“Our varied landscapes with vast forests, thousands of lakes, magnificent islands, and the stark but beautiful treeless fells of Lapland are made for hiking. Finnish Lapland is the best place in Europe to see and experience the natural environment of the boreal region.”
This is an extract from the foreword to Hiking in Finland, a brand new English-language guidebook to hiking in this Scandinavian country written by Jouni Laaksonen.
The author’s journey
I’m in love with Finland’s nature and with hiking in Finland.
Let me start with some background. I graduated with a Master of Science degree in the late 1990s, but I never felt that I would find my dream job in engineering. Then one day, sitting in the office, I realized that we only have this one life. I felt that if I was still in that same office after ten years, I would feel those years had been wasted, and so I quit my job, went to a school for wilderness guides and let that year change my whole life.
Hiking in nature, and more specifically in wilderness areas, had been my favourite hobby since boyhood, and I decided to try and make it my occupation, too. In practice, I have not worked as a guide in the last fifteen years, either, but I did manage to turn my hobby to a full-time occupation.
At the turn of the millennium I did a longer trek with Markus, a good friend of mine. We skied from the eastern side of Finnish Lapland to the western side, without using ski tracks, passing through nine large wilderness areas. The whole backpacking journey of almost a thousand kilometres took just over two months, and despite the harsh conditions at that time of year, our schedule held good and we found ourselves standing on Finland’s highest point, on Halti fell on January 1st 2000.
This trek changed my life for a second time, as it led me to write several articles for Finnish magazines, so that I realized that writing was the thing I really wanted to do for my living.
Now, almost twenty years later, I find to my astonishment that I have been writing all this time only about hiking and backpacking in Finland’s magnificently varied countryside and seasons, and about the skills and equipment you need for this. I never thought I could concentrate on such a narrow field, but evidently it’s possible.
“By telling people how wonderful nature is and how they can best enjoy it, I can help more and more people to understand that nature and the climate have to be protected“
During these years I have written over a thousand pages of magazine articles. I have hiked in every one of Finland’s national parks and wilderness areas, and myriads of other places, too. I am the author of fourteen guidebooks, covering topics such as the Finnish national parks, hiking with children, Finland’s wilderness areas, wilderness huts, hiking skills and equipment (both summer and winter), together with detailed guidebooks on particular trails or a certain region, and so on.
I have tried to distil the wisdom from all of these books into the present volume. This is not a translation of any of my Finnish books; every word has been written anew, bearing in mind all the time that my readers will mostly be guests from abroad.
Why do I want to spend my one and only life writing about hiking? Well, the more selfish reason is obviously that I love spending time out of doors, but I have also been inspired by the hope that by telling people how wonderful nature is and how they can best enjoy it, I can help more and more people to understand that nature and the climate have to be protected.
Thus hiking has been my hobby since childhood and it has now been my occupation for almost two decades. I have also trekked in the Alps, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Spain, Madeira and Greenland, for example, but mostly I have stayed in Finland. Every country has splendid places for hiking, and attractions and sights that differ from those in Finland, but still I love my home country very much.
The attractions of Finland
Why is Finland an outstandingly good destination for a nature tourist? Our varied landscapes with vast forests, thousands of lakes, magnificent islands, and the stark but beautiful treeless fells of Lapland are made for hiking. Finnish Lapland is the best place in Europe to see and experience the natural environment of the boreal region.
And let’s not forget the Aurora borealis, the midnight sun, and all the northern animals and plants that you can see here.
Space, tranquillity, quietness and clean air are not to be taken for granted everywhere, but in Finland you find them constantly. Admittedly there are some destinations that are well populated at certain times of year, but once you know this you can avoid them – if it’s tranquillity you want.
Finland is a safe country with a reliably functioning society and good infrastructure. And speaking of that, it is hard to imagine a better infrastructure for hiking than we have here. There are thousands of kilometres of marked trails, thousands of campfire and camping sites and lean-to shelters that can be used for free, hundreds of wilderness huts (cabins that are open for anyone to use), forty national parks and so on. At the same time there are large (over 2000 km²) untouched areas with no habitation, no roads and no trails – vast wildernesses for you to explore on your own.
I love the national parks, with their short and long hiking trails, huts and other facilities, but my own favourite aspect is still the existence of wilderness areas, the feeling when you step down from a bus and look ahead knowing you will be walking or skiing for a week or more without seeing roads or habitation. You will be on your own, immersed in nature in the deepest possible way.
The Finnish hiking culture is quite unique. Everyman’s Rights comprise an ancient code of law that says that anyone can walk anywhere he or she wants, regardless of who owns the land. You can even pitch a tent for a day or two almost anywhere at all, as long as you don’t damage anything or disturb other people or any animals. Making a fire is not part of Everyman’s Rights, but it is an essential part of the Finnish hiking culture, and naturally, responsibility comes along with those rights.
Lapland is the northernmost part of Finland. It’s very sparsely populated and there is a lot of real wilderness left in Lapland. That’s my favourite area for hiking. For anyone coming from abroad to hike in Finland, I recommend you first check out Urho Kekkonen, Pallas-Yllästunturi and Oulanka National Parks. These three large parks are perfectly suited for both day hiking and week’s backpacking tour, and Urho Kekkonen NP even for longer backpacking expeditions.
If you are vising only Southern Finland, Repovesi, Koli, Seitseminen, Nuuksio and Liesjärvi National Parks are great destinations for day and weekend hiking.
If you love canoeing, Kolovesi National Park is a must.
Of course these are just the tip of an iceberg. And don’t forget our snowy winters, which are made for skiing and snowshoeing!
About the book
This book is not a general guidebook to travelling in Finland. It is meant for you who live in another country and are interested in hiking and backpacking. It is my way of trying to tempt you to choose Finland for your next destination. I will try to give as many tips as possible, so that you can avoid cold or wet surprises, find your way in spite of the unfamiliar maps and coordinate systems, and survive other potentially unpleasant circumstances.
There are three main parts to the book:
- I try to cover all the hiking skills needed for the Finnish terrain and weather and give an insight into the Finnish hiking culture.
- I give an overview of the nature in Finland, and what kinds of historical sights you may see along the hikind trails.
- I describe the very best hiking and backpacking destinations, in words, maps and pictures. The main focus is on walking with a rucksack or a larger backpack, but great places for canoeing, cycling and skiing are also described.
Welcome to Finland! Pick one or more destinations, pack your gear and start your hiking tour.
All images © Jouni Laaksonen. Header image: the view from Koli National Park to lake Pielinen is an iconic Finnish scene.
If you found this interesting, you’ll love our upcoming August issue of TGO (on sale July 19), which includes a supplement on hiking, backpacking and other activities in Scandinavia.