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

From a charming hazel grove into a mysterious cave – be surprised by the cape Karkalinniemi in Lohja

Article by Johanna Suomela

Want to get deep in your thoughts and go to a mystic forest? To another world where place and time lose their meaning? Wish to fill your ears with birdsong, sound of the waves and the silent rustle of aspen leaves? Is the green of the hazel bushes and mosses easy on your eyes? Want to taste some natural spring water or maybe descent deep underground? Then come to Lohja! We have all this, and we are close!

In the Lohjanjärvi Lake, the cape Karkalinniemi is a long and slender stretch of land extending southwest. The easiest way to get there is by car. If you are driving from Helsinki, the Turku motorway will carry you smoothly part of the journey.

Even the trip to the nature reserve is an experience. A little gravel road takes you through the cultural landscape, where small farms, meadows, fields and rolling hills alternate. By the roadside, there’s a sign that indicates the end of a public road (“Yleinen tie päättyy”). Don’t worry, though, just take a right turn towards the Karkali strict nature reserve.

It’s early June. A fearless deer is grazing by the road and wonders who is coming here.

It has been an exceptionally warm day for this time of the year: plus 23 C. The heat lingers in the evening, as does the light. A blooming rowan tree welcomes the fried of nature. There’s no-one else around, so we are apparently the only visitors here at the moment.

Nature reserves are normally entirely protected, and they are not publicly open. However, Karkalinniemi makes a difference. You can come to this paradise of hazel groves, if you remember to stay on the designated paths.

Picking berries and mushrooms is not allowed in Karkali, and everyman’s rights are not in force. Making fires, camping and mountain biking is also forbidden. If you want to go swimming, that will be possible only at the designated beach. Please don’t pick any plants or flowers, either.

This paradise welcomes anyone willing to obey the rules of Karkali. It is clear there’s absolutely no littering, too. Please take every piece of trash back with you when you leave. Litter-free backpacking is a must for every self- and nature-respecting person everywhere. Be a smart hiker and leave only footprints behind!

After a hard work day, Karkali provides us a dose of natural green medicine. The strict nature reserve of Karkali is definitely a place worth visiting, as it is one of the finest grove regions in Southern Finland. It is fresh and green everywhere. My restless mind relaxes, and I can almost feel my stress levels going down.

We begin our journey from the right side of the parking lot, and our intention is to walk around the cape counter-clockwise. We have two dogs with us, both of them on a leash. Pets must be kept on a leash at all times in nature reserves and national parks.

Stopping for a drink at the spring

We come across a wooden causeway right at the start of our walk. We have to stop almost immediately at a spring that lies just by the path. The spring is guarded by a tall spruce and surrounded by stones.

Even though there are some needles in the water, I just have to take out my wooden cup from my backpack and taste the water!

I take some water in the cup. The water is completely clear and odourless. It also tastes fresh, and nothing else. It is quite exceptional that in Finland, we can drink good-quality water straight from a spring whereas in many places even tap water is not clean enough for consumption!

The nature trail of Hanski-Hakki, the long beach route – or both?

The size of the Karkali nature reserve is 100 hectares. Protected in 1964, the reserve hosts lush hazel groves, wild moss-covered spruce forests and old pine trees growing on rocky cliffs.

The nature reserve has enjoyed over five decades of peace since the last residents left the place. Most of the evidence of humans is all but covered by nature. Only few stones remain to remind us of the three houses called crofts that used to be here. Old fields and meadows are now forests. The last and final loggings took place in 1950.

The length of the Hanski-Hakki nature trail is over 2 kilometres. Along the cone-marked trail, there are illustrated information boards with interesting facts about nature and animals of the reserve. There are roots and rocks on the paths so they are not accessible, even though the elevation differences are moderate. The path crosses itself a couple of times, and if you have small children who might get easily tired, you can shorten your hike down to half a kilometre.

Along the Hanski-Hakki trail, on the southern edge of the cape, there is a mooring site and a beach. On protected areas, both mooring and swimming are allowed only at the designated sites to protect fragile nature.

Dramatic-looking tree giants are lying down along the longer trail.

On nature reserves and conservation areas, windfall trees can stay where they are. If the tree falls across the path, only a piece of it is cut off to allow passage. Large trees host life even when they are fallen: they provide shelter and food for insects and for birds eating those insects.

The longer trail is marked in yellow on the trees.

In some places, the path branches and might lead the hiker on smaller false paths. If you have a smartphone app with a terrain map or if you can use the map with a mobile browser, that helps you stay on the right route.

The longer western route provides many lovely views to Lake Lohjanjärvi.

