Trekking light through
Finnish Lapland

Try the latest trend in Lapland adventure travel – roam the wilds with nothing but a small backpack while the bulk of your gear is transported to your next overnight lodging.

 

Text by Fran Weaver.
Photos by Tim Bird.

The treeless top of Keimiötunturi Fell offers superb panoramic views over Lapland’s unspoilt forests and shimmering lakes. The annual kaleidoscope of autumnal colour, known in Finnish as ruska, illuminates Lapland in early September, making it one of the best seasons to explore Europe’s last great wilderness.

Freely usable shelters and campfire sites with firewood supplies are located at convenient intervals along Lapland’s best-loved trekking routes.

Trekkers keen to roam Lapland’s high hills typically carry all their belongings with them, trudging over the fells like giant tortoises burdened with huge rucksacks, heavy tents, cooking equipment and supplies of unappetising dehydrated camping food. But now hikers have the option of travelling light, thanks to the ‘Village to Village’ scheme, through which local firms collaborate to provide tour packages for lovers of the great outdoors who nevertheless appreciate a comfortable night’s sleep and the best of local cuisine.

“These days people still like to make long linear journeys, but they’re not so keen on carrying all their gear all the time,” says nature guide Hannu Rauhala.

After a long day’s hike

Our ‘trekking light’ trip takes us through the hills of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and an hour’s drive from Kittilä Airport. The backbone of this elongated park is a 90 kilometre-long chain of high fells bordered by pristine natural forests and blue lakes.

“Pallas-Yllästunturi is ideal for trekking trips of several days. The small villages just outside the park have a network of hotels and bed-and-breakfast providers suitably spaced to allow hikers to enjoy day-long walks of 15 to 25 kilometres,” explains Rauhala.

Which way next? Clear signposts along Village to Village routes make wayfinding easy.

“When you travel between different lodgings, you can enjoy good food and meet local people and hear their stories – which is especially great for foreign visitors. The chance to enjoy comfort, local flavour and the special nature, light and silence of Lapland particularly appeals to people from central Europe – and many younger Finns, too,” he says.

Rauhala’s firm Felltrek is one of the key links in the Village to Village chain, running guided outdoor activities and providing cosy accommodation on a family farm by Lake Jerisjärvi. A big bonus is that Rauhala’s wife Anne Paaso is an excellent cook, as we discover after descending hungrily from Keimiötunturi to enjoy fresh fish, berries and mushrooms.

Supplies for the day’s hike can fit into a comfortably portable backpack.

Triathlon trippers

Our dining companions are four brave travellers from Germany and Belgium on a Lapland triathlon trip combining two days of hiking, two days of cycling, and two days of canoeing. “It’s been great to try three different activities in these wild natural settings,” says Siegfried Thiel from Wittenberg in eastern Germany. “We’ve especially enjoyed cycling on traffic-free roads, and just experiencing the peace and quiet of Lapland.”

For our next day’s hike we team up with a group of Swiss visitors describing themselves as avowed Lapland fanatics. “These rolling hills are quite different from our Alps,” says David Perniceni. “We’ve been here several times on ski-trekking tours, and learnt that you can be sure to find snow here all winter; but this is the first time we’ve come with no snow. The sense of Lapland’s vast empty spaces is the same, but the colours of the landscape are really beautiful at this time of year,” he says.

Over a packed picnic lunch by an old reindeer-herder’s shelter Hannu Rauhala explains how the Village to Village scheme helps businesses in Lapland by attracting visitors to discover local services outside the popular Christmas and skiing seasons. “August and September are really the best months for trekking trips here,” he says.

The hills of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park offer splendid autumnal views over colour-splashed forests and lovely lakes.

The cleanest air in Europe

Package trekkers may choose to use a guide or find their own way using detailed maps. For our next day’s hike Rauhala points us towards the hills of Pallastunturi, assuring us that the paths are well signposted even in remote parts of the fells.

On our way over colour-splashed hill and dale we spot arctic wildlife: owls, ptarmigans, snow buntings, and more reindeer. The windy summit of Taivaskero Fell – the park’s highest peak at 807 metres – boasts a monument marking the spot where in July 1952 an Olympic flame was lit using the rays of the midnight sun. The flame was carried by more than 1,000 relay runners the length of Finland to the games held in Helsinki that summer.

We get out our packed lunches by a wigwam-shaped kota shelter at Rihmakuru, overlooking a wooded valley. Hiking is thirsty work, but we slake our thirst and refill our bottles from the brook below the shelter, since the cool, crystal clear water in these mountain streams is clean enough to drink. Data from the meteorological station on top of nearby Sammaltunturi Fell shows that the air in this part of Finnish Lapland is the cleanest anywhere in Europe.

A sweet reward

Following the trail on along the ridge of high hills between Pallas and Hetta, we reach an impressive new wooden cabin at Nammalakuru. Half of the cabin can be booked by groups, while the other half is an open wilderness hut where anyone is free to stay and sleep on simple wooden platforms. Other facilities include a firewood stove, a gas cooker and an outdoor compost toilet.

Free facilities provided by the national park authority (Metsähallitus) in Lapland’s parks and wilderness areas enable hardy hikers to trek through the wilds and spend the night in simple huts along the way. A group of walkers are grilling sausages over a campfire, having decided to settle down for the night – looking very relieved to have taken off their massive rucksacks.

Rather than slumming it in the cabin with other sweaty hikers, we take a trail heading down off the fells to the village of Raattama. Our lodgings at Porotilamajoitus Autto reindeer farm lie on a bend in the broad River Ounasjoki. After tucking in to generous helpings of traditional reindeer stew and tasty whitefish, there’s just enough time for a short canoeing trip along on the river before sunset.

Felltrek’s Hannu Rauhala helps Village to Village hikers choose a scenic route to their next overnight lodgings.

After a soothing sauna we pop outside our cosy lodgings again to scan the night sky. The stars are shining, the temperature has plummeted, and frost is expected tonight. Looking at the dark shadows of the hills we certainly don’t envy the hikers camping out up there.

On the first high-spot of our journey we find ourselves completely alone except for a small herd of shy reindeer.

Challenging days, comfortable nights

A growing network of service providers now makes it possible to roam the wild, windswept fells of western Lapland by day with a light backpack, and then enjoy a comfortable bed and home cooking in local lodgings every night.

  • Village to Village packages offer a new way to enjoy hiking trips of several days through the wild fells and forests of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park in Finnish Lapland, with overnight stays in comfortable lodgings – and no need to carry all your belongings with you each day.
  • Tailored hiking, biking and canoeing tours including Village to Village packages exploring Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park are offered by agencies including Felltrek, Feel the Nature and Natura Magister.
  • Safartica’s Lapland Classic 3- to 6-day guided group-hiking events run annually in August and September.

This article was first published in the September 2015 issue of Finnair's monthly in-flight magazine Blue Wings.