Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is the third largest and most visited national park in Mongolia. Its close proximity to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, makes it an easy to reach and popular tourist destination for many visitors. On my recent trip to Mongolia, I spent two nights here in May and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. For those on short schedules, Terelj National Park is a great way to see the Mongolian countryside without straying too far from the capital. Those with more time in Mongolia may want to pay it a visit, but Terelj isn’t exactly “the number one thing to do in Mongolia”. The park is a nice place with traditional Mongolian culture, but this can also be seen elsewhere in the country.
How To Get There
Traveling in Mongolia is difficult. The language barrier is a real problem making independent travel very hard. I was fortunate enough to have a Mongolian friend arrange transportation to the park. They took me to a bus station and helped me find a shared van to Terelj. They told the driver where I needed to be dropped off so I didn’t have to communicate in any Mongolian.
I met other people that also traveled independently to Terelj with a piece of paper with where they wanted to go written on it in Mongolian. Many guesthouses in Ulaanbaatar can help visitors arrange “ger camp” reservations and then prepare some papers for them to travel independently to the park. This is the probably the best way to visit because finding a place independently once there with the language barrier would be next to impossible.
There is an afternoon bus from Ulaanbaatar that goes into Terelj leaving from near the center of town. Hotel or guesthouses can point out exactly where and when to catch the bus. Similarly coming back there is a bus as well. I was fortunate enough that one of the staff members from my ger camp needed to go to Ulaanbaatar the day I was leaving so I took a ride with him.
Where to Stay
In the national park there are various “ger camps” of different price points for every kind type of traveler. I chose to stay in “Guru Camp” which was $30 a night including meals. Rooms have anywhere from 2-4 beds so additional people really only cost the additional surcharge for food. There aren’t many hotels in the region, but I’ve been told they won’t be as nice as the ger camps dotting the landscape.
The ger accommodation was probably the highlight of my stay. There is nothing like spending a night covered up under blankets in a Mongolian ger as the wind whistles through small cracks in the tent. For facilities, there was a separate shower and toilet building on site with hot water as well as a restaurant and bar. My only advice would be to bring a few large bottles of water since the camp only sold small ones. Not ideal for hiking. In the winter, the camp staff will provide firewood to heat the small furnaces in each ger.
A funny note on the language barrier – toilet is a pretty common word in almost all languages from Russian to Spanish. Most people can assume that when going abroad, this common word will be understood by pretty much everyone. That’s not the case in Mongolia. I asked the camp host simply “toilet?” using my hands to point in two different directions, and she had no idea what I was talking about! I hope she just misunderstood me, but this small interaction really reinforced how strong the language barrier is for travel in Mongolia. Fortunately I found it shortly after because I wasn’t about to play charades with this one…
Terelj National Park
While Terelj National Park is a beautiful destination, there isn’t really anything specifically to see there. There aren’t actual trails so when I wanted to go hiking, I just went and charted my own path. The two main highlights are in the park “Turtle Rock” and a Buddhist monastery. To me, turtle rock was just a big rock, but the monastery is worth a visit for the beautiful view.
Aside from hiking, it is possible to ride horses and even see some hunting eagles. There are also opportunities to take guided walks over night either on foot or horseback deeper into the park, but these must be arranged ahead of time.
All the main sights are of the park basically in a large valley with mountain ranges on either side. Just hiking around to various ridges in the valley can be a fun activity or, for those with more energy, it is possible to hike up all the way to the top of some of the mountains for a magnificent view. There is a dirt road that runs up along turtle rock to the monastery, but I think it is better to hike around the area adjacent to the road to get to the monastery.
The reason people come to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park isn’t necessarily to see something specific, but rather to relax and enjoy nature. The highlight of my trip was sleeping in a ger and eating my heart out at the restaurant. Every meal they served was absolutely delicious with more food than I could possibly finish. Hiking around was nice, but the mind set for hiking here should be going on a fun walk instead of actually hiking somewhere specific. Just look what sees interesting and go.