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Established: 1986
Size: 1,004 km2
Buffer zone: 278 km2

Contact information:
Baidaev, Dalkhat Magomedovich, Director


Lesnaya Street 2,
Elbrus, Elbrus District
Kabardino-Balkaria Republic
Russia 361603

Tel: +7 (866-38) 7-82-65

Prielbrusky National Park

Photo © Konstantin Mikhailov

Prielbrusye National Park Images
Prielbrusye National Park Facts

The grandeur of the Caucasus mountains -- snow-capped peaks, steep mountain valleys with picturesque waterfalls and "Narzan" mineral springs -- has for centuries drawn many pilgrims and admirers from Russia and across the world. As Europe s highest mountain, Mt. Elbrus is a favorite point of call for hikers and downhill skiers in particular. The founding of Prielbrusye National Park in 1986 was an important step to ensure the long-term preservation of this wilderness area.

Images of Prielbrusye National Park

Click on each photo to see a large version.

© 2000 Konstantin Mikhailov

Brown bears (Ursus arctos) forage for food in the park’s forests and alpine meadows


© 2000 Konstantin Mikhailov

Pine forests (Pinus spp.) are characteristic of the park’s lower elevations


© 2000 Konstantin Mikhailov

Waterfalls tumble from numerous glaciers in the park


© 2000 Konstantin Mikhailov

Glaciers continue to sculpt the region’s landscape


Caucasian houseleek grows on rocky terrain in the high mountains

© 2004 Igor Shpilenok

Caucasian houseleek grows on rocky terrain in the high mountains



Evening fog descends on the park's green hillsides

© 2002 Konstantin Mikhailov

Melting ice carves gullies in Elbrus Glacier.


Mountains tower about the Baksan River valley

© 2002 Konstantin Mikhailov

Thickets of Caucasian rhododendron grow on alpine slopes.


Rushing streams are common in the park

© 2002 Konstantin Mikhailov

Glacial meltwater gushes down a mountainside. 


Prielbrusye National Park Facts:

AnimalsVegetationHistorical and Cultural MonumentsGeographical Features
Conservation StatusVisitors' GuideReferences


Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra caucasica), wild mountain goats, live at the borders of alpine meadows and forests, where they feed on grasses and young trees. Higher in the mountains, tur (Capra caucasica) rest in groups of eight to 10 during the day, descending carefully to graze in alpine meadows only in the evening. In the winter months they form larger herds and head towards the valleys. It is a difficult time of year for the tur, when food is hard to find and many animals become the prey of wolves (Canis lupus).

Foxes also hunt in the national park, preferring small rodents, such as wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) and voles (Microtus spp.). Lynxes (Lynx lynx) prey on Caucasian snowcocks (Tetraogallus caucasicus) and other birds, as well as hares (Lepus europaeus), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and young tur and chamois.

Brown bears (Ursus arctos) live throughout the forests of the national park, but are particularly fond of the Baskan River valley, and can sometimes be seen in the early morning drinking from the Narzan mineral springs. The unassuming weasel (Mustela nivalis) -- a mere 20 cm from nose to tail -- is actually a fierce predator, hunting many of the park's rodents. Wild boars (Sus scrofa) are common in the park, forming groups of eight to 15.

Six species of bird are found in the Russian Red Book of rare and endangered species: Caucasian black grouse (Lyrurus mlokosiewiczi), Saker falcon (Falco cherrug), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca), and bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus). Other colorful birds include Eurasian dipper (Cinclus cinclus), parrot crossbill (Loxia pytyopsittacus), goldfinch (Cardeulis carduelis), great rosefinch (Carpodacus rubicilla), gray wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus), tawny owl (Strix aluco), Eurasian eagle owl (Bubo bubo), and song thrush (Turdus philomelos). Though the park does not lie in the direct path of the Great Caucasus migration route, a number of migratory birds nonetheless pass through Prielbrusye in early spring and fall, such as gray and purple herons (Ardea cinerea, A. purpurea), mute swans (Cygnus olor), greylag geese (Anser anser), gadwalls (Anas strepera), teals (Anas crecca), little grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis), and common cranes (Grus grus).

