If you look at any map of Greater Moscow, you will see a huge green area spreading across the top right hand corner. This is the Losiny Ostrov, Russia's first national park, the largest city forest in the world. The name means "Elk Island" or "Moose Island" (the animals known as moose in America are called elk in Europe) and many of these huge, prehistoric deer still live in the Losiny Ostrov, including in the part (about one third of the total area) that is actually inside the MKAD. This week's walk explores this section, a haven for all kinds of living things, following the ancient tracks and streams that crisscross the woodland which was once the favorite hunting ground of the Grand Dukes and Tsars. Turn right off the train at Ulitsa Podbeslkovo Metro Station, right again in the underpass and come out of the station, passing a handy row of snack and drink stalls. Nearby, the Podbelskoe market could also provide you with provisions for a picnic. Cross the tram lines to catch tram 2 or 29 to the end of the line at "Dyetsky Sanatory," one of a huge number of hospitals and sanatoria scattered throughout the forest. Follow the path running diagonally left into the woods away from the tramlines to emerge into a long clearing with pylons. Turn right along the edge of this clearing and follow it until you reach a defined mud track.
Turn left onto this, the Abram stevskaya Proseka, an old road through the forest. On either side of the path, the forest floor is covered with wild flowers. Crossing two roads which lead to a hospital, keep straight on for two kilometers until you come to the junction with Bumazhnaya Proseka, a tarmac track running due north with red and yellow posts at the junction. Turn right along this road and follow it across another tarmac track and under a line of pylons. About half a kilometer beyond the pylons, a small stream crosses the path. This is a tributary of the diminutive river Los ("elk") which we will follow downstream. Watch out for it, as in dry weather it may be little more than a ditch. If you get to a crossroads with another track, you have gone too far and need to go back a hundred meters or so.
Turn right along the near bank of the stream. The going is rough at first and the path is indistinct, but the stillness of the undisturbed woodland is rewarding. At one point you need to climb over or under several fallen birch trees and at other points the path is increasingly overgrown in high summer, but as long as you keep roughly parallel to the stream on your left, it doesn't matter exactly which path you follow. This area provides the best chance of seeing elk who come to drink in the stream; look out for split-hooved footprints in the mud and piles of distinctive oval pellets. A subjective survey of recent visitors suggests you have about a one in ten chance of spotting these shy forest giants, but you will almost certainly see red squirrels and spotted woodpeckers, and are quite likely to see snakes and lizards. The trees at this time of year are full of birds, including colorful jays (pinkish with a bright blue flash on the wing) and noisy fieldfares (grey and brown with a noise like a football rattle).
After another 500 me ters or so you have to cross the river Los as our stream joins it. You can usually jump across, but if there has been a lot of rain recently, you might need to paddle or fashion a makeshift bridge out of logs. After this, the going gets easier and the banks are covered in the delicate white flowers and trefoil light green leaves of wood sorrel as well yellow archangels and the bright blue flowers of bugle and comfrey; the next tributary is smaller and you will be able to cross a shaky stick bridge. After another kilometer, you come to a more permanent log bridge, crossing the stream to the left.
Go over the bridge and follow the track curving through the woods ahead, turning left at the junction and then almost immediately right at a fork with a boulder in the middle, to reach a little wooden house in a clearing surrounded by birch trees. Cross this field on the tarmac path and over a stream on the far side. The cluster of buildings ahead of you include an aviary, stables and log cabin housing a "House of Russian Life" Visitors' Center where you can arrange excursions and tea parties (feel free to email Elena on firstname.lastname@example.org for more details). Outside, there are carved wooden figures and a picnic table. Turn left along the track, just before the buildings and continue across several junctions and into another clearing where you take the path towards the far side bearing right. Skirt round the inside of the next clearing to the left and then follow the track straight ahead, forking slightly right at the next junction to emerge on Ulitsa Prokhodchikov.
Just before the main road, the Cafe Vecherinka on the right does a decent three-course-and-tea business lunch for 160 rubles. Failing this, the monstrous "Mosmart" Center opposite contains Sbarro, McDonalds and the like. Cross under the Yaroslavskoe Shosse to catch trolleybus 76 (every ten minutes) or bus 172 to VDNKh Metro Station.
Family friendly features
For a shorter version of the walk, you might want to start from the end point and do a circular walk through the woods at this end.
A map at the starting point shows the route of what was once an imaginative nature trail whose marker posts you sometimes pass on the way.