This is what Midsummer in Lapland looks like

The Sun does not set in Lapland, and the nature is blooming. One might still see some snow here and there, but almost all of it is gone. Instead we have beautiful greenery all around us. Here are some photos to show you what the Midsummer looks like in Lapland.

Lapland has some beautiful clear waters so don’t forget your diving mask. This is lake Pallasjärvi.
Little fish enjoying the beautiful sunshine of Lappish summer.
Wild blueberries (or bilberries) are blooming.
It doesn’t get any darker than this for weeks.
Sunny Midnight in Kittilä.
Bunch berry (Cornus suecica) is one of the earliest flowers to blossom in the summer.
As the snow melts, rivers in Lapland tend to flood and it can sometimes get pretty serious. This is Ounasjoki river.

With Tentsile you can reach new heights when camping out

Imagine the moment when you wake up in the morning, rested, and in the middle of nature. Wind is blowing delicately, and the fabric of the tent is accompanying its rhythm. You have slept well, and you are anticipating for your morning coffee. You open your tent and sit on the edge. You are wiggling your toes, seeing how wonderful nature looks like from above ground. How lovely is this!

With Tentsile, you can reach new heights when camping out – and it’s no wonder: this unconventional outdoor accommodation has become more and more popular among hikers and campers. Although Tentsile is not the lightest tent around, you can still feel weightless when setting it up wherever there are trees, whether it be in the wilderness or in  your backyard. A night spent in Tentsile feels like adventure everywhere.

Tentsile looks like a tent. You can sleep in it like you would do in a normal tent. The difference is that you set it up between trees, up in the air just like a hammock – only much tighter. The best thing about Tentsile is that you can set it up on a rocky beach or on a cliff with a view. This tent goes where no other tent can. No matter how uneven, sloped or full of rocks the terrain is – Tentsile hangs in the air above all that.

After a long and rewarding hiking day, the tent invites you in like a nest among the branches. What’s even better, you don’t have to sleep there alone as your friend can fit in nicely, too. You can stow your hiking gear, bike etc. under the tent where it will be sheltered from rain.

You are sitting on the edge of your tent, enjoying the evening snack, looking at the view, with a gentle breeze cooling down your weary legs. Maybe you can feel the undergrowth tickling your feet as you take the last sips of your evening tea?

It’s time to give your legs and your whole body the rest they need, comfortably and safely in the air, letting the sounds of nature lull you to sleep. In Tentsile, there is no pea under the camping mattress pressing your back. Just drift off to dream in a million-star hotel. Maybe in the wee hours of the morning, drops of rain drum the roof of your tent. If there’s no chance of rain, you can also use the tent without its outer layer, leaving just the inner mesh tent in place, and see all the stars.

It’s a new day. You are waking up slowly, smelling the wind and sitting on the edge of your tent. Do you see an open sea or lake, or maybe a vibrant-coloured marshland? Do you hear the singing of the cranes, splashing of the waves or a silent hum of the fells?

The feeling of urgency is gone. You ponder whether you should stay right here or continue on your journey. Tentsile is the perfect base camp for day trips. Wouldn’t it be great to set it up someplace nice and just go out on shorter hikes, carrying only a light backpack with what you need?

You can book a night in Tentsile for yourself and your friend at the North Gate of Nuuksio – just a short distance from Helsinki. The Salmijärvi region is a beautiful, forested place to enjoy the peace of nature and experience what it is like to spend a night in Tentsile. See the details of the accommodation and book your Tentsile night here.

Translation: Mikko Aslak Lemmetti

Summer to winter

Over the last half a year or so, I have been experimenting more with my photography here in the Finnish nature. I’ve focused on big landscapes as well as focused in on the smaller details. My time spent in the forest, on the islands and near the lakes have been nothing short of spectacular. Below are some photos that I’ve taken over the last few months (from around July to December), here in wonderful Finland.

Above: A warm, summer scene within a small patch of bitch trees. Since Finland has many colder months, it almost makes the summer feel more special in a way. I’m lucky in that I enjoy all the variety throughout the seasons 🙂

Above: A sunset in July at around 23.00. This photo was taken along the river Pielisjoki in Joensuu.

Above: Another intimate summer photo. The time spent outdoors around sunset brings some fantastic and eye-catching glowing patches amongst the Finnish landscapes.

Above: Somewhere on an island near Tuusiniemi at around 03.00 in the beginning of September. I made plans especially for this night since it was predicted that the northern lights may appear. I spent the night camping near a summer cottage and was once again blown away by this incredible show of light. The aurora have become really special to me and I’m incredibly grateful to be in Finland so that I may experience them in person.

Above: Another photo from that night.

Above: Autumn. When autumn kicks in, you’ll know all about it 🙂 If I had to pick my favourite season in Finland, this would be it. The golden leaves, foggy mornings and starry nights make it a clear winner in my books.

Above: Trees in the fog on a fresh and crisp morning in Kontiolahti. This morning had an incredibly mysterious feeling to it, and I had to stop several times to pinch myself and check that I wasn’t dreaming 🙂

Above: A view of the treetops on a misty and snowy day. I climbed to the top of a nearby hill to take this photo and really enjoyed seeing the layers upon layers of forest fading into the distance.

Above: An October moonrise with an amazing halo of light above some forest in Joensuu. This is something that I’ve never really tried to photograph but thought it would be interesting to capture.

Above: Some finer details along the floor of an autumn forest. Interesting things may be at your feet 🙂

Above: Misty birch forest.

Above: Another misty autumn scene.

Above: A rocky lake shore in Joensuu at the end of October. No matter what I do with my photography, I always end up back in places like this. There is a sense of tranquility that is hard to find elsewhere.

Above: A November landscape at my favourite local spot. The water has become cold and icy.

Above: Icy patterns on a frozen lake shore. The small details can sometimes be quite interesting as well.

Above: This is my most recent photo from Joensuu (around 3rd December). The lakes are freezing up and creating interesting shapes of ice these days. One has to visit regularly to see all the amazing changes from day to day.

That was it for the last few months in Finland! I look forward to the amazing winter and what interesting photographic opportunities it may bring. Also, I just enjoy being outdoors regardless of whether I have my camera with me or not 🙂 I hope that all of you have an amazing winter and enjoy your festival season.

See you out there!

Hike Finlandia, part 3: Lapland

Article by Onni Kojo

After Karhunkierros I continued my way north. The forgotten UKK route continues at the north end of Karhunkierros. This trail was almost non-existing, but it was fairly easy to find the markings on the trees. Very quiet, after meeting other hikers every day. I was not talking to other people that much. Finns are just so bad at small talk! But also because in these popular hiking routes, people tend to have own groups in which they travel.

I didn’t mind. I enjoyed walking alone as much as I enjoyed company. 

Beautiful old growth forests covered the fells that opened up in front of me. I was now in the region of Salla. Their slogan is – Salla – In the Middle of nowhere. I like that! It did feel like being in the middle of nowhere. The beauty of Lapland is very much in the sense of open space. 

When you get to Lapland, the nature starts to change around you. More old trees, different kinds of plants, more barren, but beautiful still. The Lapp huts along the way have remained even though the trail seems to be rarely used. I found myself in this hut between two fells, next to a small lake. Fireplace inside, pure drinkable water right next to it and still few berries to be eaten. This was perfection. It was now officially fall. My favorite season.

