Käsivarsi Wilderness Area in the "arm" of Finland is the most popular of the wilderness areas in Finnish Lapland. It features all of the peaks above 1000 m in the country, except the nearby Saana. It borders Reisa National Park in Norway.
Like the other wilderness areas Käsivarsi was established in 1991, but it had been a popular destination long before (a hostel in nearby Kilpisjärvi was built 1937, a hotel 1948). With its 2206 km² it is the second largest of the areas.
The area has probably been inhabited since soon after the ice sheet of the Ice Age withdraw. There was fish in the rivers, reindeer in the fells, other game, and plants and berries in the summer. Stone age dwelling sites have been found. Pieces of earthenware from 4500 BC have been found by Lake Kilpisjärvi.
Tamed reindeer have been used for two thousand years, but large scale reindeer husbandry was introduced in the area in the 17th century and remains important. Some Sámi families still live in the Raittijärvi Lapp village (with no road connections) for most of the year.
Many fells in the Käsivarsi area belong to the Scandinavian mountain range, in contrast to fells in the rest of Finland. Most of the area – more or less all the northern part – is above the treeline.
Flora and fauna
Fauna includes lemming, root vole, grey red-backed vole, least weasel, stout, red fox, Arctic fox, lynx, wolverine – and of course reindeer. Wolves and bears sometimes visit the area. 89 species of bird nest here, including peregrine falcon, snowy owl and lesser white-fronted goose, but only few stay all year, such as willow grouse, rock ptarmigan, gyrfalcon, willow tit and Siberian tit.
The climate is harsh. The area is at quite high elevation much north of the polar circle. Weather can change drastically in little time. Snow and freezing temperatures are possible also in midsummer. Above the treeline there is little natural shelter against storms.
There is polar night for about two months in winter and midnight sun most of the summer.
The peak seasons are in August and April, the latter by ski.
You may enter the park from anywhere. If passing the border from Norway you should not have any goods needing customs checks (you might be able to clear before your trip).
The obvious starting point is the Kilpisjärvi village at E8, with daily bus connections from Rovaniemi, in summertime also connections from Skibotn by E6 (and Alta and Tromsø) in Norway. There are two main trailheads in the village, in the south and north ends of the village. The official visitor centre is at the southern one (closer to the wilderness area). At the northern one (closer to Malla) there is a private tourist centre, Kilpisjärven Retkeilykeskus.
- 1 Kilpisjärvi Nature Centre (Kilpisjärven luontokeskus), Käsivarrentie 14145, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 1–26 Mar: Tu–Sa 09:00–16:00; 27 Mar–8 May and 15 Jun–30 Sep: M–Su 09:00–17:00, closed off season. Information on the wilderness area, the Saana fell and the Malla nature reserve by the tripoint. Maps (also for nearby areas in Norway and Sweden), fishing permits, snowmobile track permits, reservation and key of reservation huts, information on available service in the region and general advice. Exhibition about local nature and culture. Short AV slideshows. Local handicrafts, products, books and souvenirs for sale. Children’s play corner. Accessible by wheelchair. Groups wanting guiding should book in advance. Free. Guiding €45 per group per hour.
- 2 Fell Lapland Nature Centre (in Hetta), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 18 Apr–5 Jun: M–F 09:00–16:00 (closed 16 May), 6 Jun–23 Sep: daily 09:00–17:00, 24 Sep–31 Dec: M–F 09:00–16:00 (closed 24–26 Dec). When the Kilpisjärvi nature centre is closed off season, you can get corresponding service here. Its exhibitions may be worth a visit regardless. Café open M–F 10:00–16:00.
- Kilpisjärven Retkeilykeskus, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 8–22. Accommodation, café, sauna and hiking services.
You can start at many other points along the E8 (national road 21, here called Käsivarrentie), few with marked trails though. There are parking areas at Ropinsalmi (53 km before Kilpisjärvi), Iitto (42 km before), Saarikoski (30 km before) and Kilpisjärvi. The recommended route from E8 in Norway is along the bank of the River Didnujoki via the Lossujärvi cabin.
The wilderness area is on the Nordkalottleden trail and European long distance path E1; you could start from Kautokeino (Sámi: Guovdageaidnu) in the Norwegian Finnmark, from Abisko at the Kungsleden trail in Sweden or from some point in between (e.g. Saraelv in Nordreisa or Innset in Bardu). The distance from Kautokeino to Kilpisjärvi along the trail through the wilderness area is 190 km, as is the distance from Abisko to Kilpisjärvi. E1 coincides with Nordkalottleden between Kautokeino and the tripoint and also leads to Abisko.
