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.

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

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

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

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.

Christmas in Finnish Lapland

After 3 months of being on student exchange, the time had come for me to embark on a long-awaited Christmas adventure to snowy Finnish Lapland. This experience is literally the polar opposite of what it’s like in my home country, sunny Australia. I was especially looking forward to the untouched nature and of course the elusive northern lights.

On the long bus journey, we stopped over at Santa’s village in Rovaniemi and walked across the arctic circle. It can’t get any more Christmas vibe than this!

After over 12 hours of being on a bus, my group finally arrived at the pine-tree filled winter wonderland that was Saariselkä. We were staying in a rustic wooden log cabin complete with a fireplace and sauna.

Picturesque log cabins are where you can expect to stay at in Lapland.

There was fluffy snow up to the knees everywhere. Being above the arctic circle, this time of year is the polar night, where the Sun does not rise for several weeks. However, there were about 3 to 4 hours each day with twilight conditions. Being an avid aurora-chaser, it makes for an ideal opportunity to catch a glimpse of the northern lights – if only the clouds stay away at night.

The local area around where I was staying… so pristine and natural.

Beyond searching for the elusive northern lights, this place was an amazing location for a wide variety of activities that I tried, including husky-sledding, snow-shoeing, skiing, sauna, ice-swimming and of course nature photography. It was especially great to meet some husky puppies. But more than anything, it’s a place to wind down and take in the quiet and fresh air of the nature on short walks. It was indeed one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been.

I actually have a very funny story to tell about my phone whilst husky-sledding. After my turn on the sled was complete, I realised my new Finnish Nokia smartphone had fallen out of my pocket (duh!) and into the snow somewhere in the arctic wilderness.

Husky-sledding in the arctic.

After lunch, the tour guide and my friends decided to make a search party. Walking through the snowy wilderness in the fading light conditions at 2pm, there seemed to be little hope, but the untouched and silent nature was just surreal. Suddenly, at the very end of the journey we found just a tiny bit of the phone sticking out of the snow. It was basically a block of ice.

But it was still on! And to my great surprise — still at 75 percent battery. The next thing to do is typically Finnish — to take the phone to the sauna so the ice can melt.

And this plan worked! Because afterwards it was working perfectly fine.

Lapland with its photogenic forests.

On the first night, I was most eager to see the northern lights. There were good geomagnetic conditions for aurora, so it was promising. That’s until I stepped out of the warmth of the cabin to see that the sky was mostly full of cloud. Nevertheless, I went outside as there was a few gaps where I could see a star or two. After walking around the village and shooting photos without luck for over an hour in -10 degrees, it was time to head to bed.

Then I awoke suddenly to find my cabin-buddies announcing that the northern lights would be visible soon! Half-asleep, I looked out the window to see nothing. I thought the window was facing north, but it was actually facing south, a mistake that would bite me this night.

I managed to find my compass which pointed me north, and by the time I got outside, there was only a very faint polar light show, with cloud rolling in again. The others who reacted faster saw a much better show this night.

Finnish Lapland is one of the best places in the world to see the enchanting northern lights. Photocredit: Jonna Saari.

The next night, in even colder and windier conditions, more luck was on my side, but only for a good twenty minutes. The skies cleared briefly just at the right moment to see a band of aurora flickering overhead and down to the horizon. I managed to get this photo before it clouded over again.

No matter how many times I have seen the lights, or how impressive they have been, it is always immensely exciting!

A brief show of the northern lights in the forested fells of Lapland in the midst of the long polar night.

The next night had even better auroral conditions, but it was cloudy and snowing heavily so there was no point of going outside. The following (and final night) there was a few hours of clear skies in the early evening, but the auroral conditions were so weak that only those on the aurora tours managed to see them, and only briefly. Though I did hear of a couple who got engaged as soon as they saw them! That’s definitely a Christmas to remember for them. And for us, it was for sure an adventure to look back on!

