Evo recreational area’s Digitrail route: mobile phone app guides you on the trail and gives forest yoga instructions

Evo, a village in Häme only a couple of hour’s drive from Helsinki, is best known in Finland for its highly recommended recreational area as well as the country’s oldest forestry institute. This Digitrail route* helps us explore both.

I did however already have a guide of my own, as I managed to convince my father, who graduated from the institute almost 60 years ago, to join me. This meant that there was guaranteed to be a healthy dose of forest knowledge, my father’s hilarious (for him) stories from his student days as well as a brisk progression through landscapes which were straight out of a Finnish forest industry textbook.

The Digitrail routes start from the Evo Centre, which was built as part of the institute to serve as the approximately 5000 hectare state-owned recreational area’s information centre. The campus area was built in the middle of three lakes, on a narrow isthmus.

From the Digitrail app, we chose the middle route which followed the running track towards the west and was then made up of two consecutive loops, about seven kilometres in total. Part of the journey is out and back along the same route.

At the start of the journey we were introduced to some ancient trees that were well over a hundred years old and around three metres tall. Their tall, thick trunks stood straight and with few branches, the way that trees are supposed to stand in an educational forest.

The Evo Forestry Institute specializes in teaching the multiple uses of the forest, so alongside economic values, it emphasizes the non-economic values of forest nature. When the lakes and the college were behind us, an impressive landscape opened out before us. In the old-growth forest, the beams shone with their absence; the trees grew as slowly and twisted as they wanted, leaning against each other until they finally fell down.

These kinds of free-growing forests are now rare, precisely because of the productivity dilemma surrounding forests. However, they maintain biodiversity by enabling habitat for many rare species of fauna and flora and are therefore valuable conservation and hiking areas. The atmosphere in the old-growth forest is something quite different than in the commercial forest; dusky and unhurried. The only one who might bother you here is the spider with his webs, and even he can’t always be bothered.

Even the creek had had enough of flowing and decided to stop. As a result, water flooded onto the trail, and saturated the land, which came as a small surprise to the trees that had managed to grow as tall as man. They had no option other than to give up.

After a few kilometers of wandering through the old-growth, we changed landscape again. Lush, spruce-dominated mixed forest made way for rugged dry terrain. The pines still stood strong, but grasses were sprouting all over the place.

The land’s rolling form started to become predictable, but before that Syrjänalunen forest pond and the lean-to on its shores provided a moment of rest – if one wanted to take it. Behind the lean-to and the dry toilet were split logs, a wide wooden mallet and metal blade bolted to a wooden chopping block, an ingenious way to split wood. Chopping wood was so easy and fun, that our hike was in danger of being abandoned.

With it being the end of August, the evening was starting to approach, so we left the opportunity to enjoy a small sense of achievement for others and continued our journey. On a steep, sandy slope there was a sign about the nature conservation work that is done in the area for the endangered habitats and the species that live in them. The forest had been felled, but plenty of seedling trees had been left on the slope.

On Evo Forest Institute land, the forest is regenerated by simulating small, controlled forest fires. The earth gets nutrients from the ash, and the fire makes room for fast-growing plants that later humbly make way for the stronger ones, after nourishing the soil. But for now they’re permitted to flourish for a little while.

The path narrows and starts to twist towards the Syrjänalusenharju ridge. The forest becomes darker and pine trees make way for spruce again. The map used by the app has described the steeply rising ridge in front with two elevation contours, which is quite modest, as this land formation created by the ice-age rises to 170 meters above sea level. The whole of the Evo area is located higher than its surroundings, making it a watershed, but the climb from the bottom to the top of the hill still looks about 80 meters.

The top of the ridge is probably the narrowest I’ve seen. The slope descends steeply on both sides and the hiker needs to keep his wits about him for about a kilometre.