The nature roasted in to a golden-yellow glow. The forests of Salla were absolutely stunning! This season was a perfect timing for admiring them. I stopped often to wonder the different shades of orange and red while I was walking. Dead silent everywhere. I would meet a pack of reindeer or willow grouse every now and then. 

It was necessary to take more breaks as the ascents began to be longer and the fells higher. At one stop I startled. There was a dog behind me! For how long it had followed me, I didn’t know. It had a collar with antenna. It was some hunter’s dog. But where was the hunter?

Day was beautiful and not too cold. I admired the vast view of forests that continued beyond sight. The dog was still with me while I was sitting on this rock. We continued the journey together. Still no sight of the hunter. I tried to look a phone number on the collar, but the number was wrong. Well, maybe the antenna worked and we would meet the owner soon.

I stopped for lunch at this lean-to shelter. Not knowing what the dog could eat, I didn’t give any food. As a protest, I was barked at.

Soon we hit a dirt road. I knew that if the antenna worked, they would see from the gps and drive there shortly. After 2 minutes, a land cruiser raced next to me.

He was a bear hunter and he had seen from the gps where his dog was and told me that he knew from the movement that there were humans around. The guy had driven 40 km from the other side of the forest to that spot. He also said that it was a good thing that I didn’t give the dog any food, because otherwise they would learn to go after the hikers to give them food!

In the village of Salla I got more supplies and ate a huge, well-deserved pizza. Hanging around at the main street of the village was like from a movie. Guys drinking beer at a bench next to the grocery store, hitchhikers from Germany at the bus stop, grannies cycling along the street. It was a nice and sunny autumn evening. A lovely little town it was. I continued my way towards west now.

4 days I hiked these gravel roads to a place called Pyhä. For me, it was a familiar place as I had been working there the previous winter. Here, I would also have couple days off from the hike and I actually worked as a guide on these break days! I was welcomed with the Lappish hospitality from my dear manager at work. It was unreal to be indoors and have a bed after weeks of hiking!

I experienced this Lappish hospitality on those 4 days of gravel road hiking, too. This guy drove next to me with a transporter. He was a hunter. He was amazed. Why the hell I was walking here by myself! After we shared a laugh, he offered me his cottage to stay! He just said that I could go there and sleep! I didn’t get there that night before the dark. Anyways, people in northern Finland can be extremely hospitable. I had many other encounters like this in Lapland.

Pyhä is an old holy mountain of the forest Sami people that used to live on these lands. The word ‘Pyhä’ in Finnish, means ‘Holy’. This place is unique. You’ll find remarkably unique landscapes, old growth forests and silence from here. There is a national park that covers most of the area. Finland’s biggest gorge is here between the fells and one of the most beautiful waterfalls I know. Right next to the national park there is also skiing slopes, a small village and lots of activities packed in one small place. A perfect combination for everyone! It’s like Lapland in a nutshell.

Pyhä-Luosto national park’s logo features a Siberian jay. You see these birds here every day. These curious and pretty birds sure are fun creatures!

After hiking amongst many other visitors, who had come to see the fall colours, I headed to the town of Sodankylä. I walked by the driveway and from there took another 4 day gravel road hike to the west towards Ylläs.

Those days were one of the most boring ones of my life. There were just vast areas of semi natural forests and not much to see. One stop near Kittilä was nice though. This big lake you could see from the shore overlooking the landscape of fells.

My plans had worked quite well so far. I had stayed pretty much on that path that I had thought. There was just one problem – the winter was coming. 

There was already some wet snow pouring when I started hiking through yet another national park: Pallas–Ylläs. This national park is one of the oldest and most known in Finland. No doubt, the scenery is breathtaking. Here I met many other hikers and made new friends. After a few days of rain and wet snow, the weather turned beautiful. Crisp cold mornings and bright blue days. I enjoy those kinds of days.

Herds of reindeer would pass by every day. They start their mating time around this time of the year so it is good to be little bit cautious with them. At least with the stags.

These herds can be hundreds of individuals, sometimes running around the fells. One morning I got woken up by this huge herd as some of them have bells around their necks like sheep. They are a semi-domesticated species and all of them are always owned by someone even when they go around the wild every now and then. There are a lot of domesticated reindeer as well in the farms all around Lapland. 

They say that a white reindeer is for good luck. I saw one every day! From a distance though. I heard a story about how furious the stags can get during mating season. I was having lunch at this Lapp hut with few other hikers when this older guy told us a story that involved a reindeer antler, a carotid artery and lots of blood. I kept my distance.

Nice lunch discussions and encounters continued along the way. I remember this one dad who was hiking with her 5-year-old daughter. They were on a one-night hike and we had a chat at this yet another Lapp hut shelter. I told him about my journey. By now I had walked about 2000 km. He told me word to word ‘I doubt your mental health’. I laughed. But he was right as well. I might have gone mad by now, walking by myself for months. There were a few things that kept me sane. One was social media – (staying connected is almost too easy nowadays; I did also have days when I didn’t use it), the other was just staying on the course, so perseverance. I would meet new people all the time so I wasn’t really lonely. There were only a few times I felt loneliness, but I think that is good. In this hyper social world of ours we easily forget to self-reflect. It is very important to just be happy with yourself. The modern world easily distracts us to use our time on just looking on what other people do.

But yeah, to walk over 2000 km you have to be a bit crazy. In a good way!

To be honest, at the moment while I’m writing this in a studio apartment in Helsinki, I feel lonelier than when I was hiking alone. I would meet so many fantastic people along the way. The wilderness cabins would usually be full of people, sharing their adventures. People would gather around a fireplace and share their stories. Would that happen in a city? Just random people at a park for example just meeting and sharing stories about their days? 

There is something really familiar to us, when we meet new people while hiking in national parks or in the wilderness. We are so close to the things that humans are made for. Surviving in the wilderness and staying together as a tribe. 

I shared a wonderful evening with people all over Finland on the last day of the Ylläs – Hetta hike. To hear everyone’s craziest adventures was so much fun. You also learn so much from others while you share stories. We even saw pretty good northern lights that night.

That is one exceptional aspect about the open wilderness cabin culture. There is always another side of the coin, though. This culture is based on respecting the place and other visitors. That includes cleaning up after yourself and giving space to people who need the shelter most. This age-old rule is easily forgotten nowadays. Always respect the nature and others around you, always! We can still keep this culture alive and have these places, so we can share stories by the fire. It would be sad to see this go and have private cabins all around instead of the open ones, if we do not adhere to common rules!

In general though, during my journey, I met great people and almost every shelter and cabin that I visited was in good condition! Way to go Finland!

I heard news that there was already snowfall in the very north western part of the country. That’s where I was heading. I based my plan to the fact that last winter the snowfall was so late and that people had hiked up to Halti even at the beginning of October. It started to seem that it might be impossible. I didn’t change my plans. The snow might have melted.

