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Great Caucasus

Established: 1983
Size: 193,700 ha (1,937 km2)
Buffer Zone: None

Contact information:
Nikolai Dmitrievich Penkovsky, Director

Ul. Moskovskaya, 13, Sochi, Krasnodarsky Krai 354000 Russia

Tel: +7 (86-22) 92-73-13, 92-12-47
Email: forest@sochi.ru

Mountain gorge Where the foothills of the Great Caucasus Mountain Range cascade into the warm waters of the Black Sea lies one of Russia’s unique natural areas: nowhere else in the country are subtropical and high-mountain landscapes located so close to one another. This diversity of landscapes supports a similar diversity of plant and animal life that makes the region important not just for its aesthetic value, but for its role in conserving biodiversity. For the joint purposes of preserving and studying the natural riches of the region while making them more accessible to visitors, Sochinsky National Park — Russia’s first national park—was founded in 1983.

Photo © 2004 Igor Shpilenok

Sochinsky National Park Images
Sochinsky National Park Facts


Sochinsky National Park
Click on each photo to see a large version.

© 2004 Igor Shpilenok

An old growth hornbeam is covered with a bed of moss.

Broadleaf forests
© 2004 Igor Shpilenok

Broadleaf forests dominate slopes up to 800 meters.

Gentian flowers
© 2004
Igor Shpilenok

Blue gentian flowers come to life in early summer.

Red deer doe
© 2004
Igor Shpilenok

A female red deer rests in a lush summer meadow.

Yew forest
Igor Shpilenok

A dark forest of dense samshit occupies a valley floor.


Mzymty River
© 2004 Igor Shpilenok

The Mzymty River is a popular rafting destination.

Aigbo Ridge
© 2004
Igor Shpilenok

Snow still remains on the Aigbo Ridge in mid-summer.

Yellow lily
© 2004
Igor Shpilenok

A yellow Caucasian lily blooms in July in the park.


Sochinsky National Park Facts:
AnimalsVegetationGeographical FeaturesHistorical and Cultural MonumentsVisitors' GuideReferences


Located on the Caucasian Isthmus, the crossroads between Europe and Asia, Sochinsky National Park provides a habitat for many animals from both Central Europe and Southern Asia. Besides these, a number of species and subspecies in the area are endemic to the Caucasus. Together a total of over 250 vertebrate species have been identified in the national park.

The high, alpine meadows of the park are home to Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica ), chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), and snow voles (Microtus nivalis). European red deer (Cervus elaphus) also prefer these meadows, but descend into the forest during mating season and can be found taking cover under the canopy of trees during heavy summer rainstorms.

Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) are common throughout the beech and oak forests. Wolves (Canis lupus) and foxes (Vulpes vulpes) wander through the park’s mountain forests, a habitat they share with wildcats (Felis silvestris), badgers (Meles meles), and hares (Lepus europaeus ). Lynxes (Felis lynx) are less common. In autumn, brown bears (Ursus arctos) and wild boars (Sus scrofa) can be found foraging for food in the chestnut, oak, and beech forests. The bears then climb high into the mountains to find dens for the winter. Caucasian squirrels (Sciurus anomalus), stone and pine martens (Martes foina, M. martes), golden jackals (Canis aureus) also live in the park.

Animals listed in Russian Federation ’s Red Data Book include the common bent-winged bat (Miniopterus schreibersi), giant noctule bat (Nyctalus lasiopterus), Caucasian otter (Lutra lutra meridionalis), and bison (Bos bonasus).

Avian life in the park’s meadows includes Caucasian snowcock ( Tetraogallus caucasicus), griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), and black grouse (Lyrurus mlokosiewiczi). Forests are filled with tits (Parus sp.), Eurasian cuckoos (Cuculus canorus), and thrushes (Turdus spp.). Of the 126 bird species found in the park, 17 are listed in the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation , including several birds of prey: osprey (Pandion haliaetus), tawny, imperial, and golden eagles ( Aquila rapax , A. heliaca, A chrysaetos), bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), saker and peregrine falcons (Falco cherrug, F. cherrug). Other notable birds include the colorful firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus) and short-toed tree-creeper (Certhia brachydactyla).

