Photograph Sergei Grits, AP
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Belovezhskaya National Park in Belarus is a remnant of the ancient forests that once covered much of Europe.

Photograph Sergei Grits, AP

Belovezhskaya National Park, Belarus

Name: Belovezhskaya National Park
Location: Belarus
Date Established: 1991
Size: 337 square miles (873 square kilometers)

Did You Know?

Primeval Forest Belovezhskaya National Park houses a huge forest of old-growth evergreen, beech, oak, alder, and spruce trees. Despite its size the park protects only about 10 percent of the Białowieża Primeval Forest, which dates back some 10,000 years and stands as the sole large remnant of the ancient forests that once covered much of Europe.

Timeless Trees The park has more than a thousand trees that are 300 to 600 years old and many more in old-growth stands of 250 to 200 years old. The park is home to a number of notable ancient oak trees; some are more than 500 years old. Forests create an inviting ecosystem for many other plant species, including hundreds of lichens and mosses and thousands of different fungi.

Sister Park Belovezhskaya borders Poland; an adjacent national park across the border, Białowieski National Park, is Poland’s oldest and one of the first in Europe at its founding in 1932.

Animal Preserve European bison, which were returned to Belovezhskaya National Park during the 1920s after a near brush with extinction, thrive here with other large animals that have disappeared across Europe, including elk, stags, wild boar, lynx, and wolves. The European wild forest horse, or tarpan, is also found here—though it went extinct in the late 19th century. A new breed of the animal was brought back by genetic reconstitution and reintroduced to these woods where it once dwelled.

Royal Retreat Royalty, from Polish kings and Lithuanian princes to the Russian tsars, held vast swaths of this forest as private hunting grounds. The affinity of such highly placed persons contributed enormously to the preservation of the forest. Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, was the forest’s last private owner; the property reverted to the Russian state after his abdication in 1917. It was divided into Soviet and Polish sections at the famed Yalta Conference in 1944.

Viskuli Residence The park is home to the Viskuli Residence, a former guesthouse for Soviet leaders that is now a hotel and a historic site. It was here in the depths of the ancient forest that the presidents of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine met and dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991.

Threats From Logging The sound of saws can often be heard in the woods just outside the park boundaries on both sides of the Belarus/Poland border. Some conservationists fear that widespread commercial logging threatens the ecological integrity of the park itself and the survival of some species living there.

How to Get There

Most visitors arrive from Brest, some 43 miles (70 kilometers) east of the park. Organized tours can be booked here, and bus transport is available for independent travel to the park.

When to Visit

The region’s climate is far kinder in the warmer months, but one of the park’s prime attractions is the Grandfather Frost House, home to the kindly figure known elsewhere as Santa Claus, so winter visits are special too.

How to Visit

Your best bet is to explore the park by organized tour. These tours can be arranged and begun in Brest. Those with a more independent streak can take a taxi from Kamenyets, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) away, and walk, rent bikes, or ride carriages in the park. Two small hotels offer lodging.