If you want to visit the Finland-Norway-Sweden tripoint, one option is to take the boat from Kilpisjärvi to there and walk back along Nordkalottleden, through Malla nature reserve, passing northeast of the Kilpisjärvi village.
At high waters the trail from Kautokeino to the wilderness area has some problematic passages. The marked route between Vuomadathytta and Saraelv may be flooded and a higher unmarked route then has to be used. Also the ford over Njargajåkka can be difficult.
In winter there are snowmobile routes and tracks leading to Kilpisjärvi and tracks into the wilderness area. You can drive by yourself or have locals drive you and your luggage.
Air transport from Kilpisjärvi is possible (seaplane or helicopter).
Fees and permits
Right to access is applicable (there may be some restricted areas, like the Annjalon nature reserve). Hiking and overnight stays in tents and open wilderness huts are free. You have the permission to make fire from fallen branches and wigs on the ground, unless near a fireplace (use that instead) or if a wildfire warning is in effect, but firewood is sparse and lighting campfires is not recommended.
Beds in reservation huts cost €11/person/night. Prices of rental huts and cabins vary, the huts €70 or €220/day (4–8 persons).
If you intend to fish you can buy the permits at the nature centre (or a local business helping with arrangements). Angling and ice fishing is free in most lakes, but forbidden in flowing water. In the lakes Toskaljärvi, Luohtojärvi and Peeran lammet you need a local permit. For lure and fly fishing you need the national permit and one of two local permits depending on area: Lätäseno (nr 1550) or Enontekiö (nr 1551), the latter including ice fishing and angling in the above mentioned lakes. Equipment (including boots) should be disinfected, e.g. by sufficient drying, if moving between waters with and without the Salmon parasite Gyrodactylus salaris. Check details at the visitor centre.
To hunt (willow grouse and northern hare) you need a permit for "hunting area 1613 Käsivarsi", which can be bought at the visitor centre in Hetta. You also need general hunting and arms permits.
To use the snowmobile tracks you need to pay a fee, possibly separately for Metsähallitus tracks and the track network of local businesses. Driving is forbidden except in these specific tracks (locals may have permission to drive also elsewhere, so don't use "wild" tracks).
The Nordkalottleden trail through the northern part of the area, with an optional detour to the Halti fell, is the main hiking trail. Most hikers on this leg use it just for a return trek from Kilpisjärvi to Halti. The trail is intended for use in summer; markings will not be visible in wintertime. There are some bridges, but minor streams need to be forded.
There is also a shorter hiking trail from Peera (at E8) to Ailakkajärvi at the border of the wilderness area.
Otherwise you have no markings helping you to find your way.
The terrain is rough at many places. You should have sturdy footwear.
In winter you need proper cross-country skis, suitable for both loose and hard snow, the former at least in midwinter. There are marked and maintained tracks in the Kilpisjärvi area, but not in the wilderness area itself. There are snowmobile tracks leading to Halti Fell, Lake Somasjärvi and Lake Lossujärvi, marked with twigs. They can be used by ski, but their maintenance is irregular.
In wintertime there are two Metsähallitus snowmobile tracks through the wilderness area, one between Hetta and Kilpisjärvi, one connecting to this, from Saarikoski parking area to lake Raittijärvi. There are also tracks maintained by local tourist businesses, e.g. to Halti, but driving along these may be restricted to local businesses (tours can be booked). Driving outside the marked tracks requires special permissions (allowed for reindeer herding).
- The wild barren landscape has a special charm. The main sight for the Finnish is the 1 Halti (Sámi: Hálde) fell, some 55 km (34 mi) from Kilpisjärvi. The highest point in Finland (1,365 m, 4,478 ft) is at a border mark on the fell side. There is a guestbook to sign. Ridnitšohkka peak (1,317 m) close by is the highest peak in Finland and some other of the highest fells of Finland are in sight.
- 2 Pihtsusköngäs Falls (Pihtsuskordsi), 17 m high, some 45 km from Kilpisjärvi along the Nordkalottleden trail.
- 3 Toskaljärvi cave. A cave with an underground stream through paleotsoic dolomite, thought to be about 150 m long. Exploring the cave is dangerous because of the water.