Seventeen species of reptiles have been identified in park, including several red-listed species: the Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca), the deadly Caucasian viper (Vipera kaznakowi), and the Aesculapian snake (Elaphe longissima). Large whip snakes (Coluber caspius), which are quite common, are so agile that they can even climb up into bramble bushes; the related Dahl’s whip snake (C. najadum) is less common. Non-venomous grass and dice snakes (Natrix natrix, N. tessellata) are often found near water. A number of lizards can be spotted darting through the park: the red-listed Lacerta media, as well as L. agilis, L. praticola, and L. saxicola. At first glance, slow worms (Anguis fragilis) and European legless lizards (Ophisaurus apodus) appear to be snakes, but they are actually legless lizards.

Of the park’s nine species of amphibians, two are listed in the Russian Federation ’s Red Data Book: banded newt (Triturus vittatus) and Caucasian parsley frog (Pelodytes caucasicus). Rainbow and brown trout (Salmo irideus, S. trutta), bleak (Alburnus alburnus), and chub (Alburnoides bipunctatus) swim through the park’s rivers.



Mountain forests, primarily deciduous, cover nearly 95 percent of the park’s area. Interestingly, these low-mountain ecosystems show many subtropical characteristics. The forests also show clear signs of human influence, as for centuries they have been cut and replanted. Many non-indigenous plants, such as cherries and plums, were introduced to the region long ago for agricultural purposes but now grow wild in the park.

The national park’s plant communities fall into vegetation belts that change according to altitude and, accordingly, climate. In the lower reaches of the park, up to 800 meters above sea level, humid, mixed forests dominate the landscape, growing on the foothills of the mountains and along river valleys. Broadleaf species such as oaks (Quercus iberica, Q. puescens, Q. iberica, Q. hartwissiana) and maples (Acer spp.) dominate these humid forests, which also incorporate hornbeam (Carpinus caucasica, C. orientalis), and wild apples (Malus orientalis) and pears (Pyrus caucasica). The second tier of these forests include dense stands of two relicts of the tertiary period: European yew (Taxus baccata), called the “red tree” for its rosy timber, and the red-listed boxwood (Buxus colchica). Various shrubs color the forest, including pink-blossomed rhododendrons and yellow azaleas (Rhododendron ponticum, R. luteum), cherry laurel (Laurocerasus officinalis), Black Sea holly (Ilex colchica), wild blueberries (Vaccinium arctostaphylos), daphne (Daphne pontica), and the red-listed Turkish hazelnut (Corylus clurna). Persian and English ivies (Hedera colchica, H. helix), silk vine (Periploca graeca), and Italian woodbine (Lonicera caprifolium) climb and trail along the trees. A belt of sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) forests with European ash (Fraxinus excelsior), European alder (Alnus glutinosa), and European and Anatolian dewberries (Rubus caesius, R. anatolicus) also climbs through these elevations.

Beech forests appear around 800 meters and stretch to 1,500 meters above sea level. These tall, majestic forest stands, which have almost no understory or ground cover, are always dark and humid. Around 1,400 meters the dominant oriental beeches (Pagus orientalis) begin mixing with European white birch (Betula pendula), and then Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana), the dominant species of the next forest belt, which rises to about 1,700 meters above sea level. Above that elevation, beeches, birches, maples and dwarf pines (Pinus sosnowski) knit together to form a dense mass of curving, intertwining dwarf trees that is completely covered by thick winter snows.

These dwarf forests eventually give way to subalpine and alpine meadows, which are particularly interesting for their species diversity: 819 different plant species have been identified in the park’s meadows. Of particular note are Heracleum leskovii and Aconitum spp., which form tall grass stands in moist areas. Low grass alpine meadows form between 2,300 and 2,800 meters and are found only in the southeast corner of the park along the Achishkho and Aibga ridges. Though these meadows come in many variations, they commonly comprise carpets of bellflowers (Campanula spp.), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla spp.), geraniums (Geranium platypetalum, G. gymnocaulon), and other plants.

As with the entire Caucasus region, Sochinsky National Park is notable for its numerous unique, rare, and endangered plants, 59 of which are listed in the nation’s Red Data Book. These plants include such lovely flowers as turkscap lily (Lilium martagon), trout-lily (Erythronium caucasicum), pincushion flower (Scabiosa olgae), peony (Paeonia wittmanniana), as well as pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) and other orchids (Orchis punctulata, O. purpurea).


