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Introducing The Urals

The Ural Mountains - the celebrated division between Europe and Asia - stretch 2000km from the arctic Kara Sea in the north to Kazakhstan in the south.

The physical reality of the Urals is not as dramatic as it sounds. The Urals are as low as famous mountain ranges go, failing to top 2000m anywhere. Nonetheless, for outdoorsy types the mountains provide endless opportunities - from hiking and biking to skiing and spelunking. Rafting in the Urals is a spring tradition, when the melting snow augments the river waters. Adventurers will appreciate the undulating hills covered with birch and pine forest, and vast stretches of taiga dotted with mountain lakes and rocky outcrops.

While the Urals are a goldmine for outdoor adventurers, it is difficult to organise such expeditions independently, which explains why the region is still relatively undiscovered by foreign travellers. A few agencies in Yekaterinburg offer active excursions.

The Urals have been vital to Russia for centuries as a major source of metals and minerals, which gave rise to industrial cities such as Perm, Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk. Today, these cities are vibrant economic and cultural centres, each with its own intriguing - and sometimes dark - history.

Yekaterinburg is on the east side of the Middle Urals - the lowest part of the mountains - which is why many travellers miss the mountains entirely. The highest peaks are in the far north, culminating at Mt Narodnaya (1894m).