Urho Kekkonen National Park
Urho Kekkonen National Park is Finland’s second largest national park, covering 2,550 square kilometres of pristine ethereal wilderness. Numerous trails criss-cross the park’s rolling, bare tunturi (fells), but there are also vast areas of untamed – and unmarked – wilderness to explore freely. Mark Roberts tells you how.
While the park receives 280,000 visitors per year, you can easily find solitude, especially out of season. Time your visit for October and you may well have the entire park to yourself.
The Suomenruotku-Tuiskukuru-Lankojärvi Trail
Or, as I like to call it, the Snowbow Trail after a beautiful ‘snowbow’ I witnessed while walking it. This mostly follows one of the park’s most popular trails – an 80km loop starting at Kiilopää fell, and best enjoyed over five days, allowing an extra day to climb Sokosti, the park’s highest fell, at 718m. The shorter, 64km route described here covers much of the same trail, and still offers spectacular views across the park’s magnificent landscapes.
Immediately after the trail head, the path leads off to the right, heading up onto the flanks of Kiilopää and Niilanpää fells. After emerging from dwarf birch scrub, the well-marked trail (you will see blue crosses on posts) skirts around Niilanpää past a reindeer fence. At this point, you leave the marked trail behind, and instead follow a well-trodden path leading south toward the headwaters of the Suomujoki river. The popularity of the trail makes it easy to follow as it tracks, and eventually crosses, the nascent river at the Suomunruotku wilderness huts. At Suomunruotku, in the “basic zone” of the park, camping is only permitted in the vicinity of the hut, but there are ample sites to pitch a shelter if you don’t want to take advantage of the atmospheric cabins (all of the park’s huts offer a gas stove and wood fireplace, with free wood provided in the wood shed).
From Suomunruotku, the trail heads through pine forest towards a bridge crossing the Aitaoja river, before rising up over Vintilätunturi fell via a gentle ridge. As the trail approaches the tree line, fantastic views over the twin peaks of Suku- and Terävä-Nattanen open up to the west. Heading downhill again, the rutted quad bike tracks disappear into small wetland area which can be easily tip-toed across via a stand of spruce. After negotiating the mire, aim north to intersect the trail continuing east towards Tuiskukuru.
The wilderness hut at Tuiskukuru provides a scenic and well-deserved break. From here, the longer, more popular route leads towards Luirojärvi (8km) and Sokosti fell, before returning to Lankojärvi. However, a shorter option is to leave the main trail here for an alternative route.
The park comprises a variety of landscapes: rolling fells, forest wetlands, ravines and gorges carved by meandering clear streams, mires, and even verdant alpine valleys.
The Alternative Route
An unmarked (and unsignposted) path slips off behind the hut, leading north-west along the Tuiskukuru gorge itself. This lovely trail twists and turns along the high banks above the river, emerging after 7km at the bridge over the Kotaköngäs falls. Crossing the bridge here obviates fording the Aitaoja further downstream – and during spring floods, you may want to cross the river via this bridge.
From the Kotaköngäs rapids, a beautiful, meandering trail leads towards Lankojärvi lake alongside the crystal clear, often startlingly deep, river. A confusion of beaver trails cross the path, but the trail itself is easy to follow. You’ll have the chance to refresh your tired feet as you cross a small stream just before the Lankojärvi wilderness hut – another beautiful location to spend a night.
After Lankojärvi, take the trail leading up behind the hut, and follow it around until it meets the Rautuoja stream, from which it continues westwards. After 7km of gently rising paths through forest and over miniature glacial eskers, the trail emerges at the Rautulampi day hut – a stunning location, surrounded on all sides by barren fells. The silence is overwhelming.
The final leg of the trail takes you up to the open fell of Rautunturi. Follow the red cross marked trail up to the large cairn at the top of the hill. Stop awhile here to admire breathtaking views as far as the eye can see across Lapland, and towards the Russian border. Sokosti and Ukselmapää are clearly visible as the shifting light drifts over the vast landscape. It’s truly one of the highlights of the walk and the park.
The path continues, following either the cross-marked trail around Rautunturi, or via a spur path leading to the highly recommended trail crossing Rautupää and Niilanpää, from which the solitary joy of high fell walking can be experienced. After a final descent to join the main trail near the reindeer fence, the final leg leads back to the Kiilopää trail head.
In short, this trail bestows a peaceful solitude not easy to find in mainland Europe. It has an ethereal quality which makes the experience of walking its trails unlike any other. For something a little different, Urho Kekkonen National Park is well worth a visit.
The trail bestows a peaceful solitude not easy to find in mainland Europe. It has an ethereal quality which makes the experience of walking its trails unlike any other. For something a little different, Urho Kekkonen National Park is well worth a visit.
The trail is open for backpacking after the spring melt, typically from late June to late October. Conditions in Urho Kekkonen park can change quickly, and as summers are rarely very warm, snow can be expected on the high ground at any time. Cold nights are the norm. Trekkers should be prepared to face large numbers of particularly savage mosquitoes in the low-lying areas from July to September.
It’s possible to stay for free in the open wilderness huts described above, each of which provides a gas stove and various pots and saucepans. Cutlery, however, is not provided. If you plan on cooking using your own gas stove, canisters and other supplies can be purchased in Saariselkä, approximately 10 km north of Kiilopää.
It’s advisable at all times, but especially during the busy autumn season (particularly September), to carry a tent or other shelter in case the huts are full. Alternatively, each of the wilderness huts on this route also include a reservable cabin, and bookings for these can be made in the Kolliskaira visitor’s centre 30km south of Kiilopää
While most rivers and streams on the route described are easily crossed, some other routes require wading, and riverbed rocks can be slippery. Mobile phone coverage is limited to the fell tops throughout most of the park.
As there are no English-langauge guidebooks available for the park, the Kolliskaira Outdoor Map (1:100000) is essential, and recommended for the relatively well worn trails of this route. This, along with more detailed maps are available at the Outdoors.fi online store, or Finland’s National Map Center online store.
Mark Roberts is a writer, photographer, and visual artist living in Rovaniemi, Finland. His blog, Backpacking North, features hiking trip reports from Lapland and beyond, as well as gear reviews, technique guides, and other high-quality content. He also offers limited-edition artist prints of his photographs online at Original Photo Art.