Jouni Laaksonen 12.3.2018
Are you planning next summer’s holiday? Come and hike in Finland! Here’s ten tips for a beginner:
(Addition in summer 2019: My guidebook Hiking in Finland – Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions was published in June 2019! It tells everything you need for Hiking in Finland, from our hiking culture, gear needed in northern seasons, Everyman’s Rights, drinking water, flora and fauna and so on to the best destination. The 304 pages contain not only a lot of text, but lots of color photos, topographic maps, coordinates, and also a QR code that gives you access to GPX tracks. See more information scricfinia.wordpress.com/books.)
1. Finland is a country of vast forests (over 70% of land area) and thousands of lakes (nearly 200 000 of them). Also we have magnificent archipelagos, gently rolling treeless fell areas, large bogs etc. In one word: this is taiga – but with a reliable society and very good infrastructure.
The view from Ukko-Koli, in Koli NP, is iconic to Finns. On the other hand this is so very typical Finnish landscape: forest, lake, islands. On the other hand this view is something more, a scenery that inspired famous artists like Jean Sibelius and Pekka Halonen.
2. There are 40 national parks in Finland (kansallispuisto in Finnish). There is no entrance fee or need for any kind of reservation to national parks. There are well-marked trails and campfire sites/lean-tos/huts in every park. You can find good information on the parks: www.nationalparks.fi. Seeing precise topographic maps and planning your routes beforehand is easy: www.excursionmap.fi (for national parks choose Destination menu > Hiking destinations > National parks > the park you are interested in).
3. Also outside the national parks there are thousands of kilometers of marked trails, and thousands of campfire sites/lean-to’s/Lapp pole tents/wilderness huts. And Everyman’s Rights guarantee that you can walk and camp also outside the trails, almost anywhere you wish. But as you are maybe coming to Finland for the first time, you might want to stick to the most impressive and best-maintained hiking destinations – national parks.
Signposts in Rokua NP: wooden signposts with place names, symbols (campfire site, wilderness hut, lookout tower, trail suitable for wheelchair etc.) and kilometers. Blue ball tells that this path is marked with blue paint dots on trees.
4. You may be accustomed to signposts or guidebooks telling the length of a route in hours? In Finland we always use kilometers. Our country is not mountainous, so your average walking speed doesn’t vary much. How to convert kilometers to hours? As a first guess you could use speed 3 km/h, meaning you walk a six kilometer trail in two hours – or if you take one hour lunch break at campfire site in the middle of the trail, you naturally use three hours. If you like to walk faster, you use a higher average speed in you calculations, and vice versa.
Older, but very typical signpost in Hiidenportti NP. Left of the place name a symbol tells what to expect at that place (sight, lean-to, campfire site in this example), and the number is kilometers. Nowadays there are also sometimes metallic signposts, but always the number is kilometers.
5. Making a campfire is very Finnish. I’ve understood it is not possible to make a campfire everywhere around the world’s best hiking destinations, but in Finland it is. Do make campfires and enjoy! (In the driest summer there may be forest fire warning, in that case you may not light a fire.)
It’s so cosy to sit by the fire while the sky darkens to black, and then you start to see the millions of stars! October, Martinselkonen.
6. Don’t forget nights. If you come in the middle of summer (June or July), see midnight sun in Lapland! If you come later in autumn, see the starry nights, bright moon, and possibly aurora borealis. There aren’t many things better than sitting by a campfire in the darkening autumn evening, feeling the warmth of fire and noticing how the stars become visible. It is absolutely quiet, or maybe wind rustles some leaves, but at least there isn’t any man-made noise.
7. Finland is an easy society to come from abroad. Ours is one of the safest countries in the world and everything works as scheduled. You can find most of the information you need on the internet, and usually also in English. For example train timetables you find at www.vr.fi/en, bus timetables at www.matkahuolto.fi/en (in some areas all of the bus lines are currently not in this service, but for example for Lapland you find all the bus timetables here). You can try also opas.matka.fi. For accommodation the biggest tourist resorts beside national parks have their own comprehensive portals (like www.ruka.fi/en near Oulanka NP, www.yllas.fi/en beside Pallas-Yllästunturi NP). For cabins with modern comforts see www.lomarengas.fi/en. In some NP’s you find rental huts also at nationalparks.fi. In hotels, visitor centres, tourist informations and so on you usually can get service in English. We use Euros and metric system.
