Nature & Mountains
of Iran



Iran’s interior plateaus are almost completely surrounded by mountains. The main mountain system, the Zagros Mountains, cuts across the country for more than 1,600 km (1,000 mi) from northwest to southeast. With the exception of the Khūzestān coastal plain, which extends from the northern reaches of the Persian Gulf, the Zagros Mountains occupy all of western Iran. The central part of the range averages more than 340 km (210 mi) in width. Many peaks of the Zagros exceed 4,000 m (12,000 ft) in elevation; the highest is Zard Kūh (4,547 m/14,918 ft). Peaks rising above 2,300 m (7,500 ft) capture considerable moisture, which percolates down to the lower-lying basins as groundwater. These basins, ranging from about 1,200 to 1,500 m (about 4,000 to 5,000 ft) in elevation, contain fertile soil that traditionally has sustained diverse and intensive crop cultivation.

In Iran’s northern reaches, a steep, narrow mountain range, the Elburz Mountains, rims the entire southern coast of the Caspian Sea. This range extends more than 600 km (400 mi) in length and averages about 100 km (about 60 mi) in width. The country's highest peak, Mount Damāvand (5,670 m/18,602 ft), lies in the central part of the range. Several other peaks of the Elburz Mountains exceed 3,600 m (12,000 ft). The northern slopes of the range receive considerable rainfall throughout the year and support forests. A fertile coastal plain averaging 24 km (15 mi) in width lies between the Caspian Sea and the mountains. East of the Elburz Mountains is a series of parallel mountain ranges with elevations of 2,400 to 2,700 m (8,000 to 9,000 ft). These ranges are interspersed with many narrow, arable valleys. Several low mountain ridges, generally referred to as the eastern highlands, run along Iran’s eastern border.

Within this mountainous rim lies a series of basins known collectively as the central plateau. They include the Dasht-e Kavir, a huge salt-encrusted desert in north central Iran; the Dasht-e Lūt, a sand-and-pebble desert in the southeast; and several fertile oases.

The mountains of Iran constitute an active earthquake zone, and numerous minor earthquakes occur each year. Major earthquakes causing great loss of life and property damage also occur periodically. During the 18th century earthquakes twice leveled Tabrīz, the principal city in the northwest, killing at least 40,000 people on each occasion. Several severe earthquakes resulting in thousands of deaths have occurred since the mid-20th century. A devastating earthquake centered in the fault zone where the Elburz and Zagros mountains intersect in northwestern Iran killed an estimated 37,000 people in June 1990. A December 2003 earthquake in southern Iran destroyed much of the ancient city of Bam and killed more than 30,000 people. Several of Iran's highest mountains are volcanic cones; only Mount Damāvand and Kūh-e Taftān in southeastern Iran are active volcanoes, both periodically emitting gases near their summits.

Plant and Animal Life

Although more than 10,000 plant species have been identified in Iran, the natural vegetation in most of the country has been uprooted and replaced by cultivated crops or pastures. Natural forests consisting of beech, oak, other deciduous trees, and conifers grow in parts of the Elburz Mountains. Some regions of higher elevation in the Zagros Mountains contain wooded areas consisting primarily of oak. Wild fruit trees, including almond, pear, pomegranate, and walnut, grow in both the Elburz and Zagros mountains. In the more arid central part of the country, wild pistachio and other drought-resistant trees grow in areas that have not been disturbed by human activity. Tamarisk and other salt-tolerant bushes grow along the margins of the Dasht-e Kavir. 


A wide variety of native mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects inhabit Iran. Many species of mammals—including wolves, foxes, bears, mountain goats, red mountain sheep, rabbits, and gerbils—continue to thrive.

Others—including Caspian tigers, Caspian seals, desert onagers, three species of deer, gazelles, and lynx—are endangered despite the establishment of special wildlife refuge areas and other government programs initiated to protect them. Some 323 species of birds inhabit Iran; more than 200 species are migratory birds that spend part of the year in other countries.






