Go Bogshoeing on a Wild Latvian Peat Bog Outside Riga

Hike Through the Kemeri National Park on a Day Out in Latvia

STRAP ON YOUR BOGSHOES TO WALK ATOP AN 8000-YEAR-OLD QUAKING BOG

Springy. Squishy. Damp. Different. Dare to walk across freshwater lakes layered with a mesh of moss in a Latvian peat bog and that is exactly what you’ll feel. Any trepidation soon slips away as the spongey moss below your feet feels secure enough to sustain you. There is something serene about sloshing through a swampy bog. Maybe you don’t believe me. I didn’t believe me. Before I did it. I went “bogshoeing” on a pristine peat bog on my latest trip to Latvia.

The Great Kemeri Bog in the Kemeri National Park

About an hour’s drive outside the charming Latvian capital Rīga, brings you to the Kemeri National Park near the coastal town of Jūrmala. Established in 1997, the Kemeri National Park is the third-largest in Latvia covering 38,165 hectare. Here you’ll find a wild wetland forest, shallow coastal lakes, dunes and – what we came for – the Great Kemeri Bog. The park plays host to many rare and endangered species like wolves, lynx, otters, black storks, sea eagles plus many migrating birds. A huge diversity of unique plants like orchids, mosses, lichens, and carnivorous flycatchers also grow protected in this place.

BOOK A BOG TOUR WITH PURVU BRIDĒJI

Brilliant white birch trees line the forest where we are let off to meet our guide – Kristaps Kiziks from Purvu Bridēji. Here we don rain boots (or wellies, if you wish) and pick up our bogshoes, which are really just snowshoes given new purpose. Kristaps knows this bog like the back of his hand and is a brilliant guide for our day out.

Happy to have on wellies for this walk

SLOSHING THROUGH THE SWAMP

Carefully we maneuver a path through the birch forest before reaching the brink of the bog. We pass trees felled by beavers and carefully navigate around branchy bushes. Kristaps points out wild rosemary plants native to these parts and tells tales of its hallucinogenic properties that may have helped ancient Viking warriors get ready for marauding. We take notice and some of us smell, but no tasting today.

Soon we are ready to strap into our bright green bog shoes. Click, click, click. Make sure they are fastened on tight as you don’t want to get bogged down on your hike. (See what I did there?) We are shown how to walk in the somewhat wide and unwieldy plastic shoes and warned of where we can tread and not tread. Kristaps pushes his walking stick all the way down through the soft layers to show us how deep the bog goes.

WHAT MAKES A QUAKING BOG

There are many different kinds of bogs around the world, but most live in milder northern latitudes. This wild Latvian bog we explored is kind of “quaking bog.” Layers and layers and layers and layers of mosses and lichens die and decompose in freshwater lakes and ponds, as more grows right on top. A mat of organic material is woven over these lakes that we can walk upon, but it moves or “quakes” with our steps. Be careful where you walk. You can fall in. This is why Kristaps recommends you never bogshoe alone. We follow his instructions on where to hike and also where we can feel the bog rock safely under our feet.

ANCIENT BOGS AND BOG BODIES

What you see here has been composited over 8,000 years. And while some parts of the world drain their bogs and use this organic decomposed peat to burn for fuel, this Latvian bog has never been disturbed.

The lakes here are oxygen poor and the soil quite acidic making them inhospitable to life. So while you won’t find fish swimming in these ponds, you could find an ancient bog body. Believed mystical spaces, many ancient Northern European societies buried their dead in bogs just like this. Over 1000 bog bodies have been found amazingly wel-preserved with hair, beards and skin intact. Shrunken and black. But intact.

SIDE NOTE: In Denmark, you can see and learn more about these bog bodies at the Moesgaard Museum outside Aarhus or at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

Kristaps says we are welcome to take a swim, that lots of the Latvians do in the middle of their hike come warmer months and shows us one especially popular with the teens called “cola lake” for its murky brown color that makes it harder to see each other when naked, which is normal and natural when swimming in Northern Europe. When in Latvia? Maybe? Not for us today. Although the sun is shining on this autumn day in November.

WHY BOGS ARE IMPORTANT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Peat bogs while beautiful to explore offer big benefits for local environments acting as a base for flood protection An added bonus is the capturing of greenhouse gasses from the environment, that are then trapped in the organic material of the bog. This process is called carbon sequestering. Essentially the bog acts as a huge carbon sink.