- Palsa bogs, i.e. bogs with frost mounds.
- Prehistoric trapping pits at several locations. The deep and wide pits were dug in chains along reindeer routes. Now they are much more shallow, but with some imagination you may be able to reconstruct the hunt.
See Hiking in the Nordic countries for general advice.
Nature trails outside the wilderness area proper:
- 500-m nature trail to the Iitto mire reserve, with palsa bogs, i.e. bogs with frost mounds. Start at E8 50 km south of Kilpisjärvi.
- 5-km nature trail from Kilpisjärvi showing nature at the west side of Saana
- 8–12 km nature trail leading from Kilpisjärvi to the top of Saana and back, optionally via a day hut.
Shorter hiking trails, mostly outside the wilderness area proper:
- Hiking trail Tsahkaljärvi–Saanajärvi–Saana
- Salmivaara Trail (2 km)
- Hiking trail to Ailakkajärvi (11 km). The trail goes mostly above the tree line. Start at 3 Peera by E8, some 10 km south of Kilpisjärvi. The trail is not necessarily marked, but there are paths you can follow with a map and some skill. If you want to extend the hike, you could continue to Termisjärvi wilderness hut some 11 km away (considerably longer if you want to climb Dierpmesvárri) and return by the 16-km path to Kilpisjärvi (more or less the same route as the snowmobile track).
- Hiking trail through Malla strict nature reserve to the tripoint 11 km away. Boat transport either way possible. The trail continues as the Nordkalottleden through Norway and Sweden.
Otherwise you are probably here for some serious wilderness backpacking, in winter and spring by cross-country skiing. The most popular trails are those to Halti (along Nordkalottleden; about 3000 persons a year), but there is no need to keep to the marked trails. You can get a guide from local businesses.
Trails via Halti:
- Kilpisjärvi–Halti–Kilpisjärvi (108 km)
- Kilpisjärvi–Halti–Lossujärvi–Didnujoki–E8 (87 km), not marked all the way; keep north of Vuomakasjärvi and the other waters, the bridge over Vuomakasjoki on some maps does not exist
- Kilpisjärvi–Halti–Kautokeino (190 km), some difficult passages at high waters
- 1 Poroeno–Lätäseno River Route (start from Porojärvi, 7 km downstream from Meekonjärvi via Skádjajávri to Jogasjärvi). A challenging route for experienced paddlers (265 m/100 km). The route starts in the middle of the wilderness area, which means you first have to get the canoe there (or somewhere along the route). The first third has most of the altitude drop (130m/30km). The route is not suitable at high or low waters (you can get advice at the visitor centre). There are several open wilderness huts along the route. Free, if you have own equipment and transport.
Several businesses in Kilpisjärvi arrange snowmobile safaris, which may include a visit to Halti, ice fishing or watching polar lights.
Metsähallitus calls the area a fishing paradise. Typical species are Arctic char, grayling, trout, whitefish, perch and pike. Fishermen usually either go on a shorter arranged fishing tour, arrange transportation to a rental hut or cottage, or hike to the fishing grounds.
Angling and ice fishing in lakes are Everyman’s rights, except where fishing is restricted. For lure and fly fishing you need the national and local permits.
Hunting willow grouse and northern hare is allowed in the area, given the needed permits.
There are gas or wood heated stoves in the wilderness huts, which make for the easiest cooking, but in season the huts may be crowded and the distances between huts are sometimes long.
There is not much firewood, so relying on open fire for cooking is unwise. Firewood meant for use in the huts should not be taken for use at campfires. A portable stove is recommended.
Good looking water in the area should be safe, but in periods with warm weather boiling it is recommended.
There are many huts, but you should probably also be prepared to stay overnight outdoors, with a tent or similar. In summer having reserved beds in the reservation huts may be enough.
There are waste bins at most huts, but you should carry your waste out of the area. Try to follow leave-no-trace camping principles.
There are many open wilderness huts in the area, but they may be crowded in peak season, at least along the route to Halti. Along this route and at a few other places there are also reservation huts, where you get a guaranteed bed for a fee. There are also a few rental huts and cabins, which can be booked for a group (price given for all the group). Pets are usually allowed in the open wilderness huts if other visitors agree, but not in the reservation huts.
Open wilderness huts may be used for overnight stay only if you move independently by own muscles (as by foot or ski). Having a break there is allowed regardless. Reservation huts and rental huts may be used by anybody, including commercial groups and persons coming by snowmobile.
