Even if you have left it too late to get the border permit needed to visit the Altay Mountains proper, there's still plenty of beautiful country within reach of Ust-Kamenogorsk that's good for hiking, horse or bike riding, rafting or just exploring.
Just northeast of Ust-Kamenogorsk the land rises towards the peaks of the western part of the beautiful Altai Mountains, marking the border with Russia. Close to the border, the 56,000 ha West Altai State Nature Reserve was established in 1991, primarily to preserve the distinctive mountain taiga forest of the area. The gateway to this beautiful and unspoilt scenery is a down-at-heel mining town named Ridder (formerly Leninogorsk), 110km northeast of Ust-Kamenogorsk. This area is good for camping, hiking, horse riding, mountain biking, rafting and skiing.
In 1786, a British engineer named Philip Ridder discovered rich deposits of polymetallic ores here, and mining started in 1791. Earning town status in 1934, Ridder was renamed Leninogorsk in 1941. Its old name was restored in 2002. Ridder today remains a mining and metals-processing centre. The main employer, KazZinc, operates mines, a concentration plant producing zinc, lead, copper and gold concentrate, and a zinc refinery in and around the town. 'We love you Ridder' proclaims a banner strung over the road into town, sponsored by KazZinc.
In the town's central square stands a monument commemorating the 2002 renaming of the town back to Ridder. On a plinth stands a lump of ore. A plaque offers a drawing of Philip Ridder's face above a crossed pick and shovel. Behind the monument is a cultural palace, with hammer and sickle motifs on top of its Corinthian columns. On the opposite side of the square stands a war memorial.
Getting there and around There are frequent buses (three hours) and occasional trains from Ust-Kamenogorsk to Ridder, whose small railway station is close to the centre of town.
Note: foreigners are not allowed to cross into Russia by the road heading east from Ridder. Within easy day-trip distance south of Ust-Kamenogorsk are the five beautiful Sibinskie Lakes, between stark, rocky mountains; the Akbaur Bronze Age astronomical complex; and the ruins of the Ablainskit Buddhist monastery.
About 200km east of Ust-Kamenogorsk, Maymyr village is a good base for hikes and rides around the broad Naryn valley and the high mountains to the south. A further 60km east we can put you in homestays in villages around the quaint little town of Katon-Karagay, some of them within Katon-Karagay National Park . Two daily buses head from Ust-Kamenogorsk to Maymyr and Katon-Karagay. There are also two weekly SCAT flights from Ust-Kamenogorsk to Katon-Karagay.