Top 7 Fall Outdoor Activities in Almaty’s Hidden Gems

LONDON – Weather statistics show that September is the sunniest month in Almaty. It is the right time to make up the leeway for those who skipped opportunities to explore the city’s hidden gems during this summer.  

The Almaty region is home to endless steppes, rugged mountains and alpine lakes. Photo credit: Yulia Denisyuk. Click to see the map in full size. The map is designed by The Astana Times.

“Kazakhstan’s landscapes are diverse. The uniqueness lies in the opportunity to see forests, deserts, mountains, canyons, and steppes in one country. Nearly every geographical formation available on earth is located here. People don’t even have to travel outside,” said Yulia Denisyuk, the United States-based travel photographer, writer, and entrepreneur. 

Born in Almaty, Denisyuk recalls “seeing the camels in the steppes from the train’s window, and being mesmerized by the vastness of the land.” She worked for National Geographic Traveller, BBC Travel, AFAR, Conde Nast Traveller, and Lonely Planet. For this story, Denisyuk shared some of her photos of Kazakhstan’s nature.        

Yulia Denisyuk.

The autumn landscape adorns the country’s southern capital with a palette of golden tones and brings cooler air to the highland areas. The Astana Times suggests taking a chance to visit seven locations on the remaining sunny days. 

Meeting the sunset on Assy Plateau

Located along the Kishi-Turgen River, Assy Plateau represents a boundless green upland valley of 60 kilometers in length amidst impressive mountain ranges. It has been historically known as the territory for caravan routes running from Europe and Central Asia to China and India between the Turgen Gorge and the Bartogai Reservoir.   

Assy Plateau. Photo credit: Yulia Denisyuk.

The plateau, which is part of the Ile-Alatau National Park, is nearly 100 kilometers away from the city.  

Tent camp would be the best option for an overnight stay in these meadows. Heart-to-heart conversations, hot tea, and guitar songs by the fire in the rays of the setting sun will help to avoid the autumn blues. 

Rejuvenating waters of Bear Falls

Turgen Gorge has another natural landmark to visit – the 28-meter Bear Falls, situated in a deep rock niche. The name of the waterfall is not accidental. Half a century ago, the place was inhabited by brown bears, but there is nothing to fear any longer.

Bear Falls. Photo credit:

The waterfall is commonly called “molodilnik” (the rejuvenator) because of the local legend about an elderly married couple who lived nearby. It says that one day, the man went to the forest for firewood and did not return. When looking for him, the concerned spouse met a young horseman, who turned out to be her husband. He brought the woman to the waterfall to turn her into a young girl as well. 

Photo tour in the Singing Dunes

When people imagine Kazakhstan, most likely, they associate the country’s nature with the vast steppes rather than sandy deserts. However, the main attraction of Almaty’s Altyn-Emel National Park is the Singing Dunes, the crescent-shaped mountain of light sand. Three kilometers long and 150 meters high, it serves as an unusual background for photoshoots.      

The Singing Dunes. Photo credit: Yulia Denisyuk.

The site attracts tourists with its mystic sounds. The scientists explain the peculiar melody by a sonic vibration created by the wind blowing in dry weather because of friction and electrification of the sand grains.  

However, the uniqueness of the dune is not only in its singing but in its initial formation amongst stone mountains. The sand driven by the strong winds from the shallows of the Ili River between the Large and Small Volcanoes continues to hit the stone ridge and, when settling, forms layers.

One-day trip to three canyons on off-road vehicles   

Local travel companies offer a one-day sightseeing tour of three canyons – the Charyn Canyon, the Moon Canyon, and the Black Canyon. Off-road vehicles will make the journey even more adventurous.     

The Charyn Canyon. Photo credit: Yulia Denisyuk.

The Charyn Canyon, which is also known as the Valley of the Castles due to its picturesque landscapes, is located 200 kilometers away from Almaty. Its sediments date back 12 million years, and its height reaches 150-300 meters. It is often compared to the Grand Canyon in the United States.   

The Moon Canyon and the Black Canyon are part of the Charyn Canyon. The Yellow Canyon is the second name for the Moon Canyon due to the color of clay, which prevails in the composition of its rocks. As for the Black Canyon, its walls are made of black stone, hence the name. 

Boat excursions on the Kolsai Lakes and horseback riding on the Kaindy Lake  

Surrounded by coniferous forest, Kolsai Lakes National Park is the jewel of the north slope of the Tian Shan Mountains. Boat rides on the Kolsai Lakes will long be remembered due to the fantastic scenery that opens from the water. Tourists will be able to see the lakebed through the crystal-clear water, as well as the reflection of the spectacular landscape. 

The Kaindy Lake. Photo credit:

Kaindy Lake is nature’s miracle at an altitude of 2,000 meters. It appeared as a result of the 1911 earthquake in the Tien Shan Mountains, which made the spruce trees grow upside down inside the water. This rare phenomenon can explain the water’s low temperature.   

Autumn weekends would be perfect for outdoor activities like horseback riding, especially with great views of Kolsai and Kayindy Lakes. Local facilities offer hourly horse rides. 

Camping out at Tuzkol Lake and Tekes Falls 

Tuzkol Lake is the saltiest mountain lake in Kazakhstan, situated at the highest stretches of the Charyn River in the east of the Almaty Region. It offers a great view of the top of Khan Tengri, the highest peak in Kazakhstan.      

Tekes Falls. Photo credit:

The Tekes Falls hide in the cradle of the Tien Shan ridges. This natural phenomenon is cup-shaped, as the water falls into the round base of the rocks. 

Wearing warm clothes is necessary in case of an overnight stay in a tent at an altitude of 2500 meters on the bank of a mountain river.

Martian landscape in Aktau and Katutau Mountains

Aktau Mountains are a vivid example of the peculiar beauty of the desert – the slopes and canyons of the mountains are painted in autumn colors, from brick red to dazzling yellow. 

Katutau Mountains. Photo credit:

Another attraction of the Altyn-Emel National Park is the Katutau Mountains, translated from Kazakh as “frozen” mountains. Katutau Mountains, the most extensive and highest desert mountains, were formed as a result of intense volcanic activity. The volcano’s frozen lava has acquired bizarre shapes and created a unique monument of nature. 

Almaty is a godsend for a tourist who prefers outdoor recreation. Local travel agencies offer excursions, community tours, or individual trips for any budget and travel time. 

Since the beginning of this year, Germany, Türkiye, the United Kingdom, and the United States have entered the top ten countries of tourist arrivals to Kazakhstan. The country also received the award as the most trending excursion destination for Indian travelers at the Versatile Excellence Travel Awards (VETA) ceremony in New Delhi. 

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