Starting Vuori-Kalaja trail at Southern Konnevesi National Park

Step into the winter wonderland: a winter walk in Southern Konnevesi National Park

Sometimes you just get an urge to get out of town, to go somewhere really quiet, with only few people around you. And if it’s winter time, what could be better than to be surrounded by the whitest snow, breathe the purest air and share the moment with a friend… So let’s go and visit one of our national parks!

There are 40 national parks in Finland; five of them are located in the province of Central Finland. To the south of Jyväskylä, there are Isojärvi National Park with its wooded hills and valleys, and Leivonmäki National Park with its easier marsh and esker terrain. The other three are north of Jyväskylä: about an hour’s drive takes you either to the old forests of Pyhä-Häkki or to the lakes and hills of Southern Konnevesi National Park, while the northernmost Salamajärvi National Park with its wild forest reindeer, pine woods and bogs adds another hour to the journey. All of these national parks are best reached with a car.

Our day trip destination was chosen based on my previous trips to Southern Konnevesi National Park: we would easily manage the trail to Vuori-Kalaja campfire shelter and back in a few hours, even with the limited daylight hours of late December. After parking our car at Törmälä we saw – to our delight – that there were already footprints on the snow-covered forest road towards the start of the Vuori-Kalaja trail.

Walking the Vuori-Kalaja trail in winter

There is no winter maintenance on the forest road so in this season be prepared to first walk 1.5 km from Törmälä to the (summer) parking area from where the Vuori-Kalaja trail begins.

I had packed two pairs of snowshoes in the car just in case, but the path trodden in the snow seemed easy enough to walk without them. We just added garters to protect our boots from snow and started following the narrow trail. The forest around us was simply magical.

Inspecting trail information at Vuori-Kalaja

After inspecting the trail information at Kalaja parking area we stepped onto the Vuori-Kalaja trail. From this spot it is only 900 meters’ walk to Vuori-Kalaja lean-to and campfire site.

Winter wonderland: snowy forest

That’s when we really felt like stepping into the winter wonderland! The snow covered birches, alders and firs all around us were simply amazing. Nature’s own sculptures!

Vuori-Kalaja lean-to in winter

Once we’d arrived at Vuori-Kalaja campfire shelter our first task was to make a fire and luckily, there was plenty of dry firewood available. Oh, where are my matches? There!

Campfire at Vuori-Kalaja shelter

A campfire is always a treat, but especially on a winter trip.

After the fire was happily burning, I stepped to the shore of the frozen lake and admired the snowy view: Kalajanvuori (Kalaja hill).

Kalajanvuori hill, Vuori-Kalaja

The snowy, steep cliffs on the opposite shore of lake Vuori-Kalaja were impressive in their almost black and white glory. There is something special about a winter landscape that lacks all the vivid colors of the other seasons: a certain serenity. Everything stands still, all is calm.

As the winter had until now been fairly mild, I knew that it wouldn’t be safe to step on the ice and walk across the lake to the cliffs (the ice just wasn’t solid enough yet) so it was better to stay on land rather than risk it. Time to take out the thermos flasks, sandwiches, and did someone mention a slice of cake?

Coffee break at Vuori-Kalaja shelter

We were already sipping our cups of tea and coffee and digging into the cake when we heard voices from behind the shelter.

Three young men with big backpacks arrived and sat down for a bit of rest before heading back to their car. The brave trio had spent a night sleeping outdoors at another campfire site in the national park. Wow! Yes, you can go hiking in the woods also in wintertime if you’ve got the right gear – but for some of us, just a day trip is quite enough…

Walking in the winter wonderland at Southern Konnevesi National Park

However, soon it was time to head back to the car and return to city lights, and enjoy the last minutes of winter magic in daylight before the drive home.

Hiker at Southern Konnevesi National Park, Central Finland. Photo:Upe Nykanen

The dusk was already beginning to fall when we met the next winter walker, a young hiker with impressive looking gear, carrying also a pair of snowshoes. Just in case – to allow him to walk where there was no trail! The serious hikers were going to the woods while we city girls were leaving…

I wonder if we should try winter camping next time?

Directions: how to get to Southern Konnevesi National Park

Map to Törmälä parking area | ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates  N=6941195.000, E=485582.000
Google Maps: Konnekoskentie 552, Rautalampi

Map, lean-to shelter at Vuori-Kalaja

This article has been previously published at visitcentralfinland.com.