 Iran’s varied landscape produces several different climates. On the northern edge of the country, the Caspian coastal plain, with an average elevation at or below sea level, remains humid all year. Winter temperatures rarely fall below freezing, and maximum summer temperatures rarely exceed 29°C (85°F). Annual precipitation averages 650 mm (26 in) in the eastern part of the plain (Māzandarān Province) and more than 1,900 mm (75 in) in the western part (Gilān Province).

At higher elevations to the west, settlements in the Zagros Mountain basins experience lower temperatures. These areas are subject to severe winters, with average daily temperatures below freezing, and warm summers, averaging 25°C (77°F) in the northwest and 33°C (91°F) in the central and southern Zagros. Annual precipitation, including snowfall, averages more than 280 mm (11 in) at higher elevations. Most precipitation falls between October and April.

The central plateau region also experiences regional variations. In Tehrān, located at an elevation of 1,200 m (3,900 ft) on the northern edge of the plateau, the temperature averages 2°C (36°F) in January and 29°C (85°F) in July. The city receives an average of 230 mm (9 in) of precipitation annually. The arid basins of central and eastern Iran generally receive less than 200 mm (8 in) of precipitation per year. Yazd, for example, averages less than 70 mm (3 in) of precipitation. Its winters are cool, but temperatures almost never fall below freezing; summers are very hot, averaging 38°C (100°F) for most of July and August.

 The coastal plains along the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in southern Iran have mild winters, with average January temperatures ranging from 7° to 18°C (45° to 64°F) in Khūzestān Province; average temperatures are even higher in Bandar-e ‘Abbās on the Strait of Hormuz. Summers are very humid and hot, with temperatures exceeding 48°C (119°F) during July in the interior areas. Annual precipitation ranges from 145 mm to 355 mm (6 to 14 in) in this region



 Mt. Damavand

Shaped like Mt. Fuji , Mt. Damavand (5671m) is the highest mountain in Iran and easily accessible from Tehran, although it is actually in Mazandaran province. Damavand is a volcano still belching sulphuric fumes which are strong enough to kill stray sheep. It was first climbed by a westerner in 1837. The usual starting point is Reyneh, where there is a mountaineering club at the junction where the main road enters the village.

Tragically, the manager of the club, an expert local mountaineer, and his sons died a few years ago while trying to climb the mountain. This gives you some idea of the potential danger.You can see Mt Damavand on the IRIO,OOO note, on bottles of Damarvand spring water and from the air as you fly into Tehran, smog permitting. Don't confuse the mountain of Damavand with the village of Damavand to its south.



One possible starting point for exploring the mountain and the nearby countryside is the pretty village of Reyneh. From Reyneh, there are fine views of other picturesque villages on the far side of the valley. Even if you don't want to climb the mountain, there are plenty of other local walking trails to enjoy.There is no hotel, but if you ask around, especially if you want to climb the mountain, someone will put you up in their home for about IR25.000 per person. There are a couple of kababis and other shops in the village.



Around 55km to the north-west, Payam has pistes suitable for beginners and more advanced skiers, and there's a restaurant at the Payam Inn. The season here lasts from mid-December through to mid-March.


Mt. Sabalan

ALP Tours & Travel Agency . also organises short tours to Mt Sabalan (4811m), due east of Tabriz, where it's possible to climb rocks and visit four glaciers in two or three days. A two-day tour inclusive of transport, full board and lodging in a mountain hut costs around US$22..A one-week tour taking in all the glaciers on the mountain is likely to cost around US$55 provided you've managed to assemble a group of at least 10 people. You can also climb Mt. Sabalan from Sara'eyn .

Mt. Sahand

This majestic mountain (3707m), about 35km to the south-east of Tabriz, dominates the area between Tabriz and Maraqeh. It has ski slopes to suit all levels of ability as well as hot mineral springs and an ice lake for skating. Because Sahand is much higher than Payam. the ski season here is much longer.

ALP Tours & Travel Agency offers day trips to the ski slopes inclusive of all necessary equipment.

Karaftu Caves

If you take a powerful torch(flashlight) you can explore the labyrinthine chambers and passageways of the Karaftu Caves, 25km south-west of Takab. Among other traces of what must once have been a sanctuary carved out of the cliff, there is a Greek inscription mentioning Heracles (Hercules), who had a cult following in this region during the period. You will need to charter a 4WD vehicle to get there from Takab. Ask at the Rangi Hotel and they should be able to arrange something for about IR60.000 return, including waiting time.

