Wilderness huts and history

Hiking in Finland
Jouni Laaksonen 11.11.2019

I’ve told about the Finnish system of wilderness huts (autiotupa) several times already. Here I tell what they are like, and here how to behave in the huts.

I’ve visited similar kind of open huts in several other countries, too. Recently I bumped into the site of Mountain Bothies Association, which maintains about one hundred open shelters in the Great Britain. Those bothies seem to be very much like Finnish wilderness huts, and it would be interesting some day to hike for example in Scotland and explore bothies.

Also it would be interesting to hear about other internet sites collecting information about open huts in various countries. Please comment if you know such sites! There are lots of huts in Norway and Sweden, but they are mostly locked or staffed, not to be used without paying. Some of them are open, and I know many of them, have even visited many of them, but I don’t know of a comprehensive database about them.

About Finnish huts I’ve maintained a simple but comprehensive list Autiotuvat on-line for the past 20 years, but unfortunately it is only in Finnish. That list contains about all the huts in Northern Finland, both those officially maintained by Metsähallitus (Parks & Wildlife Finland) and the more unofficial ones.

Metsähallitus offers a wealth of information about their huts also in English. See www.nationalparks.fi/en/huts and www.excursionmap.fi.

There is no exact number for Finnish autiotupas, but there are over 400 open huts in the sparsely populated Northern Finland, and surprisingly many (at least over 200) also in Southern Finland.


Reasons for wilderness huts

Why build a log cabin or a turf hut deep in the wilderness? There are many reasons, and in fact these reasons conserve very interesting aspects on travelling deep in the outback of Finland. I’ll tell about these reasons in twelve consecutive posts.

All of the huts mentioned in the posts below act as open wilderness huts today, but the original reason was something very different (except for cases number 11 and 12). We are very privileged generations, we who have leisure time and possibility to wander about just for fun.

1. Huts for early travelers

I’ve already mentioned at least one reason for huts. Here I told about an old route from Southern Lapland to Inari Lapland and beyond to Arctic Ocean. Along this, and along other routes used in the era before roads and automobiles, shelters were built for the travelers. For example Luirojärvi, Kaikunuora, Suolistaipale, Korsatupa and Paaraskalla huts serve today as wilderness huts for hikers, but they (or their predecessors) have been built originally for those early travelers in 18th or 19th century.

Hiking in Finland

This is Lake Luirojärvi, and the fell behind it is Sokosti: the largest lake and highest peak in Urho Kekkonen National Park. On the far side of the lake there is a wilderness hut, as there has been for several centuries. Nowadays the hut is very popular and it serves hikers, but it used to be of utmost importance for the early travelers crossing Saariselkä fell range.

Hiking in Finland

Korsatupa hut is nowadays far from anywhere. Not even many hikers visit the hut. In the 19th century the situation was different. There were no roads in Northern Lapland when the gold rush to River Ivalojoki started in 1870. The gold diggers traveled with their wooden boats by rivers leading upwards from Rovaniemi. Near this Korsatupa is the watershed between River Ounasjoki (which runs to Rovaniemi) and River Ivalojoki (which runs to Lake Inarijärvi). Click the map link above the pics and zoom out if you want to see these rivers. The prospectors had to pull their boats over the watershed, and a shelter was much needed. Then they rowed downriver River Ivalojoki.

Hiking in Finland

It didn’t have to be a hundreds of kilometers long route that required shelters along it. There is some 30 kilometers between small villages of Pokka and Lisma. A postman carried mail from Pokka to Lisma, and this was too long a stretch to walk or ski in a day. In the 1950s Paaraskalla hut was built for him, and other travelers between these villages, along the faint path.

2. Huts for hunters and fishermen

3. Reindeer herders’ huts

4. Gold diggers’ huts

5. Patrol cabins for border guards

6. Cabins for lumberjacks

7. Cabins for fire guards

8. Water mills

9. Collecting hay from bogs

10. Other reasons

11. Huts built purely for hikers, by voluntary work

12. Huts built purely for hikers, by government

(I’ll make those numbered titles links to the future blog posts. So this post will act as a table of contents once I’ve found time to write all those posts.)

Much more about all these huts, and hundreds of more, you’ll find in book Joel Ahola and Jouni Laaksonen: Suomen autiotuvat – kämpät ja kammit saaristosta tuntureille. Karttakeskus 2018. However, that book is only in Finnish.

There’s also information of Finnish hut system, and coordinates to dozens of open huts in my book Hiking in Finland – Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions.



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