The tree of life – the enchanting oak of Paavola

Article by Tomi Pohja

Have you ever heard of the word Yggdrasil? If you have read fantasy books, delved into old Scandinavian mythology or maybe seen the movie Avatar, you would have come across references to a large and mysterious “tree of life” in one form or another. Then you may have wondered if those kinds of trees really exist. They do.

📌 Parking area for the oak of Paavola: Pietiläntie 23, Lohja

Growing in Lohja, the oak of Paavola reaches for the sky, spreading her branches over a large area and taking the spectator to a place known only from fairy tales and fantasies. I have been visiting the oak at least once a year, because I can’t get enough of it. I have lost count of how many times I’ve made the journey to see the fabled tree. This is one of those times.

Estimates say that the ancient oak is over 300 years old. It grows in Lohjansaari Island, about an hour’s drive from the centre of Helsinki. Driving to the island is an experience in itself, and visiting the site where the tree is, only adds to it. Green landscapes follow one another, and time goes fast by.

We turn from Hankoniementie to Lohjansaarentie. After some old railway tracks by the roadside, the road is lined by countless fields and orchards. Then we move on to Jalassaari Island and after that we cross the bridge to Lohjansaari Island. We can feel that we’re getting close to the oak of Paavola.

There is a boat launching site by the bridge of Lohjansaari Island.

Along the way to the island we have been transported to another world. The sounds of traffic or the city don’t carry here. Instead, the air is filled with the song of at least half a dozen different birds. At this time of the year, the symphony of natural sounds is almost overwhelming.

Soon after crossing the bridge to Lohjansaari, we see the first signs pointing to the oak of Paavola. There’s a nature trail of about 1 kilometre leading from the parking area to the oak. Some might mistake a huge oak growing by the parking area for the oak of Paavola, but that’s not “The” oak. The one and only oak of Paavola is growing deeper in the forest.

Parking is free, and so far there has been room for cars every time I have visited the oak. This time I can see few other cars as well.

On the other side of the parking area, there is an old school of Lohjansaari. It was founded in 1898, and the last classes were held in 2014. In 2018, a café called Ö Cafe was established on the premises. Currently, it’s open on weekends and during the summer. During our visit, however, the café was closed.

If you are planning to come here for a coffee, please check for the opening hours. Please also note that the schoolyard is private property, so if you have no business there, don’t trespass.

The nature trail starting from the parking area goes up to the cliff in front of the school. Already during the first few metres, you get a glimpse of the diverse vegetation that exists on the island. Smaller oaks are also growing in intervals along the path.

Stopping for a while to admire the beautiful colours of the red campion.

After the cliff, the path goes deeper into the deciduous forest, giving us some relief from the heat of a sunny day. Oaks, linden (lime) trees and hazels surround us when we walk on the path, having no worry of getting lost off the trail.

There are also 15 information boards along the trail with facts on the flora and nature of the region. If you take plenty of time to stop on each checkpoint, you’ll get the most of it. Unfortunately, the information is provided in Finnish only.

The 8th information checkpoint says that cones and nuts are important food for many animals.
There are several nesting boxes in the trees, and many birds are indeed nesting, by the sheer sound of them.

A little before the oak of Paavola, the trail turns into a wooden causeway. This is one of my favourite legs along the trail, since I’ve always found wooden causeways somehow intriguing. I feel like rolling on without effort.

On the left, the dense grove of oaks, lindens and hazels gives way to birch trees for a while. This place is at its best in the summer, when the shades of green mix with white, providing a simple but beautiful colour palette.

Eventually, the causeway ends and the path splits in two branches. One of them leads to the oak of Paavola, and the other to the last leg of the nature trail. We are obviously taking the one to the oak.

The path branches off towards the oak of Paavola and to the final section of the nature trail.

When the deciduous forest finally gives way entirely to spruces, we know that we are close to our destination. A little while ago, we saw lilies of the valley and ferns, but there is also a lot of wood horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) around the oak. We haven’t even noticed that we are walking faster now. The oak is clearly pulling us towards it.

I clearly remember how I felt when I first saw the oak of Paavola. At first, I couldn’t believe that it was true. Then, I acknowledged that the tree was actually there and started measuring the height, breadth and girth of it with my eyes. Still, everything about the tree defied belief. Finally, I was so mesmerized by it that I didn’t want to leave its presence at all.

If I remember correctly, this is the sixth time already I’ve been here. However, I still feel the same as on the first time. Standing in the middle of a clearing, on top of a mound, the oak is one of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen.

The oak has been so popular that to protect its delicate trunk, roots and other vegetation beneath it, causeways and a fence has been built. According to some estimates, the oak of Paavola is over 300 years old. Some oaks can live up to a thousand years when they are left alone. This tree is protected by law as a natural monument. Moving on the area is restricted, and climbing the tree is strictly forbidden. You must also stay on the paths. Littering and firemaking is also prohibited.

It is not exactly sure how old the oak is, but it is old nonetheless – and beautiful.

The oak of Paavola is so huge that it seems to defy laws of nature. Its limbs reach as far as 10 metres from the main trunk, and its height is about 12 metres. One of the most prominent features is its girth: almost 5 metres. The roots of the tree are in many places visible above ground. By the looks of it, the tree must have been a place of worship during the centuries. However, it’s only a speculation.

There’s something unreal about the moss-covered limbs overhead and the rays of light shining through.

We spend a while in its splendour. Then, it’s time to get back to the crossroads of the nature trail. The oak has nourished our hearts and minds.

After the crossroads, the trail continues as beautiful as before. We slow down to enjoy the atmosphere and wildlife as long as possible.

The scenery changes completely after a few hundred metres. Here is the fruit orchard Fruticetum. The path turns to the right, running alongside the orchard fence for a while until it goes back into the forest. In addition to the birdsong and fantastic flora, the smells feel almost tangible. Air here feels really clean.

Before we get back to the parking area, we spot a dead old oak – impressive as well.

Instead of getting back home, we head to the beach. We have packed our swimsuits and some lunch with us. The heat of the day and almost cloudless sky demand a dip into the clear waters of Lake Lohjanjärvi.