The blue twilight hour falls relatively early in the afternoon at this time of year in Lapland.

This beautiful and varied trail is a pleasant surprise for both children and adults: The Troll Forest Trail in Raasepori

In partnership with Visit Raseborg

➡️ 5,5 km, loop
🔥 Shelter
📌 Starting point on the map
ℹ Read more

The Troll Forest Trail (Peikkometsän kierros) is a picturesque and diverse trail in Västerby recreational area in Raasepori, which is about an hour and a half’s drive from Helsinki. Its 5.5 kilometre length is perfect for a family with children on a day trip – leaving time for games, breaks and even hunting for mushrooms. The trip can be made at any time of year. The forest is full of light, with scenery which is probably still beautiful even in the darker times of year.

Västerby recreational area was a new location for us. According to the map, there was an interesting route of just the right length: The Troll Forest Trail, which takes you up onto the rocks and the edge of a pond. There was also also a lean-to shelter, the perfect spot for a break.

We drove through Western Uusimaa from Helsinki to Tammisaari admiring the wonderful scenery on the way. We found the parking place for the recreational area and starting point for the Troll Forest Trail easily with the help of a map.

There was plenty of space at the parking place. In addition to the information board, we found some convenient climbing trees.

The trail started with a section on the rocks, where moss had created lovely green columns.

The trail was wide and easy for even smaller people to use, but still nice and diverse. The Troll Forest Trail is marked on certain trees with yellow paint, and there are duckboards going over wet areas. We felt a little overdressed in our warm clothing, as it felt like summer.

On the way we made some interesting discoveries. Someone (or something) had dug into a wasps ground nest and spread pieces of honeycomb on the moss, on the shores of Vitsjön pond. It was also here that we found our first porcini mushroom.

We were well prepared with plenty of things to eat. Our plan was, that at the shelter, we would make a warm lunch. But the table and benches on the shores of Vitsjön were calling us to take our first snack break there.

The path went through beautiful swamp areas and through the forest to the lakeside rocks of Grabbskog Stortäsket. The view from the top of the rocks was stunning, where you could see the lake narrowing into a canyon.

By the higher path we found a real fungal surprise. The warm weather had brought about twenty porcini mushrooms to the surface, none of which had any worms. Our mushroom basket was full in moments.

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While looking for more porcini mushrooms (boletes) we spotted a huge cauliflower mushroom Sparassis crispa on the slope. Even though it’s a delicious edible mushroom, it’s also rare, so we left if there, as advised by the mushroom book.

Traversing along the trail we came across a few trekkers, but there were certainly no crowds on the Troll Forest Trail. When we arrived at the shelter, the fire was already going and a few others were also taking a rest. For our lunch we had brought a mushroom risotto to make with our camping stove, which fit well with the trip’s unexpected theme. For dessert we made croissants on the fire by wrapping the dough around a stick.

On the Troll Forest trail, as well as wonderful views, you may spot some stone trolls. This was particularly fun for the kids. The Geocacher in our family also made some of their own discoveries.

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The trail is a loop and returns to the shores of Vitsjön pond. Once there, we decided to go back and check the jetty built on the rock. This would be a great place to return in the summer when the water is warm. An unexpected find that brought a great deal of joy to the kids was on the tree next to the jetty. A rope was attached to it making possible a swinging game that was enough to fill mothers with dread, but thankfully we survived without getting wet.

The Troll Forest Trail can easily be combined with other Raasepori sights. We didn’t get to see the castle ruins, but on the way home we went to admire Tammisaari’s old centre, wooden houses and seaside park.

Here are a few more views from the route:

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Translation: Becky Hastings

Lue artikkeli suomeksi Retkipaikasta.

Snowshoeing in Puijo forest in winter. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Snowshoeing in the city at Kuopio? The answer is Puijo!