Ali Sadr Caves (Oar An Sadr)

Discovered 40 years ago by a local shepherd out looking for a lost goat, these remarkable caves, about 100km north of Hamadan, are up to 40m high. A river with clear water up to 14m deep flows through the middle. Nothing lives in the water - surprisingly even bats don't find it worth hanging around here - and there are no signs of any inhabitants from past centuries. Although it's possible to stay overnight most people visit the caves on a day trip from Hamadan.
The IR20,000 entrance fee includes a tour in a boat; you sit in a small rowing boat, attached to a paddle boat, which the guide steers. The commentary is only in Farsi, but there's little to explain anyway. The guide paddles away, while towing your boat, for about 20 to 30 minutes, then you walk around the middle of the cave for another 20 to 30 minutes - there are nearly 1km of walkways, and plenty more under construction. Then it's another 20- to 3D-minute paddle, along a different route, back to the cave entrance.Along the way you'll see labelling on some of the stalactites and stalagmites identifying them as the 'Statue of Liberty' etc. Texts from the Quran suspended above the water also help you while away the time. But it's the majesty and eeriness of the caves themselves which is the main attraction.
It can be cool inside the cave, so a light jumper (sweater) is a good idea. The caves are mostly well lit, but if you have a really strong torch (flashlight), bring it. Very few camera flashes will be good enough to take decent photos. The Guide Map of Hamndan City & Road Map of Alisadr Wonderful Cave, available in Hamadan, gives some useful information about the caves in English - though you will be glad to know there are no roads (yet) in the caves.If possible, try and avoid visiting on a Friday or public holiday when the caves will be crawling with Iranian families and hundreds of screaming school kids. Foreigners are often whisked to the front of the queue for boats, but at such times the wait could be a long one. Outside the caves there is a real carnival atmosphere, with playgrounds and souvenir shops. How much you'll enjoy the caves probably depends on whether you come from a coun_ with its own watery cave systems or not.

Namak Abrud

In summer people flock to Namak Abrud, 12km west of Chalous, to ride the telecabin (cable car) up 1050m-high Mt Medovin. It’s a magnificent ride, but very cold even in summer, and if you’re unlucky the hill will be covered in low cloud. Blotting out the magnificent views- make an early start before the clouds can can set in. There are plans to build a second telecabin, and dreamers scheme to extend the original all the way to Tehran.

A return trip on the telecabin costs IR20.000, and it’s open from 10 am to 4 pm daily in summer. The entrance is off the main road between Ramsar and Chalous, but the telecabin itself is 2 km further backP you could probably hitch a ride from the entrance, or just walk – it’s easy enough to spot.




Nicknamed the 'Paradise of Iran', Kelardasht is a fertile depression more than 1250m above sea level. Recent archaeological discoveries( the finds are in the National Museum of Iran in Tehran) have uncovered habitation dating back to the 10th cen'nry AD. The main town in the region is Hasan Keif, on the road between Abbas Abad and Marzan Abad.

Although it's not very easy to reach without a car, Kelardasht is the place to head for if you are hankering af'er some outdoor activities. There are some great hiking trails. especially around the tiny and peculiarly shaped Valasht Lake; troul fishing spots in nearby streams; and even cross-country skiing in winter. Ideally, come for a few days and bring camping equipment with you.



Mt. Alam

The best place to start climbing Mt Alam (4850m), or one of the dozens of peaks higher than 4()()()m in this part of ,he Alborz, is Rodbarak, about 20km north-east of Mt Alam. At ROdbarak, you can find somewhere to stay, and organise a guide and hire donkeys and porters for the ascent. It generally takes two days to Ire from Rudbarak, via Vanderaban village, to the first hut at Sarchal (at 3900m), where you can stay and cook meals. There's another simple hut at 4200m. From Sarchal, the climb to the peak and back along the easiest route (ask directions if you have no guide) can be done in one day. You can also walk from Mt Alam to Mt Takht-e-Soleiman (44900m) in one day along a thin ridge, but this is an experts – only route, so seek local advice before attempting it.




















































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