The world’s peat bogs sequester more than 200 billion tons of carbon. – National Geographic Encyclopedia

Bonsai Trees and Wild Cranberries of the Bog

Because the soil here is so acidic in the bog, trees and larger plants grow much slower than in the surrounding forest. Slow growing pines look like carefully pruned bonsai trees battling the elements above the mosses and heathers. Look carefully for bright red wild cranberries tucked in between the light green lichens. We are assured they are safe to taste – tangy and tart as you would expect. The colors of the bog come autumn were truly beautiful. Kristaps shares that summer brings more exotic flowers like orchids and carnivorous flycatchers that color the landscape.

Bog “bonsai” tree
Wild cranberries of the Latvian bog
SEE MORE OF A QUAKING BOG FROM OREGON GIRL AROUND THE WORLD ON YOUTUBE

RULES FOR BOGWALKING

1 | Wear comfortable clothes to hike in, layers that are breathable and warm.
2 | Wear rain boots or wellies or your feet will get wet.
3 | No umbrellas should be used in case of rain or snow, wear a waterproof coat.
4 | Hiking takes place in protected natural areas, so be aware of the environment and take away only photos and impressions from your tour.
5 | Alcohol and smoking prohibited before or during the hike.
6 | Don’t walk or climb over wet trees, rocks with bog shoes and ask for assistance for tricky to maneuever obstacles.
7 | Be careful when approaching bodies of water (lakes, bog rivers, etc.) and do not overestimate your abilities.
8 | You are responsble for yourself, your children to not endanger yourself or any other participants or property.
9 | Carefully follow the guide’s instructions as well as the other safety rules that the guide will inform you before the hike.

BOOK YOUR OWN TOUR WITH PURVU BRIDĒJI WHEN IN LATVIA

If you’ve never been bogshoeing before, I can highly recommend learning the lay of the land with an expert. While I always felt safe, I was happy to have a local there to guide and warn us of places to look out for. Check their website for all the options, so many bogs to choose from, not just the Great Kemeri Bog. Tour prices include bogshoes, but you should bring your own rain boots or plan to rent a pair for 5 € extra.

PURVU BRIDĒJI BOGSHOE TOUR
Prices:
Groups smaller than 8 persons | 160,00 € per group
Groups of 8 or more | 20,00 € per person

DISCLOSURE: I was a guest of Purvu Bridēji, but all the opinions, photos and fun were my very own. 

MORE UNIQUE THINGS TO DO IN LATVIA

This was my second trip to Latvia and I’m still impressed by all it has to offer. Come to Rīga for a charming capital full of culture and beautiful architecture and delicious food. But get outside the city and explore the gorgeous scenery. Our last trip was in February and while cold, the snowy white landscape was a distinctly different experience. We went dog-sledding with rescued Huskies and Malamutes and took a run down the Latvian Olympic bobsled and luge track in Sigulda. I can highly recommend both. Come to Latvia, she said. Read more below:

RESPONSIBLE HUSKY DOG SLEDDING OUTSIDE RIGA LATVIA
SLIDE DOWN THE OLYMPIC BOBSLED TRACK IN SIGULDA

 

16 thoughts on “Go Bogshoeing on a Wild Latvian Peat Bog Outside Riga

  1. I will be in Riga in January but I guess the bog will be frozen then. A very unusual activity that looks like great fun. Any excuse to get in the countryside has to be a good idea. Wilbur #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Haha! Depends on when you go of course – it was 8-10 C when we were out on the bog and very comfortable for the activity!

  2. Now, that really is something rather different to the usual things people get up to on holiday in Latvia! Is there a lower age limit? I expect my little kids would love to do this. And I might have to go and read your post about responsible sledding now. #farawayfiles

  3. I love quirky activities like this, it sounds kind of mad in the best sort of way. My son’s girlfriend is doing a semester abroad in Riga from January so I’ll pass this on to her – and hope to go and see her during that time so might get to bogshoe myself next year. #farawayfiles

  4. Clare Thomson

    Mad in the best kind of way – Phoebe has come up with the perfect description. This really sounds crazy but also crazy fun. And I must be morbid (or overkeen on history) but I was thinking about those bog bodies before I came to that part of your story. I really fancy this. Not sure you’d catch me swimming in there though. Eurgghhh! #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      We were a bit at first, but there are plenty of places to walk quite securely and you can see where to avoid if you don’t like the sensation of wobbling too much! It was fun and I was never scared.

  5. Ladies what travel

    Well, I have to say this is definitely a unique travel experience! Sounds really interesting and good fun though. I love the ways you show there’s so many fun ‘get back to nature’ things to do across Europe. I reckon our kids would enjoy this too! #FarawayFiles

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