Sometimes you get lucky and can find just the thing you are looking for very close to you. We chose Kuopio as our destination for a winter weekend mostly because it offers plenty of great winter activities within a very short distance from the heart of the city.

Puijo Tower at Kuopio. Photo: Upe Nykänen

The city’s famous landmark Puijo ridge with its iconic Puijo Tower is less than 3 kilometres from the city centre. However, Puijo is also a haven for nature lovers: it is among the oldest nature conservation areas in Finland, having been established on Puijo ridge already in 1928.

We had already had a great time kicksledding on Lake Kallavesi, straight from Kuopio’s passenger harbour. Next, we headed up to the Puijo hill for a bit of snowshoeing.

Trail signs at Puijo, Kuopio in winter. Photo: Upe Nykänen

We parked our car at the car park closest to Konttila Farm and grabbed our snowshoes. The map of Puijo paths indicated clearly marked paths and when we arrived at the signposts, we saw to our surprise that we would have been fine even without snowshoes: the paths were well trodden.

Puijo forest in winter. Photo: Upe Nykänen

However, very soon we abandoned the marked trail and set off to find our own way in the gorgeous, snowy forest wearing our snowshoes. The great thing about leaving your own footprints in the snow is that you can’t get lost – you can always see where you came from and retrace your steps, if necessary.

Snowshoeing in Puijo forest in winter. Photo: Upe Nykänen

The fir trees of Puijo have enjoyed peace and quiet for decades, thanks to its status as a nature conservation area. We started heading towards Satulanotko.

Snowshoeing at Puijo, Kuopio. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Every once in a while we stopped to gaze the trees above. Suddenly we saw something colourful behind the tree trunks: a trail runner following the path closest to us. We preferred a slower pace.

Fallen fir tree at Puijo conservation area, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

There is absolutely no logging at Puijo conservation area. However, sometimes trees happen to fall down naturally, just like this poor fir tree fellow.

Snowy fir trees at Puijo conservation area, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Suddenly we heard a strange, creaking sound pretty close to us. It took us a while to locate its source: a fallen tree had got stuck, leaning against another tree, and whenever the fir tree swayed even a bit in the wind, the contact made it sound like a creaking door.

Other than that, it was almost totally quiet. Although we were so close to Kuopio city and the distance to the closest roads isn’t great, we could hardly hear any cars through the dense forest.

When you are snowshoeing, you don’t usually need to worry about getting cold. However, when the temperature is about -18 °C, you soon get a craving for a hot drink. We turned our faces towards the beautiful winter sun and began walking back, towards Konttila Farm.

Konttila Farm, Puijo, Kuopio. Photo: Upe Nykänen

You just can’t miss Konttila Farm – it dates back to 1770 and when you enter it, it feels like you are stepping back in time. The farm is open all year round and welcomes visitors to its café and nature & guiding centre. Konttila Farm is open most days until 6 pm.

Cafe at Konttila Farm, Puijo, Kuopio. Photo: Upe Nykänen

We left our snowshoes outside and stepped into the main building. Hot chocolate? Yes, please! We began sipping our delicious cups of hot chocolate and just enjoyed the moment, listening to the fire start roaring in the traditional old fireplace.

I wonder when I will dare to try the cross-country skiing tracks at Puijo…

Konttila Farm on the map

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On a one horse open sleigh at Puijo, Kuopio

Starting Vuori-Kalaja trail at Southern Konnevesi National Park

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

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

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

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

Walking the Vuori-Kalaja trail in winter

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

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

Inspecting trail information at Vuori-Kalaja

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

Winter wonderland: snowy forest

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

Vuori-Kalaja lean-to in winter

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

Campfire at Vuori-Kalaja shelter

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

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

Kalajanvuori hill, Vuori-Kalaja

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

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

Coffee break at Vuori-Kalaja shelter

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

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

Walking in the winter wonderland at Southern Konnevesi National Park

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

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

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

I wonder if we should try winter camping next time?