I walked along the driveway towards Kilpisjärvi for days. I headed to the wilderness after three days. There was this dirt road leading to the wilderness area of Käsivarsi – ‘Käsivarren erämaa-alue’. From there I was to hike to Kilpisjärvi through the wilderness. After about 10 km walking the dirt road it was obvious that there was a lot of snow. The snow limit was in about 600 metres above sea level. I still continued, I didn’t want to quit. Mainly because my other option was pretty lame. To walk the along the road all the way to Kilpisjärvi, another 70 km or so.

I went to the first cabin at the end of the dirt road. I was a little depressed. I couldn’t hike up to Halti. The October gloom got more intense day by day. Nevertheless, I had an amazing adventure in the wilderness! The soft snow made it super hard to go through even with skis. At times the snow was down to my knees. At the first cabin I found some hard plastic and iron wire so I decided to make my own snowshoes. Surprisingly, after testing them, they worked!

I walked with my snowshoes about 7 km to the next hut. I was the most exhausted I have ever been. It was so heavy to walk in the snow. I had lunch and a cup coffee and decided to head back and plan another ending for my journey. There was no way I could walk in these conditions even if there would be melted ground after the next fell. I was beaten, but still so happy that I tried. It sure was an instructive and fun adventure!

A boring couple of days of walking by the road followed. I would just camp where ever I could find a spot. There were a lot of campfire places along the road and rivers. Fishermen use this road and these rivers during summertime and make campfires everywhere. It started snowing and the temperatures dropped even more. It was now officially winter here.

When I finally saw the Saana fell and the village of Kilpisjärvi, I jumped out of joy. This would be the last village before heading to Norway. I decided that I’d climb to Saana and then walk to Norway and to the Arctic sea. It was only 50 kilometres away!

This was the only area that is geologically considered to be a part of a mountain range in Finland. After hiking up to Saana I had visited almost all the different habitats found in this country. From the shores of the Baltic sea, through the fields and villages of the south, across the lake land and boreal forests, over the endless swamps and up the fells of Lapland, I had walked across the whole country! 2300 kilometres by now, to be exact. 

I wanted to finish the trip by going to Norway. I hadn’t swam or seen the sea for months, so I would end this at the mighty fjords of Norway. 

The very last day I walked from close to the Finnish border down to the fjord beach. It was one of those clear sunny days when the blue sky just opens and the universe just feels so vast. I felt good!

The feeling was also a bit melancholic, I would end my journey now. During that one day, the scenery changed from the arctic tundra into almost like the southern type of nature! Even the leaves were still orange and yellow, even though 30 km inland in Finland there were no leaves on the trees anymore. I was close to the sea though. The snowy cap mountains and sheep welcomed me to the village at the beach. Why is there sheep everywhere in Norway?

I have nothing greater to say after all this. Finland is a wonderful country and we must continue to care for it and its magnificent nature. Whoever reads this, remember, be sure to take some time off for yourself in life. Losing the track of time is the best way of charging your energies! Even a small amount of time is enough, you don’t have to hike 2000 km. Through this self-reflection, one also learns to be a better person to others and the nature around us.

You can follow my adventures on Instagram @onnimarkus

Blog in Finnish: onnitravels.blogspot.com

Read more:

Hike Finlandia: a hike from Finland’s southernmost tip to the Arctic sea. Part 1

Hike Finlandia, part 2: Eastern Finland

Hike Finlandia, part 2: Eastern Finland

Article by Onni Kojo

In this article I will be going more into the less known places of Eastern Finland.

The end of July was really warm. Hot even. The weather made hiking harder. Insects like mosquitoes and horse flies were annoying. I was now heading close to the eastern border of the country. Here, you can still find crystal clear lakes, untouched forests and endless mire lands. 

The downside with the seemingly never ending nature is that it has also been cultivated a lot. In North Karelia, 89% of the land area consists forests. Forestry companies own a prominent amount of them. Peat, or turf, is also a significant resource around here. I saw that as I was walking past those infinite fields on these hot summer days. By the way, if Finland had done the same with their swamps and turn all of them into peat fields, we could have a very plentiful source of fuel. Peat is harvested for fuel from these fields. 

It’s good that we didn’t.

Swamps are super important for the environment, since they are host to a range of plant life and a high level of humidity, hence plenty of insects. Now this might be uncomfortable when visiting swamp areas, but when you realize how many birds and reptiles there are because of the insects, you respect them much more. And because of the smaller animals, there is always a bigger animal coming after them.

In addition to biodiversity, mires are important carbon sinks.

I would be walking through endless swamps for weeks! But first, I had to visit some of my relatives. I had planned my route so that I could pay them a visit this summer. I also needed a bath so bad. I’m making a statement now. There is nothing more satisfying than sauna, a swim in a pure lake and to having a cold beverage after hiking a day in heat. Trust me. Or maybe there is, but this combo is surely very close to the ultimate satisfaction.

I had a weekend off from hiking. It is important to rest properly on such a long walk. I also needed to do laundry, as from now on it got harder and I really had to plan my stops and rest days. Where could I charge my phone and batteries, where could I do laundry and get more supplies? Up to this point, I could just visit friends and family, but after this I’d have to book a guest house every now and then.

After the July heat, the temperatures dropped tremendously. There was a cold north wind to all around Finland. These extreme weather changes are getting more and more common in Finland. Before, our climate has been fairly mild, at least in southern inland.

For me it was good though! The north wind kept the nasty insects away and it was nicer to walk than in the heat. I was so prepared for having to deal with millions of mosquitoes around here. I did encounter a few flying devils that I really hate, like the deer fly. Also it is notable, that in the very eastern part of North Karelia, close to the border, there are ticks that can carry diseases. That’s why they are one of the only dangerous creatures in Finnish nature. There is only one venomous snake in Finland, the common viper.

Equal growth pine forests and gray skies led my way to the next national park, Patvinsuo. Here, it is fascinating to see some age-old pines amongst the new growth ones. I hiked through vast open swamp areas to the lakes of the national parks. I found some nice beaches along the way and met other hikers. It was nice to talk with people. My social life took place only online on some days of the hike

I ate last of my Karelian pies (you only get the real ones in Karelia) and continued the journey north via ‘Karhunpolku’ – The ‘Bear trail’. This would lead me to the town of Kuhmo and from there I would take the Eastern border trail all the way up to Lapland.

At Karhunpolku, I didn’t meet any other hikers! Again, once out from the national park, there was no one else. The forest looked magical, full of white lichen, moss, pink blossoming heather and berry bushes of different colours.

Slowly, through the beautiful ridges cutting the swamps and forests, I made my way towards north. These trails would also have other kinds of shelters besides the huts and lean-to shelters: wilderness cabins. This culture of open wilderness cabins is one of a kind in the world. Some of them even have saunas! Absolutely brilliant for a tired hiker, or a country-cross skier in the wintertime!

These shelters always have a visitor’s book, where one should write about their visit. These journals were so much fun to read every night. I found notes from few other long distance hikers, even couple from one of my teachers at the wilderness guide course. One note was from this one guy who had done a big hike the previous summer (I met him earlier in the summer somewhere in the lake country). He had only written: ‘On my way to the North’. Pretty modest from a guy that hiked across the whole country!