We turn right from the parking area, which is the opposite direction where we came from. The signs by the roadside tell us that it’s about 2 kilometres to the beach. After a while, we see another sign saying that there’s only 1 kilometre left. Eventually, the road ends on an iron bar and to a small, unmarked parking area. We leave our car in the shade of the trees and continue on foot down the gravel road towards the beach. There are also few other swimmers enjoying the hot summer day.

Dipping into the lake in water which is nice and warm, crowns the day already filled with experiences. Fording on the sandy bottom was nice, and swimming was easy. There is also an outdoor toilet and information board on the beach. On the board, you can see how clean the water is and when the water samples were taken.

We packed up our things and headed home. Any trip to Lohjansaari Island is different each time, but always as rewarding. The oak of Paavola is an exceptionally beautiful tree with enormous presence in itself, but the total experience with the lake scenery and nature trail is always more than the sum of its parts.

In addition to the oak, there’s a lot more to see and visit, like the café Ö Cafe, the apple wine farm Alitalon omenaviinitila, the old estate of Martinpiha and the antiquities and green room Antiikki ja viherhuone Elegans. This makes sure that when you’re planning for a trip to the oak of Paavola, you can see much more!

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

A Shockingly Good Spring

Spring in my opinion always feels very short in Finland. One minute it’s snowing and the next there’s green everywhere. I’ve been happily taking photos on the lake shores again now that the ice has thawed away. Old and familiar rocks have popped up and have been happy to model for me once again, their stoic expressions unchanged since last autumn. I have also been incredibly fortunate enough to capture some amazing photos from the first storm of this past spring, a memory that I will never forget. Below are some photos from spring.

Above: Out of the winter and into spring. This photo was captured during the early period of spring when the lake had not yet completely thawed. I was so happy to see some nice reflections again in the lake. Things were beginning to wake up and slowly come to life.

Above: A cloudy and windy day in the beginning of May. There were still a few days of snow during that month.

Above: Golden reeds at golden hour along a lake shore in Joensuu.

Above: A fine art landscape from a lovely sunset here in Joensuu. I’ve been happy to get back into these kind of simple Finnish landscapes. The water is always so clean and inviting, despite how cold it can be at this time of the year.

Above: The start of a stormy night. The clouds moved with power and showed their dominance over the evening sky. This photo was taken shortly after sunset. I decided to stick around just in case I could be lucky enough to photograph a great storm.

Above: This was from the same stormy night as the previous photo. The storm came right over me and I was so lucky to capture one of my best images of this year. The timing could not have been better and I was extremely satisfied to capture these two lightning bolts in one photo. This was the first storm of spring and an incredible experience to be a part of. I cannot get over the wonders of nature.

Above: Another photo from the stormy night.

Above: The green has returned! It’s amazing how quickly the scenery changes around this time of the year. This is just a simple image of some birch trees here in Joensuu. It’s gotten even greener since then.

Now that summer is here, the endless nights are here too. I look forward to spending late nights and early mornings exploring in the Finnish nature. It is a blessing to be here and every day brings new possibilities and new sights to see. It’s time to grill, sauna and swim 🙂

I hope that you all have a fantastic summer and enjoy the beautiful Finnish nature!

The paradise of Ramsholmen

Article by Johanna Suomela

For years, at the time when the wood anemones are in perfect bloom, I have travelled to my cottage passing the Town of Ekenäs and the grove paradise of Ramsholmen. I have always dreamed of stopping by the grove to marvel the breath-taking beauty it offers in the spring. I am happy, though, that I have not done it in passing, because Ramsholmen deserves a proper and unhurried visit.

The 55-hectare forest park of Ramsholmen is made of three adjacent areas: the cape of Hagen and the islands of Ramsholmen and Högholmen. A wide bridge leads from Hagen to the island of Ramsholmen. In Högholmen, there is a narrower and longer bridge. Going along the beautiful bridge over the cane grass-adorned river bed, we embark on a trip to see how spring in the grove paradise looks like.

Getting warmed up in Hagen

I have my trusted travel companion Jetsu with me. He is a Labrador retriever and he’s fond of everything outdoor. He is on a lead, because we are in a nature preservation area.

In the unlikely event that some dog-owner does not remember this, there is a sign to remind them that it is mandatory to have pets on a lead. Having pets secured ensures the nesting peace of birds and protects other wildlife as well. We had to pose by the sign for the first photograph.

To guide the travellers, there is also a signpost by the wide gravel road of Hagen, nicely covered in moss.

Today, we are walking with our senses open. We stop, look, listen and sniff. Both of us. Although the small town of Ekenäs is only a stone’s throw away, suddenly it feels that we are in a different world altogether.

It is so quiet and peaceful that you could almost hear things growing. Only birdsong breaks the silence. A bird expert could probably name all the singers, but I recognize only a few.

Ramsholmen is still ahead, but I am already in total awe. They’re everywhere – the wood anemones – as far as the eye can see! These are the provincial flowers of Uusimaa.

The grove paradise of Ramsholmen makes my head spin way before we even reach the actual place.

In addition to the wood anemones, Hagen has two old villas, built in the 19th century. The other villa, painted yellow, is located at the southern tip of Hagen. If we kept walking along the southern shore of Hagen towards the east, we would reach the camping ground of Ekenäs.

If we wanted to stay overnight, the Tammisaari Camping ground would be the closest possible site for setting up a tent, because camping is not allowed in Ramsholmen.

The island of Ramsholmen is also accessible

After a short and easy hike, we come to the bridge that leads to Ramsholmen.

I cross the sturdy bridge with my canine buddy. The paths on the island of Ramsholmen are smooth, wide and hard-surfaced.

This place grows greener and greener by the day. It allows access for almost any type of unmotorized vehicle; a pram, wheelchair or a bicycle for instance.

We see many people of all types and ages: there are people with children enjoying nature; single people exercising with their headphones on, people listening only birds, and people with dogs.

What connects all of them is nature. They have come here to feel better and to reduce stress, and what would be a greater place than this green oasis!