The Caucasian viper (Vipera kaznakowi), another red-listed animal, is endemic to the region. The banded newt (Triturus vittatus ophryticus), also listed in the Russian Red Book, can be found in forests on slopes and valleys alike up to elevations of 2,750 m above sea level. Other more common amphibians in the park include the common newt (T. vulgaris), European spadefoot toad (Pelobates fuscus), common European toad (Bufo bufo) and European green toad (B. viridis), European tree frog (Hyla arborea), lake frog (Rana ridibunda) and brown frog (R. macrocnemis).

A local species of brown trout (Salmo trutta morpha fario) that swims in the park's rivers may live for more than 50 years, and may swim upstream to elevations of 3,000 m above sea level. The fish is carnivorous, spending its youth chasing insects, worms, and mollusks; as an adult, it attacks larger fish, such as the northern pike (Esox lucius). Mostly the trout eat crustaceans such as the gammarus (Gammarus pulex).


With its perpetually frozen cap of snow, Mt. Elbrus cools the entire area, supporting plant life characteristic of cooler climate zones. The sharp changes in elevation throughout the park further create several belts of vegetation. At the highest levels where plants still grow -- about 3,000 to 3,500 m above sea level -- small colonies of lichens cling to rock faces. Mouse-ears (Cerastium spp.), whitlow-grasses (Draba spp.), and saxifrages (Saxifraga vinnica) may also be found peeking out through these lichen gardens. In the alpine belt between 2,700 and 3,000 m above sea level, grasses grow eight to 15 cm tall in summer pastures.

Further down, in the sub-alpine meadows, grasses and flowers may grow as tall as 70 to 80 cm. One of the region's loveliest flowering shrubs, the Caucasian rhododendron (Rhododendron caucasicum), grows in these areas. Locally called the "alpine rose," the pale pink and cream-colored blossoms of the rhododendron come into bloom in early spring. The plant digs its roots deep into the thin soil of steep mountain slopes, allowing it to withstand snows of up to 1.5 meters.

Birches (Betula spp.) and Caucasian and Scots pines (Pinus kochiana, P. sylvestris) are the predominant trees in the lower forests of the national park. One particularly interesting birch (Betula raddeana) is a relict from the Tertiary Period, about 65 million years ago. Through it is a rare species, its pale pink bark and dark green leaves make the tree easy to spot.

The park's high mountain forests are also rich with mushrooms and wild berries -- wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca), bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus), black current (Ribes nigrum), and raspberry (Rubus idaeus). The silvery foliage of the sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) can be seen all along the Baskan River Valley.

Geographical Features

Prielbrusye National Park lies along the Baksan River basin, including the high mountains in which the river's headwaters form. The park stretches from the northern side of Mount Elbrus down through the jagged peaks of the Great Caucasus Mountain Range that divide the Russian Federation from Georgia. Glaciers cover 155 square kilometers, 15.3 percent of the full area of the park. In turn, these glaciers provide the main water source for the park's streams and rivers. There are few lakes; the handful of glacial lakes, such as Syltran-Kyol, 2,950 m above sea level, are high in elevation and difficult to reach.

The two heads of Mount Elbrus, for which the park is named, are the highest peaks in Europe (the eastern peak is 5,621 m above sea level, the western -- 5,642 m). The two peaks are actually individual volcano cones separated by 1.5 kilometers. Geologists surmise that Elbrus rose from the ground 10 million years ago, and that its last volcanic activities ended just 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. In fact, in ancient folklore, it was on the two peaks of Mt. Elbrus that Prometheus' arms were bound as punishment for giving fire to humanity.

The region's volcanic past is apparent in other features of the park as well. Visitors may notice a sulfuric odor rising from numerous naturally carbonated mineral springs. Commonly called "Narzan," the water of these springs is rich in various mineral salts, and is believed by many to have powerful healing properties. The Dzhili-Su hot springs, located at 2,380 m above sea level, maintain a temperature of 22.4 degrees Celsius year-round.