These stories and encounters with people are worth writing down. Apart from these forgotten hiking trails, I met many people. I had many of confluences with interesting people. I heard stories that I would’ve never heard. People opened up to me in a very different way. I mean telling me, a stranger, about their lives. Maybe there was some kind of nostalgia to the old days, where there would be vagabonds and tramps all around the country. You stayed connected with the people because of this folk. 

Sometimes when I had to walk along the driveway, I felt like a rebel. Maybe little bit extremist, but why use fossil fuels, when you can just walk to places? There was other free riders and rebels along the way. Every time there was a biker or a long distance cyclist passing by, we shared this smile. These people know what freedom feels like.

One of the most interesting stories was from this old man and his wife who I met somewhere near Kuhmo. They were locals and had lived there all of their lives. This mosaic of old growth forest, lakes and swamps was, just 50 years ago, a true wilderness. Now, there was are a lot of clear cut forests in the area. Luckily there still are conservation areas in between of these more cultivated lands.

I was in the lands of storytelling. No wonder there would be people who like to share stories. From the notes in the visitor’s book, to the old guy at the market square of Kuhmo telling me about his life, I was having difficulties to write it all down. I felt like a 19th century explorer going around the wilderness collecting stories from times that were forgotten.

I mean, Finland’s epic, Kalevala, was collected from these lands. The vast area of White Karelia (Vienan Karjala in Finnish) spread from here far to the east to the Russian side of the border. Culturally, White Karelia also has three poetry villages on the Finnish side of Kainuu.

There was other culturally important places along the border too. A Traveller faces the relics of the wars around here. Old foxholes, bases, fortresses, some of which have been restored as a historic sites. There has always been war around these lands and I think it’s good to visit these places as we should never forget how horrible war is. 

While I was walking the Eastern border trail, I was for a few times, stopped by the Border Patrol. They were just keen on what I was doing, as they were no hikers around here. Metsähallitus (Finnish Forest Administration) had just stopped maintaining the trail. I worried that the campfire places would not have any firewood because of this. It would be harder to dry clothes and shoes after many days of hiking in the swamp areas! Luckily they were still somewhat serviced, maybe because the local day hikers or hunters would still be using them. I did actually need the campfires a few times because at the beginning of my two week journey at this trail, it was quite rainy. Also the trail was in some parts, in very bad condition. I would have to cross the creeks because the bridges would be broken down. I would have to walk in the swamp a few times because the boardwalks would not exist anymore.

It was good meeting with the Border Patrol because we both changed information like, what animals we’d seen, what was it like at the next campsite etc. Now to clarify a bit, the guards were driving with a jeep along the dirt roads, not hiking the trails like they used to. Still, nice guys that were amazed of my journey. 

Last time I talked with them, they half-jokingly stated that I’d have to put something red on my head, as the bear hunting season had just started and these lands and forests were full of hunters. I might get shot otherwise. It was only later, at this Wilderness Centre in Martinselkonen, I realized the Border Patrol was not joking. I talked with the owner of the centre. He said that if the hunters would not get the bear at one shot, which is highly likely, the bear would be extremely dangerous wounded. Not only the wounded bear, but the hunters running after it and shooting, while I’m there as well!

Later I heard a few gunshots here and there. Some of the dirt roads along the trail had pickup-trucks beside them and tents in the forest which the hunters used. I met few hunters as well. It was interesting to hear what they were doing, as this was a totally new world to me.

I’m not a hunter, so I’m not going to go into it. All I know, is that hunting and fishing are a big part of the Finnish outdoor life. To kill for trophies and for sport is in my opinion bad, but to hunt for game, for food, is just an old way of living.

Anyways, I was now in the land of lot of bears. I saw signs of them every day. Like ant nests dug, all the blueberries eaten (European brown bears love blueberries!), or I would just step on a pile of bear poop.

I didn’t see the king of the forest. They have a natural fear of humans and they could smell me miles away. There is bear watching tours you can book, if you want to see these mighty creatures! At Martinselkonen for example.

I saw other animals though. Moose would walk in the forest or crane (bird) would fly past me every now and then or make its very recognizable sound echoing in the open swamp areas. All kinds of forest grouses would hurtle from the bushes when I walked quietly by myself through the boreal forests. Some of these age old forests had hanging moss or beard lichen on the branches of the trees more than I had ever seen before. This is a clear sign that the air is super pure. This moss doesn’t grow if there is any pollution.

I would some mornings, be woken up by whooper swans. Their sound is loud and can be heard miles away because the lakes carry sound. These small ridges would cut the swamps and lakes. Little birds flew in all directions from the berry bushes on the ridge slopes. In addition to blueberries, lingonberries and crowberries grew everywhere. 

I diverged from the trail a bit to get supplies. There was only one village with a little country store around here. Ala-Vuokki store had a post office, bar and a gas station in the same building. Very typical to have all the services in one place in these remote areas. The store owner was interested of my journey and offered me coffee and pastry! I continued to the trail the same day. Days were getting shorter and nights darker.

A few times I heard hunting dogs barking or the forest machine would break the feeling of being in the wilderness. Otherwise, I still walked mostly on magical lands. No wonder these forests and lakes were attached to the age old storytelling lands. And did I already say that I didn’t meet any other hikers along these hiking trails? There were couple of days that I didn’t see any other human being!

After the long eastern border adventure, I made my way to Finland’s latest national park – Hossa. The contrast was huge. Suddenly there was all these newly made trails and huts. People hiking along the turquoise waters of Hossa or mountain biking next to these magnificent cliffs. 

I had a resting day in the town of Kuusamo. From here I would continue to one of the most known hikes in Finland – Karhunkierros. 

Before this, it had been relatively easy to hike, at least in terms of altitude differences. Finland is pretty flat country. So until here, I would not have to ascend more than sixty meters or so! But here, it was crazy! Climbing up and down these hills was brutal. With a backpack full of one weeks supplies, anyways.

The scenery changed more to the northern kind. Gorgeous sceneries, big rivers and cliffs. I also saw little bit of northern lights the first night. Already! The days got even shorter and the leaves of the trees would turn to yellow, orange and red. By now, I really had to try and wake up early because I had to use the daytime for hiking. Summertime was easy – it didn’t really matter what time I was walking since there would be enough light even during night time. 

I started to see more northern species like the Siberian jay and reindeer! I was now truly in north. I felt so good. I had hiked through the endless swamps all the way to up the north, by myself!

You can follow my adventures on Instagram @onnimarkus

Blog in Finnish: onnitravels.blogspot.com

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Hike Finlandia: a hike from Finland’s southernmost tip to the Arctic sea. Part 1

Hike Finlandia: a hike from Finland’s southernmost tip to the Arctic sea. Part 1

Article by Onni Kojo

I travel and explore nature, history and culture. I am interested in the relationship between man and nature. During the summer and autumn of 2019, I hiked from Finland’s southernmost tip to the Arctic sea in northern Norway.

For a long time, I had this need to connect with the outdoor world again. For our generation, the human world is so much different than for any of the other generations before us. Nature, on the other hand, is always perfect with it’s dangers and beauty.

I had this idea of a big hike. Maybe I felt like I needed a break from this busy world of ours, or maybe just for the pure adventure. Many people share this same urge to explore. But to have the time for all of that is just so hard in this modern life. It’s also scary. Just to leave everything and go abroad by yourself.

