Strömfors – Playground for Outdoor Lovers near Helsinki

Fancy paddling, supping, biking, climbing or yoga whilst enjoying old culture and nature? If you’re spending holidays near Helsinki, this is your place.

Only one hour drive from Helsinki, towards east, along the coast. After passing Loviisa you come across signs pointing to “Strömforsin ruukki“. Follow the signs and you end up to the most picturesque village, a true hidden gem that not even many Finns know about. It is like taking a time warp back to olden days. A time warp with all modern outdoor equipments you can dream of.

Strömfors is an idyllic old village. Perfect destination if you want culture, sights, nature and sports in one place. Photo: Kukka Kyrö

Photo: Joonas Talka

The cute little village of Strömfors is an old iron mill. Nowadays there is a hotel, cafes, artisan shops… and Strömfors Outdoor Factory.

Kayaking in the jungle

Strömfors has a variety of activities to offer with local guides. I personally recommend kayaking. The area is very unique, located in the delta of river Kymi (“Kymijoki”). There are many river branches to paddle. No roads, no houses, just water and bushy forest banks, teeming with all sorts of creatures. As a nature lover, I was in heaven! Rarely I get that WOW feeling so effortlessly and close to settlement, not having to drive hundreds of kilometres to reach the wilderness.

Photo: Kukka Kyrö

The islands are in fact nature reserves, hence there are no summer cottages on the banks as one would expect to see in southern Finland. We even saw an otter, normally a very shy animal to spot in the summertime. Also the delta next to Strömfors is fantastic for birding.

The roundtrip ends with a narrow jungle route.

You can paddle a short half an hour route around the islands closest to the iron mill, or take a longer 10 km round route to truly get the feeling of the surroundings, as I did. There is one point of extra physical work on the longer round route though – you need to carry the kayak over a dam.

Play with your favourite toys

The Strömfors area is known among climbers for some good rock walls. For the fans of trail running, there are nice trails, shorter and longer routes. You can also try fat biking here, but the longer routes are only for experienced bikers. All equipment and guidance you get from Strömfors Outdoor Factory.

Supping is one of the many activities you can try. These guys woke up at dawn to go for a paddle. Photo: Noora Säily.

After a hard days’ play, try some relaxing yoga and sauna – you will sleep like a baby in the old clay building from the 1800’s.

The Outdoor Factory yoga room is very zen. Soft, mindful yoga is taught here. Beginner friendly and relaxation guaranteed. Kuva: Karoliina Kaski.

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Strömfors Outdoor Factory homepage

Must see! The Secret Jewel in the Crown of Helsinki – Rhododendron Park of Haaga

If you are in Helsinki in the beginning of June, you really need to go to Haaga. Or if we are honest, it is worth to come and watch from a distance.  Rhododendron park of Haaga is just unbelievable.

I still remember when I found this place for the first time. When approaching the park I felt a pleasant scent that kept intensifying with each step.  When I was in the park, I thought: “People do not believe that in Finland we could have such parks”.

I closed my eyes and opened them again. It was like another world. I do not remember ever seeing anything like it. The place was filled by so much beauty that I was overwhelmed. In every direction my eyes could see huge rhododendron bushes blooming all at the same time.

The park was built when the University of Helsinki plant breeding science department crossed rhododendron varieties in the 1970s.  Now the place is a secret jewel in the crown of Helsinki. The park is also internationally unique. As many as eight acres of the area has nowadays nearly 3,000 rhododendron species. Beside rhododendrons, there are a whole bunch of azaleas in the park. Most of the bushes is 2–5 meters high.

You really need to see this park. Pictures show just a small part of the beauty when coniferous forest greenery is painted with new purple, white and pink shades.

If you want to experience all this, you need to have a perfect timing. Rhododendrons bloom for a short time, usually in the first two weeks of June.

You can on a criss-crossing the park paths and boardwalks through the rhohos and have a close view. The park also has viewing platforms from which you can admire the floral splendor also from above.

What?
Astonishingly wonderful 8 hectare park full of rhododendrons

When?