Geographical Features

The highest mountains are concentrated in the southeastern corner of the park, as the relief falls sharply to sea level in the northwestern corner of the park. Only two peaks – the 1,644-m Grachev Venets and 1,420-m Semiglavaya – are technically considered part of the Great Caucasus Range . Several minor mountain ranges account for the majority of the park’s mountains. The highest of these measure around 2,000 meters above sea level, with the stunning Mt. Aibga jutting 2,396 meters into the air. Ancient glaciers left their mark on these mountains, which display cirques, hanging valleys, and moraines.

The park is filled with streams and rivers, many of which tumble down the mountains in the park’s 70 waterfalls. The tallest waterfall, “Bezimyanny,” which means ‘nameless’ in Russian, falls 72 meters before eventually joining the Psou River. Sochinsky is also known for its deep, river-cut ravines and canyons. Sinkholes, caves, and underground rivers are found in areas with limestone deposits. The largest of these, Vorontsov’s Cave, is the most extensive system of underground caverns known in the entire Caucasus region.

Climatic conditions vary dramatically in the park, influenced by the presence of both the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains . Average precipitation rises while temperature falls with increases in elevation: at the shore of the Black Sea , summers are sweltering and winter temperatures rarely drop below freezing. Meanwhile, the mountains are snow-covered for four to five months per year. Heavy rainstorms characteristic of the subtropics pound the park from May to September, reaching their peak in July. The park is one of the most humid areas of the former Soviet Union .

Sochinsky National Park is located on the southwestern edge of the Great Caucasus Mountain Range, bordered to the west by the Black Sea , to the South by the nation of Georgia , and to the northeast by Kavkazsky Zapovednik. The park straddles the Adlersky, Khostinsky, and Lazarevsky districts of Krasnodarsky Province , encompassing the city of greater Sochi and a number of small towns and settlements.


Historical and Cultural Monuments

One hundred fourteen historical and cultural monuments have been identified in the park, dating from the early Paleolithic Age to the Late Middle Ages. These monuments include dwellings and settlements, burial cites and cemeteries, fortress ruins, and medieval shrines.

The 1855-ha Aleksky mountain forest is a particularly notable tract of chestnut and beech forest with groves of boxwood. The famous 33-meter Orekhovsky Waterfall tumbles from picturesque white cliffs, and the remains of a prehistoric dwelling site lie nearby.


Visitors' Guide

The Sochi region had already long been a popular vacation spot when the national park was founded in May 1983. Sochinsky was the Soviet Union ’s first national park, and accordingly, required special guidelines to define its purpose and regulate its use. The park’s charter states that it was established to preserve the area’s natural complexes while encouraging recreation, education, and science through them. The charter also foresaw the division of the park into three distinct zones with different purposes and levels of protection. Today these zones include the 71,700-ha strictly protected area, the 42,500-ha protected area, and the 77,100-ha regulated use area.

Each year more than 80,000 visitors traverse the 48 trails that wind through the park. Popular destinations include such sites as Mt. Akhun, the Agursky and Orekhovsky waterfalls, Vorontsov’s Caves, Khostinsky Canyon, the Akhshtyrskaya cave, a variety of mineral springs, Mamedov’s and Volkonskoye ravines, groves of unusual trees, the Dolmen archeological site, and the Pseuapse River valley. There are also spelunking trails through many caves.

In 1998, park employees opened a nature museum based in the Matsesta Section of the park.

Because of the region’s long history as a vacation destination, there are many options for travel to and accommodation in the park. A railroad and highway run along the Black Sea coast, providing access to the park from several stations, and air travel is accessible through the Adler airport. Numerous hotels and resorts can be found in greater Sochi.



Avdonin, V. E. “Sochinsky National Park.” Zapovedniks and National Parks of the Northern Caucasus. Stavropol: Kavkazsky Krai, 2000 (Russian).

Chizhova, V. P and Shirokov, A. B. 1999 (Russian). Published on-line in the Biodiversity Conservation Center ’s protected areas internet project: http://reserves.biodiversity.ru.

Sochinsky National Park Website, http://www.sochipark.ru.

Text by Lisa Woodson.



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