The theme of the route is forest yoga, and stretching instructions appear on the phone display while up on the ridge. I try them out because the spot was worth stopping at. My dad sits on a rock, one of many which feel as though they have been placed alongside the path for exactly that reason. He already knew what Evo had to offer, but I was not prepared for such a fantastic views. Time just stopped…

… But the sun was continuing to set, so we continued on our journey. We descended the steep slope, sometimes holding onto the trees for support, and ended up in the armpit of the ridge, in the lush and rocky grove of Hautjärvi lake.

Expectations were high after everything we had seen up on the ridge, so after surviving the dense grove, we were glad to come across the exceptionally beautiful swamp scenery of Karvalampi. Duckboards varied in width from one to three, and some were in good condition whilst others were partly submerged. Long grasses reached over the boards and sometimes over the walker. Despite the dry summer, there was water on the surface and it was clear! Rarely does the swamp come so close!

The clarity is because Karvalampi swamp’s source is a spring. On the swamp’s south eastern edge, water breaks through to the surface from the side of the ridge. Water is drinkable and keeps cool throughout the summer.

And again the landscape changed. This time, we wove through kettle-hole terrain. The birth of the kettle-holes is as fascinating an ice age story as the birth of the ridge. For a long time trolls and spirits were suspected as being the culprits responsible, but these traces were actually caused by blocks of ice left buried under the sand.

Finally it was downhill to Evo Forest Institute. At times the route went along a forest truck road lined with plentiful long grass and thick aspens, and other times along a narrow path through the spruce forest. Tall spruces show an example to the younger ones, standing snags tell their own story and the huge cypresses on the edge of the clearcut area look lost, but stand firm and resolute.

You can download the app here.

Häme Nature Center on a map

*DigiTrail is a mobile application that works in nature like a navigator and thus lowers the threshold to explore nature areas. The application guides the traveller in the woods, shows nearby services and attractions. In addition, it provides interesting information, for example, about the history of the region and can be used to activate its users with different themes, such as forest related sports and cultural content.

Article: Heli Heikkilä

Photos: Tomi Pohja

Translation from Finnish: Becky Hastings

The stunning Liessaari Island in Lohja near Helsinki invites you to explore its nature trails and relax by the fire at a lean-to

Less than an hour’s drive from Helsinki, the city of Lohja offers you a good glimpse into the nature of Southern Finland. One of the most popular outdoor destinations in Lohja is the Liessaari Island. The magnificent nature trails of the island invite you to explore them in an easy way.

Few kilometres away from the centre of Lohja, there is a white wooden bridge stretching across the lake to the island of Liessaari. Loved by many, the bridge has appeared in thousands of photographs, and the long island, equally cherished as a local jewel, will offer you much to explore.

On the island, there is a special wellness trail, nature trail, beach and a lean-to. The Liessaari Island is a great place to visit with kids, and some of the trails are accessible even with prams.

If you are coming in from the centre of Lohja, you can hop on to the bus to Virkkala, and hop off at the Haikarinkatu bus stop. That leaves you a 1 km walk to the island. If you are travelling by car, you can park it on the parking lot just by the bridge. If you do not have your own car or if you want to go green, you can rent an electric car from the city of Lohja. Instructions in English are found at the bottom of the page. If it is summer and you are arriving by a boat, you can leave your boat on the guest pier of Villa Haikari a few hundred metres away.

I am strolling on a wooden bridge with a smile on my face. Although it’s November; said to be the darkest and gloomiest of all months here, the sky is completely clear today. The lake shimmers in the sun, and the reeds bask in the yellow light. Once I cross the bridge, I am greeted by the tall pine trees. Their roots extend like giant toes in the sandy soil. Right next to the pines there is a small metal fence with love locks and a sign that says “Beach of Love”.

I stop to study the map of a wellness trail. The trail goes around the island for 2,4 kilometres. The map is carved in a piece of wood and attached to a thick dead tree. Along the wellness trail there are several checkpoints that contain small tasks. The tasks provide a good and fun way for learning more about the nature of the island and the wellness experience nature bestows.