Of course this hike would include visiting a lot of culturally important places and meeting new people, things that I really enjoyed as well. But this adventure would be more about the nature than my previous travels.

Big hike of a lifetime. There are those routes that take months to walk. Like Pacific Crest Trail in the US or Camino de Santiago in Spain. But here in Northern Europe there really is no such a route. Just few longer hiking routes amongst the hundreds of shorter ones. That is why I decided to plan the route myself and have as much different places along the way as possible.

I’m not the only one who has done a hike across Finland. There are few other people, even couple of people who I saw along the way, that have done a similar hike than mine. Some of these people might want to keep themselves. Who knows how many other big adventurers there are!

You can follow my adventures on Instagram @onnimarkus
Blog in Finnish: onnitravels.blogspot.com

Hike Finlandia, part 1

The Baltic Sea opened up in front of me. The breeze from the sea was warm, the day was sunny and bright. Few tourists were by the sea, enjoying the day. Polished by the glaciers from ice-age, these cliffs were smooth, gently curving into the depths. This point was the southernmost point of coastal Finland.

My backpack weighted about 25 kilos. I had a wide grin on my face as I dipped my toes into the salty water and then put my hiking boots on. I felt free for the first time in ages.

My plan was to hike all the way up to the northern part of this country. To the highest peak in the north western part of it, to be exact. I had little bit less than 4 months to do this. I had planned this hike the whole spring as I was studying to become a nature – and wilderness-guide. So for me, this was also a continuation to my studies. I wanted to see what it was really like out there. What kind of secret places I would find? How many species in the nature would I remember from my studies, how many new I would learn? Would I survive by myself hiking the endless forest? What kind of difficulties would I encounter and what kind of people would I meet. I was eager to travel and explore.

For me it was easy to travel by myself, as I had been backpacking around the word much of my adult life. But this was a whole other level. I would walkNo cars, no train, no bicycle, no boat. Just hike.

Sunny and windy day continued and I started walking. The cape of Tulliniemi is a conservation area with couple of nature trails. The day hikers looked at me and my backpack curiously. Beautiful groves and pine forests covered this cape. It didn’t look like any other place I would visit during this hike. This was the only place that had that kind of southern temperate nature. I would soon be walking in endless boreal forests and swamps.

As the first day folded into the night (It didn’t really, the sun just went close to the horizon for a bit), I was exhausted. I had first walked into the southernmost point and then started the actual hike. I already had a blister on my foot. First day of any hike, is always the hardest. I hadn’t hiked in ages, because I was studying and working before this. My backpack was way too heavy. The day was hot.

I sat down and took my hiking shoes off. I was close to the beach I was going to camp for that night. I saw a stick. A branch of a pine tree. I took it, cut it half by kicking it. I hated it. It was crooked, not cool enough. But I needed a walking stick. It really helped me to get there the rest of the way. I had walked 40 km that day and it was almost midnight. Tired, but still happy. I made it even when my feet hurt so badly.

The next morning I dipped myself into the water. The air smelled salty. It was a hot and sunny morning. I felt like I was somewhere in the Mediterranean. This would be the last time I would feel and smell and hear the ocean, for months to come.

The days went by and walking got easier. I had marked down places worth to visit and good spots to camp from the map. I used ‘Maastokartat’-app on the phone. Here in the south I would have internet access almost anywhere, but in the north I would need to download the maps on the phone or then just buy a map. Anyways, I had a general plan of my route and all the camping sites, lean-to shelters and ‘kotas’ marked in the maps on my phone.

It was fairly easy to navigate with the app. At least here in the south. I just enjoyed the summer days and walked along country roads and forest tracks.

So the first bit of my hike was the nature trail and then the streets of Hanko. Very nice town by the way, Finland’s most sunny town, they say. There was no hiking routes around here. But luckily, Finland is full of forest roads, because of the forestry and logging industry.

The scenery changed all the time from the nice country estates with horse stables, to the mixed forests and then into clear cut forests (which there is a lot in the south). Here and there, there would be a small conservation area with a fire place in it, or just a nice beach or shelter to camp for the night. Most of the places were quite good. And they were free to use because of our everyman’s rights. I would see a white-tailed deer every day, as this introduced species has been very successful in southern part of the country.

Now, there was also some problems with everyman’s rights. In the town of Karjalohja for example, it was not allowed to camp on the public beach. I went into the nearby forest instead, and checked from the map that it wasn’t near any residence. This is the law, you are allowed to camp for a short period of a time as long as it is not near anyone’s property nor causing any disturbance.

But most of the evenings, I would easily find a place to camp. I had a tent with me, but I also used the shelters. The tent was better option in midsummer though, because of the insects. As I would go further inland and close to swamps, there would be way more mosquitos. But I will go into that later on.

So, it’s fairly easy to find places to camp for the night anywhere in Finland. Just need to know the rules that apply for the everyman’s rights and have general respect for the places and nature where you are visiting. Leave no trace, don’t set up a fire if there is a forest fire warning, don’t disturb others or the nature and don’t destroy any living trees or plants. In exchange, you can pick up the berries and mushrooms, camp, and roam freely! Now this habit of respecting the area and freedom to roam should be common knowledge, but unfortunately it’s not.

The next area after the countryside, was the national park of Liesjärvi. From there, I would use the Ilvesreitti trails into the lake country.

Liesjärvi is convenient and nice national park, as it is quite short a way from Helsinki. Because of the easy access, there would be a lot of visitors. It’s good that people come and charge their energies in the nature, and outdoors is a healthy new trend. But. Unfortunately the side effects of this growing number of visitors, is rubbish left on the fire places, food waste on the river next to the camp sites, people throwing every single piece of rubbish into the bonfire.

I do not know where this habit came from. Cardboard and paper is usually ok to burn, but anything else is really easy to just take with you and recycle at home. There is nothing nastier, than someone burning plastic and the next moment, kids around the fire place roasting marshmallows.

Why would you have the energy and willpower to travel into a certain natural place, and then leave your rubbish and food waste there. It does not belong in that place. It is ok to visit. To feel, smell, hear and see the pure nature. And then just leave with everything you had with you. Including your dog, who was on the leash for the whole time. Wasn’t it?

Anyways, there is clearly lot of advisory to be done for the hikers, tourists, any visitors really. Everyone who visits the nature of Finland, should know, what the common rules are. Without them, all this free roaming is in danger.

The national park had clear hiking routes marked with various colours, depending on what kind of a hike you wanted to do. I was following the route that was marked with a head of a lynx. ‘Ilvesreitti’ means ‘The lynx route’. This web of routes stretches hundreds of kilometres around the Häme region, about an hour drive from Helsinki. There is also an old heritage farm in the national park called ‘Kortenniemi’ that is worth visiting! I went there also and got a free presentation as there was a local guide doing a tour with visitors.

Besides the national park, there was literally no one on these routes. Some fire places along the way had day visitors, as they were usually close to the roads and had easy access. Some camping sites were barely used. As the route went to another municipality, it changed in its condition and scenery. Sometimes it would be just bush that was still marked with yellow signs hanging from the trees. Sometimes it was a dirt road, sometimes a nice path in a magical moss covered forest.

