In the Mari language, Mari Chodra means the «Mari forest.» This National Park was established in 1985. The park covers 36,600 hectares, most of which consist of pine and broad-leaved forests.
The National Park is famous for its karst lakes: Yalchik, Konan-Er, Tot-Er, Shut-Er, Glukhoe, Kichier, etc. One of the main objectives of the Mari Chodra Park is the preservation of these lakes. Some of them are situated in a preserved area of the park and are inaccessible to the public. In some cases, lakes may be temporarily closed to public access. The most popular lake for tourists is Yalchik Lake, the largest in all of Mari El. In fact it is two lakes, the Great Yalchik and the Small Yalchik, connected by a channel. According to legend, the lake was formed in place of a meadow that had caved in.
The National Park is inhabited by a variety of animals typical of the taiga (moose, bears), broad-leaved forests (squirrels, dormice) and the forest-steppe (brown hare, russet ground squirrel). At least 188 species of birds nest here, including the wood grouse, the mallard duck, snowy owl, and red-footed falcon. Some of the species are listed in the Russian Red Book, such as the black stork, the fish-hawk, the snake eagle, and the white-tailed eagle. The rivers and lakes of the park are inhabited by catfish, pike, tench, Crucian and Prussian carp. The European grayling can be found in branches of the Ilet river.
Hiking trails have been laid throughout the park. The ecology and natural discovery trail «The Trace of Mankind» includes the old Kazan road that connected Kazan and Tzarevokokshaysk (now Yoshkar-Ola). Emelyan Pugachev and his army passed this way through the Mari woods. Not far fr om the Konan-Er lake, there is an oak that is still called Pugachev's oak. And the guided tour «The Klenovogorye Trip» takes tourists to the Shungaldan site, where there is an excellent view of the Kerebelyak highland, wh ere the protected part of the park is located.
Since 2016, tourists must pay a fee to enter the park.