Make friends with a reindeer – it’s easier than you think, as long as you’ve got some treats

In Northern Finland there are several reindeer parks where one can meet and feed some super cute domesticated reindeer.

One of these parks, a reindeer park called Kopara, is situated in Luosto area in the middle of Lapland. One day I went there with my husband and his daughter.

I must confess, I’m crazy about reindeer. I was much more excited about meeting these animals than the six-year-old was. She is born and raised in Lapland, so to her reindeer are not that exotic. I, however, come from Southern Finland, where there are no reindeer whatsoever.

In Lapland you can see reindeer herds roaming free practically anywhere. Those animals are quite shy: they are only semi-domestic. There are over 200 000 reindeer in Finland and each one of them has an owner. Somewhere.

In reindeer parks the animals are much braver: they are used to getting some treats from reindeer-loving tourists. That’s why they actually come running towards you to see if you have something yummy to give them.

In Kopara there is this big chest full of reindeer food in front of the fence. After having paid just a few euros you get to go there and feed the reindeer. Just take some food and hand it over to them. They won’t bite.

Reindeer don’t really enjoy being pet. They withdraw as soon as you run out of food pellets. Luckily, you can always give them some more treats from the chest. We spent about 15 minutes feeding these reindeer, before we got too cold (remember to wear some really warm clothes!)

In Kopara there is also a café and a souvenir boutique. They also offer a variety of reindeer experiences and they actually have a few celebrity reindeer as well. Read more here: Kopara homepage

This place is right next to Pyhä-Luosto National Park.

Learn more about Finnish reindeer here.

The polar night is not pitch black, it’s magically blue! See what Kaamos actually looks like

While walking my son to school yesterday morning we noticed a peculiar phenomenon – the Sun was rising!

Living in Finland teaches us from the birth that winters are long. Not because of the cold and snow but because of the long darkness.

Kaamos is a Finnish word for polar night. It’s a beautiful word and we do not have that many of those to begin with.

But what is it?

Faint glimmers of light paint landscapes to vistas of beauty. (Liesjärvi National Park, Southern Finland, January)

Kaamos or polar night occurs when the night lasts more than 24 hours. In southern parts of Finland where I currently live even the darkest day still has few hours of light in. But most of the time dark clouds veil the sky.

While living in Rovaniemi (that’s at the edge of Arctic Circle) the days were even shorter. And as a student spending the “days” at the University of Lapland I went days without seeing any kind of daylight.

December, photo taken around noon, Olos fell, Muonio, Lapland (Northern Finland)

Above the Arctic Circle the long night gets even longer. In Utsjoki (the northernmost municipality of Finland) kaamos lasts a little over fifty days. Imagine living in a place where it takes over a month to see any ray of light.

Samoyed dogs looking at river Teno in Utsjoki. This is what noon looks like in the northernmost parts of Finland during polar night.

It would seem that Kaamos is the source of stereotypical Finnish melancholy. It might very well be at least a part of that but it is also the source of much that is beautiful. You might have heard the saying that “it’s magical”. That is quite likely the most accurate impression anyone can give.

In Lapland kaamos mostly looks blue. Christmas eve (noon) in Sodankylä, Lapland, Northern Finland.

Polar night is a phenomenon that is hard to grasp in the current age of electric light and busy city schedules. It might sound banal but it is something that must be experienced.

Sun rising for the first time after polar night in Kittilä, Lapland.

At first it does not seem like that big of a deal. The night goes on and on. But the more you think of it, the more you feel of it, the more you begin to understand the grandness of it. It makes you feel small. And it makes you understand the vast scale of space and how multitudinous the Earth is.

The beauty of Kaamos can be found everywhere if you are willing to look. (Kangasala, Southern Finland, January)

And in that long night, in the wilds of Finland, it is most likely that you will witness the magnificent Northern Lights. In Finnish they are called Revontulet – a word that can be loosely translated to “Fox’s blaze”. And there are a lot of stories about what they are. But we’ll leave that to another time.

Auroras above a reindeer fence in Utsjoki during polar night.

So if you have heart for celestial phenomenon like Solar Eclipses I would recommend you to visit Finland during Kaamos. It will be an unforgettable experience!