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Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Nalaikh, Mongolia

GPS: 48.153953827197, 107.68582463377

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Founded in 1993, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is the third largest protected area in Mongolia. It takes its name from the Terelj River and the Khentii Mountains. The 3,000 km² of the park is part of the huge Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area (more than 12,000 km² spread around the sacred Burkhan Khaldun mountain). With plains stretching as far as the eye can see, granite rocks and immense windswept steppes, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park concentrates the most beautiful landscapes in Mongolia.

The main entrance to the site is about two hours drive from the Mongol capital, north-east of Ulaanbaatar. Very sparsely populated, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is inhabited by rare nomads and farmers living at an average altitude of some 1,600 metres. Composed of rock formations shaped by erosion, forests, hills and meadows rich in wildflowers, the park lands are also famous for their crystals and precious stones. Its grassy and wooded steppes are the cradle of the Mongol horse, a line of small saddle horses the size of a pony. This very old variety is the origin of many other breeds of horses around the world. The Mongol horse is both hardy and resilient and has not been kept in the wild since the 1970s and is an integral part of the daily life of nomadic populations. It is used for breeding, kumis or airag (a drink made from fermented mare’s milk), transporting people or heavy equipment, agricultural work and the organization of traditional races.

Historically, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is the place of origin and birth of the supreme chief Genghis Khan (real name Temüjin). At the beginning of the 13th century, this great conqueror waged a series of fierce wars to unify nomadic tribes. His successive victories made him the ruler of the gigantic Mongol Empire. At its peak, his territory was the largest continuous empire of all time. By the end of the 13th century, it covered an area of more than 30 million km², stretching from Central Asia to the gates of Europe. The landscapes of Gorkhi-Terelj National Park are today considered to be the last great wilderness areas on the Asian continent.

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  • The glacial Khagiin Khar Lake; Yestii Hot Water Springs; Tuul and Terelj Rivers; expanses of forests and meadows; granite massifs; Khentii mountains and steppe landscapes as far as the eye can see
  • The Aryabal or Aryapala Buddhist Temple (meditation centre dedicated to the Kalachakra teaching, “the wheel of time”); the Gunjiin Sum Temple (built in 1740 in memory of a princess, daughter of the Manchu Qianlong Emperor)
  • The rock formations in the shape of a turtle (Melkhi Khad) and the Old Man Reading a Book (Praying Lama Rock)
  • The flora (mountain plants) and wildlife (brown bears, wolves, birds, birds of prey, weasels…)
  • Magnificent views of the Alpine landscape; sacred stones (ovoo or obo) used as religious altars in mountain areas
  • The countless hiking trails (on foot, on horseback, on camelback or by mountain bike)
  • Fishing, rafting and climbing activities; cross-country skiing in winter
  • Accommodation in a traditional yurt or tent; the hospitality and way of life of the Mongolian nomadic population (tea with milk or sheep soup is usually offered to foreigners); herds of cows, yaks, sheep and goats
  • The traditional festival of Naadam (early July) with prestigious competitions in horse racing, archery and Mongolian wrestling (bökh)
  • Genghis Khan, a person of bloodthirsty reputation and undeniable military genius, is considered one of the greatest conquerors in human history. The size of the land conquered during his reign is equivalent in area to the possessions of the British Empire at the height of its expansion in 1922 (encompassing all the overseas colonies controlled or administered by the United Kingdom worldwide). In comparison, this is three times the size of the present United States.
  • According to some estimates, this Mongol tyrant would have 10% of the world’s population murdered and had a thousand women or concubines. Dead in 1227, his tomb remains untraceable but could be located at the top of Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain within the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area.
  • In the 13th century, Genghis Khan greatly contributed to the development and prosperity of the Silk Road between the West, the East and Asia.
  • Recent biological surveys confirm that the Mongolian horse represents one of the oldest equine populations in the world. In the past, it played a great role in the victorious military campaigns of Genghis Khan.
  • In the 1930s, many monks fleeing the persecution of the communist regime in Mongolia took refuge in the caves of Gorkhi-Terelj National Park.
  • Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is easily accessible by bus or car from Ulaanbaatar. The country’s capital, which has had a brand new international airport since 2020, can be reached by train via the Trans–Mongolian Railway (part of the Trans-Siberian Railway line between Russia and China crossing Mongolia from north to south).
  • The southern part of the park, the most touristy, includes restaurants, souvenir shops and reconstructions of ancient villages from the 13th century. The northern part of the park remains the wildest but also the most remote.
  • For accommodation, summer and winter camps change according to the seasons (some have neither heating nor electricity). Beware of mosquitoes, which are particularly active in the summer.
  • In winter, the climate is harsh (-30 °C is not an abnormal temperature). The right equipment and the assistance of a guide can be valuable assets.
  • Spring and autumn, which are particularly short, should be avoided due to the very violent winds sweeping across the steppe. At the end of winter, the extremely rapid melting of snow is particularly problematic. Roads and paths become muddy. Many bridges are inaccessible because rivers and streams overflow.
  • Travelling on horseback in the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area is the best way to explore the park in depth, as a large part of the site is inaccessible to vehicles (rental possible from nomadic populations or organization of tours over several days by specialized agencies).

Where to eat

  • Khaan Deli
    (hearty breakfast)
  • Luna Blanca
    (local and vegan dishes)
  • Hazara
    (tasty Indian cuisine)

Where to go out

  • Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue
    (monumental memorial)
  • Mongolian Natural History...
    (rich and varied collections)
  • Gandantegchinlen Monastery
    (Buddhist shrine)

Where to sleep

  • Zaya 1 Guesthouse
    (adorable guest house)
  • Dream Adventure Mongolia
    (yurts accommodation)
  • Ayanchin Four Seasons Lodge
    (surrounded by steppe)

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