I would have no problem of spending the whole day and enjoying life here; the nature of Ramsholmen is so unique. I could sit down on a bench for rest, or go for a picnic. There’s also a beach in case it gets hot or if I want to go for a swim.

Are you really hungry, but didn’t bring any lunch with you? No problem, because the beautiful centre of the Town of Ekenäs is only a little more than a kilometre away. There you can find all necessary services.

Enchanting little bloomers of Ramsholmen

The wood anemone and other beautiful flowers in the grove bloom early in the spring just before the trees come into leaf. This happens because there’s plenty of light to reach the forest floor. When the trees are in full leaf, the amount of light on the ground is reduced.

I suddenly hear a low buzz. Where does it come from? Looking up, I can see where: many hardwood trees of the grove bloom before they come into leaf, and numerous busy bumblebees are doing the best they can to pollinate as many flowers as possible. Those chubby little friends are keeping busy!

Ramsholmen is renowned for its wood anemone. But there’s more.

Along the numerous paths and trails in Ramsholmen, there are wooden posts with numbers on them. By following the numbers, you can spot at least these trees and plants: wych elm (Ulmus glabra), ash (Fraxinus excelsior), black alder (Alnus glutinosa), mountain currant (Ribes alpinum), red-berried elder (Sambucus racemosa), bird cherry (Prunus padus), fly honeysuckle (Lonicera xylosteum), European larch (Larix decidua), English oak (Quercus robur); the highest elm in Finland by the dance hall, white elm (Ulmus laevis), hazel (Corylus avellana), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), small-leaved linden (Tilia cordata) and rowan (Sorbus aucuparia).

One of the other tree species that’s found plenty in the grove is the Norway maple (Acer platanoides). It too blooms early in spring.

Looking back down towards the ground, I see some yellow wood anemones (Anemone ranunculoides) in the midst of the white ones. I have rarely seen the yellow species, perhaps this is the first time ever that I have come across them?

With white wood anemones, Ramsholmen is also sporting the yellow ones.

Suddenly, I see blue everywhere.

Although the fumewort (Corydalis solida) is one of the first flowers to have started blooming, they are still looking so beautiful!

Even after the anemones have stopped blooming, the grove doesn’t rest. The paradise grove is teeming with life. A group of other plants is waiting for their turn, such as herb paris (Paris quadrifolia) and the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris).

When the ostrich fern begins to flaunt its feathers, Ramsholmen starts to resemble a lush jungle. That I would like to see. So I have to come back in the summer.

The leaves of herb paris are working their way up through the anemones.
The ostrich fern is fluffing its feathers ready for summer.

The lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) is too almost ready to spring up. In a matter of days, it will be spreading all over the place, both physically and in scent.

It seems, though, that the bird cherry will take the first place in the competition of which plant smells the strongest. It will most likely be the first one to pop open its inflorescence.

The bird cherry is about to bloom as well.

A rank outsider takes the race of bloomers in the early spring. The first runner-up will be the Norway maple. I don’t remember ever looking the inflorescence of the ash tree so close. Oh my goodness the beauty of it!

The inflorescence of the ash is as pretty as a pearl.
The hazel has done most of its pollinating.

Högholmen is a wilderness-like natural sanctuary a stone’s throw away from Ramsholmen

Whereas the island of Ramsholmen is easy to walk on, the neighbouring wild Högholmen is a different story altogether.

A beautiful, long and narrow bridge is leading to Högholmen. Someone has left two bicycles waiting by the bridge. That is a smart thing to do, because Högholmen is no place for bikes. The narrow, in some places root-covered paths, are unforgiving and would turn to mud when it’s wet.

We decide to take our trip counter-clockwise around Högholmen. The path is leading to the jungle-like grove.

The wooden causeways suggest that this place must be quite wet when it’s raining. Along the way, there’s also a small bridge to cross.

After the wild grove, the path begins to go upwards, and more and more coniferous trees appear. Finding their way through the rocky ground, the roots of the trees have made the trail very uneven.

A rare gem: a single-room apartment with all the amenities?

We are admiring the view on the cliffs of the southwestern tip of Högholmen.

On the cliffs, there are many dead trees still standing upright. If we were to stay longer, this would be a perfect place for watching the sunset.

There are many black marks on the cliff. That means that someone has made a fire here, which is not allowed. It should be remembered that making an open fire is not a so-called everyman’s right. Campfires are only allowed on designated campfire sites. Other than that, you will always need the landowner’s permission.

The ornate dead tree of Högholmen

On the southeastern slope of Högholmen, the coniferous trees give way to deciduous ones once again, and the trail becomes easier to tread. The only exception is a fallen dead tree that cuts the path.

Fallen trees have their own and important function in the ecosystem and in preserving the biodiversity. Trees offer hiding places for insects and food for birds.

There are benches in Högholmen, too. Although just simple plank ones, as you would expect to see in a place like this, they still offer good resting places.

Sit down for a while and look around to catch the fleeting spring.

You could also study the little leaves of the rowan, or the modest inflorescence of the mountain currant. Or explore the lilies of the valley which grow so abundant that you could find them with your eyes closed – so strong is their scent.

Rowan
Mountain currant (Ribes Alpinum)

On our way back to Ramsholmen’s side, we stop and log a geocache by a bridge crossing Blindsund. The cache seems to require some serious maintenance.

While we were having an adventure in Högholmen, the sun had gone hiding behind a curtain of clouds. It is the night before May Day (also called Walpurgis Night) and many people have arrived in Ramsholmen to celebrate the event.

We spot a yellow dance hall still in use during the summer months, and the forlorn remains of a summer theatre that was built over a hundred years ago. Nature is slowly claiming the land back, and trees are growing between the rows of benches.

On the side of the wide main trail, there lies a weird-looking rotten tree. How would that seem through child’s eyes? A dinosaur, crocodile or perhaps something else?

We have explored Ramsholmen back and forth and over again. My sport watch has tracked almost seven kilometres. Could have been lot less if we’d been just taking a straight route.

What does spring in the centre of Ekenäs look like?