Usually the best time is two first weeks of June

Where?
Laajasuontie 37. 200 meters from Huopalahti station between the roads Paatsamatie and Eliel Saarisen tie.

There is a Game of Thrones themed hotel, and it is made of ice and snow and a little bit of magic – You must see these pictures!

In Lainio village of Kittilä, there is a snow village and a hotel, which rebuilt every year in November, when winter has came. This year, they worked together with the HBO Nordic and result is out of this world.

(Pic: Tuomas Kurtakko)

Winter is here. There’s no doubt. They created a stunning Game of Thrones-themed hotel, which is built entirely of snow and ice. The hotel is decorated with snow and ice sculptures inspired by tv-series.

(Pic: Tuomas Kurtakko)

There are icy Iron Throne, and a Mountain watching (I hope your relationship with the Cercei is ok).

(Pic: Tuomas Kurtakko)

A bar with dragon sculptures to have drinks of fire and ice.

(Pic: Tuomas Kurtakko)

A snowy Westeros map on the wall.

About  20 million kilograms of snow and 350 000 kilograms of natural ice are used to build this spectacular place.

(Pic: Tuomas Kurtakko)

Of course there is the Dragon slide, wanna try?

(Pic: Tuomas Kurtakko)

Guests can enter the Hall of Faces.

(Pic: Tuomas Kurtakko)

How about a wedding night in White Walker suite? Don’t forget the dragonglass!

(Pic: Tuomas Kurtakko)

Sculptures were made by nine best professional icesculptor from all over the world: from Russia, Ukraine and Poland, then had to Latvia.

Wanna have a room? Book here.

Wanna visit?

Snow Village is open for visitors daily 10-22. Last entrance is 21:00.

Address

Lapland Hotels Snow Village
Lainiotie 566
99120 Kittilä

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Greetings from Santa’s homeland – this is what winter in Lapland actually looks like!

Greetings from Santa’s homeland!

See what winter in Lapland actually looks like. These 12 photos were taken in different parts of Lapland and they were selected by us especially for you. Merry Christmas everybody!

Auroras above a farm in Kittilä.

Ounasjoki river, Rovaniemi.

Frozen door. Saariselkä, Inari.

Dog in a white forest in Sodankylä.

Reindeer on a frozen river bank in Kittilä.

Sudden snowfall in Sodankylä.

Auroras above a reindeer fence in Utsjoki.

Noon in northern Finland during the polar night.

Forest of old pine trees, Sodankylä.

Fishermen’s cabins by lake Jerisjärvi in Muonio.

Äkäsjoki river in Muonio.

Samoyed dogs looking at river Teno in Utsjoki.

Happy birthday Finland!

Today Finland is turning 100 years and celebrated it by lighting up one of Finlands most iconic fell, Saana. All the way up north in the town of Kilpisjärvi stands 1029 meters above sea level a fell of which everyone in Finland knows. We went to see how it looks like and it was magnificent.

A Rock like no other – the Kummakivi of Ruokolahti

In this little Finnish village called Ruokolahti, by the greatest lake of the country lies one of the most spectacular remains of the last ice age. Yes, yes we have all seen the ridges and kettle holes but this is quite something you would not expect.

There is about a kilometer long walk from the nearest point where you can leave your car. We walk through some wet areas so rubber boots or something waterproof for you feet is recommended. After crossing a clumsy looking bridge made out some branches the path finally takes some higher ground and your feet will be safe or dry at least.

We are arriving into a regular looking forest with absolutely no hints of anything special. After a while of walking it hits us by a surprise even though we had already seen the pictures beforehand.

And there it is, a massive rock standing on its own pedestal. It is not even that common to come across to a rock this size not to talk about it balancing on another rock. It seems that you’ll be able to flip it over anytime, but not even 10 000 years have done it.

Another interesting thing is that the rock beneath the other one is almost perfectly smoothened out. It looks like something you would expect to see by the sea or somewhere in the middle of great rapids, but here in the middle of the forest it just looks like it doesnt belong in here.

I’m pretty confident this is something quite unique even in larger scale. It is something you won’t come across in any other place in Finland and I doubt to find something like this anywhere. This such a peculiar rock, and that’s exactly what it’s called here in Finland: Kummakivi.

