What’s most wonderful about this alpine valley 70 km east of Almaty is how, instead of narrowing down to a final destination, the gorge opens up into a range of biomes and landscapes: alpine meadows, old-growth forest, glaciers and high peaks are all there for the taking.
A full exploration of the area will entail a week’s worth of hiking, skiing, mountain-biking or 4WD-ing.
The other thing which makes Turgen such a fine place is its distance from Almaty. It’s a 90-minute drive, which isn’t very far if you are planning a few days in nature, but it is far enough to discourage some of the day trippers who come just to grill meat – they stick to Big Almaty Lake, Esik Lake and the Arasan Gorge closer to Almaty.
At the gates to the national park, an entrance fee of 200 tenge per person is levied. Past this, a perfect asphalt road continues past a trout farm, and a bevy of shashlyk places and kymys sellers. After about 10 km, a sign just before a bridge points to the Bear Waterfall, a relaxed 30 minutes stroll to a smallish waterfall.
After another 10km, the asphalt reaches an end at Batan, where the road splits. To the right, a hiking trail heads towards the more impressive Kairak waterfall (4h round-trip) and beyond, into the wilderness and ultimately the glaciers and snowy peaks of the Northern Tien Shan if you are trekking for several days.
When to go
The road to Batan is snow-free from April to October, but the higher reaches will only be snow-free May/June until September.
If you have the option, August and September are the best, as the weather is stable, the grass is lower, the waterfalls are powerful and the leaves turn colour.
From mid-August, the shepherds and their flocks start leaving the area, making it more likely you can see wild animals on Assy plateau, and less likely you can drink a bowl of fresh horse milk.
Hiking and mountaineering
There is a lot of opportunity for hiking in Turgen. No trails are marked, though. Some GPS trails are already up on Wikiloc, more are welcome.
A nice 4-hour hike goes from Batan to Kairak waterfall and back. In 2 days, or 1 very long day, you can make a circle connecting Kairak to the road to Assy Plateau via the beautiful Don Zhailau (where you can also find petroglyphs and burial mounds).
Bigger loops of 3, 4, 5 and 6 days that explore the highest reaches of the Trans-Ili Alatau are possible too. Asya and Alexey have some great guides and they are our go-to provider of guided treks in the area.
The big mountaineering destination here is Pik Talgar, at 4,979 m not even remotely as high as Khan Tengri, but definitely a challenge nonetheless.
The Turgen river’s white water lends itself to a fun day of rafting, but tours are quite short – find out your options for rafting in Kazakhstan and beyond at our rafting in Central Asia article.
Mountain biking & horse riding
Cycling can be tough here and we don’t think all trails are doable by bike, but a lot of hiking trails and definitely the jeep trails offer a good challenge for fit cyclists. See Cycling in Kazakhstan and our article on Assy Plateau for route ideas.
It’s best to bring your own, but you can also rent out bikes at Asya and Alexey’s camp (see accommodation), although these are not quality bikes: too small and too light for serious mountain bikers.
Horses for horse riding can be arranged by any accommodation provider.
There is huge scope for ski touring in the area. Turgen valley has Kazakhstan’s first and only yurt skiing camp.
You can fish for trout and grill it at the trout farm, not too far from the entry to the park. Without a doubt, this is some tasty fish.
It’s 2000 tenge for a kilo of fish, and around 500 tenge for the grilling. You can also just take it with you and eat it elsewhere; service is not great at the farm.
Don’t worry about your fishing abilities, it takes around 2 minutes for the fish to bite.
- Overnight at Turgen campsite and journey to Assy plateau
- 3-day trekking to the upper reaches of Turgen river
- 5-day trek to glaciers and Alpine Meadows
- Camping and hikes in Turgen during the week-long and 9-day tours of Almaty region
Getting there and away
If you have your own vehicle, take the smaller road via Talgar rather than the big A351 “Kolzhinski trakt”, swarming with police and awful drivers. A huuuge traffic jam forms daily in the morning from Talgar to Almaty, and in the evening from Almaty to Talgar. Avoid that at all cost.
By public transport, minibuses leave frequently from Almaty’s Sayakhat bus station to Esik. From Esik, you will need to get a taxi, preferably all the way to Batan if you are planning to do some hiking. From the park entrance, it’s still 20 km to Batan.
Budgeteers might be able to hitch a ride in summer from locals going up the valley, even on weekdays there is a reasonable flow of cars.
Camping is the best way to experience Turgen, just pick your spot and set up your tent. If you don’t have equipment or would like a bit more luxury, we recommend Asya and Alexey’s base camp in Batan. Perfectly located for a series of day trips or as a base camp for a multi-day trek, either independent or with their guides.
They have comfortable 2-person tents equipped with field beds and sleeping bags. Provided are mountain-sized meals, hot showers and banya, running on solar power with a very small ecological footprint. Kids love it here. You can book through Caravanistan.
Closer to the park entrance is the Turgen dacha, run by the indomitable Natalya. It’s got cheap dorm rooms for backpackers, as well as nice family rooms for expats (also very nicely priced). They have a fantastic great big garden, ideal for chilling or playing in the grass.
The Almaty region really lends itself to a longer loop with a jeep. From Turgen, the logical next place to go is the Assy Plateau and the Bartogai reservoir, from where you can choose to go to the Kolsai Lakes or to Charyn Canyon.
We recommend several itineraries in our article summarizing where to go in Almaty Region.