Spring evening at the centre of Ekenäs might look interesting. Actually, on our detour we get an unforeseen bonus: Sargent’s cherry (Prunus sargentii) is blooming pink like crazy next to the former town hall which is also brightly coloured yellow.

The old town hall of Ekenäs is beautiful. Although the sign for tourist information still exists on the corner of the building, the actual information point is elsewhere. It is located 120 metres from here in a pretty red wooden house, in the same place where the EKTA Museum is.

The current town hall is handsome, too. It used to be an old psychiatric hospital, and the town spent 8 million Euros to make it the new administrative centre. Only the facade reminds us of the bygone era; everything else is new.

The sargent’s cherry is one of our most beautiful ornamental trees.
The Ekenäs Nature Centre in the north harbour is waiting for the summer. Some early bird has already come to queue up.
The traditional summer restaurant Knipan in the harbour is built on top of stilts.

The old centre of Ekenäs is idyllic. Too bad that the EKTA Museum on the Kustaa Vaasa street has already closed. Had it been open, I could have asked the tourist information agent for some tips for my next visit.

Next time, I will walk through the oldest pedestrian street in Finland, the Kuninkaankatu Street. After doing some window-shopping on the small boutiques, I will head to the narrow alleys of the Old Town that was founded in the 16th century. Many of the narrow alleys running between idyllic wooden houses have been named after artisans.

After having walked through the Hansikkaantekijänkatu (glovemaker) street and Satulasepänkatu (saddlemaker) street, I will eat a tasty and unhurried lunch, taking in the atmosphere of this lovely little town with all my senses. Then, it is time to head out to Ramsholmen to see how it looks, smells and sounds like in summer.

I am thinking how privileged we are to have four seasons, and how our nature is so diverse. And most of all, how each one of us can enjoy it freely.

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

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Ekenäs Old Town

Best hiking trails in Finnish Lapland

Finnish Lapland is beautiful – and huge. There’s an endless amount of great hiking trails to choose from, but which ones should you choose? Here are our 7 favorites for the summer! On all these trails you have a good chance of seeing not only beautiful landscapes but also reindeer and siberian jays.

Saana fell

Kilpisjärvi

Saana is probably the best-known fell amongst all Finns. This magnificent fell has a beautiful, unique silhouette, and once you get on top of it, the view is something to remember. It’s a 4 kilometer hike to get on top of Saana. Make sure you’re not in a rush: this hike takes time and energy, because it’s literally a rocky road – and a quite steep one as well. Before heading out to the trail, we recommend you pay a visit to the local Nature Centre. There you can get the latest information and useful tips concerning the trail and the weather conditions.

Read more about Saana and other trails in the area

The summit of Saana

Pyhä-Nattanen

Sompio Strict Nature Reserve, Sodankylä

Pyhä or Holy Nattanen is a unique fell in Sodankylä. On top of this fell there are huge rock formations called ‘tors’. There’s also an open day hut where one can rest and maybe have some snacks. The trail to the top is 2 kilometers long. It is located in Sompio Strict Nature Reserve, which means that one is not allowed to leave the marked trail. If you feel like hiking more than 4 kilometers to the top and back, you can also choose to hike a 7 kilometer long loop. The loop has some seriously challenging parts, so make sure you have proper hiking shoes!

Read more about Pyhä-Nattanen

The summit of Pyhä-Nattanen

Isokuru gorge

Pyhä-Luosto national park, Pelkosenniemi

Isokuru is a beautiful summer and autumn destination. It is the biggest gorge in Finland and we promise you: it will take your breath away. There are lots of steep stairs that lead you to the bottom of the gorge. The wooden route then leads you through some astonishingly beautiful landscapes, where there are lots of ponds and beautiful Lappish forests. One of the most beautiful sights is Pyhäkasteenputous waterfall. After the waterfall there’s a new staircase to lead you up to the top of Uhriharju esker. The view from the top is something to remember!

The Isokuru trail is not very long – about 4 kilometers to Uhriharju and back – but it is challenging thanks to all those steep stairs. Also, please note that Isokuru is included in the national park’s restricted access zone, which means that leaving the marked path is prohibited. In winter, this trail is closed and no-one is allowed to go there because of the risk of avalanches.

Read more about Isokuru

Isokuru gorge

Kivitunturi fell

Savukoski

Kivitunturi is an isolated fell near Savukoski village in eastern Lapland. The trail is about 6 kilometers long and there are plenty of things to see, such as an exciting suspension bridge that leads you over Pirunkuru gorge. There’s a lean-to and a campfire place by a beautiful pond called Äitipetäjänlampi. From the top of Kivitunturi fell you can see breathtaking views in all directions, even all the way to Russia.

To learn more about Kivitunturi, please contact Korvatunturi Visitor Center.

Kivitunturi trail

Karhunkierros

Oulanka national park, Salla and Kuusamo

Do you want to challenge yourself? Karhunkierros or The Bear’s Trail is the most legendary hiking trail in Finland, but there’s a catch: it is 82 kilometers long. Karhunkierros leads you to some unbelievably beautiful sights in Oulanka national park in the North-East of Finland. There are lots of open huts, lovely forests, breathtaking views, and true wilderness by this famous trail. Karhunkierros leads you from Ruka to Hautajärvi or vice versa, so it is not a loop.

If 82 kilometers sounds too hard, there’s an excellent option: the Pieni Karhunkierros loop is only 12 kilometers long, but it has several suspension bridges, rapids and gorges. No wonder it is the most popular trail in Finland.

Read more about Karhunkierros (82 km)

Read more about Pieni Karhunkierros (12 km)

There are several suspension bridges on the Bear’s trail.

Hetta-Pallas trail

Pallas-Yllästunturi national park, Enontekiö and Muonio

Hetta-Pallas trail is 55 kilometers long and one of Finland’s most popular hiking trails. It is especially beautiful because it leads you over huge fells with arctic views to remember. This trail leads you from Pallastunturi nature center to the village of Hetta or vice versa. There are several open huts and campfire sites by this legendary trail, but one should always have a tent or a hammock as well, just in case.