Historical and Cultural Monuments

During the Second World War, German troops attempted to cross the Caucasus Mountains near the peaks of Mount Elbrus, moving the front to its highest elevation of the entire war. During the battle in 1943, casualties were heavy on both sides, though the Red Army succeeded in preventing the Germans from crossing to the Caspian oilfields east of the mountains. Many of the soldiers were never buried in the ground, but the perpetual snows of Mount Elbrus have covered their bones. In 1971, a special war museum and monument to these soldiers was built at the "Mir" Station, located at 3,500 m above sea level and accessible by cable car. From the station, visitors can also see a 360-degree panorama of Elbrus and the surrounding mountains. The museum draws around 9,000 guests annually.

Conservation Status

Elbrus has long drawn hikers and mountain climbers, but it is only in recent decades that concern for preserving its wilderness has been expressed. Official scientific study of the region's glaciers began in the 1930s, when scientists from the Soviet Academy of Sciences began continual observations of the area. In 1961 a High-Mountain Geographic Institute was formed to observe the peaks of Cheget and Terskol. Three years later, in 1964, the Geography Department of Moscow State University opened a permanent research center in the area, focusing particular attention on studying glaciers.

The park is divided into three functional zones. Visitors are not allowed to enter the strictly protected zone, which is reserved for conservation and limited scientific observation. In the moderately protected zone, scientists and tourists alike are welcome. The regulated zone is designed for extensive, through regulated, recreational use, including hotels, restaurants, and roads; in addition, locals are allowed to graze their herds and cut hay in this area.

Promoting tourism while preserving the region's flora and fauna is a continuing challenge for park managers. Elbrus has been a popular resort in winter for skiers and in summer for hikers since the 1930s. Hotels, restaurants, and gondolas were built to accommodate the thousands who visited each year. At the present time, the park staff is unable to force visitors to stay on trails and clean up after themselves, but they hope that continuing education for park visitors will help alleviate the problem.

Visitors' Guide

Guests to the park will find much to do during their stay in Prielbrusye National Park. Numerous trails branch out from the main roads, tracing scenic routes from short, level walks to strenuous, multiple-day hikes. More serious alpinists can even climb to the summit of Mount Elbrus or surrounding mountains, with or without the aid of local outdoor adventure agencies. The park is open for downhill skiing between December 26 and March 31. Amenities include a number of ski runs of varied difficulty and opportunities for heli-skiing.

The main road winds 20 kilometers through the picturesque Adyl-Su Valley, offering motorists views of sparkling glaciers and snowy peaks. Travelers can also stop to enjoy and gather water from the Narzan springs, which bubble up in the valley. Where paved roads end, a system of cable cars and chair lifts bring visitors high up the mountain to the "Mir" station, 3,500 m above sea level. Along the way, guests can view the lovely Devichy Kosy ('Maiden's Braids') waterfall. A war memorial museum and 360-degree panorama of the surrounding mountains rewards visitors at the top.

Several hotels and restaurants are located in the village of Terskol, located on the main road, and elsewhere in the park. Campgrounds are also available. Buses to and from the park run regularly from Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria (appx. 3 h) and Mineralnye Vody, a resort city in the Caucasus (appx. 4 h). Tour companies can also arrange transportation to and from a number of locations.


Bekkaev, M.A., and M.M. Gorlov. Prielbrusye National Park. El-Fa Publishing Center, Nalchik, 2003 (Russian).

Golombek, I.B. "Prielbrusye National Park." Zapovedniks and National Parks of the NorthernCaucasus. Kavkazsky Krai Publishing Agency, Stavropol, 2000 (Russian).

Zabelina, N.M, L.S. Isaeva-Petrova, and L.V. Kuleshova. Zapovedniks and National Parks of Russia. Logata, Moscow, 1998 (Russian and English).

Interviews with zapovednik staff also provided information for this article.

Text by Lisa Woodson.