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At the edge of the sky

Volunteering in a National Park, in addition to hard work, contains some serious hiking.

On our second week in August 2016 we came to Pallas, so an opportunity to finally scale the Taivaskero Fell arose. On our last visit here we had to skip it due to extreme conditions. Taivaskero is the tallest one in the chain of fells, towering at 807 meters above sea level.

The weather was spectacular by the time our shift ended at 3 o’clock so after a tasty communal work meal we took on the fell. The sun was already pretty low and we witnessed a wonderful halo phenomenon on our way up.

The path to Taivaskero starts from the courtyard of Pallas Hotel with a “light” 4 kilometer ascend. You’ll come across an intersection with a sign post and from there it’s about a kilometer of rocky uphill. I wouldn’t recommend the route to anyone with bad feet. On your way and once you get there, remember to look back every once in a while. The top of Taivaskero is broad and wide so there are plenty of different landscapes available. On the highest point you’ll find a pile of rocks with a plaque commemorating the lighting of the Olympic torch in 1952. They had to replace it due to skiers damaging it when trying to scrape snow and ice off to get a clear view of the plaque.

Taivaskero is also known for its ferocious winds. So even if you don’t feel a breeze at the hotel, practice extreme caution once you get all the way up.

The path goes along the Laukkukero fell and continues down the ski-lift trail. The view is incredible the whole way down.

On a clear day you can see into amazing distances and the light preceeding the sunset looks mezmerising. The opposing skyline was all in pastel colors.

On our hike we noticed a hang glider up in the sky. They were up there for the entire time. I bet the view was even more stunning from their perspective.

The return toward the hotel is a steep path down but about half way there we turned left at a”To the hotel” sign. We followed a small path serpenting down the hill. The almost ghost-like woods we walked through took us right to the backyard of the hotel.

If you’re ever around Pallas or on the Hetta-Pallas hike, be sure to take the extra mile to see Taivaskero. It really is worth it.

//Anne

In August through September of 2016 we were volunteering at Pallas-Ylläs National Park. We applied a new coat of paint to several huts and other buildings, first in Hetta’s Pyhäkero and later around the vicinity of Pallaskota. Everything involving this particular experience can be found under the tag National Park Volunteers. That and The earlier adventure aka our first Lapland hike can be found here.

This article was originally published on Likelygonehiking.com.

Beauty of the primeval forest warms the black winter: Haltiala forests, HELSINKI

It is raining outside and the weather is cold and dark. In Finland you can’t trust the weather, as on one day everything is white and full of snow and the next day it melts away. Sometimes it is difficult to find beauty from the pools of water in the streets, but it is there, when you just look around.

We went out, braving the weather, and found a true fairytale forest just near the city center.

Haltiala Forest Path is a three kilometers long marked path in the woods that you are able to follow by small pine cone signs that are set along the path. Haltiala Forest Path is a perfect trip you can walk easily through, as the terrain is easy to walk, with causeways and wide paths. Haltiala also has a longer, seven kilometers long path for the challenge seekers. To follow that path you must look out for yellow marks.

Haltiala Forest Path serves wonderful things to seek – long beautiful causeways, huge rocks from the ice age, dark primeval forest and the animals that are living along the path.

On a dark rainy day, you would think, that nature around you is closed and silent – but it is full of life. When you stop for a moment, you can hear birds singing and see small movement in the ground when animals run to their home nests. Raindrops fall and splatter to the ground and the wind blows through the trees. The rain brings out wonderful new details, colours and scents of nature.

On the path, you can also see the big rocks that have come to their places during the ice age. They can be almost 13 000 years old and were dragged to their current places when the icecap started to melt. They are a beautiful sight and strange things to see, as they feel completely out of context in the forest.

Walking in the forest, we started to wonder how amazing it is to stand in the middle of tall trees, on top of green moss, when we were just a while ago in the busy city.

The forest did not mind the rush of everyday life, let alone a change of weather. Therefore, we strayed from the path and sat down on a large tree trunk, listening to the forest around us. It was humming silently and suddenly our everyday worries and the constant chatter of the mind just faded away.

