Salla year round
The compact resort of Sallatunturi is a gateway to Salla National Park and a handy base for a multitude of outdoor activities at any time of the year.
It’s no secret that Finland is unusually well-endowed with an unspoilt natural environment, comprising vast expanses of forest, inland waterways and rugged coastal archipelagos, frequented by all manner of wildlife. Anyone wanting to explore this seemingly limitless wilderness is spoilt for choice. The only challenge is seeing the wood for the trees and knowing where and how to access this fabulous resource.
A good solution is to head for one of the country’s 41 National Parks, distributed across the country, representing every variation of Finnish natural landscape, from rocky canyons and sweeping fells in Lapland to sprawling islands in the Baltic, with all combinations of lake and forest in between. There are even two parks, Nuuksio and Sipoonkorpi, located within less than an hour’s drive from Helsinki city centre.
The latest area to be designated with National Park status sits close to the border with Russia, just north of the Arctic Circle in the province of Lapland. Salla National Park joined the club in 2022, increasing and improving public accessibility to a unique zone of rare old-growth forest, esker ridges, ravines and wetland mires. The park can be entered by a network of marked pathways and is traversed by the north-south, 270-kilometre UKK hiking trail. This trail passes through the main park gateway in the resort village of Sallatunturi, tucked under two upland fells, Pieni Pyhätunturi and Iso Pyhätunturi (tunturi is Finnish for fell or upland moor).
The cabins, chalets and apartments in the compact resort, many provided by the Sallainen agency, vary from the very comfortable to the luxurious. With its restaurants and activity facilities, it makes an excellent base for day hikes and other activities, as well as a convenient starting point for extended adventures. The same facilities make it possible to enjoy the area’s startling seasonal contrasts, from verdant summer and colourful autumn to the spectacular white wonderland of winter.
A year-round destination
“The year-round attractions are part of what makes Sallatunturi special,” says Heidi Ahvenainen, Project Manager for Salla’s National Park. “This really is a year-round destination. In winter, the 15 slopes and 9 lifts at Pyhätunturi are maintained for different levels of skiing, including children and beginners. Cross-country ski trails, some lighted after dark, lead into the forested valleys and are also well maintained. There are snowmobile, reindeer and husky safari tour operators offering excursions into the snowbound wilderness, as well as the chance to use snowshoes to hike up to the observation tower on the 470-metre crown of the bigger fell.”
Equipment and appropriate Arctic winter clothing are provided by the Salla Ski & Active tour operator. This region, known as Koillismaa, experiences especially heavy snow and extreme cold, combining to convert the spruce forest on the fell slopes into an alien landscape of otherworldly white sculptures. No surprise, then, that Salla’s boast to be in "the middle of nowhere” is amended to "the middle of snowhere” this time of the year. Rentals of fat bikes (including eBikes) and paddle boards offer other outdoor activity options when the snow has thawed.
This is one of the best areas in the world for spotting the hypnotic aurora borealis or Northern Lights. The Northern Lights are characterized by low light pollution, so your experience is enhanced when you get a kilometre or two away from the resort. The shores of the Keselmäjärvi lake to the north of the resort area are a good viewing location, as is the new timber shelter with wide views across the forest at Kaunisharju to the south.
Colours and wildlife
In fact, contrary to widely held belief, it isn’t necessary to wait until winter to view this extraordinary natural phenomenon. The sun barely sets in summer in this part of the world and the sky needs to be dark and cloud-free, but autumn and spring in Sallatunturi are often blessed with optimal viewing conditions. Autumn is also especially popular with short and long-distance hikers, attracted by the display of reds and oranges provided by the blueberry, lingonberry and other shrubs and trees at this time, known in Finnish as ruska.
A 16-kilometre day hike encircling Iso Pyhätunturi, with freshly laid duckboard sections crossing the mires and taking in a section of the UKK trail, passes through a delightful microcosm of Lapland landscapes and is greatly rewarding to both the eye and soul at the peak of ruska. Take a picnic and stop for lunch around the fireplace at the Pahakuru rest stop, a halfway point on the hike. The chances are you’ll be joined by the very tame Siberian jay attempting to share your sandwiches, the friendliest of the many bird species sought by "twitchers” in these parts. Others include the emblem bird of the park, the capercaillie, along with woodpeckers, owls, hawks, buzzards, kestrels, whooper swans and, with luck, the golden eagle. The Salla Visitor Centre at Salla Wilderness Park, a few kilometres south of the resort area, is a good source of information about the park’s wildlife, as well as local geology and flora.
At the end of an active day, nourishment is available in the form of local specialities, such as salmon soup, Arctic char, elk and reindeer at the cosy Keloravintola restaurant. Something for everyone, then, throughout the year.
Finnair flies from Helsinki to Kuusamo all year round. Kuusamo is about an hour's drive from Sallatunturi. Rovaniemi, on the other hand, is a 2-hour drive from Kuusamo. An airport bus also runs through the Ruka Ski Resort.