The Urals is a very old and quite low mountain range, extending almost 2000 km south to north, from Kazakhstan to the Arctic Ocean. It also separates Europe and Asia, and the territory to the east of the Urals is known as Siberia.
Southern and central part of the region (around Nizhniy Tagil and Yekaterinburg) is densely populated and polluted; there are many major industrial centers there. Mountains are rather hills no more than 500-800 m above sea level and rivers are easy class 1-2. There are few artificial falls, mainly where the old watermills were. In general, this area does not have much whitewater interest.
So-called Northern Urals (north to Serov and till Arctic Circle) is much less populated, mountains are up to 1800 m high and rivers become mainly class 2, sometimes 3. Traveling here becomes more difficult due to a lack of roads and transport, but the nature is almost unspoiled and this is the place to get the feeling of the Siberian forest ("taiga").
Above the Arctic Circle, near town of Vorkuta, mountains become lower again, forests gradually disappear and arctic plains ("tundra") dominate the landscape. This area is almost uninhabited and got the name Polar Urals, and is better suited for exploratory traveling. Most rivers are easy and do not have much whitewater to offer.
Type of Paddling
Typically long multi-day trips on easy water. In the south it's rather recreational kayaking, while further north it becomes more exploratory, with the Polar Urals being the most remote and inaccessible. Traveling through Northern and Polar Urals often requires upstream ascent on one river, hiking over a pass and then descent another river, unless you're able to hire a helicopter.
Season & Climate
June (July for the Polar Urals) till August. Because the area spreads so long south to north, the climate is quite different across the region. In the south the summer is hot, while in the north the weather is often cold, rainy and unstable. All the rivers are snow-fed and thus level decreases through the summer, but being easy, the higher the water, the less shallow sections you'll find. Entire region is the homeland for all kind of mosquitoes, with the peak in June-July and quite tolerable in August (as nights become colder). The Polar Urals may need special precautions on this matter (there used to be a local execution - naked man exposed for mosquitoes to death).
Getting There & Away
For the Southern Urals the obvious gateway city is Yekaterinburg, with several daily flights to Moscow and St.Petersburg. Numerous trains come there as well as it's part of the Trans-Siberian railway (20-25 hrs from Moscow, 30-40 hrs from St.Petersburg). Further north, the towns of Nizhniy Tagil and Serov have numerous local trains connecting them to Yekaterinburg. Local access is quite easy because of wide road network here.
Most of the Northern Urals is accessed from the railway coming via Syktyvkar, Ukhta, Pechora and Inta to Vorkuta. Travel time for these towns is around 20-30 hrs from Moscow and 30-40 hrs from St.Petersburg. Depending on the final destination, local access is made either by car or by a motor ship on the Pechora River, flowing north along the western foothills of the Northern Urals.
The Polar Urals is accessed from the city of Vorkuta, a miner's town and the final destination of the railway mentioned above. There are also several flights a week to Moscow and St.Petersburg. Local access is quite tricky, there are almost no roads passable for wheeled cars and trucks, the main (and often the only) transport there are track-type vehicles, used by geological parties.