Read more about Hetta-Pallas trail

View from the summit of Pallas fell

Ravadasköngäs waterfall

Lemmenjoki national park, Inari

Ravadasköngäs is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Finland, and it’s located in Lemmenjoki River Valley in Inari. A marked trail follows the river from the small village of Njurkulahti to Ravadasköngas waterfall (16 km). When hiking on this trail you can experience the true magic of Lapland: this is one of Europe’s biggest and most beautiful wilderness areas.

You can also get to Ravadasköngäs by boat from Njurkulahti, if hiking is not your cup of tea. Please remember that Ravadasköngäs is included in the national park’s restricted access zone, so do not leave the marked path.

Read more about Lemmenjoki national park and Ravadasköngäs

Ravadasköngäs waterfall. Photo: Antti Huttunen

If you want to explore these routes or some of the hidden gems of the Laplan with experienced professional wilderness guide, please contact us.

This is what it’s like to walk through the winter forest trails in Koli national park

Deep in the forests of Eastern Finland, there lies a peaceful and unspoiled place. Here, one can find snow that goes knee deep and frozen trees that tower all around. It is totally quiet here, and it is possible to be in harmony with nature while walking through these woods.

This place is Koli National park, and last winter I was lucky enough to explore this snowy realm. I have put together a 12-photo album of this adventure as I make my way to the Ukko-Koli, where one can see one of the most spectacular views in all of Finland. The hiking trail is the forest walk which can be taken from the Koli village (Kolinkylä) to the lookout at Ukko-Koli, overlooking lake Pielinen.

The first thing I was greeted with was fluffy snow peacefully adorning the branches of the many trees. Old spruces and birches grow in these protected forests.

I was sinking knee-deep into the snow with every step, but it made for a more memorable adventure.

There is no better place to be mindful of the surroundings and enjoy the delicacy of nature. Koli has inspired artists for centuries.

A lonely sign could be found along the hiking trail, guiding the way through these mysterious white forests.

‘The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.’ – John Muir

Walking through these peaceful landscapes was indeed very calming and relaxing for the mind.

The walk is also about the little things, such as the fresh cold air.

With every passing minute on the walk, the views get better and better. Even a ski area can be found here.

Then, at last, I reached the summit, where the iconic ‘National view of Finland’ can be found. It was an unforgettable sight. The lake Pielinen lies ice-covered in the distance, as misty clouds cast their shroud over some of the frozen pine woods.

Once, long ago, great glaciers shaped these landscapes. Back then, the land was permanently frozen under glacial ice caps which didn’t melt for thousands of years.

Some of the greatest trees can be found here. They span from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts in what is known as the Main Taiga, the world’s largest ecosystem.

On the way back down, I found a traditional cozy winter cottage with its gates lying open in welcome.

And finally back again at my homely accommodation, Kolin Ryynänen, a traditional wooden lodge.

A long ski season with guaranteed snow until May

Every year, the fells of Saariselkä are covered by a layer of fluffy white snow. This ski centre, the northernmost in Europe, boasts a myriad of beautiful slopes, fun sledging hills, well-maintained ski trails and guided treks, guaranteeing a memorable holiday.

Text: Helena Sahavirta, Photos: Panu Pohjola

In Saariselkä, the ski season is guaranteed to last from November to May – perhaps even longer, as in the past the ski centre has opened its doors on three days in June to offer its visitors the memorable experience of skiing on slopes lit by the midnight sun.

The natural snow in Saariselkä is of excellent quality and lasts until late spring on the slopes between two fells, where beginners can find suitable courses and more experienced skiers can try their hands at tricks. Saariselkä also boasts two extra long sledging slopes, one of which is the longest in Finland. On this 1,800 metre run, daredevils can whizz down from the top of Kaunispää all the way to the lower chairlift terminal. The toboggan slope is illuminated with aurora-inspired light art.

In December the sun never rises in Saariselkä, but the ski centre’s well-lit slopes guarantee that the winter fun doesn’t have to stop. The polar night brings its own magical atmosphere to Saariselkä – and the arrival of spring offers another enchanting experience when the days get longer and the April sun glistens on the snow like a thousand diamonds.

Even for visitors who have never experienced snow before, learning downhill skiing, snowboarding, sledging and cross-country skiing is safe and fun with Ski Saariselkä’s professional instructors. To ensure safety, the beginner slopes and other practice facilities have been designed with novice skiers in mind.

The ski resort of Saariselkä boasts about 200 kilometres of well-maintained ski trails, 34 kilometres of which are illuminated. With its vast wilderness area, Urho Kekkonen National Park, situated a stone’s throw from the ski centre, offers great opportunities for cross-country skiing and trekking. A map of the ski trails is available online at infogis.fi/saariselka.

Snowmobile safaris into the wilderness

Playing in the snow comes naturally to children, and the unspoilt, snowy forest often brings out the inner child in many adults too, who find themselves building snowmen and making ‘snow angels’.

For some, on the other hand, snow may be such a novelty that they feel slightly nervous about the unfamiliar conditions. For this reason, Saariselkä’s winter safari organisers often pick up their customers from the hotel or Saariselkä centre and kit them out in warm snowsuits. They also rent outdoor gear such as snowsuits, skis, snowshoes, sliding snowshoes and sleds to DIY travellers, as well as offering ski waxing services. Shops in Saariselkä sell a wide range of winter clothing, from socks and thermal underwear to hats and outerwear.

Lapland Safaris’ most popular excursion, the Aurora Borealis Safari, takes visitors on a hunt for the Northern Lights half an hour’s drive, or an hour’s snowmobile ride, away. Situated by a large lake, the viewing spot, far from any artificial lights, has been selected to maximise the chances of seeing this incredible natural display. Also fat bike treks are organised along snow-covered forest roads to a frozen lake for a spot of ice fishing.

Snowmobile safaris offer adventures in the forest and on the fells.

