Finnish National Parks

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Finnish National Parks

Lake Pielinen, Koli National Park

Finnish National Parks are found in most parts of the country. In addition to national parks some other protected areas are presented below, as well as national hiking areas and the wilderness areas of Finnish Lapland.

Finland has a diverse nature, with forests, fells, mires, bogs, lakes and islands featuring in many of the parks. In a few parks the interaction between Man and nature is a central theme. As Finland is sparsely populated, one can often be alone with nature in the less known parks and remote areas even of popular parks.

Understand[edit]

View from Koli National Park.

Finland has numerous national parks protecting examples of beautiful and unique forms of nature. In addition there are national hiking areas, wilderness areas, nature reserves and some other protected or non-protected areas of interest to tourists. Some of the areas are mire, esker or old-growth forest protection areas or similar, where the protection concerns land owners and planning authorities and mostly is irrelevant for hikers.

The parks are open to the public without any entry or hiking fees. Many have services such as marked hiking paths, cottages, goahtis and saunas for rent. The right to access is usually somewhat restricted in the parks, but the offered services should compensate that for most visitors. National parks and strict nature reserves are always on state owned land, but other protected areas may be on ground owned by other entities, even privately owned.

There are usually nature trails in the areas listed below. In all but the smallest areas, there are usually locations for rest (with campfire sites and pit toilets) and in the bigger ones hiking trails and some lodging facilities (often lean-to shelters, in the north more commonly also open wilderness huts).

Berry and mushroom picking is usually allowed, in regard to edible species. Taking anything else from the nature is usually forbidden.

Information is usually available in English, but some may be in Finnish only, or Finnish and Swedish or Sami.

Most of the really large parks are in the far north, in the Sami native region. Regulations of the parks try not to disturb the traditional livelihood of the Sami. Thus e.g. reindeer herding, hunting, fishing, taking wood for own needs and even driving are often allowed for the locals also where forbidden otherwise. The local population is sparse enough that this does not generally threaten the ecology of the areas (there are conflicts though, e.g. about number of reindeer that should be allowed and about large carnivores, which cause problems for the reindeer husbandry).

National parks, hiking areas and wilderness areas[edit]

National parks are the prime destinations for those wanting to see Finnish nature other than normal countryside. They are always on state owned land where the nature is deemed to be of general interest as a sight or for education. New parks have an area of at least 10 km², several being much larger. The largest, Lemmenjoki National Park, has an area of 2 860 km² and borders to the Norwegian Øvre Anárjohka nationalpark of 1 409 km². There are often some restrictions to the right to access and there may be restricted areas. Acquaint yourself to the rules of the park in question, especially if you are not just walking marked trails. The parks are maintained by Metsähallitus, the Finnish forestry administration.

The national hiking areas are specifically for hiking and for acquainting oneself to the nature of the region, offering quite large versatile and unspoiled areas. The nature may not be unique enough to be in need of protection, but often worth seeing indeed. There is good infrastructure, such as nature and hiking trails and lean-to and cooking shelters. The right to access also usually apply. The areas are maintained by Metsähallitus.

The wilderness areas were protected 1991 to preserve their wilderness character, the Sami culture and the Sami natural form of livelihood. There are 12 such areas, all of which are located in Lapland. There is little service in the areas themselves and the right to access usually applies in full. They are of interest for experienced hikers who are used to making their own paths.

These areas are all listed below.

Nature reserves and other areas[edit]

The selection below of nature reserves and other areas is somewhat arbitrary. The ones listed are deemed to be of interest also to the casual visitor, some as a destination in themselves, some worth a visit if you happen to pass by.

Recreation areas are usually maintained by the municipality. They may have good infrastructure like the national hiking areas, often also facilities for outdoor sports and sometimes camping sites and the like.

The strict nature reserves are primarily for nature protection and research. There are often information boards and trails through them though, and larger reserves may have other infrastructure, such as pit toilets and shelters for rest and overnight stays (often just outside the protected area itself). Hiking is restricted to marked trails at least part of the year. As the right to access is severely restricted, you should check the rules of the individual area. They are mostly small, some suitable for a trip of a few hours, some for a weekend, but there are also bigger areas, an extreme being the Kevo canyon with a 64 km trail.

Entry to bird nesting areas is often prohibited in the bird nesting season, but there may be towers for bird watching and trails and other service in the neighbourhood or in less sensitive parts of the area.