There is a folder with instructions in the hut, read them. Check the condition of the stove and gas system. Use firewood and gas sparingly, gas only for cooking, not for warmth. Sign the guest book, indicating where you are going next. Leave the hut tidy, with chopped fire wood taken inside. Empty the water container and take ashes from the stove to the designated place. Maintenance on the remotest huts is done only every second year, the rest is up to the visitors.
In the open wilderness huts latecomers have an absolute right to the facilities: the ones who had a chance to get warm and dry should put up a tent in case the hut gets crowded. Staying for more than two nights is not allowed (in emergencies you use your own judgement). If you need a base, rent a cabin instead.
The wilderness huts on the trail from Kilpisjärvi to Halti have wood heated stoves for warmth and gas cookers for cooking. In reservation huts (or at the reservation hut side) there is also basic cookware (pot, frying pan, coffee pot). In the open wilderness huts you use your sleeping bags, beds in reservation huts have mattresses, pillows and blankets (use own linen).
Off the trail, returning via Norway or continuing towards Kautokeino the huts mostly lack gas cookers, so food is prepared at the wood heated stove or your portable one. The remotest open wilderness huts are also often only for six persons, some even for four.
At the Halti trail and farther along Nordkalottleden:
- 1 Saarijärvi wilderness hut (at west end of Saarijärvi, north of Salmivaara). Open wilderness hut (10 persons) and reservation hut (10 persons). Free; €11/night for reserved beds.
- 2 Kuonjarjoki wilderness hut (south of Kahperusvaara). Open wilderness hut (10 persons) and reservation hut (10 persons). Stove and gas cooker. No waste bins. Free; €11/night for reserved beds.
- 3 Meekonjärvi reservation hut and day hut. Reservation hut (10 persons). Meekonjärvi day hut close by (50 m), the open wilderness hut on the other side of Pierfejoki (500 m). €11/night; day hut free.
- 4 Meekonjärvi open wilderness hut (at Pierfejoki, 500 m from its mouth). Open wilderness hut (6 persons). Stove and gas cooker. Free.
- 5 Pihtsusjärvi wilderness hut (on the east shore of Pihtsusjärvi, north of Rassajapuro). Open wilderness hut (10 persons) and reservation hut (10 persons). Stove and gas cooker. Close to the fork towards Halti. Free; €11/night for reserved beds.
- 6 Halti wilderness hut (north shore of Háldijávri on the south side of Halti). Open wilderness hut (8 persons) and reservation hut (13 persons). Stove and gas cooker. There are probably remnants of an earlier hut 300 m away. Free; €11/night for reserved beds.
- 7 Kopmajoki. Open wilderness hut (6 persons). Stove and gas cooker. Free; €11/night for reserved beds.
Between Halti and Didnujoki:
- Urtashotelli (at the north shore of Riimajärvi). Small private open wilderness hut. Bring own firewood if you want to use the stove. Free.
- 8 Lossujärvi open wilderness hut (south of Urtasvaara). Open wilderness hut (2–6 persons). Wood fired stove. Free.
In Malla nature reserve:
- 9 Kuohkimajärvi wilderness huts (near the tripoint). Open wilderness hut (6 persons) and reservation hut. Stove, gas cooker, essential cooking utensils. Free; €11/night for reserved beds.
By the canoe route:
- 10 Jogasjärvi open wilderness hut (Jogašjávri) (Jogasjärvi, just upstream from Porojärvi). Open wilderness hut (4 persons). Fireplace (should have been repaired by fall 2014, check). Free.
- 11 Porojärvi open wilderness hut (Boazojávri) (at the south shore of Porojärvi, near the east end and the start of the River Poroeno). Open wilderness hut (10 persons). Wood-fired stove. Free.
- 12 Porojärvi rental huts (at south-eastern shore of Porojärvi). Rental hut known for being a holiday destination for Urho Kekkonen, president of Finland during the Cold War, 1 km from the Porojärvi wilderness hut. Reachable by foot, e.g. via Meekonjärvi and Jogasjärvi huts, transport with snowmobile possible. The Poroeno river starts here. In addition to the UKK hut there is a hut from 1998. Wood-heated sauna by the shore. Boat. Closed in January. €220/day or €1320/week, Mid-summer €880 (2+4 persons).