This is an example of simple rental huts, Hossanki rental hut in Hossa NP. This cabin is almost like a wilderness hut, no electricity, wood stove heating, gas cooker. But when wilderness huts are in anyone’s use, rental hut is only for the renter’s use. And there are mattresses, sauna and rowing boat in addition to the equipment of wilderness hut. The rental huts inside national parks are great places to stay surrounded by mighty nature. – On the other hand at lomarengas.fi/en you find cabins with modern comforts like running water meaning water closet and shower (in addition to sauna), normal kitchen with fridge, oven, microwave etc., also often dish washer machine and laundry machine, and so on. These holiday homes are not usually actually inside a national park, but you can find ones near your destination park.
8. So, lots of good destinations, too many for one holiday. Where to go on your first journey to Finland? Read my tales about memorable hikes I and my family have made, you find them in this blog under category “Opposites = trip reports”. I write trip reports describing every month of the year, and I try to describe destinations from different parts of Finland. This database expands month by month. But you want to hear some names right now? Okay. Let’s assume you are planning a week long vacation and you want to do day hiking. You will stay in a hotel or a cabin with luxuries and want to hike different trails every day. (If you want to go for a week long hiking tour with your own tent, see my next post Hiking in Finland: Tips for an Advanced Hiker.)
- If you want to stay in one place, check Oulanka National Park (walking in forests, river paddling), Pallas-Ylläs National Park (walking in fell area and forests), Hossa National Park (walking in forests, river+lake paddling), Koli National Park (walking on tops of hills, lake sceneries). All of these are great destinations for hiking with kids, too! If you like to paddle on lakes, see Kolovesi and Linnansaari National Parks.
In Oulanka NP do hike at least Pieni Karhunkierros trail (Little Bear’s Ring). Photo is taken from one of many hanging bridges along the trail, and it shows one of many rapids/waterfalls along the trail, Myllykoski. Mylly means mill (koski is rapids), and the building you see is an old water mill, nowadays a day trip hut.
In Kolovesi National Park you feel like you were taken thousands of years back! There are no summer cottages or habitation on the rocky and cliffy shores of lake Kolovesi, and there are three rock painting sites along a three to four day paddling tour (okay, this is more in the way of advanced hiker…). And if you are lucky, you might spot Saimaa ringed seal, endemic species of this area.
- If you want to see different areas, rent a car, or plan a bicycle holiday! Travel from one national park to next, and pick the very best trail in each of them. You could for example combine national parks in the lakeland area: Repovesi, Linnansaari, Petkeljärvi, Patvinsuo, Koli, Etelä-Konnevesi. Or see archipelagoes: Saaristomeri and Selkämeri (several opportunities to travel by boat to different islands in both parks). Or make a round trip from Helsinki: Nuuksio, Liesjärvi, Torronsuo, Seitseminen, Helvetinjärvi, Leivonmäki. Or make a round trip in north, see old-growth forests and fell landscapes: Hossa, Syöte, Oulanka, Riisitunturi, Pyhä-Luosto. (The largest and northernmost NP’s I’ll save for the next week’s post.)
Repovesi NP is famous for it’s cliffs and the views they offer to the lakes and forest below. Mustalamminvuori.
In Seitseminen NP you find one of the most beautiful old-growth forests in Southern Finland, Multiharju.
Saaristomeri NP, or Archipelago NP, offers unique views. There are more islands here than in any other archipelago in the world. Small rocky ones, large forested ones, uninhabited ones, inhabited ones.
Sidenote: All the destinations above you find at nationalparks.fi, which is a great data bank for a hiker. It is maintained by Metsähallitus, which governs all state-owned land in Finland. There are lots of trails and hiking destinations also outside state-owned lands, but all national parks are maintained by Metsähallitus and they just are the best places to start exploring our hiking possibilities.
9. Above I’m all the time thinking of an independent traveller who wants to hike on his/her own. Of course there are guided tours, there is bear watching, there are husky and reindeer safaris and so on. Use Google and you’ll find plenty of options. Myself, I have either been as a guide or taken part of the activity as a customer for example in these: www.upitrek.com (guided walking and skiing tours), Wild Taiga (bear watching and photographing, more of this later), Salla Reindeer Park (reindeer feeding, reindeer safaris).
10. Still, after all that talk above, Finland’s greatest asset of all is wilderness. In Finnish Lapland you find over dozen large hiking destinations where you can walk in real wilderness for a week or several. As said, there are thousands of kilometers of marked trails, thousands of campfire/camping sites in Finland, but if you know how to navigate by yourself outside paths, Lapland’s wildernesses offer a splendid opportunity to go just the way You want, camp just where You want. On your own. More of hiking both on trails and outside trails in next post: Hiking in Finland: Tips for an Advanced Hiker. And note my guidebook on this very subject, Hiking in Finland.