The reason for this alternating condition of the trail was because it went through different municipalities. When the trail is not entirely in one region or park, its condition varies. Some towns make an effort maintaining outdoor services, some don’t. Either it’s because of budget, or some places have just been forgotten. Seriously. I was surprised how many people there is, if the area is a national park. But there might be a beautiful conservation area nearby that has all the same services, but is nearly never used.

One of these places worth mentioning was Heinisuo. A swamp area close to Hämeenlinna. It was basically like mini version of the Torronsuo national park which is the biggest preserved swamp area in southern Finland. There I met first grouses and snakes during my hike. And not a single person.

Soon, I encountered another problem with the rights to roam. There was a field, rye field if I remember correctly. I had looked from the map, that if I went from the dirt road into the forest and went little bit along this field, it would be a smart route. The field was first just hay and it was not that wide. But then it changed. It was someone’s rye field. Now, to walk in fields where there is something growing is prohibited. I made a mistake with my route. Luckily there was tractor tracks where I reckon it was ok to walk the 100 meters to the other side. Still, I kind of broke the law.

Also, some maps are older and might not have all the tracks, routes, fields or clear cut forests marked into them. All hikers and travellers should know this.

Anyways, the Maastokartat-app worked very well. 10 days had passed from the start of the hike when I reached to town of Hämeenlinna. I would have a day off here, have a shower and go buy more food.

You could be thinking by now, how I managed to take care of the hygiene, what kind of food I would carry with me, how I would succeed generally. Like mentally and physically.

The thing is, while hiking, you have to let go of some standards. Especially in places where there is no modern comforts. Swimming in the lake every day for a week is enough to stay clean, before you get the chance to go into a sauna or shower. Luckily, Finland is full of lakes and public saunas!

For the clothing. Using materials like wool, that don’t need washing all the time, is good. Other hygiene, like I said: Wash your teeth and face, brush your hair, like you would do every day. But it’s really not necessary to have a daily shower. I was fine just going swimming every day and have a proper shower at least once a week.

Food supply was easy to take care while just hiking from town to town in the south, but further along the way it got harder. I would just go into the shops in almost every town and by fresh food and also go in cafes and restaurants. But I would also be on budget and when hiking in national parks and far from any villages, I would need lots of lightweight, mostly dry food that does not rot. At least in the summertime when the temperatures are not the same than in your freezer.

For the boredom, I listened audio books. That was only for the long days when I would be walking roads that went in the same looking scenery. Like these semi natural forests, which there is more than enough in Southern Finland.

But I was bored for a very little time as there was always something new to encounter. Was it a deer walking in the forest or a butterfly that I was trying to figure out which species it was. Or a villager passing by with a bicycle and talking with me, asking questions about my travels. There was always a new kind of atmosphere and landscape after every turn on the roads. It never really got boring. Sometimes it was just nice to listen to music and feel the breeze on your face as I was walking alongside a lake. Sometimes I would just listen to what birds I would recognize were singing. (I didn’t recognize many, it would take a lifetime to know all the Northern European species singing in the early summer choir)

To walk every day tens of kilometres with a heavy backpack, it takes a lot of mental strengths. ‘Sisu’ as we would say in Finnish. Everyone who has climbed a mountain or been on a weeklong hike in a challenging terrain for example, knows what I’m talking about. You are just not quitting.

Now for the physical endurance, obviously training is essential. I did try to get as fit as possible before the hike. But the most important part is just to take care of yourself. I did rest properly and avoided taking risks like climbing cliffs with heavy backpack.

Only thing I didn’t do during the first days of the hike was stretching properly. That I got to know after about a week. My right knee was hurting really bad. I tried to massage it. Didn’t work. It was only after I started stretching properly every morning and evening, that the pain was gone. I might have been pushing myself too much the first days of the hike. I was so eager to just go.

I also have to say that nutrition is very important. Your body needs so much energy while hiking. Lots of carbs and good fats. Good fats are also essential for the joints. I also picked some wild herbs for my lunches and dinners like fireweed and nettles. I’m pretty sure that they helped for the pain in the joints also. Later in the summertime there would be a source of vitamins in all the forests as the berries would grow.

So, naturally, the nature would be my chemist and nutritionist along the way!

Well rested day in Hämeenlinna and the adventure continued! The Häme region has always been the gateway to inland Finland. The lake country starts here. Lakes continue as far as the eye can see. You can hike up to hills that cut this landscape. It’s a maze of swamps, lakes, forests and rivers.

This area has lots of history with its castles, iron-age fort hills, churches, old towns and holy places in the nature. Like sacred groves for example. I was to visit few of these old sacred places, but further inland, as I had already visited in many places around Hämeenlinna before. There was lot of other interesting places to come, and I had planned my route so that I could visit as many new places as possible before winter.

My next destination was to hike to Evo-region. This hiking area is very popular combination of trails and camp sites. Not a national park, but a huge area consisting many little pieces of conservation areas. Here you can find animals like beavers, moose and flying squirrels. You can also find some of the oldest forests in southern Finland. These age old forests are in my opinion the most interesting of all places. There is just a different kind of feeling in them.

I didn’t see any beavers, moose or flying squirrels. But I did see a lot of beaver damns, lodges and other signs. I also started to see more of the ordinary species like common goldeneye and other water birds, frogs, squirrels, rabbits and hawks. The kind of animals you usually see and hear in Finnish forest.

First month of the summer is usually rainy. This year it seemed like the rain poured all at once, at the beginning of July. I was walking on the tracks of Evo and got a bit lost. Downpour, lots of water everywhere. There was a beaver dam and the trail went besides it. I somehow passed it and instead went next to a creek that was about 3 meters wide. Two birch branches crossed the stream. Of course, I had to try and walk to the other side. Rain, slippery surface and heavy backpack was not a good combo. I was in the creek to the waist.

Fortunately I had covered my phone in my pocket so it didn’t get wet. Be sure to always wear a waterproof case for your phone if you are hiking! For me the phone was extra important because of the maps in it.

Also, another rule if you get wet: always have dry clothes in a dry bag. And don’t worry, the next fire place is usually not far away. I changed my clothes and shoes (Yea I had two of them) in this lean-to shelter and ate some chocolate. Dry clothes, shelter and food, that is the only thing what we really need.

The lake country

From Evo, it’s not a long way to lake Päijänne. This is the second largest lake in Finland. I remember camping at the shores of the lake, after a long day of hiking from Evo. There was again, white-tailed deer. Actually two of them, chasing each other at the beach. It was a nice summer night, and I was thrilled that I got there. Big lakes have unique atmosphere. You could easily travel through half of the country just by using waterways! Now, thinking back into it, I should’ve definitely do a kayak or boat section of this journey at the lake country. So if you happen to be in the lake country of Finland in the summertime, hire a water vessel of your style and explore.

My plan was to just use the roads and various paths that go in the forests. The problem was though, that this area is full of people’s summer cottages and houses. The lake country is sometimes referred as the ‘cottage country’. I mean, there is half a million leisure homes in Finland! One for every five people. Every family has one, or everyone knows someone who has a second home somewhere outside cities.

Anyhow, Päijänne has a national park. It’s mostly islands, but there is a ridge going through the other side of the lake. I walked along it to the other side and beyond, towards Central Finland and Savo.