Lush groves and high beach cliffs alternate along the route.

The furthermost leg of the long route also takes the hiker to the wetlands.

There are tables for eating packed lunch. One of the tables is located on a meadow in the middle of the nature park. The meadow is kept clear by regularly scything the grass. You can smell the summer in the meadow and see how versatile the flowering is.

On the edge of the meadow, sheltered under the trees, you can sit down and relax on a bench. Although the lilies of the valley surround us with their beauty and smell, we can’t stay for longer but have to get on our way.

We get back to our car, and drive about three kilometres back to the direction where we came from. There’s only one parking area by the road to the nature park. A sign that leaves no room for doubt, points us to the trail that leads to the Torhola cave.

On the opposite side of the parking area, there’s a sign that says “Torholan luola, Torhola grotta”. I think that it deserves to be called a grotto, and not just a “cave”. We head out on the nature trail and remember that this is area is also protected.

The underground realm of Torhola – the largest limestone grotto in Finland

When you arrive at the grotto, you will know. An information board shows you to stop, and on the bench beside it, you can muster your courage or just rest. Impressive moss-covered oak trees stand behind the information board.

We don’t have any other special equipment with us other than a head lamp and rugged shoes. Normally, in places like this, you should have a helmet and clothes that withstand dirt and crawling. Caves also have tight places and passages so that you shouldn’t wear clothes that have hoods and loose pockets that could get snagged. Before you descent into the cave, please remember that you are doing so at your own responsibility.

I am hoping that the grotto of Torhola is so large that even without special gear we can manage, if we are careful. I am a little excited. To be honest, I am a lot excited. I have never been inside a cave? Will it be cramped? Will it be scary?

At this point, you will have no idea what’s waiting downstairs.

We descent into the grotto through the opening on the left. We are now in the “vestibule” or in an antechamber of the Torhola grotto. The grotto consists of three chambers of which this is the first one. I am so excited. What will we find further ahead?
My head lamp illuminates the massive rock walls of the grotto. My goodness what a place! I shout out spontaneously: WOW! This place is so cool and big!

I was expecting a lot smaller and tighter place, but this is awesome and spacious.

It’s also not as scary as I would have thought – actually I want to go deeper.

First impression of the grotto makes me speechless – or makes me want to shout!
No bats in sight, but a spider has her web stretched out for catching lunch.
The hall of Torhola is spacious and the ceiling is high.

We descent further down into the so-called hall, which is the second chamber in the grotto. The walls glimmer in the light what we have brought with us.

The grotto of Torhola is the largest limestone cave in Finland. Water flowing through the cracks in the rock has slowly dissolved the limestone away and formed the cave. It is believed that most of the formation of the limestone grotto has taken place during the last 3000 years. Today, the grotto is not growing in size, as no water flows through the cave anymore. Even it has just rained in Lohja, the floor of the cave remains dry.

The total length of the grotto is 31 metres. Breadth of the cave varies from 1 metre to 6 metres depending on the chamber, and the height from 1 metre to 4 metres.

Glimmering walls of the hall of Torhola grotto.

This place doesn’t feel cramped as the ceiling is high. It is damp, though, and cooler than in the forest outside.

We look around in wonder, and focus our eyes on the furthest corner on the left. If we’d want to make this even more exciting (and had a coverall and a helmet, maybe also gloves) we could go deeper still, into the basement of Torhola. The basement is the third chamber in the grotto. However, we decide that we have seen enough for our first time as cave explorers.

Now I know what it feels to sink into the underground, literally.

Actually, it’s not all that bad.

Outside, the sun has already set. It is time to get back above ground.

There is a big boulder between the vestibule and the hall, but for a person with normal health and sure feet will handle the obstacle quiet easily. Using hands helps.

A steep ascent from the hall to the vestibule.
With good and rugged shoes or boots, climbing up is no big deal.
You can see that even in the vestibule one can stand straight.

When I get to the vestibule, my camera lens fogs up. The air outside is much warmer than the air inside the cave.
After visiting the grotto, we decide to do the whole nature trail. So, we descent steeply towards the shore.

A sturdy rail makes the descent to the shore of Lake Lohjanjärvi safer.

The summer evening is warm and calm, and the sun is setting.

Glancing to the lake past handsome black alders, we enjoy a complete silence. Not a soul is afoot, not even the elusive and endangered elaterid called Pseudanostirus globicollis, found only in the region of the grotto.

We continue walking clockwise on the nature trail through a sloping grove, where white and wych elms grow – among other attractive hardwood species

The end of the nature trail in the reserve rises upwards, but only moderately, being much easier than the one with the guard rails.