Directions: how to get to Southern Konnevesi National Park

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

Map, lean-to shelter at Vuori-Kalaja

This article has been previously published at visitcentralfinland.com.

The healing power of forests

Those suffering from noise and stress can find an escape in forests. It is proven that sylvan nature reduces stress and blood pressure. Finland offers an excellent opportunity for a change in lifestyle, and its path leads to the forest.

Only five per cent of Finland’s surface area is built. More than 70% of the surface area is forest and 10% water systems. No wonder that enjoying nature is great on a global scale in Finland: more than half of Finns visit summer houses regularly.

As much as 70% of the inhabitants of northern Finland annually visit the nation’s forests to trek or pick berries or mushrooms.

In principle, every Finn has access to a silent forest and a strip of shore where one can be in peace. Foreigners too have noticed this. Tourists seek a counterbalance to their everyday life in Finnish nature destinations. They want peace, quiet and opportunities for nature and aesthetic experiences.

This is difficult in the built urban environment. For example, as much as 75% of Europeans live in an urban environment. Tourists value original nature, clean environment and local culture.

“Aesthetic experiences and the relaxing effect of a green environment lift your mood and help recover from stress,” claims Professor Liisa Tyrväinen of Natural Resources Institute Finland.

Dr. Liisa Tyrväinen has long studied the significance of forests as a producer of well-being. Forests have a great effect on people as a mental, cultural and experiential environment.

Air pollution and exposure to noise, in this order, are the biggest environmental problems for human health according to WHO, the World Health Organisation.

Insufficient recovery from stress raises the blood pressure and increases the risk of diabetes.

Ms. Tyrväinen emphasises that particularly nature areas must be seen as a resource of health care for city dwellers. According to many studies, forests promote both physical and mental well-being.

Large nature areas muffle noise and improve air quality by removing dust and other impurities and by binding ozone and monoxide gases.

It is also proven that an outing in nature and just being there lift the mood. Forests have a great therapeutic significance.

On the basis of studies, one can influence one’s state of health by being and moving in a nature environment. Especially in one’s favourite spot in nature, it is possible to regulate one’s condition towards promoting health.

“According to studies, people experience stronger recovery from stress on pleasant exercise routes often situated in the forest and in larger outdoor exercise areas than in the street and outdoor spaces of city centres mentioned as favourite places.”

Blood pressure falls and  the organs recover in the forest

Tyrväinen’s research group has results measured with heart rate monitors and blood pressure meters on how quickly a nature environment and particularly the forest help recovery from stress.

The measurements and surveys were made with a test group of almost a hundred persons.

“The health benefits of a green environment are evident.

A stressed person recovers quickly in nature. Recovery in a green zone is apparent after just 15 minutes!”

“The results of joint studies made with the Japanese are indisputable. When people were taken into the forest, a decrease in blood pressure and pulse, a reduction in muscular tension and an increase in the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system were observed in the measurement results.”

The parasympathetic nervous system is most active in rest. From the effect of a parasympathetic impulse, the heart rate slows down and respiratory frequency is reduced. Being in the forest has a similar effect on the organs as yoga or meditation. The Finnish forest is a retreat.

People felt more vigorous and even more creative after being in the forest. Liisa Tyrväinen emphasises the aesthetics of nature. Stress is particularly removed by the experience of nature, an unbuilt, beautiful scenery and silence.

Liisa Tyrväinen recommends consciously combining nature experiences and moving in nature with a holiday trip.

It helps recovery from the strains of everyday life. “One nature trip is not enough to heal, but it can be an impetus for a change in lifestyle.”

A nature trip to the Finnish forest offers a holistic health package. It includes multisensory nature experiences, a clean and beautiful environment, outings in nature, accommodation and sauna close to nature, silence and healthy forest products, such as berries, mushrooms, wild vegetables and game.

Article by Visit Finland / Ari Turunen