A black, rainy forest had left a peaceful yet exciting feeling – how beautiful nature is. In the middle of black winter you can find true beauty.

Haltiala on the map.

Finding Santa’s Childhood Home

Everybody knows where Santa Claus a.k.a Father Christmas really lives right? It is not North Pole. Santa lives in Korvatunturi, Lapland! But if you’d fancy seeing what his childhood home looked like, you have to climb up the grand Levi fell in Kittilä. Or take a gondola straight up.

santa4

Levi in the arctic night, kaamos as we call it. Photo: Mira Pyy

The talk about North Pole is just to cover the true story about Santa’s home. All of us Finns know it. Korvatunturi is a fell far far away in Urho Kekkonen National Park, very near the Russian border in Eastern Lapland. You actually need a special permit if you want to go there. In addition, it is 20 km from the nearest road so a bit of a hike by feet or skis. Santa chose well as there are not many nosy children snooping around before Christmas.

Santa’s childhood

In 2007 a movie was filmed called Christmas Story (Joulutarina, directed by Juha Wuolijoki). It tells a tale about a little boy Nicholas who later became Santa Claus. As a boy he lived in a cute little cottage high up on a fell.

Santa’s cottage. Rising up with the gondola you can see the rooftop of the cottage when nearing the top.

Guess what, the cottage filmed in the movie is still there! You can go visit it, if you find it. There are no signposts, you just have to know where to go.

santa6

We came here by skis, me here with alpine skis, my friend with telemarks. Photo: Mira Pyy

The way to the cottage

It is situated on the southwest side of the fell, near the top, off piste, in between the gondola (World Cup and west pistes) and lift number 11 (south pistes).

In the winter you get there by snowshoeing, skinning up with skis, or the easiest option: by taking a gondola from the Levi ski resort up to the top, and descend down a bit, preferably by skis or snowshoes or you will sink in the snow up to your waist.

In the summer you get there by hiking up or by downhill biking (one track passes the cabin).

It is an adventure finding the cottage, plus a perfect place for a break, away from the piste lights. My friend Mira is admiring the view to the neighbouring fells Aakenus and Kätkätunturi.

The gondola starting point
Map pointing Santa’s cottage

Julma Ölkky’s (Cruel Canyon) rugged ring route, Ölökyn Ähkäsy

I scanned the Ölokyn Ähkäsy (this roughly translates as the Canyon Groan in local dialect) ring route on the map. It didn’t look too bad, only around 10 kilometres long. However, when I asked about the route at Hossa’s visitor centre and talked to people who had done it, all of them warned me that it was extremely tough and demanding. I needed to set aside at least 5-6 hours. Apparently there are great changes in elevation and lots of rocks and roots.

But I was willing to take on the challenge. I put on my hiking boots and backpack. In my backpack I had packed the minimum amount of gear: a camera with acouple of lenses, a couple of sausages, a sandwich and 2 bottles of water. It’s important to be careful on the route, as your mobile phone won’t pick up any signal apart from at the highest points.

As the crow flies, it’s about 5 kilometres along Ölökyn Ähkäsy to the Ölkynperä (Canyon rear) lean-to and back. Just by looking at the map you can tell that the views are going to be rugged and spectacular. After all, we are at  Julma Ölkky (Cruel Canyon), one of Finland’s three largest canyon lakes born of a large crack in the land. The others two are Iso Helvetinjärvi (Big Hell’s Lake) and the Toriseva canyon lakes in Virrat.

History and geology

The birth of the gorge took place more than 2 billion years ago. The canyon is a rift valley, which is caused by earthquakes or transitions in the ancient continents. Later the ice age honed the rift, but the traces are clearly visible on the vertical wall that towers almost 50 metres out of the lake. The canyon already looks quite impressive when viewing it on Google Earth.

The Toriseva canyon lakes and Helvetinkolu in Helvetinjärvi (Hell’s Lake) National Park were formed in the same way. This canyon formation process is however completely different to that of Oulanka’s canyon, where water and ice have carved the gorge from the bedrock.