We are back on the road and the parking area. My heart is pumping rapidly, but in a good way – I feel invigorated!

It is quite something that we can experience this kind of adventure less than an hour’s drive from the capital!

Life’s little adventures don’t necessarily take an entire day, because there’s a lot of light available in the summer.

More information and links:

There are wooden causeways along the trail, and in some parts the terrain is rocky, so unfortunately it’s not suitable for baby carriages.

Visitlohja.fi

Karkali Strict Nature Reserve

Torhola Cave

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

The most beautiful route in Finland: the Archipelago Ring Road

The Archipelago Ring Road, also known as The Archipelago Trail, is about 200 kilometers in length. No words can describe how beautiful this trail is!

The Archipelago Trail has various ferries and vessels, and most of them are free of charge.

Most people experience this route by car or by bike.

The Archipelago Trail leads you through picturesque archipelago villages as well as beautiful nature.

There’s a number of cabins, guesthouses, hotels, camping sites and restaurants to choose from.

Don’t forget to bring your swimsuit! This trail has some amazing beaches.

There are also beautiful forests. There are some ticks in this area, so it is recommended to wear good shoes, long trousers and shirts with long sleeves when going in to the nature.

The Archipelago Trail starts and ends in the city of Turku in South-West Finland.

This trail is at it’s most beautiful in summer.

Read more:

The Archipelago Trail – homepage

What an opportunity to experience the magic of Lapland! Nightless Night Outdoor Photography Workshop takes place in Finland’s largest National Park

Nightless Night – Outdoor Photography Workshop is an Instagram & Outdoor photography event that will be held on the last weekend of June 2019 in Finland’s biggest National Park Lemmenjoki, in Finnish Lapland.

The event is meant for anyone who shares the passion for outdoor life, photography and story-telling through social media – regardless how beginner or advanced one feels as a photographer. Outdoor-related photography workshops will take place throughout the weekend in breath-taking arctic landscapes in the most instagrammable spot of Lemmenjoki area.

Photo: Juha Kauppinen

Every summer we want to bring something new to Nightless Night – this time we proudly present Camping Crash Course as a pre-program of the Nightless Night! Camping Crash Course is a 24 hour outdoor workshop that will take you to the basics of Finnish outdoor life and camping. The crash course is held by a professional wilderness guide and accompanied by like-minded campers. Excellent for outdoor beginners and for those who want to share a trick or two!

Read more and buy your ticket here

Nightless Night outdoor photography workshop on Facebook

Photo: Juha Kauppinen

Article by Inari-Saariselkä, featured image by Jan-Eerik Paadar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digitrail application

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

And then dove deeper into a young spruce forest…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can download the app here.

Häme Nature Center on a map

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

Article: Heli Heikkilä

Photos: Tomi Pohja

Translation from Finnish: Becky Hastings


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article and photos: Kukka Kyrö

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

See also:

The stunning Liessaari Island in Lohja

Visit Lohja

A journey into the past: Digitrail leads you to the best parts of Aulanko

The story of Hämeenlinna’s Aulanko started at the end of the 1800s, when the outstandingly rich colonel and weapons manufacturer Hugo Standertskjöld wanted to return to his home region, acquired a summer villa and then tried to make an impression on a Polish countess with his estate.

An English-style country park was created in the surroundings of the manor house and around it a distinguished forest park. Foreign plants were brought to the area, a pond was excavated and pavilions, a granite fort and a lookout tower were built.

In spite of his efforts, Standertskjöld remained a bachelor. He was known for his hospitality amongst high society who used Aulanko’s playing fields as well as towards ordinary people. The park was open to everyone, and the country’s first information signs guided people towards the most important spots.

But we decided to ignore all the signs and let our mobile phones guide us.

From the three Digitrail* options, we chose the medium length, six kilometre route, which circles Aulanko’s nature reserve. The theme of the trail is the history of Colonel Hugo Standertskjöldin’s forest park. The shorter route goes through the middle part of the park taking in the most important sights, and the longest leads north and around Aulankojärvi lake.

I managed to convince my two teenage sons to join me and they promised to take care of navigation. ‘Hurry up!’ shouted one and then he shot ahead. The rest of us followed, laughing, wondering how far he would get until he realised that he was on the wrong path. The blue locator dot was merciless and guided him back before he had even reached the edge of the forest. The second boy later received the same treatment, after he had started opening up to us about how he was getting on (the best thing about hiking with a teenager), his distraction quickly leading us off route.

