Past the village of Turgen, 70 km east of Almaty, lies the Turgen gorge, a beautiful area of rock, forest, meadows and peaks that is ripe for outdoor exploration. See here for some pictures and impressions.
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 shashlik 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.
To the left, a rough 4WD track snakes up along steep cliffs cut out by the river to eventually reach the Assy Plateau and the abandoned telescope. Find a map of the area here.
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, the leaves turn colour and falling stars are in the sky. Also, the shepherds and their flocks are leaving, making it more likely you can see wild animals on Assy plateau.
There is a lot of opportunity for hiking in Turgen. No trails are marked, though. If you are planning to venture out alone, be sure to get a decent map. 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. The road to Assy Plateau is beautiful, up until the last part, when the trees disappear and you are just on a flat plane. There are quite a lot of cars driving up to the plateau for a pick-nick, so it is less of a place for the independent traveler.
Bigger loops of 3, 4, 5 and 6 days are possible too. Asya and Alexey have some great guides and they are our go-to provider of guided treks in the area.
The Turgen river’s white water lends itself to a fun day of rafting, but tours are quite short – Kyrgyzstan is a better place for rafting at the moment with an infrastructure that is better-developed and more tourists to join a group tour.
Mountain biking & horse riding
Cycling can be tough and I 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. It’s best to bring your own, but you can also rent out bikes at the Trekking Club 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 as well by any accommodation provider.
Ski touring & hang gliding
There is huge scope for ski touring but at the moment, this is only possible for those hardy skiers who can organise everything themselves. The road is not cleared in winter and snow can pile up to 1m high.
Hang gliding from Assy Plateau: I have seen people do it, and I have seen the birds floating on thermal vents so I am sure the location is excellent – the views definitely are – but I don’t know of any organised tours, so it’s DIY.
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.
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 Trekking Club’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.
You can combine many of Almaty province’s beauties if you have your own transport. A great jeep or offroad cycle tour would go from Turgen (optionally hitting Esik lake first) over Assy Plateau to the Bartogai reservoir, onwards to Saty for the Kolsai and Kaindy lakes, backtracking across the main road through Charyn Canyon towards Tekeli at the foot of the Dzhungar Alatau, looping back to Almaty via Altyn Emel national park, or exiting to China at Khorgos.