There are also many areas for protection of specific types of nature or specific features of the nature, such as mire, old-growth forest and esker protection areas. These typically have no restrictions relevant for visitors, other than on any land, but you should probably be careful about not causing erosion or wildfire and not to harm plants and wildlife.

Hiking trails[edit]

There are trails through most of the areas listed below. In some areas (especially nature reserves and restricted areas of national parks) only the marked trails may be used. In hiking, recreation and wilderness areas the right to access usually applies without restrictions.

In addition to the hiking trails and nature trails in national parks and other areas there are longer hiking trails and networks of hiking trails extending much outside some protected areas. If you are going for a longer hike, anywhere but in the largest parks, it might be worthwhile to include some of the unprotected countryside landscape by using such trails. They usually keep to the wilderness where possible, but often also utilise forest roads and similar. Combining trails you can spend weeks on your hike in e.g. eastern Finland. The UKK trail, though not complete or well documented, goes from Koli in Lieksa all the way to the Urho Kekkonen National Park in Lapland. The Nordkalottleden, which crosses borders to Norway and Sweden, is 800 km long.

Destinations[edit]

You are free to explore the nature more or less everywhere, thanks to the so called Every man's right (jokamiehenoikeus, allemansrätten), the right to access. There is usually plenty of undeveloped land also near cities, and most cities have recreational areas. Few of these are listed here. Some of them are mentioned in the city articles.

Southern Finland[edit]

National parks in Southern Finland[edit]

  • Gulf of Finland National Park [1]: includes hundreds of islands and islets in the Baltic Sea outer archipelago in front of the towns of Kotka and Hamina
  • Ekenäs Archipelago National Park [2]: The starting point is the town of Ekenäs. The national park itself consists of islands, which are accessible by boat only. Canoe is a great mean of transport between the islands, but requires sea kayaking experience. Otherwise you can e.g. use a taxi boat.
  • Liesjärvi National Park [3]: forests, mires and lake shores south of Forssa. Torronsuo National Park is nearby.
  • Nuuksio National Park [4]: unspoiled piece of nature within Helsinki metropolitan region includes landscapes with valleys and gorges formed by the Ice Age, and barren rocky hills covered by lichen and sparse pine forest. Wonderful place for weekend hiking and camping in the capital area.
  • Päijänne National Park [5]: located in the southern part of lake Päijänne, Finland's second largest lake, about 45 km north of Lahti. Some of the islands can be reached by car.
  • Sipoonkorpi National Park [6]: located within the municipalities of Sipoo, Vantaa and Helsinki about 20 km from the centre of Helsinki. The area includes different forest types, mires and cultural landscapes.
  • Torronsuo National Park [7]: the area south of Forssa (close to Liesjärvi National Park) mostly consists of mire.
  • Valkmusa National Park [8]: located on of the main road E18 near Kotka. It mainly consists of mire landscapes.

Hiking areas in Southern Finland[edit]

Other destinations in Southern Finland[edit]

  • Karkali: [10] herb-rich forest area on a peninsula in Lohjanjärvi; Lohja
  • Komio: [11] ridges and other signs of the ice age, good hiking destination with diverse nature; Loppi
  • Laajalahti: [12] shallow sea bay, bird wetland; Espoo
  • Langinkoski: [13] rapids, arboretum, fishing hut of the tsar; Kotka
  • Siikalahti Wetland: [14] Finland’s most valuable inland bird wetland; Parikkala

Western Finland[edit]

View from the Aulanko tower in Hämeenlinna, Tavastia.

National parks in Western Finland[edit]

Hiking areas in Western Finland[edit]

Other destinations in Western Finland[edit]

  • Aulanko: [27] nature reserve with park and national landscape, suitable for day trips; Hämeenlinna.
  • Melkuttimet: [28] ridge-side pine forests and lakes; Loppi and Tammela
  • Vaarunvuoret: [29] old pine forests growing on rocky hills with many endangered species; Jyväskylä
  • Vehoniemenharju: [30] esker between two large lakes, landscape featuring in Sommardag i Kangasala by Topelius; Kangasala

Eastern Finland[edit]

Camping site in Petkeljärvi National Park.
Lake Pihlajavesi seen from Olavinlinna castle.