Unfortunately, the checkpoints are in Finnish, but if you have a local person with you, you can ask them to translate the instructions for you. The wellness trail is marked on the grounds with wooden Luonnontie tags which don’t stand out much. The wellness trail is partly shared with an old nature trail, which in turn is marked with blue pine cone signs. Be careful in places where the trails cross if you wish to stay on the right one. Don’t worry, though, because you will not get very lost even if you inadvertently take the wrong path.

The map guides me to start my journey at the wide trail on the east side of the island. Large black alders stretch their trunks and branches over the water. The city of Lohja is visible on the opposite shore: I can see the high-rises and the chimney-stacks of the factories.

The trail is bounded by decaying trunks covered with mesmerizingly green moss. When I walk further, I spot a steep slope on the left, and a rope leading up the slope. That’s one checkpoint along the wellness trail. The idea is to climb up the slope with the help of the rope, and come back down. The children love this task, and there’s no shame in trying it if you’re an adult, either! The rope task is a fun way to get your energy flowing for the rest of the trip!

Soon the trail starts to go uphill. Up on the cliffs, I find a large erratic; a remnant from the Ice Age. There is another checkpoint and a task that asks me to whisper my worries to the erratic. The erratic listens to my whispers silently and steadily as ever.

I glance over the Lake Lohjanjärvi, but I don’t want to rest longer yet. Soon, however, I have to. Just a few more turns further, and I find some wooden benches on the clifftop. Finally, I can take the load off my legs and have a cup of tea. There is something special in this place, something extremely relaxing. Right next to this place, lies one of the two discontinued granite quarries of the island. If you are not afraid of sheer drops, you can go and take a peek at the quarry, safely behind the balustrade.

I move on, enjoying the sunlight filtered through the trees. There’s something fascinating about the light in November. It is both golden and cold at the same time as it is both sharp and soft. The light creates deep shadows that accentuate the features of the landscape. The trees in the forests of Liessaari are also wonderful; unattended they grow in many places, stretching here and there, taking their own space and time.

I marvel the cliff face covered in thick, deep green moss, and lie down on a wooden platform built here beside the wellness trail. I look at the treetops and close my eyes for a while. I would have no trouble in falling asleep.

After I’ve moved on again, I come to a crossing where the wellness trail turns back to its origin. I don’t want to go back yet so I choose another trail that leads to a lean-to in the western part of the island. That will add almost 3 kilometres to my trip, but I am not in a hurry. The lean-to is located at the north shore, under a steep and rocky slope. A rope has been set there to help the climb up and down, and I use it gladly.

I can see smoke coming from the campfire site. There is a family there roasting sausages. The lean-to is a popular place for short weekend trips. I meet several people going to or coming from the lean-to. There’s a shed for the firewood on top of the hill. You might want to grab a few logs with you before you go to the lean-to. That way you can cut off an extra trip to the woodshed. Please put out the fire carefully when you leave if there’s no-one else at the lean-to after you.

On my way back I pace myself a little to beat the sun before it sets beyond the horizon. Still, I can’t help stopping every now and then to gaze at trees stripped bare by January. One particularly wonderful detail is a robust tree stump made look like a throne in the woods. I wonder, how long has it been there?

When I reach the point where I started, the sun shines barely on the sandy beach by the bridge. The temperature has fallen below zero; not much but enough to make my nose and cheeks tingle. I have spent a few hours in Liessaari, explored its forests and cliffs, and I feel totally happy and relaxed.

Article by Kukka Kyrö, translation by Mikko Lemmetti


Ruostejärvi recreation area is a hit with the kids, particularly with a fun new mobile app to guide you on trails

In cooperation with HAMK

If you’re hiking in the Häme region, north of Helsinki, you can take advantage of the fun Digitrail* mobile application that guides you through the nature trails. The idea of the application, developed by Häme University of Applied Sciences, is to work like a navigator on a particular trail, encouraging people to get out and explore nature.

