Finland as a hiking destination
I believe every country in the world offers great opportunities for hiking. The nature, climate, and also hiking culture varies from one country to the next, of course. I was born in Finland and I’m in love with hiking in Finland.
Why do I think Finland is an outstandingly good destination for hiking? There are so many reasons that I wrote a thick book on this subject, but I’ll try to give a glimpse in this article.
Finland is a sparsely populated land of vast forests and thousands of lakes and islands. In Finland, there is an ancient code called Everyman’s Right. This code gives anyone the right to walk or ski in woods or fells as you wish, on trails or outside any paths. Also, it is allowed to stay a night in your tent, or collect mushrooms or berries, or swim or canoe on lakes or rivers, regardless of who owns the land or water.
Regulations of a national park or other protected area overrule Everyman’s Right, but the same principles hold largely true.
Our country is a reliable western society with good infrastructure and no corruption. Still, you can see many rare eastern species in Finland. For example, flying squirrel, fairy slipper, Red-flanked bluetail, let alone the endemic Saimaa ringed seal, are hard to see in other countries in Western Europe.
The Finnish way of hiking
There are hundreds of good day hiking trails throughout Finland, as well as forty national parks.
It’s great fun to rent a cottage with modern comforts or to take a hotel room, and then walk, mountain bike, paddle, or in winter ski or snowshoe, for a holiday week. Every day you choose a different hiking trail. The trails take you through ancient forests, open bogs (which you cross along duckboards), hills or fells offering breathtaking views to lakes, butterfly meadows and so on. At the midpoint you enjoy a lunch you prepare on a campfire. In the evening you return to your cottage where you can relax in the sauna.
Or naturally, you can take part in a paid activity offered by an entrepreneur, like a guided tour, or husky or reindeer safari, or bear watching.
Day hiking is the most popular form of hiking in Finland, there’s no doubt about that.
However, there is also a strong tradition of heading out to the wilderness for a week or two, carrying all the food and equipment you need by yourself.
Lapland, the northernmost part of Finland, contains large uninhabited wilderness areas which are refuges both for many rare boreal species as for hikers and backpackers. Let’s compare Lapland and Scotland: The area of Lapland is over 100 000 km² and there are less than 200 000 inhabitants. The area of Scotland is about 80 000 km² and the population is over five million.
Naturally, the easiest way to hike is to choose a marked trail, and there are many of these. However, if you are an experienced hiker and love tranquillity and quietness, Lapland is a fantastic destination to do some real backcountry backpacking.
The Finnish terrain is very suitable for walking or skiing just the way you choose. You peruse the map and plan a route outside any paths, via just those sights you want to see. Of course in popular areas you need to stick to trails, to avoid causing erosion, but in many areas, you can choose your own routes with a clear conscience.
I myself love the feeling when I’m leaving the bus or car and lifting my backpack and I know I can walk or ski for a week without seeing a road, habitation, forestry or other human activities. I’ll see only some reindeer fences and wilderness huts – and if I’m lucky, a series of reindeer hunting potholes or a sacred seita rock dating several millennia.
In my backpack, there is a tent, sleeping bag and mattress, kettle and other kitchen utensils, food, spare clothing and so on. I won’t carry a lot of water, for in remote corners of Northern Finland the water on springs, brooks, rivers and lakes is clean, so I fill my water bottle straight from them.
As day hiking is easy and fun, and it gives you a lot of good moments, a week-long backpacking tour requires a bit more, but it also gives a lot more. You immerse yourself deeply into nature. You live just this moment and forget totally about everyday stress and all the electronic hubbub of today’s society.
And a longer backpacking expedition both requires and gives even more. From my own experience, I can assure a two-month-long off-track skiing expedition across Finnish Lapland changed my life.
Hundreds of wilderness huts
Our system of wilderness huts must also be discussed. There are thousands of campfire sites, lean-tos and conical Lapp huts along the hiking trails throughout Finland. There is firewood in the woodshed and anyone can make a campfire. Only during the hottest summer, when the forest fire warning is on, making a fire is prohibited.
All of these are great places to enjoy your lunch during a hike or to stay the night in your tent. However, the most protective type of shelter is called a wilderness hut. There are about half a thousand of these open huts in Lapland, and some also in the southern parts.
Wilderness hut is a log cabin with a wood oven for heating and preparing food, table and benches, bunks for beds, water bucket, and woodshed. Often there is also a gas cooker, and sometimes even a sauna. There is no lock on the door, and anyone is free to stay a night or two. There is no hut warden: the hikers themselves keep the things tidy.
Can this system work? Yes. Most often when you arrive at an empty wilderness hut, there is chopped firewood and possibly also tinder waiting for you inside the hut, the water bucket is emptied and turned down, and the hut has been cleaned. Naturally, it’s not this rosy always. For example, the one before you may have forgotten to empty the bucket, and the water is frozen (in winter) or slimy (in summer), but mostly the system works well.
The code is simple: When you are visiting a wilderness hut, act as you’d like others to act towards you. Consider both those that share the hut with you, and those that come after you.
In Finland, there are four distinctive seasons. The summer from June to August is warm, but not hot. The birds sing and flowers bloom, and berries ripen towards the end of summer. The midnight sun is an unforgettable phenomenon.
In September the leaves turn colourful and possibly some morning you see the first frost decorating the red leaves of bog bilberry and the yellow leaves of dwarf birch. Also, October is usually a walking month.
In midwinter, the sun does not rise at all above the horizon in Northern Finland. This does not mean the days would be dark, though the daylight time is shorter. There is a lot of snow and it can be very cold, but on the other hand, this is the best time to see aurora borealis!
In April it is spring in Southern Finland, with first green and flowers, and good walking conditions. At the same time in Northern Finland, it’s late winter with thick snow cover and good skiing conditions with lots of sunshine.
Where to go?
If you have all of Finland to choose from, check out Pallas-Yllästunturi NP, Oulanka NP, Urho Kekkonen NP and Hossa NP. If you are visiting Southern Finland only, I recommend you see the national parks Repovesi, Koli, Nuuksio and Liesjärvi. All of these offer magnificent day hiking trails, and more.
If you are interested in a week-long backpacking tour along a marked trail, the most popular trails are the Hetta–Pallas trail over the fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi NP and the Karhunkierros trail through the forests and along the shores of beautiful rivers in Oulanka NP. Note also Kevo trail which takes you to the largest canyon in Finland, and one of the highest waterfalls, and Halti trail, which takes you to the highest point of Finland, running constantly in treeless fell area.
If you would like to make a backpacking expedition outside marked trails, start with Urho Kekkonen NP and Lemmenjoki NP.
If you like paddling, my favourites for canoeing on lakes are Kolovesi NP and Hossa NP, and for paddling on a gently flowing river Oulanka NP.
For skiing, you might want to start with maintained ski tracks. Fantastic ski tracks can be found for example at Pallas-Yllästunturi NP, Urho Kekkonen NP and Pyhä-Luosto NP. However, if you are an experienced skier and winter backpacker, do head out of the ski tracks, deeper into the wilderness, for example in Urho Kekkonen NP.
More information on all of these, and many other great destinations, you find on the book Hiking in Finland, and also at www.nationalparks.fi.
Jouni Laaksonen has written about hiking in Finland for twenty years, thousands of pages of magazine articles and over a dozen of books. All of this used to be in Finnish, but lately, he has maintained a blog in English: scricfinia.wordpress.com, and his book Hiking in Finland – Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions is published in April 2019. The book describes both nature, seasons and skills needed in Finland and the best hiking destinations.