Lithuania’s first national park – Aukstaitija National Park – was designated in 1974 and covers an area of 30 thousand hectares in the regions of Ignalina, Utena and Svencionys. Over 70 per cent of its territory is pine stands, including the ancient woods of Azvinciai, Mincia and Linkmenos. Some of the pine trees in Azvinciai wood are over 200 years old and the oaks of Trainiskis, Kaltanenai and Varniskiai are the remains of the ancient oak-tree forests that once covered large territories here.
Scattered among the woods and hills are some 100 smaller and larger lakes, often interconnected by rivulets and streams. The largest of them is Lake Dringis (721 ha). The Tauragnas is the deepest lake in Lithuania (60.5 m). The Baluosas features seven islands, one of which has a little lake of its own, feeding the Baluosas waters through a small stream.
Of some thirty rivers on the territiry of the park, the Zeimena is the most beautiful, although the smaller ones – Kriauna, Lukna, Buka, Sventele, Stregzda – are no less attractive to tourists, linguists and ethnographers alike.
The woods, marshes and meadows of the Aukstaitija National Park abound in rare plant species, including a number of plants that are listed in the Red Data Book of Lithuania and are protected as endangered species. The woods of the park are the domain of elk, deer and wild boar. The lakes and rivers, too, are rich in wildlife, from Canadian mink to a variety of birds that can bring quite a few exciting moments to a devoted birdwatcher.
The park’s territory embraces some 80 settlements and villages, some of which have retained not only their old original layout but also archaic wooden farm buildings and other structures. The Paluse village, which is the tourist centre of the Aukstaitija National Park, was first mentioned in written sources in 1651. It still boasts an octagonal wooden church dating back to 1757. Paluse is the starting point of most of the tourist routes, both shorter and longer walks and a rowing-boat route along a system of lakes and streams connecting them.
Accommodation is provided in old wind mills turned into tourist centres.
The Dzukija National Park was designated in 1991 in the region of Varena. Its aim is to protect the landscape, the old villages, historical and cultural monuments, and forests of south-eastern Lithuania. The park’s territory is 55 thousand hectares, 85 per cent of which is covered by woods.
Among the historical attractions of the Dzukija National Park, the ancient town of Merkine and the village of Liskiava are of greatest interest. Merkine dates back to the 14th century and is situated at the confluence of the Nemunas and Merkys rivers. The Merkine castle hill which gave the rise to the town, offers an unforgettable view of the Nemunas valley and surrounding woodland.
Liskiava, which can be easily reached by boat or by bus from Druskininkai, is a settlement on the bank of the Nemunas, surrounded by numerous legends and folk tales. Most of them are connected with the Liskiava castle hill, on top of which one can still see remnants of the 14 century castle.
Besides Liskiava, there are a number of other old villages – some dating back to the 16th century – that have retained the traditional layout of forest villages and architecture of buildings. The inhabitants of many of them still excel in the traditional folk crafts: weaving, wood-carving and pottery.
Pinewoods, which dominante in the Dzukija National Park, abound in mushrooms and berries and have since long ago been a source of extra income for the local people. Among the mushrooms most sought after are edible boletus and chantarelle. The latter are gathered in large quantities and even exported abroad. Wild strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, and red bilberries are the most widely spread kind of berries found on the territory of the park.