Northern Lights Village also offers a variety of winter activities, including tuition in cross-country skiing and photographing the Northern Lights. Children over the age of three can put their skills to the test on a children’s snowmobile. In addition to an ordinary restaurant, the hotel boasts a snow restaurant where diners can sample drinks and savour á la carte dishes while seated on ice benches covered with reindeer rugs. The hotel has its own reindeer farm, and visitors can discover a world of Arctic adventures right on the hotel’s doorstep, including snowmobile, reindeer and husky safaris.

Ice fishing on a frozen lake

Joiku-Kotsamo Safaris, run by a local Sámi family, offers a variety of reindeer safaris. Once the ground is covered by a layer of snow, reindeer-pulled sled rides are arranged every evening. On these two-hour outings, you can scan the skies for the magnificent Northern Lights before stopping to warm up by a campfire with some hot drinks. During the day, the reindeer safaris weave their way through snowy pine forests.

In December, when lakes get their ice cover, fishing on a frozen lake makes for a memorable experience. After riding to the lake on a snowmobile, you can fish for Arctic char and grayling through a hole cut in the ice. Your catch is transformed into a mouth-watering fish soup, washed down with coffee brewed on a campfire.

In the daytime, snowmobile safaris, lasting either two or three hours, take visitors to admire the majestic fell scenery, while in the evening the goal is to make an Aurora Borealis sighting. The reindeer farm also has a traditional Lappish log cabin where you can enjoy authentic Sámi delicacies: smoked reindeer, salmon cooked on an open fire and Arctic berries, with the experience completed by Sámi yoik and folktales. Advance booking is required.

Snow safaris arranged by Lapin Luontolomat take visitors through vast northern forests to the shore of a lake, known for its clear water, where they are welcomed by a log cabin, sauna, hot tub, lean-to and a fisherman’s cottage. This spot under starry skies makes for an idyllic setting for ice-fishing and enjoying a candlelit meal by a campfire, while keeping an eye out for the Northern Lights. The open fire is also perfect for grilling sausages.

Local delicacies can also be savoured at the cabin, which seats 50 people and serves lunches and dinners with yoik as an accompaniment. The place, though far from urban noise and artificial lights, is easy to reach by car and snowmobile. For those looking for a real adventure, a longer snowmobile safari to the Russian border is an ideal choice.

With its wide range of activities, Saariselkä offers something for everyone – whether you are in search of action-packed adventures or relaxation amid Lapland’s magical landscapes.

Read more:

Inari-Saariselkä – Far in the North

Above the busiest motorway in Finland is a hauntingly beautiful secret – the backwoods of Karnaistenkorpi

An unexpected journey awaits those who come to this place. A fairy-tale forest exists above a section of the National Road 1, running from Helsinki to City of Turku.

Karnaistenkorpi has a well-marked nature and story trail and lean-tos by the ponds. The trails look like figure 8, and you can choose whichever distance you wish to hike. There are two starting points for the trails that are equipped with outdoor toilets. They are marked in this map under the name “Paikoitus”. The address of the parking area is Suoniementaival 30, Lohja.

A shorter trail of about 3.5 kilometres is available starting from the parking area next to the Kisakallio Sports Institute. The trail goes around two ponds and lean-tos and comes back to the starting point. This trail is suitable for families and for those who wish to take things easy.

The story trail begins also from this parking area. One of the many things that may come to you as a surprise is the silence. Although the motorway is close, it runs inside the bedrock which effectively blocks out the sounds of traffic. Nature is also quite special here: beauty everywhere and forest as from a fairy-tale. Soft green mosses and towering spruce trees make you feel you’re safe here.

The story trail runs clockwise. It rapidly leads to the shore of a small pond. The bank is a little marshy. When we visited the place, the winter was on its way, and the pond was partly frozen. However, the sun was still warming us up nicely. We smelled smoke coming from somewhere and understood that there must be a lean-to nearby.

Beautiful Labrador tea was growing by the pond. Labrador tea is a common plant on marshy areas, and when you rub the leaves of the plant on your fingers, the scent gets stronger. This is what Finland smells like.

When we got to the lean-to, fire was going, and a father was teaching his son some wilderness skills. We sat down with them. We had picked up some delicacies from a bakery on our way to Karnaistenkorpi, and we also had a small coffee pot with us. As we were hungry, a lunch break was in order.

There is a wood shed near the lean-to, and the firewood is available for use. The firewood was a little damp, so I chopped it into smaller pieces to make it burn better.

The lean-to is located on a very picturesque spot on top of a cliff by the Ahvenanlampi Pond. You need to step off the story trail a little to find the lean-to, but it’s still an easy task.

We found a handy gridiron at the lean-to. We put our paninis on the gridiron to warm them up over the fire, and the water for the coffee boiled in no time. Our little outdoor lunch by the fire was perfect!

The father and his son went on with their hike. We stayed to enjoy our coffee in almost complete silence. You wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t know, but the biggest motorway in Finland runs right below this lean-to!

We also continued our own journey along the story trail. There are 21 control points with information boards along the trail to offer lots of interesting information about local nature. The information boards are in Finnish.

We made good way, and soon were at the lean-to at Sorvalampi Pond. This lean-to is also located on a pretty spot on top of a cliff. Both lean-tos (this and the previous one) are equipped with outdoor toilets and firewood sheds.

Autumn days are not very long, and the dusk was already setting in. We stayed on for a little while longer to look at the last lights of the evening.

The ancient rocks of the region are covered in grooves that almost look like runes. Green mosses and lichens grow on the rocks which makes them look fairytailish.

The trail runs on wooden causeways in many parts. Beautiful cliffs surround the trail on both sides. The causeways have recently been fixed so they are in good shape as the rest of the trail structures.

Darkness fell gradually further and further into the forest. Luckily, we didn’t have much distance to cover anymore, so we just enjoyed the beautiful backwoods as long as there was light.

My imagination got wings when the darkness settled in. In the dark everything looks different.

Oh, I wish the trees could talk! These majestic spruce trees are way over a hundred years old. They have witnessed the cycle of life in the forest. Their roots are strongly embedded in the ground, and they are not easily moved.

Eventually, we had to leave these fairy-tale forests behind. We got into our car and drove home, but we will be back again someday – so magical was this place! Maybe next time we will sleep in the lean-to and listen what secrets the old spruce trees might share with us in the night.

