On the southwest coast of Lithuania is the Kursiu Nerija (Curonian Spit) National Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located on a narrow peninsula that juts out from the mainland. To get to the spit we boarded a short ferry in Klaipeda. Driving south along the spit we stopped to pay our entrance fees and continued through some dense forests. There were occasional pull offs with paths leading to the beaches on either side. But we drove all the way south to the area near Nida, the southernmost town before you enter Russia. We hiked up a small hill to the Parnidis Dune. Here we had our first views of the famous sand dunes looking south to the Curonian lagoon and the Russian coastline. We walked around this area for a bit, getting our feet in the sand. In this area there was also a large sundial made of stone that was built in 1995. It seems to be a popular designation on the spit as a large tour bus of Asian tourists showed up just as we were leaving.
Jesse and Jack hiked down the dunes to the North into the town of Nida, while I drove around to meet them at the marina. Nida is considered a resort town and an artists’ colony that historically had many painters and poets as residents and visitors. At the marina there were lots of sailboats as well as small commercial boats taking tourists out to see the dunes from the water and look for wildlife, primarily birds.
We didn’t stay in Nida too long since we wanted to see more of the dunes. We drove back north along the spit to an area called the Grey Dunes. Here there was a long boardwalk and trail climbing the dunes to a lookout. On the dunes there was lots of grasses and some small shrubs and even the occasional yellow flower (Tragopogon heterospermus). The top of the dune was pretty high and from the lookout we felt we were atop sand cliffs that dropped down to the waters of the lagoon. It was a bit windy here at the top, which was a bit harsh on the ankles, and on Jack too I’m sure.
As we walked back down the trail we could see the west coast of the spit was very different and heavily forested. During the 15th century the spit was heavily logged, causing the sand dunes to become increasingly wind-effected and entire towns were buried in the sands. Today the forests in the national park are protected and the number of people accessing the park is regulated to limit erosion of the dunes. Around most of the park there are set trails or boardwalks to let you explore the dunes with limited impact on them.
On our way back to the mainland we stopped at a fort on the northern tip of the spit. We walked around the fort and out to the coast, but the winds were very strong and it started pelting us with rain. Thankfully we had good weather to explore the dunes because the rest of the day, as we drove to Vilnius, it poured like crazy!