The trail starts from the Aulanko hiking lodge parking place, follows the ski track and immediately curves around towards Aulanko lake. On the other side, it rises steeply towards Aulankovuori hill. On both sides we are shown old forest specimens, nearly 200 year old spruces and equally handsome pines, linden trees, maples trees, ashes and elms…

In Aulanko there are over 140 species of trees and shrubs. Almost all of Finland’s naturally occurring hardwood species, groves of foreign tree species, trees with shapes that differ from the norm of their species, as well as overgrown secret gardens with the apple trees of paradise, can be found there.

It soon became apparent, that although the environment had richer soil, this kind of tree selection wouldn’t have flourished here without external help, passion and love for this Polish princess.

We continued our journey towards Aulanko lake, gently pushing towards Aulanko peninsular. We sat on the stone steps commissioned by Standertskjöld and we could easily have imagined cruise boats gliding towards the jetty with the most famous artists of the times on board, Sibelius and Leino. But no, we talked about the gloomy history and sacrificial stones of Lusikka peninsular which was opposite us.

A few hundred metres ahead, the trail made a stop up the hill. In a rock cave there lived an endearing bear family, created out of soapstone and placed there at the beginning of the century by sculptor Robert Stigell. This was said to describe the park owner’s longing for his own family.

Steps up going up Aulanko hill lead to the bear family. They’re not part of the tour, but we went up anyway. The views from the top of are breathtaking…

… and from the 33 metre lookout tower, iconic. The view is straight from a postcard, and from 2011 onwards made it onto a stamp.

But our journey had only just started. So we descended the steps, greeting those who pass and wondering out loud about the sculptures to each other in the middle of the forest, as we continued on our way.

After climbing a few a hundred metres up another hill, we had more to wonder about. A huge square shaped stone wall surrounded a natural meadow of approximately a hectare, which concealed within it the ruins of a square-shaped building.

We made a few guesses on what we were looking at, until the app revealed that the structure was a gunpowder magazine commissioned by the Russian army in 1860, which for safety reasons was far from the barracks and the town. The area is now a protected ancient relic.

We left the nature reserve for a moment and took a detour down a steep rocky path onto Aulanko road.

We continued the journey following the contours of the hill and noticed that we had come to an ancient shoreline. Around it almost 40 metre douglas firs swayed from their sheer height. The narrow forest roads which we crossed were also steeped in history, supported on the hill by low moss-covered stone banks. On the path we found a horseshoe, which couldn’t have fit the atmosphere better.

The trail twisted and turned and came back to Aulanko road. This time the sight was the manor house commissioned by Standertskjöld, with its granite tower, from which shots used to be fired, not for defence, but to celebrate the birthday or nameday of a guest or worker and sometimes just randomly. For decades, the ruins have been providing a venue for children’s theatre, which was probably part of the owner’s intention.

After the fort, we went onto a smaller path and from a distance passed the red brick Temple of Happiness that was built for the princess. It’s windows were framed with natural stones and used to have stained glass windows. According to the princess, this side of the Baltic sea was too cold, but hopefully she at least went to have a look at the park and its buildings.

After Molkkari hill we reached the shores of Joutsenlampi pond (Swan Pond). 300 men were needed to dig out an artificial pond in place of the swamp and transport earth from in front of the manor house to make two islands in Vanajavesi lake. A path framed by fifty species of trees and shrubs had been built around the pond and in its middle had been black swans brought all the way from Australia. There also used to be pheasants, from which some of our current wild pheasant population has its origins.

After Joutsenlampi we followed the linden-edged park road leading to the lookout tower for some of the way – the same path that cheerful members of high society once rattled up in their horse-drawn carriages, clinking their champagne glasses. It would have been a beautiful road to continue on, but the road leading into a rare rowan grove looked even more beautiful.

We leaned for a moment on the bridge that crossed the stone-lined creek, when two girls with their dogs stepped out of the Northern white cedar forest. They looked at us and shook their heads ‘What an unbelievable place, you have got to go there!’ The grove was their secret place. Duckboards dove into the shadows of the thick white cedar trees that had been planted before the war. Light filtered in and time stopped. The duckboards ended at the lookout tower platform, from which there was no view ahead of us. It was behind. The message for us seemed to be that the most important thing was not the destination, but the journey itself…

…. so we continued, as the evening was drawing in and we had to reach our destination regardless. We stopped along the way to see the rose pavilion built from vast romantic longing and cast a bitter glance over the other side of the Baltic sea. We descended from the forest park, going under the arch created by a young hackberry tree that had curved over the path and we bowed our respects to Hugo.

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

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