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

Short hiking route in Jyppyrä hill offers a complete view towards the great fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park

➡ 1 km nature trail
⚫⚫⚪ Moderate: steep hill side
🔥 Shelter with a campfire spot
📌 Lapland Visitor Center address: Peuratie 15, Enontekiö

In the village Hetta in Enontekiö there is a nice walking route up the hill Jyppyrä for a day trip if you are in the area. The route starts from the yard of the Fell Lapland Visitor Centre which is located just a few minutes walk from the center of Hetta.

In winter this route is beautiful and an easy choice if the snow is too soft and deep for other places. You can also rent snow shoes from the visitor center and try out this fun activity!

The route is not too long, around one kilometer, but it is really steep, so you have to make some effort. But the view up the hill is really worth it. You will be able to see all the way towards the great fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park and the snowy trees look amazing!

Up on the highest point there is a traditional open shelter with a campfire spot, and it is possible to grill food there. At the entrance there is a lookout, but if you climb a little bit more and go behind the kota-shelter, you will get an even better view.

The day is short in Lapland during the winter, but the colors of the polar night are amazing. And what could be better than to climb high to watch a beautiful sunset?

The best winter days are ahead now that the spring comes with the sunny days!

“Only the birch trees gave away the fact that we weren’t in the Greek archipelago” – a hike at Iso-Melkutin lake

“What an unbelievable place”, enthused my mountain-biking obsessed colleague, when he heard that we were doing on a Digitrail-tour around Iso-Melkutin lake. A moment later he pedalled back to ask, ‘So you’re going on a digi-what? The app could have easily been sold to him, even though it’s free from the app store.

My colleague’s statement clearly came from the heart. Further investigation showed that he was quite right: About an hour and a half’s drive from Helsinki, right next to Räyskälä airfield, is said to be one of Finland’s hiking gems: the Melkutin backwoods with its protected ridges and beaches, and the crystal clear Iso-Melkutin lake.

But would I go so far as to call it unbelievable?

The village of Räyskälä seemed quite lively, even though it felt like travelling back a few decades. The old buildings were built in an even more traditional way than the traditional ones right next to the main road, and the village shop was from the same period. In the corner of the field was a potato pit. It was now a café, which would be open until three o’clock. We could definitely make it there for a visit, as it was still only morning.

The starting point for Loppi’s Digitrail route is at the western corner of Räyskälä airfield, next to the road called Tauluntie. The large car park was full, even though the summer had already made an exit. There were your usual enthusiasts with tents on their backs, mountain bikers, divers (?!) and then us, who paid no attention to the large signposts pointing in all directions. We were now relying on our mobile phones.

From the Digitrail app’s three options, we chose the middle one, which was approximately seven kilometres long and classified as medium in terms of difficulty. The theme of the route was Lake Iso-Melkutin, its origins and the flora of the area. As we progressed along the route, bite-sized chunks of information about the nature types found on ridges popped up on our mobile phone display, from typical plants to rarer features of the area. The most interesting was was the theory surrounding the origins of the lake that was at the centre of it all.

According to the map, the route is shaped like a balloon; at the beginning and the end of the trail we journey out and back along the same path for about a kilometre, and the rest is around the lake. If we forget to follow our progress on the screen, the GPS stops working or the satellite dies, getting lost in the vicinity of the lake would be quite difficult.

Of the three aforementioned risks is the only one that’s likely is the first one, as the locator is accurate and monitors all progress on the map without any delay. The graphics on the map are simple, the app is easy to use and is full of interesting possibilities. The map, sorry, the phone, can be held in the hand either in the direction of travel or you can fix the locator to move with the map. And, best of all, if the hiker gets lost on the route, the app remarks politely:

“Don’t get lost! It looks like you walked past the path. A little adventure won’t hurt as long as you don’t get lost. ”

Digitrail application

The highlight of the trail awaited further along, but the start of the trail was already calming our restless minds. We step into the light-filled, gently rolling terrain of dry coniferous forests….

And then dove deeper into a young spruce forest…

We wove between swampy ponds and the lake. The path is narrow at the start, but widens as we go along.

And thank goodness it does get wider; as this is where we come to the edge of Iso-Melkutin lake. My colleague was right: the view is not from this country. The lake shimmered vivid and bright with visibility several metres in depth. Only birch trees on the beach revealed that we hadn’t gotten lost with our mobile phones in the Greek archipelago.

On the shadow side of the lake the colour was close to a dark emerald. Such clear, humus-free lakes are rare in our country. There are more of them in the north, but in the south they can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

The shore of Iso-Melkutin is mostly unbuilt – thanks to the shore protection program – and the mostly sandy and gravel-based. You can swim almost anywhere, although the best spots are on the northern shore of the lake. The official bathing places along the route can be found on the eastern and western ends of the lake. The first of these is also equipped with two lean-tos, a campfire site and a dry toilet.

According to divers, there are piles of rocks at the bottom of the lake as well as an underwater ridge. The lake is said to have formed during the melting phase of the last glacial period, when huge ice blocks were buried inside the glacial sand. When they melted, they created big pits in which water was left behind. The deepest part of Iso-Melkutin lake is 27 meters.

Another result of the ice-age is the esker ridge, which gives the lake its peculiar shape. The ridge pushes to the surface at three points to form long and narrow capes. The western-most ridge almost separates Iso-Melkutin lake from Vähä-Melkutin lake. The strait left in between, at only a few meters wide, is ceremoniously crossed via the Samoyed Bridge.

The middle point, the couple of hundred metre-long and approximately fifty metre-wide Nappilahdennokka peninsula, almost separates Nappilahti bay from the lake. The peninsula was not on our route, but we just had to go there. The application also understood what the hiker needs, and didn’t suddenly shout at us for taking a detour.