National parks in Eastern Finland[edit]

Hiking areas in Eastern Finland[edit]

Other destinations in Eastern Finland[edit]

Oulu[edit]

River in wintertime. Oulanka National Park.
Isojoki in Kuhmo, near Lentua.

National parks in the former Oulu province[edit]

Hiking areas in the former Oulu province[edit]

Other destinations in the former Oulu province[edit]

  • Elimyssalo: [55] varied forest nature with wilderness farms by the UKK trail, central part of the Finnish-Russian Friendship Park; Kuhmo.
  • Hepoköngäs: [56] Finland's highest natural waterfall and old-growth forest by the UKK trail; Puolanka.
  • Hirvisuo: [57] vast open aapa mires and birds, in Oulu. Birdwatching tower and nature trail accessible from national road 20.
  • Kurimonkoski Rapids: [58] scenic rapids by former ironworks, meadows maintained to keep the traditional landscape; Utajärvi
  • Lentua: [59] rugged, wilderness-like nature, known through Akseli Gallen-Kallela, part of the Finnish-Russian Friendship Park; Kuhmo
  • Näränkä: [60] virtually pristine nature, mostly forests, and wilderness farm; Kuusamo
  • Teerisuo-Lososuo: [61] mires and old-growth forests, by the UKK trail; Kuhmo
  • Valtavaara-Pyhävaara: [62] nature reserve with spectacular views and challenging cross-country skiing trails; Kuusamo

Lapland[edit]

Morning mist in September, Urho Kekkonen National Park.
Landscape from past the tree line. Muotkatunturit Wilderness Area.
The Kevo canyon.

National parks in Lapland[edit]

Hiking areas in Lapland[edit]

Wilderness areas[edit]

Other destinations in Lapland[edit]

Get in[edit]

Unmanned information hut of Kurjenrahka National Park.

Most of the national parks, national hiking areas and wilderness areas are reachable by car and by public transportation. A taxi ride can be worth its price for freer choosing of endpoints of a hike. There are seldom roads into the destination itself.

There are visitor centres, Metsähallitus customer service points and nature information huts, where you can get maps, some literature, fishing permits, advice and an introduction to the area.

The visitor centres are usually outside the main entrance of national parks, but sometimes quite a distance from the destinations. At some national parks there are hotels, ski resort or other big tourist businesses by the visitor centre.

The visitor centres are usually accessible by wheelchair, if assisted, as are a few nature trails.

Fees[edit]

Just visiting the park or hiking in it does not involve any fees.

You might want to pay for a guided tour, a guaranteed bed in a reservation hut or a fishing permit.

Get around[edit]

Duckboards in Valkmusa National Park
Some shorter trails have been made accessible by wheelchair. Kuhankuono in Kurjenrahka National Park.

There are usually nature trails and hiking trails in the areas, especially near the visitor centres, as well as maintained skiing tracks in the winter. Except in nature reserves you are usually allowed to find your own paths. In the archipelago and by some rivers you might want to use a boat or kayak.

At most parks it is possible to get a guide through the businesses the park is cooperating with. This is especially useful if you are uncertain about your skills, but the guide can be useful also by knowing the nature, culture and sights and by being able to arrange meals, boat tours and similar.

The nature trails and other shorter (day trip) trails are usually well maintained, have duckboards at wet terrain and bridges at waterways, so that no special equipment is needed in the normal season. In spring (when the snow is melting), in rainy summers and in the usually wet autumns rubber boots or similar may be needed. On longer (overnight) trails you are more likely to meet some rough or wet terrain and are supposed to have proper equipment and some hiking skills.

There is an ongoing project, where trails are being classified. "Easy" trails are usually suitable also for families with small children without much preparation (but leave the pram, except on the routes for wheelchairs), "intermediate" trails can have some rough terrain and on "demanding" trails there may be fords and missing signs and hiking skills and proper equipment are expected. Trails for several days' hiking are usually demanding in this sense. In wilderness areas and in the backcountry of larger national parks you are expected to know what you are doing: there may be shelters and bridges where most needed, but not necessarily where you need them.

In winter – in Lapland most of the year – one should be prepared for snow and low temperatures. Getting disabled or getting lost without proper skills and equipment can easily be fatal, so be serious about safety, although accidents are rare.

See[edit]

Information board by a nature trail, telling about the probable inhabitants of the nest box.

