Summer always sees a lot of tourists on the rivers of the Chelyabinsk Region. Visitors are attracted by the picturesque cliffs, ancient caves and grottoes, and the local legends. Only here can you see "dry waterfalls". However, the Ay and Yuryuzan Rivers offer calm and uncomplicated rafting routes, manageable even for beginner rafters.
The short and more sonorous name of the river translates from the Bashkir language as "moon". Rafting on the "moon river" is very popular. The Ay is popular for its beauty: the sheer cliffs along to the river look like huge stone sentries guarding the waters. Moreover, even a small 2- or 3-day trip will give you a variety of completely different impressions: from caving to rope jumping from a height of 100-metres.
Usually, tourists raft on a 148km-long section of the river from the town of Kusa to the Bashkir village of Lakly. The most popular section, from the village of Mezhevoe (Novaya Pristan) to Lakly is 50 km long and features the main sights of the Ay.
Stop 1 is the Kurgazak Cave, one of the most visited on the Ay River. It is 530 metres long and 16 metres deep. You have to be very careful in the cave, as it is full of patches of ice and is very slippery.
The second must-see point is the "dry waterfalls", or the Alekseevsky Ravine. Once there was a cascade of primordial waterfalls, but now it is dry, with huge stone steps that bump into a steep high rock and the tiny lake under it. Only in the spring, for several days when the snow melts, is there water in the Alekseevsky Ravine again.
Finally, we raft past the Big Ay Prityosy (Cliffs), the landmark of the Ay River and a very Instagrammable place! The river flows through a canyon with cliffs up to 100 metres high. It is possible to climb up the cliffs only in one location, and even there it is very dangerous. So it is better to return here by car and view the river from above. Thrill seekers can go bungee jumping. In the summer, a swing is mounted on the Big Ay Cliffs, over the sheer drop — an indescribable experience!
One more site adding to the rafting experience is the Sikiyaz-Tamak Cave Complex. This huge cave city is located near the village of Sikiyaz-Tamak and consists of 42 cavities, grottoes and rock shelters. Most of the caves are small. Archaeologists have found a lot of evidence that ancient people stayed in the caves: fragments of ceramics, utensils and weapons, as well as bones of extinct animals like mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses and others.
The rafting season on the Ay River lasts from May to September. Most local travel agencies pick up tourists from the village of Mezhevoy in the Satka district and then bring them back. During the trip, tourists stay in guesthouses, equipped camping grounds and campsites.
The banks of the beautiful Yuryuzan River are no less rich in archaeological and natural landmarks than the Ay River.
However, in some places, Yuryuzan is shallow, so tourists need to be ready to carry their rafts across the rapids. On the plus side, the fragrance of the coniferous forest, the quiet flow of the river, the fishing, the absence of crowds and fuss in the campsites make rafting along Yuryuzan an excellent option for a family weekend.
Tourists usually start their trip in the town of Ust-Katav, near the children's health centre called Children's Republic, and finish rafting in the village of Novye Karatavly. The total distance of the route is about 50 km.
Before you start rafting, you may want to visit the small Mount Shikhan in Ust-Katav, which is depicted on the town's coat of arms. By the way, the town is famous for its wagon-building plant: it produces trams that run along the streets of many cities and towns in Russia and the CIS countries.
While the rocks on the Ay River are called “prityosy” (cliffs), on the Yuryuzan River they are called “grebni” (ridges). Khvatochny, Monakhov, Navesnoy, Maly Limonovsky, Salavatsky Grebni — all these are places for stops and brief excursions.
The rocks of the Small Limonovsky Ridge hide the modest Buranovskaya Cave, a federal cultural heritage site. A Stone Age female burial was found here. You can see its reconstruction in the State Historical Museum of the Southern Urals in Chelyabinsk.
On the Bashkir side, the riverbanks boast the picturesque Big Limonovsky Ridge, which is also popular among rope jumpers, the famous Idrisovskaya (Dvortsovaya) Cave and other landmarks.
You can take the M-5 highway from Chelyabinsk to get to the village of Mezhevoy in the Satka district. The journey will take 3–4 hours by car and 4–5 hours by bus.
It takes about 5–6 hours from Chelyabinsk to get to Ust-Katav, the starting point for the water routes along the Yuryuzan River. The town has a rail connection, so you can also get there by train.