The Otepää Upland

The Otepää Upland with its highly varied hillocky relief rises more than 100 metres above the surrounding plains. It was formed of sediments accumulated mostly during the last Ice Age, and in some localities the thickness of the sediments reaches 200 metres. The thick Quaternary cover here also contains some sediments of earlier glaciations.

The boundary of the Otepää Upland can be quite easily distinguished in those places where it is marked by primeval valleys, or where these valleys run parallel to the upland, such as the Rõngu Valley and the Elva Valley in the west, the Voika-Tatra Primeval Valley in the north and the Reola Valley and also partly the Ahja Primeval Valley in the east. The upland has no clear boundary in the southeast, where it joins the Karula Upland. Here the border is usually drawn on the line of the southeastern part of the Urvaste Primeval Valley along a chain of lakes at Keema. The area of the upland is about 1200 km2, and it reaches about 40 kilometres across from both south to north and from west to east.

The Otepää Upland can generally be divided into two higher parts divided by a partly buried ancient valley, running from north-northeast to south-southwest, which rises only 120–130 meters above sea level. In the north this glacial valley joins the valley of the Elva River, and in the south it is continued by the valley of the Väike Emajõgi River. The valley is marked by three bigger lakes — Lake Pangodi, Lake Nõuni and Lake Pühajärv. The part of the upland lying in the west of the ancient valley is smaller, more distinct and rises higher above sea level. The highest hills of the upland are located here, among them Kuutsemägi (217 m), Kõrgemägi (214), Tsiatrahvimägi (213 m) and Harimägi (212 m).

The larger, but shallower, eastern part of the upland is divided by numerous primeval valleys into smaller hillocky areas and rolling plains. Its higher and more uneven part extends between Lake Pühajärv and the border of the counties of Valgamaa and Põlvamaa. Located here are dome-shaped Väike Munamägi (207.5 m) and Tedremägi; in the east lie Tõikamägi (210 m) and Laanemägi (211 m). The neighbourhood of Pangodi Village and Kambja Köstrimäed also have more dissected relief.

The south-eastern part of the upland, mostly rising less than 150 meters above sea level, is remarkable for the abundance of relatively deep (up to 40 metres) valleys, such as the Kooraste, Jõksi–Piigandi, Erastvere–Ahja and Urvaste primeval valleys.

Lake Pühajärv and chain lakes in primeval valleys
Lake Pühajärv, the largest lake of the Otepää Upland (3 km2, depth up to 8.5 m) with a number of islands and a dissected shoreline, was considered a holy lake in ancient times. It is a real gem of the Otepää Upland. The most beautiful view of the lake can be enjoyed from the lookout tower on Hobusemägi. Numerous peninsulas and bays, the islands of Sõsarsaared, Kloostrisaar and Lepassaared, and the altering low and steep shores give the lake its unique character, different at different places. A number of small streams flow into the lake, and the Väike-Emajõgi River flows out of its southern end.

Of more than 150 lakes of the Otepää Upland, the majority are small spots of water located on the bottoms of depressions between hillocks. They are growing over and are surrounded by quagg or swampy belts. Mostly, they lack outlets. Often they are located in groups, forming smaller or bigger lake systems, such as those near Päidla and in some other places. Lake chains situated in deep valleys, especially in the southeastern part of the upland are very characteristic and beautiful elements of landscape. A magnificent chain of lakes extends from Vidrike to Kooraste, including ten small, but comparatively deep lakes. Near Kooraste the valley containing lakes crosses another valley, where there are five lakes. Very beautiful views open over the lakes in the Jõksi–Piigandi and Urvaste valleys.

The Otepää Nature Park
An area of 232 km2 in the central part of the Otepää Upland, in Valgamaa County, has been zoned for protection. In 1979 Otepää Landscape Protection Area was created by joining together the areas of the previous smaller protected areas of Lake Pühajärv, Väike-Munamägi and Tedremägi and by adding some new areas. In 1996 the area was renamed the Otepää Nature Park. The main functions of the nature park are to protect local variegated landscapes and to further traditionally developed ways of managing these areas to prevent harm to the landscapes. For this purpose the reserve area has been zoned into areas of strict protection and areas of moderate economic activities. The nature park has favourable conditions for developing tourism and recreation, and for winter sports. Nature study paths have been marked to give better access to specific features of relief.

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