Nature[edit]

There are nature trails near visitor centres of most natural parks and at many of the other destinations. These are marked trails with information boards presenting the nature or other features of the area (seldom in English, but the images give a hint about what to look for). They are usually quite easy to walk, suitable also for families with small children and some even when using a wheelchair (assistance mostly needed, though). There may be a campfire site suitable for a picnic along the trail. Often you can book a guide to take the walk with you, which allows your learning much more.

Marked hiking trails are usually planned to allow experiencing the nature at its best, but you have to take your time. You are not supposed to hurry from one sight to the next. They are usually longer than the nature trails and thus allow getting deeper into the area. There are usually campfire sites and the like, to allow nice breaks on day trips. Longer trails usually have lean-to shelters, allowing overnight hikes without tent (but carrying a tent may be wise in many cases).

Hiking in the backcountry you should immerse in the nature and the sights are all around you. You should of course choose your route so that you pass by some good examples of the typical or special nature of the area, get nice views from higher terrain or at the borders of lakes and treeless mires, and have time to look also at the small wonders.

Local culture[edit]

Traces of human activity are presented in many national parks.

Finland is sparsely populated, but that does not mean large areas would be untouched by man. The Finnish word for wilderness is "erämaa", which also means hunting grounds. People ventured far from their village to hunt and fish. Settling new areas was often encouraged by the crown and some landless people and adventurers built their home in what still is regarded as wilderness. And, of course, only some of the national parks are wilderness. Some have been regularly used, but have had some feature hindering extensive logging or turning them to farmland. In Lapland in the far north, where there are truly large national parks and wilderness areas, most land is still used for reindeer husbandry, introduced in large scale by Northern Sami. The statutes of national parks often explicitly encourage traditional livelihood. The most prominent example is probably the Archipelago Sea National Park, where the park is trying to help keeping the archipelago inhabited.

Historical sites[edit]

There are often traces of the normal lives of people of the past, sometimes remnants of farms, or even well preserved ones. Some trails have a long history, such as the Ruija trail, used to get to the Barents Sea coast before there were roads or the post route in Muotkatunturit. In many parks by the east border there are structures from the war.

The visitors centres[edit]

Most visitor centres have exhibitions that can be seen for free, in a few cases for a fee. Some are quite large. Groups can book guiding for a fee, sometimes it is also possible to join a regular guided tour. There are often also audiovisual shows, at regular intervals or at request, and nature trails. The personnel should be happy to give advice on what sights would suite your timetable and interests.

The Metsähallitus customer service points and nature information huts are more modest but sometimes really worth a visit. Some information huts are unmanned.

Do[edit]

Hiking in the Nordic countries has advice on many topics relevant for visiting national parks or otherwise spending time in the Finnish nature.

  • Hiking. In the small national parks of southern Finland the hiking trails are usually suitable for day trips or a weekend. In the larger parks and wilderness areas many go hiking for a week. There are longer trails also in the south, extending outside the protected areas.
  • Canoeing. At parks with a suitable waterway there are usually small businesses that can rent a canoe, give advice and take care of any arrangements.
  • Boating with a small riverboat (parks with a suitable river)
  • Cruising with a yacht or tour boat. Several parks have parts best accessed by boat. At the coast and the bigger lakes (especially the Saimaa complex) chartering a yacht or getting a guided tour with a taxi boat should be easy.
  • Fishing.
  • Gold panning (Lemmenjoki)
  • Mushroom gathering
  • Berry picking
  • Rent sauna

Eat and drink[edit]

Local family businesses near the destinations often offer meals, lodging, tours, equipment and other service. Near some destinations there are also proper restaurants. At most destinations you will not find any meals or drinks inside the area, other than what you cook yourself – or have a wilderness guide prepare for you (also without a guide you may be able to have a local business bring you meals).

Picking edible mushrooms and berries is often allowed also when collecting other things is strictly forbidden. Fishing is often allowed with the usual restrictions (general and local fishing permit needed for most fishing). Hunting is allowed in some protected areas (not in national parks or nature reserves), with normal restrictions.

Good looking water in springs, streams and even lakes is often potable untreated, but cooking it may be recommended. In some areas water has to be brought. There may be wells or other water sources provided. The authorities make tests to evaluate the general quality of natural water in many of the areas, but give no guaranties, except where a specific water source has been tested and recommended (typically tap water or a well).