Here I had to walk little while by the roadway. Then back to the endless little country roads that go crisscross everywhere. Finland has definitely been efficient in using its forests. That is why these little roads go everywhere. They are also one reason that there is no big forest fires: these little roads cut the fire and make lot of places easy to access and put out the fire.

I continued to Kammiovuori in Sysmä. This hill was the highest point of lake Päijänne. The view was just amazing. I remember having morning coffee on top of the hill, pine tree forests as far as the eye can see, clear blue sky reflecting on hundreds of lakes. Common loon doing it’s call somewhere on the lakes, the sound echoing between the hills.

I didn’t have to travel many days when I was in another view point to the lakes. Neitvuori. This was middle of lake Saimaa, the biggest lake in Finland.

There was not really any good routes to hike in the lake country. There is few other national parks here but they are better to be visited by kayak or canoe. I was focusing on the small conservation areas or old sacred hills where I could see the view. These hills usually had interesting history too, as they’ve been used as a sacrificial sites or hillforts. This one, Neitvuori, was known to be used as a deer hunting spot. People would surround packs of deer towards the top of the hill and the deer would get stuck on the cliffs or drop. This hunting style made these kinds of hills very important.

If the rock or cliff had some kind of shape of an animal or human, it would be a sacred place. Sometimes just the location would made a specific place important. One of these was Sulkava hillfort. Finland has hundreds of pre-history fort hills. These places are usually protected by the law or have been hard to access during times, so they tend to have more diverse nature!

I was now in Savo region. People seemed little bit easy going then in the busy south. Beautiful landscapes opened up after every little hill as I was walking the countryside. A lot of cows around here. Every now and then I would walk pass a dairy farm. Then another lake and another farm, between of them, forests of course.

It was a nice and sunny after the beginning of July rain. Butterflies were everywhere alongside these country roads. Flowers and wild herbs almost at the peak of growing season, giving life to every little living thing flying around them. For me as well, as I sometimes picked a dandelion or some fireweed to spice up my lunches. Fireweed by the way, is ‘Maitohorsma’ in Finnish in which the first word ‘maito’ means milk. The name comes from a belief that it increases cow’s milk production. Because of this feature, it is preferably added to the cattle feed. Finnish milk products are said to be really good quality!

Moving on. I left the cows and continued towards east. There was one more town before I would go the region of Karelia. Savonlinna. This place is definitely worth visiting. It’s like the lake country packed in one little town! Surrounded by the lakes from all directions, this town has a medieval castle and an old town, and of course Tori – a really good market (where I ate so much it was hard to continue my journey).

July continued with pretty nice weather, even some super hot days. Luckily I was in the lake country, where I could go swimming every day. I didn’t encounter a lot of other hikers or even animals during this time. Didn’t get to see the Saimaa ringed seal – species that only lives around here.

Like I stated before, this area is should’ve been explored by waterways. There is also inland water cruises during summer if you don’t want to navigate through the lake maze by yourself.

So if you like water, beaches, castles, history and nature – lake country Finland is the place to be in summer!

After Savonlinna, I continued my hike towards the eastern part of the country. 

Would you like some plätty? This is how you bake and enjoy traditional Finnish campfire pancakes

The most loved delicacies in Finland are unquestionably open fire pancakes. They are not just any pancakes, they are plättys. To enjoy your openfire plättys in the best possible way, you should have good company and plenty of time – no one should prepare or eat plättys alone or in a hurry. It’s just not right. We’ll show you how it’s done.

To make best possible plättys, start by taking a stroll in the nature with at least one good friend. Enjoy the fresh air of the forest, listen to the silence. Pay attention to all the small details: the colors of the moss, the shapes of the trees, the ambiance surrounding you. Can you smell how pure the nature is? Take a good walk: the more you walk in the nature, the better your plättys will taste. This works really well especially when the weather is a bit misty, cold or even snowy or rainy.

One good thing about plättys is that you can prepare the dough at home and just take it with you in a bottle. This makes it very easy to start baking plättys after your refreshing stroll in the surrounding nature.

What you need:

5 dl of milk
2 fresh eggs
1 teaspoon of salt and sugar
2 dl of wheat flour
2 table spoons of oil

To prepare the dough, just mix everything together and let it rest for at least half an hour. That’s it!

You need also:

Matches and a knife
Firewood
A frying pan and a spatula
Frying oil
Strawberry or raspberry jam

Finding a good campfire spot is relatively easy in Finland. Now remember, even if one is allowed to enjoy our beautiful nature rather freely, making a campfire is not an everyman’s right. This is why you should always find an actual campfire spot to prepare your plättys. In national parks there are plenty of good and ready-to-go spots that even have firewood waiting for you! When visiting Helsinki, the nearest national parks are Nuuksio and Sipoonkorpi – both less than an hour’s drive away from the city center and also accessible by public transport.

A typical Finnish campfire spot in Nuuksio national park. There’s firewood in the shed.
With the bucket one can get water from the lake to put out the campfire before leaving.

Now, it’s time to make a fire. I hope you brought some matches and a puukko knife with you? Take some firewood from the shed and use your knife (be careful!) to carve little pieces of wood that are easy to kindle. Light the fire and wait for a bit so that the campfire is burning well and ready to prepare some delicious food.

Take your frying pan and put a dash of oil on it. Place it above the fire and let it get hot.

Now it’s time to fry the first plätty. Pour some oil and then some dough from the bottle on the hot pan – not too much, plättys are supposed to be quite thin. Wait for a minute or two and try turning it. Now, don’t worry – the first plätty always goes wrong and looks hideous. This is an essential part of the tradition. The good news is that it still tastes really good!

Maybe the second one turns better, or the third one at least. Fry each plätty one or two minutes each side and add some oil to the pan every now and then.

When you run out of dough it’s time to eat! Some people put sugar on their plättys, others eat plättys covered with strawberry jam. Raspberry jam is also a good choice! One can use fingers or a plate and a fork for example. And, if you’re really, really well prepared, you might even have some whipped cream or ice cream to put on your plättys!

After finishing meal, please make sure that you leave the campfire spot nice and clean. Should there be any rubbish, put it in a garbage can (if there is one) or pack it in a plastic bag and bring it with you away from the nature. Also, if there’s no-one else, put out the campfire before leaving. Let’s be thoughtful and keep our beautiful nature clean!

Enjoy plättys with us – let’s prepare them together!

Did all this sound a bit complicated? No worries. You can book a plätty experience and we’ll teach you how to make them! Come with us to the beautiful national park of Nuuksio, right next to Helsinki, and enjoy the prepapring of plättys as well as the surrounding nature.

24 hours in Kökar

Kökar is a tiny municipality in Åland. It has only about 240 inhabitants. To get to Kökar one has to take a ferry either from Långnäs (main island) or Galtby (Korpo). The journey in both cases takes about 2,5 hours.

I spend 24 hours on this beautiful island surrounded by the waves of the Baltic Sea.

Here’s what I saw.

Above: Heathers are purple, junipers are green – and the sea is blue. In Kökar this is a very typical view.

Above: It was a beautiful summer day so we went for a morning hike to this beautiful hidden place.