At the eastern end of the lake, we came across a third peninsula, Tokholmannokka: half a kilometre long and narrower than the previous ones, reaching almost to the opposite shore. It’s hard for the human mind to resist these formations, so we detoured here too. A snag had snapped conveniently fallen right next to the path, forming a bench parallel to the headland. We sat for a moment and sighed in both directions. On the opposite shore, there were still two nameless peninsulas. Let’s see if we actually do make it to the potato pit for coffee.

Luckily, on the opposite shore, our route took us to the top of the headland, so we followed along. The narrow ridge turned out to be a base for divers and a hiker’s paradise. The adjacent Melkuttimentie road makes it easier for divers to get their equipment near the water and also makes it possible for the smallest hikers to get up on their own steam. At the tip of the peninsula a lean-to with seating platforms has been built along with a campfire site and dry toilets. And did I already mention, the scenery is spectacular!

Next to the lean-to there are steps down to the lake that have been built by volunteering divers.

As the route continues, the lake mostly stays at least in your peripheral vision. Occasionally we deviate from the immediate shore, sometimes looking at the lake from above. There are plenty of hills on the trail’s western side, but none of them so steep as to make the hike impossible if you were of average fitness. You do however have to raise your knees over rocks dotted along the path and over thick roots. For this reason I wouldn’t do this trail by mountain bike, but about twenty mountain bikers who crossed our paths were clearly of a different opinion.

On the north side of the lake, the trail follows steep and dry slopes typical of the area. Snow disappears from these areas early in the spring, giving room for unique plant varieties. On this slope, you can find the rare and therefore protected, Pasqueflower with its blue buds, which has been named the official flower of the Kanta-Häme region.

At the end of the lake tour, the path widens, eventually filling the whole hill. We were approaching the lake’s other swimming beach, which has attracted people for centuries. And it is no wonder, because its bottom is pure gold … sand, and it continues as far as the eye can see.

Three o’clock came and went, and we were still sitting on the lakeshore. We missed our coffee, but nevermind, we will definitely be coming back!

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 Ice Age sculpted the spectacular Lohjanharju Esker and made it the top destination for modern-day backpackers

In Lohja, less than an hour drive from Helsinki, rises the majestic Lohjanharju Esker. It is the perfect location to enjoy what nature has to offer. It’s right by the city, and the trails are easy.

Several marked outdoor trails criss-cross the Lohjanharju Esker. Their lengths are from 1 to 6.5 kilometres, and they are accessible with prams as well. Amongst these wide trails there are many smaller ones that will lead the traveller to the mystic forests and to the land of the fairies. Although the esker is a fascinating destination all year round, in winter the trails will become skiing tracks where walking is prohibited.

A natural starting point for a trip to the esker is by the Neidonkeidas Swimming Hall (Address: Runokatu 1). If you come from the centre of Lohja, it is recommended that you take the path that starts from the Kasarminkatu Street, goes up the hill and joins the other trails running parallel to the slope. If you come by car, you can leave it at the parking lot of the swimming hall. There is a stairway beside the swimming hall leading down to the trail.

It is one Sunday in December. I am standing on top of the esker. The ground is still free of snow, but the sky is covered in clouds. There’s still some light at noon. I can hear the noises carrying from the city, and I look around me. I have come here to investigate the tracks of the last Ice Age, and I wonder how the landscape looked back then, almost 10 000 years ago. I still hear the noise, but now it is different. Where a moment ago the rooftops of the city were, now are the swelling waves of the ancient Yoldia Sea.

Behind me, the glacier stretches further than the eye can see. The rivers that are born deep under the ice are transporting massive amounts of sand and gravel, which will slowly accumulate into a border moraine. That long mound runs hundreds of kilometres, following the edge of the glacier, and reaching from Hanko to Lohja and via Lahti, all the way to Eastern Finland.

This ancient landscape is clear in my mind when I start my journey on the trails of the esker. At first, the forest around me is open. Tall and robust pine trees reach up to the sky, and their tough bark spells dignity. I am walking the path downhill. I can spot colourful old wooden houses between the trees. Further away, there is the glimmering Lake Lohjanjärvi, spotted with small islands.

For a while, I follow the wide outdoor trail, but soon I choose a narrower path. At the bottom parts of the esker, dense spruce trees create a dusky effect.

As I go along, I notice the large rocks appearing here and there between the trees. Compared to these rocks, the trees are youngsters, albeit hundreds of years old themselves. These rocks are called erratics, and they are testament to the unimaginable forces which were at play during the Ice Age. Along its way, the moving ice sheet chipped off enormous boulders and carried them even hundreds of kilometres away.

I stop beside one of these boulders to stroke the moss growing on it. The moss is like goblin’s hair. With a little more imagination, I can discern a wrinkly face on the rock. Actually the wrinkles are a result of the Ice Age, too. Along with the larger rocks, the ice also carried smaller pebbles and stones that grinded on the larger ones and created these creases.

I walk alongside the esker for about 2 kilometres to the nature preservation area of Neitsytlinna to find a strange, tall mound. It is made of sand and moraine, but how, no-one has been able to tell. I climb up the steep slope and stop again to gaze at the scenery. The slope feels even steeper going down, and I almost lose my foothold. The mound is surrounded by erratics and smaller stones that have been honed smooth by the waves of the Yoldia Sea. Here is an ancient shore, now covered by forests, mosses and lichens. I feel like being at a geological art exhibit when I stand in the shadow of a giant, rugged boulder.

As I am ready to return, I will choose the paths higher up the esker. They will run in the open pinewood forests. I start to look for a suitable place to have my break. Can’t go backpacking without some lunch, can you! At the upper part of the esker, roughly halfway to the trail, there is a picnic table and a campfire site. I will not stay there, though, for I spot a fallen tree a short distance away. It is so inviting that I will sit on the trunk, take out my thermos, pour myself some tea and grab a sandwich.

It’s getting darker, when I return back to the place I started from, at the swimming hall. Today, the Sun didn’t favour me with his presence, but when the skies are clear, it is nice to time your trip to the esker so that you can come back just before the sunset. That way you can have the icing on your esker cake by looking at the breath-taking evening sky spreading above the lake.

Article and photos: Kukka Kyrö

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

See also:

The stunning Liessaari Island in Lohja

Visit Lohja