There are designated camp fire places in many areas, allowing cooking at the camp fire, given wildfire warnings are not in effect. In the backcountry campfires may be allowed also elsewhere. There are stoves in the wilderness huts. A camping stove is recommended, though, for any serious hiking.

Firewood is provided at camp fire sites and huts, usually in a separate wood shed. Use sparingly. If not all the firewood is ready made, use the axe to make some instead of what you use. Likewise, take firewood indoors instead of what you use in huts.

There are pit toilets at most huts and at some shelters. You may need to have your own toilet paper.

Sleep[edit]

Open wilderness hut near the treeline, Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park.

There are lots of commercial lodging facilities near at least some popular parks – but if you are going to spend more than a day in the park, you should look also at other options.

In the national parks of northern Finland there are open wilderness huts providing accommodation for free. You need about the same equipment as when sleeping in tents, but will be able to get warm and dry and sometimes have the luxury of a gas stove for cooking. Latecomers have an absolute right to the facilities; those who already had a chance to get warm have to arrange room, by leaving if necessary.

In popular areas there are also reservation huts, where you get a guaranteed bed, usually with blanket, mattress and pillow, for about 10€. Usually you get (and leave) the key at the visitor centre. Bigger and commercial parties should use this option.

Some of the less popular wilderness huts have been transformed into rental huts, which are booked for a party, often for somewhat longer periods, e.g. as a base for fishing trips in the area. They might have a rowing boat, sauna and similar.

Also day huts can be used for overnight stay, in cases where your primary plans get upset, e.g. by a snow storm.

Beside the normal "huts", which are small houses, there are more primitive turf huts and Lap pole tents, the former partly dug into the ground and with a roof made of turf, the latter timber constructions with or without a plank floor. In most you have to sleep on the floor (i.e. mostly the ground). There may be an open fire instead of a stove.

All the huts work mainly by self service. Check instructions (there is a folder in most huts) and leave the hut as you would like to find it. Note your visit in the guest book (there are guest books also at many shelters).

Going to the south, open wilderness huts get sparse. As winters are less severe here, you can get away without them. Instead there are lean-to shelters, where you can spend the evening by a campfire and get shelter from rain in the night.

The main option is of course a tent. You might want to carry one even if you plan to use huts, especially in peek season (get warm and dry in the hut, but sleep in the tent, if you suspect another party may arrive later) or hiking in severe conditions (where you might not reach the hut before dark).

There are seldom proper camping areas in the parks. Instead you can put your tent near provided infrastructure, such as open wilderness huts and campfire places (in some busy parks only designated areas are to be used, but the facilities are similar). In the backcountry of larger parks you can usually put your tent anywhere but in a few restricted areas.

When visiting smaller areas without facilities, you can still use your tent: sleeping in the wood outside the area for a night or two is allowed by the right to access, provided due consideration.

Stay safe[edit]

Open wilderness huts are invaluable in the winter of Lapland. Riisitunturi National Park.

Keep warm and afloat. In remote areas you will not be able to get any quick help in emergencies, so know your limits and prepare well for anything demanding. Remember mobile phone coverage may be poor in some areas.

Dangerous encounters with animals are rare. The European adder is the only poisonous snake (see Finland for advice). There are bears and wolves, especially in eastern Finland, but they avoid humans. As long as you do not manage to get between a bear and her cubs or let your dog find and provoke a bear, you should be pretty safe (they have not learnt to come after your food).

The ticks carry Lyme disease or TBE in some areas, both potentially nasty. You might want to take precautions.

Mosquitoes are a non-trivial nuisance in many of the areas in summer, especially in the north and by wetlands. Hundreds of stings may even make you ill. Make sure you have plenty of repellent at hand, a hat with a mosquito net (in the worst areas) and a mosquito proof tent. Black flies (breeding in streams, not still water, and thus more common in the north) are even worse, as they will find any small hole in your protection.

Another little beast, which can drive people crazy, is the deer fly (hirvikärpänen, älgfluga). This poor flat fly crawls around in your hair and clothing in the hopeless quest of finding the deer in you. After having cut off its wings it has no choice but to continue, even realizing its mistake. They are harmless and seldom bite humans, but rather difficult to chase away or squeeze.

Go next[edit]

  • Norwegian or Swedish National Parks or – for the adventurous – the Russian taiga or tundra.


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