There are five trail networks on the app, which we test in this new article series. We were now at the first app location that was ready for trial, which was the Ruostejärvi Recreation Area on the Häme Lake Highlands, in Tammela.

There are three route options for all locations: easy, medium and challenging. The starting point for each is the Häme Nature Center.

Photo: Tomi Pohja

This time we chose to test the easiest trail. On this route we could go investigate the kid’s all-time favourite, the cable boat!

I left any other maps behind, and we decided to just find our way using the app. Your position is shown on the map as a blue dot and the trail as a purple line with destination points show as map symbols. So off we went!

Photo: Tomi Pohja

First, we made our way through a dark and dense, spooky spruce forest, along an easy gravel path. Under the close-knit branches, even on bright summer’s day like today, the forest was dim. It was like being in another world.

Our journey continued. Next appeared a smaller path down which we were supposed to go. Summer was giving its best, pampering us with warm rays, but the mosquitoes were thankfully nowhere to be seen. A tree that had fallen over the path, which could have been an annoying barrier in other circumstances, now provided a perfect seat for a little rest. But only a little one, as the adventure must go on.

Moments later, the path came to the lakeshore, where it followed the lake until it reached the highlight of the trail, the cable boat. When I said that this place is perfect for kids, the next sight just confirmed it. Right at that spot there were four of them fishing with a rod and line.

Before we could even say hello, two boys already volunteered to help us over.

It didn’t take long for the boys to hoist us over. We exchanged a few words with them and then carried on our way.

After the cable boat, the path curves to the left, to the beautiful duckboards that take you to your final destination, a peaceful campfire spot. We sat there for a longer while. Taking refreshing sips of water, we relaxed in our surroundings, aware and present.

In fact, I’m not even sure how long we stayed, so our relaxation exercise did its job. Now in front of us was the other half of the journey, the same route back, at least up to the gravel path. From there we chose another fork offered by the app, which took as along the shore back to the nature centre, arriving right next to the swimming beach.

The app did its job well and delivered exactly what it promised. The path was excellent for children to walk along: suitably short, mostly easy to walk, but also a hill and some more uneven terrain that develops balance and motor skills. The fallen tree and the cable boat were the highlights.

Our testing continues, and in the next sections we will explore the DigiTrail further.

You can download the app here.

Häme Nature Center on a map

  • *DigiTrail is a mobile application that works in nature like a navigator and thus lowers the threshold to explore nature areas. The application guides the traveller in the woods, shows nearby services and attractions. In addition, it provides interesting information, for example, about the history of the region and can be used to activate its users with different themes, such as forest related sports and cultural content.

Spending the New Year’s Eve in Lapland – Happy New Year 2019!

We have already passed the winter solstice and days are getting longer, but the polar night is still going on in Lapland. There’s only around four hours of day light depending on which part of Lapland you are, and the colours of the Polar Night are magical in the winter wonderland throughout the short day.

Together with a group of friends we rented a cottage in Enontekiö, which is located in the North-West of Lapland near the Ylläs-Pallastunturi National Park. In this area it is pitch black during the night, and with a clear sky all the stars and the Milky Way are visible. We also had a lot of powder snow and just quiet backwoods around.

This was propably one of the best New Year’s Eves at least in my opinion, since everything was so calm and quiet and not a single fire work was seen. Only the nature’s own fire works; the northern lights. It was pretty awesome to end the year 2018 seeing auroras in the wilderness. For me it was the first time to capture them on camera! Although I live in Finland, and even not in the southern part where there are more human made lights, I’ve seen the northern lights only a couple of time in my life.

On the New Year’s Eve we grilled sausages by the camp fire on a Finnish laavu (lean-to) shelter, I was skiing cross country and on the evening we had sauna in our cottage and just had relaxing time before the polar lights!

On my behalf I wish you all a happy new year 2019! May it be great and filled with outdoor experiences spent in the nature!