hike entitled The Cape Kolka Tour (Kolkasraga aplis). You may also walk along the sea from Jaunķemeri to Klapkalnciems.
In the Soviet era, access to the Kurzeme shore was only available to Latvian residents with a special permit, never mind foreigners. The beach was keenly monitored by armed Soviet border guards with dogs. Photography was strictly prohibited. Now you can safely embark on a one-day hike: Lauku ceļotājs recommends the route from Roja to Mērsrags, which is a good place for bird watching as it includes a tower. In Mazirbe in Slītere National Park, it is possible to visit a Livonian cultural centre and also cover the 22 kilometres to Kolka along the shore all in one day!
True nature lovers who shirk no difficulty may find it worthwhile to follow the Amata geological trail: impressive sandstone outcroppings can be observed along the steep banks of the river. The trail meanders through a forest in the Amata valley; the height difference can reach 40 metres in places, which means there will be a lot of climbing and keeping up, and you may have to conquer fallen tree trunks. This route is recommended by the Gauja National Park.
Pleasant one-day routes are also available on the doorstep of Riga. If you take bus No. 24, you can go to the final stop and head to the Mangaļsala breakwater – which is the sea gateway of Riga. This is also a site popular with bird watchers. Afterwards, you can go on an hour-long walk along the sea, or you may embark on the 23 kilometres to the Carnikava railway station, which will require six hours. To avoid getting lost, however, you are advised to consult a map first. This kind of a hike requires that you bring a packed lunch and water since you will not find any eateries on the beach along the way.
Within a 20 minute ride or so from Riga, Dole, the largest and most interesting Daugava island is located, containing a nature park. There is also a Daugava Museum here, which can be both the starting and finishing point for your hike circling the island.
Salaspils is home to the National Botanical Garden (only 18 kilometres from Riga, good rail connections). It is expansive and contains hundreds of plant species – trees as well as lush flowers – and bird watchers will also leave satisfied. The Botanical Gardens do not have a cafeteria, though, which means that refreshments must be secured in advance; there are picnic sites here, however.
Excellent one-day hikes are offered by Latvian national parks and nature reserves. You can become acquainted with the ecosystem of the largest marsh in the Baltics, the Teiči Marsh, by following the Teiči Reserve nature trail, led by experienced guides. You will also gain exciting experiences on the footbridges on the Great Ķemeri Heath; a visit to the Skaņaiskalns Nature Park in Mazsalaca will also leave indelible impressions, where the Salaca river valley is full of especially picturesque objects; in Ilūkste, Pilskalna Siguldiņa will welcome nature lovers with nature trails looping along the shores of sub-glacial lakes and even across a marsh.
You can spend at least a whole day in the fabled Pokaiņi Forest, where a walk around will assure you that the ancient stone stacks and the unusual location does indeed possess some mystical energy, which is why this place is considered to be the Stonehedge of Latvia. A day-long hike will be an especially exciting adventure for children if you visit the Tērvete nature park, which not only boasts numerous culturally and historically significant objects (the ancient Semigallian castle mound, ruins of a castle of the Teutonic knights) and a lush landscape, but is also peppered with carved wooden sculptures of well-known fairy-tale characters, as well as playgrounds.
Not very far from Riga, in the Allaži parish, one can walk a nature trail past the Ezernieki shore sinkholes, a geological feature where water suddenly “sinks” underground, flowing into the depths of the earth. The trail circles around Linezers, which has disappeared underground a number of times during the past two decades, leaving a lake bed nine metres in depth.
In the vicinity of Valmiera, a 13 kilometre trail snakes around Lake Vaidava which is suited for hikers as well as bicyclists. A whole network of trails has been set up in Skrīveri bearing beautiful names: there are trails named after the Bear of Fortune, Spīdola and Max von Sivers, as well as a Lake Trail and a Moss Trail. A four-kilometre walk includes an arboretum featuring a large number of tree and shrub species, where many foreign species have been growing since the era of the barons.
Nearly every region of Latvia has some exciting nature trail or one-day hiking route to offer, and the best places to ask about them are the regional Tourist Information Centres. Also, the Latvian Fund for Nature, Mamma daba and Lauku ceļotājs have created several hiking routes that include nature trails and bird watching towers.