- 13 Tenomuotka open wilderness hut (Deatnomudtki). Open wilderness hut (8 persons). Wood-fired stove. The hut is at a series of rapids, 20 m/1.5 km before the hut. After the hut the river enters a gorge with a passage called Pirunportti ("Devils gate") 2 km after the hut. Free.
- 14 Hirvasvuopio open wilderness hut. Open wilderness hut (6 persons). Wood-fired stove. 300 m from the snowmobile track. Hirvasvuopio rental hut (8 persons) 400 m downstream. Free; rental hut €220/day or €1320/week.
- 5 km downstream you will exit the wilderness area and enter Lätäseno-Hietajoki mire protection area instead. The wilderness hut at 15 Pinniskoski former hut (Binnjesguoika; 10 km downstream from Hirvasvuopio) burnt down 2012. A toilet remains. There are large palsa bogs on the opposite (east, left hand) side.
- 16 Neuhkama lean-to shelter (Njávkan). There are remnants of pitfalls somewhat upstream from the shelter. Free.
- 17 Saitsijoki lean-to shelter (Cáiceguoika). A path follows Saitsijoki westwards to Saitsijärvet. Free.
- 18 Isokurkkio open wilderness hut. Open wilderness hut (6 persons). Wood-fired stove. Just upstream from Isokurkkio ("big rapids"; 30 m/3km), followed by Vähäkurkkio and Pahtakoski (15 m/2 km). Free.
- 19 Mannakoski lean-to shelter (2 km downstreams from the mouth of Lätäseno). Lätäseno joins Könkämäeno to form Muoniojoki at the village Markkina by E8, 9 km upstream from Kaaresuvanto. Nearby is the Mannakoski lean-to shelter at a nature trail starting point and a bird watching tower with view over the Kirkkovuoma/Hietajänkkä palsa bog. Free.
- 20 Ailakkajärvi open wilderness hut (at the north-east shore of Ailakkajärvi, just outside the wilderness area). Open wilderness hut (6 persons). Stove. Free.
- 21 Aatsa open wilderness hut. Open wilderness hut (10 persons). Wood-fired stove.
- 22 Kalkkoivi open wilderness hut (in the end of the so called Germans' road). Open wilderness hut (8 persons). Wood-fired stove. Outside the wilderness area.
- 23 Kutukoski open wilderness hut. Open wilderness hut (6 persons). Wood-fired stove.
- 24 Ropi open wilderness hut (between Ropitunturi (945 m) and Akkispahtatunturi, at the east bank of Ropijoki). Open wilderness hut (8 persons). Wood-fired stove. 2 km from the Roabivuopmi palsa bog. Unmarked paths from Iitto and Ropisalmi (both about 11 km). Pitfall remnants upstream Baikaboldnejohka on the way from Ropisalmi. Free.
- 25 Kaskasjoki open wilderness hut (on the south bank of Kaskasjoki, follow the path between the river and a small lake.). Open wilderness hut (6 persons). Wood-fired stove. Kaskasjoki (Gaskkasjohka) runs down into Tonieno (Doaereseatnu). Bizeahpi and Torisvuoma palsa bogs 4 km downstream from the hut. Free.
- 26 Puvrrasjoki open wilderness hut. Open wilderness hut (20 persons). Wood fired stove. Free.
- 27 Termisjärvi wilderness hut (by the snowmobile track). Open wilderness hut (8 persons) and reservation hut (10 persons). Wood-fired stove. Gas-fired stove for paying guests. Free; €11/night for reserved beds.
- 28 Taapmajärvi open wilderness hut. Open wilderness hut (4 persons). Wood-fired stove. Free.
There are no camping sites with any service in the wilderness area. Camping by the huts is allowed (not by huts and cabins rented to individual parties, and private homes and cottages). There are dry toilets by the huts.
Camping in the wilderness area is allowed according to the right to access.
Do not go without a guide or sufficient experience. Do not go alone or without proper clothing and equipment, including good maps. Know how to handle adverse weather and loosing your way.
Tell about your plans (e.g. to the nature centre) and give a hard deadline, when emergency services should be called unless you have announced your return or told about being belated. Sign guest books in the huts on your route, noting any changes in your plans.
Some areas are without mobile phone signal. Try high and open ground. Keep the phone guarded against moisture and off most of the time.
You will have to wait for quite a while for any help. Be prepared to help yourself as much as possible. Do not forget first aid equipment.