Route

The trail starts from Julma Ölkky’s parking place, which is around a 20 minute drive from Hossa’s visitor centre. It must be said,  the road was not in the best condition. A little Fiat will hit its undercarriage, if you don’t drive carefully.

At the starting point there is a summer cafe, which had just gone into hibernation. It’s open until 31.8. When it’s open, you can explore Julma Ölkky on a guided boat tour.

I approached the circuit following the signposts, which take you counter-clockwise along a route marked with orange dots. I chose 10am as my departure time, as the sun was shining appropriately from the east, its light hitting the west shore. The canyon’s orientation is pretty much north to south for the whole length, which meant that for the final part of the journey the sun would be shining from the west and lighting up the canyon walls on the eastern shore.

Already half a mile in, the scenery was reminiscent of a fantasy film. I felt like calling Hollywood and asking them to come here and film a remake of Lord of the Rings.

On the outward journey, the path runs right along the edge of the rocks, so I ended up having to stop repeatedly to take pictures of scenes that were even more  impressive than the last. What a nuisance.

However, those with vertigo need not worry. You don’t have to go so close to the edge if you don’t want to. Just as I thought I had reached the best spot, a more spectacular view opened out before me a few minutes along. Every now and then I heard the sound of a waterfall. A number of waterfalls formed from streams flow out from the canyon walls and from some of them you can see rainbow colours in the evening sun.

Those who like climbing can scramble up the cavity called the Devil’s church, where you can find a guest book. This time I left the Devil in peace and continued my journey.

Approximately halfway to the lean-to, the canyon splits into two parts. The lake continues along the western gorge and the eastern depression, Sitkansola, is essentially swamp. The scenery certainly didn’t get any worse.

Finally I reached the lean-to at Ölkynperä, where I met 3 sausage barbecuers. I told them about Värikallio (Colour Rock), a few kilometres away, where you can see amazing rock paintings from thousands of years back. Together we agreed that you can find everything in Hossa, and that it had most definitely earned its new status as a National Park in honour of Finland’s 100th Year of independence.

After this, no more people crossed my path.

On the way back the terrain is more forested and some of it is quite far from the rock’s edge. It was this proportion that was full of steep climbs and descents. However, in a few places, I came across a viewing point. Julma Ölkky’s own ancient rock paintings are near the water’s edge, but they can be better seen by boat.

Summary

The Ölökyn Ähkäsy route is indeed challenging, but I still wouldn’t say that it’s a bad route, as long as you are in possession of good basic health and your legs function properly. I completed the trip with a few photos and breaks in a total of 4 hours, walking on my own. With a group, it would probably take 5-6 hours. And if you go the gym, it might be a good idea to do some extra squats!

I recommend wearing hiking boots to protect your ankles, but in good dry weather you will probably be fine in trainers. Doing the trek in autumn, I had to cross a few swampy areas that were a couple of metres wide, which would have meant my socks getting wet if I wasn’t wearing proper hiking boots.

I don’t recommend the route for children, unless they have a lot of hiking experience. Even my 67 year old father stayed behind at the cottage making food. Although this wasn’t due to his age, rather the knee surgery that he had a couple of months ago.

Making the most of digitalisation, I saved my route onto my mobile and in reality it works out at around 12km, with changes in elevation on top of that. From a scenery freak’s point of view, I must say that it’s an impressive canyon and totally underrated.

Perhaps when it becomes a National Park, awareness of this amazing place will grow. Even though more publicity does of course mean more use, which carries its own risks, it is still the kind of place where all Finns should be encouraged to come and marvel at their own natural wonders instead of jetting off to Gran Canaria. Lapland is of course Lapland, but you don’t always need to disappear beyond the arctic circle to see something unique. Highly recommended!

Map to Julma Ölkky’s car park | ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates NLat 7270314 ELon 607372

GoogleMaps: Julma-ölkyntie 82, Kuusamo

Map to the lean-to at Ölkynperä

This article was executed in cooperation with the municipality of Suomussalmi. The author stayed at Camping Hossan Lumo during the trip.