Above: A grass snake came to say hello. Grass snakes are completely harmless.

Above: We found this beautiful secret lagoon and went for a swim.

Above: This is what I saw underwater. There were lots of jellyfish but they are harmless.

Above: There are also forests in Kökar.

Above: Look at those colors!

Above: We also went to see what the local flea market looked like. It’s not everyday you find a seafront flea market.

Above: Buildings in Kökar are typically red and quite small. Looks really nice.

Above: Local dog admiring the sunset.

Useful links for you who wish to visit Kökar:

Ferry timetables and fares

Ålandstrafiken: Kökar

Visit Åland

If water is your element, Lake Lohjanjärvi is the place

Article by Kukka Kyrö

A gentle giant lies next to the centre of Lohja, an hour’s drive from Helsinki. Lake Lohjanjärvi is the largest lake in southern Finland. A maze of numerous islands and coves offers places to explore for several days. The lake is the heart of the city of Lohja, and as such, efforts have been taken to ensure accessibility for as many people as possible. If you are a water person, you can hire an accessible fishing boat with a fishing guide or rent a canoe or a kayak or even a paddleboard.

📌 Lohjanjärvi on a map

Kayaking adventure on Lake Lohjanjärvi

The air is fresh and soft after rain. I am getting my red kayak ready at the equipment depot of Aquapro Suomi, a few kilometres from the centre of Lohja. I fix the kayaking route map to the net on top of my kayak, and secure a water bottle next to it. It is Saturday morning. The city is still sleeping while I get inside the kayak, put the spray deck in place and set off to the lake. My kayak glides effortlessly on the dark water. Even the lake seems to be still asleep, hardly managing to make even small waves. Following the shoreline, I paddle towards the city centre, admiring how green the beach vegetation is now in May.

Nature of the shores and islands of Lake Lohjanjärvi is marvellous. Temperate climate and calcareous soil make the plants grow exceptionally well and versatile. For example, different species of orchids and hardwood trees thrive here. The largest island of the lake is Lohjansaari, the home of the famous Oak of Paavola, which has deservedly received a title “The most beautiful tree in Finland”.

After paddling for a few kilometres, I land ashore the Hevossaari Island, on a small sheltered cove. There’s a lean-to, and a strange birch tree, also leaning over the water. The cove has a shallow, sandy bottom, which makes coming ashore easy even for an inexperienced paddler.

Hevossaari lean-to

I am soaking my feet in the cool water. The water glimmers invitingly in the rays of sun shining through the clouds. Too bad that I didn’t take my swimming suit with me. It would have been so nice to go for a little swim.

Lake Lohjanjärvi is a large and reasonably deep lake, so it warms up slowly. However, by July at the latest, it will be crowded by swimmers. Although the water in the lake is dark due to humus, it is still clean and safe to swim. However, sometimes in the summer, there might be blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in the water. Then it’s not advisable to go swimming, because some of the cyanobacteria are toxic. If you are unsure if it’s safe to go in the water, please ask Lohja travel service centre.

From the Hevossaari island, my journey continues along an inlet called Ämmänperse which roughly translates as “Old Woman’s Arse”. What a name! For some bizarre reason, Finns have given many places names which will not be printable here. Cane-grass around my kayak is high. As I paddle along the passage, a single mallard appears beside my kayak, guiding me away from its territory.

In the early summer, nature of the lake is especially sensitive. Birds are starting to nest, and some of the fastest ones already have their hatchlings. Nesting places should be left alone completely at this time of the year. When you are planning to go ashore, try to use places that are intended for campers and have a campfire site, trails and an outdoor toilet, if possible. Nature likes it.

Finland has unique so-called everyman’s rights. They ensure that everyone can enjoy nature, but in addition to the rights, the hiker also has obligations to cause no harm to animals, plants and nature in general.

My next stage is the Kaurassaari Island about 1 kilometre away from here. It also has a lean-to which paddlers and such can use. The lean-tos of Hevossaari and Kaurassaari Islands are owned by the city of Lohja. They have campfire sites for which the city delivers firewood for the summer. Making fire is allowed only at these designated sites, and if the forest fire warning is in effect, you can’t make a fire even at these sites.

Making coffee in a pot and roasting sausages by the fire are age-old camping traditions for Finns. Some believe that it’s not camping if there’s no fire. If you want to ensure that you’ll be able to make a fire, consider bringing your own firewood, because at popular campfire sites the firewood sometimes runs out. Please note that you can’t take any kind of fallen trees to make a fire. Although it might seem logical that there’s no harm taking dead wood, dead wood still has an important role in maintaining biodiversity: many rare species in the forest are totally dependent on rotten and decaying wood.

My trip continues with a little stroll in the vicinity of the lean-to in Kaurassaari Island. Old spruce trees creak in the wind, when I walk to the western beach of the island. There, the mighty Lake Lohjanjärvi opens up. So far, the islands have sheltered me from the winds as I have paddled on my route, and my kayak has faced only moderate waves. Now, I can see whitecaps rise everywhere on the vast open section of the lake called Isoselkä.

As the name suggests, Isoselkä is the largest open water of Lake Lohjanjärvi. On Isoselkä, lies the deepest point in the lake. Called a cryptodepression, the deepest point is 23 metres below sea level, all the way to a depth of 55 metres. For a lake, that kind of depth is admirable. I wonder what kinds of fish lurk beneath the waves. Are the biggest fish there, in the deep dark of Isoselkä?

In Lake Lohjanjärvi, there are over 30 species of fish. Especially sander – or pike-perch – is a coveted fish for many fishers, but also perch and pike are common. The biggest sander caught from the lake so far holds a story that seems pretty far-fetched, but it’s true. The sander was about 15 years old, a little over 1 metre long and weighed about 12 kilograms when it met its match in the form of a fishing boat. The boat collided with the fish, and the collision was so hard that the fishermen thought they’d hit a sunken log. The event has been documented for example in a Finnish daily newspaper Ilta-Sanomat.

As I gaze towards Isoselkä, I see dark clouds building up. Rain is coming, so I get back to the lean-to to eat my lunch and start packing up my kayak. Wind is picking up, and the rain clouds are looming ever closer, so I decide to turn my kayak back towards the place where I started from.

Dark clouds follow me as I paddle briskly back. Ripples swell up to bigger waves, but I am glad that the wind is blowing from behind, giving me much needed assistance. The sky is almost black and blue when I arrive. First drops of rain fall on me as I pull my kayak ashore. As soon as I have started driving back home, it begins to pour. Nature gives me another demonstration of its strength. First, peaceful and serene as ever, and now – completely different.

Tips to experience Lake Lohjanjärvi by water

Canoe and kayak rental: The website is mainly in Finnish, but they also provide service in English. The equipment depot is located a few kilometres away from the Lohja bus station.

Fishing trips: TheraFish. They arrange trips for first-timers and more advanced fishers as well. The Day offline trip takes you fishing on the lake and hiking in the coastal forests. TheraFish is specialized in arranging accessible fishing trips, and they have seats for wheelchair users on the boat.

Stand-up paddleboard rental: Cafe Aurlahti, located by the Lohja city centre. For a more “uplifting” experience, try the flyboard!

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

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