Bear Watching Tour in Estonia

Spend the Night with Wild Brown Bears

The bear watching tour is an exciting excursion in Estonia. You go in search of the brown bear in the wild while spending the night in a wooden cabin in nature. From the cabin, you have a safe view of a wooded plain and the forest. The chance of seeing bears is 90 per cent. In this rugged part of the country, you can find other wildlife like the raccoon dog and various other predators. I have done this tour and found it to be one of the absolute highlights during my visit to the country. This article provides the best tips for seeing brown bears in Estonia.

Estonia has the highest number of brown bears in Europe. About 1,000 live in the country. Just in the western part of the country, on the border with Russia, you will find about 500. The excursion takes place in this part. Welcome to the vast taiga forests of Karula National Park, a large nature reserve in the south of Estonia. 

The chance of seeing bears is 90 per cent, according to initiator Bert Rähni. Bert is also the guide on this tour. He has purchased a large piece of land to protect it. Bert built two observation huts, so you can see what is happening in the forest. A little bit of food is laid out for the animals. Think of some essential salt, for example.

The Unique Viewing Cabins

The cabins have noticeably a lot of glass. This allows you to look over the vast plain, but also into the forest. In fact, you should keep an eye on both, so it's handy to be with multiple people. The huts have chairs, beds with sleeping bags and a pillow, so you can also sleep.

Outside there are lamps, so that you can still see something after dark. The animals are not bothered by the light, as they primarily use their sense of smell. There are microphones outside, so you can clearly hear all the sounds of the forest inside the cabin.

What Does the Bear Watching Tour Look Like?

A European brown bear in Estonia. ©Bert Rähni

You arrive at the cabin in the afternoon. You can only get there on foot. The exact time depends on when the sunset occurs. I was in the cabin more than three hours before sunset. There are blankets to keep warm, but there are also bunk beds with sleeping bags and pillows. Chairs are available so you can have a seat while watching the area. Special holes have been made in the walls for photographers to fit a lens through. Be aware, that you must be very quiet, as the animals are easily disturbed. You can also take photos through the glass if you hold your camera against it. Using of flash is, logically, prohibited.  

Why Bears Can't See or Smell You

The door of the cabin must be locked. The photo hatches may only be opened on one side at a time. The reason: the human scent. If a bear smells humans, it immediately runs away. That's why the cabins are equipped with a long ventilation pipe. This allows our scent to end up high amongst the trees, without the bears noticing it.

The Raccoon Dog

A raccoon dog watching me. ©Corno van den Berg

The raccoon dog is naturally found in Siberia. When fur coats (clothing made from animal hides) became very popular in the middle of the last century, hunters introduced these woolly animals to Estonia among other places. There was much hunting, which kept the population limited. But when fur coats fell out of fashion in the following decades, the hunters stopped hunting. This allowed the animals to reproduce greatly. That's one of the reasons why you see them surprisingly often on this excursion. When you see the animals, you understand why they were highly desired. The fur collar around its head is very noticeable.

Chance of Seeing Wildlife during the Bear Watching Tour

  • Brown bear (90%)
  • Raccoon dog (99%)
  • Badger (50%)
  • Moose (once a week)
  • Eurasian lynx (rarely)
  • Wolf (rarely, but you can occasionally hear them howl)

You often spot birds like the Siberian jay, a relative of the Eurasian jay. This bird is slightly less colourful but still has a remarkable presence in the forests. You can also see various species of tits and other birds such as ravens and crows.

Differences with Bear Watching Tour in Finland

In Finland, this kind of tour to watch wild bears is also offered. I have done both trips. The differences are not big, the duration of the excursion and similar aspects are approximately the same. You spend a night in the forest to experience the sunset and sunrise. The chance of seeing brown bears is remarkably high in both cases. The species of animals you can see do differ. In Finland, I saw a wolverine, this rare predator is not found in Estonia. On the other hand, I saw many raccoon dogs in Estonia, which are less common in Finland.

Show all articles