Oulanka National Park is a large national park in Northern Finland, near the border with Russia. It is one of the most popular national parks in Finland, despite its relatively remote location. The 80 km Karhunkierros trail through the park (and to Ruka) is legendary and very popular.
Oulanka has several quite large rivers, the most important being the Oulanka river. The altitude differences are small, but there are some rocks and small hills above the rivers, which offer great views.
Flora and fauna
The national park lies at the Arctic circle, and the weather here is such. Winters are long and cold, with the last snow disappearing in June. Average maximum snow depth is 85 cm, minimum recorded temperature −46 °C (−51 °F). There might also be too much water in the rivers in spring, which will make some parts of the trail hard to pass. In summer, the weather is reasonable and the trails are easily passable. As such, summer is the best time to hike, but is also possible to go hike in late spring (end of May), where you will have the beautiful melting landscape just for yourself, or in early to mid autumn, when the mosquitoes are gone and the leaves are changing colours. Nights do not really take place here from May to August, while days are extremely short around December.
Getting in by car is easy, there are good roads leading to the starting points of all hiking trails, such as Ruka, Oulanka Visitor Centre, Hautajärvi or Juuma. It is possible to park for free at these places. The problem is that these places are (same as the park) very far from all main Finnish cities, which will make driving costly and tiring. Also, most of the hiking trails are from point A to B, so you will most likely have to use a bus or taxi to get back to your car.
Getting to the starting points by bus is possible, you will however have to change the bus a few times if going from further away. First you have to get to the town Kuusamo. To get to Kuusamo, use buses affiliated with Matkahuolto company, Onnibus does not run here. The most useful route is the one from Oulu, costing €26.50, €20 if you manage to find online discount fare on Matkahuolto's website. From Kuusamo, there are local buses called "Karhunkierros bus", which run from Kuusamo bus station to Hautajarvi, Ruka and Juuma. Timetable of these buses can be found here, but note that they run only from 1st June to 31st August. Outside of this period, the northernmost point which you can get to by bus is 1 Ristikallio parking area. From this point, you can start a a shorter version of the Karhunkierros trail. In summer, the bus goes all the way to Hautajärvi, where the full Karhunkieros trail starts. If going from southern Finland, it is possible is to take night bus or train to Oulu, Matkahoulto bus from Oulu to Kuusamo, Karhukierros bus to starting point of the trail, and hike to the first or second hut. In Kuusamo, there is helpful English speaking staff at the bus station.
If you get stuck at Kuusamo bus station, you can always get a taxi. The best way to do this, is to ask at the bus station and they will get you one. It is also wise to book one for the return, as there is not always cell signal in the park. You can book it at Kuusamo bus station or Oulanka visitor centre. There are big taxis available (often the same vehicle as the bus), which are able to fit a bigger group inside. One taxi company is Ruka-Kuusamo taxi (+358 100-84200). You can save money on taxi by only taking it to Ruka and going from Ruka to Kuusamo by bus.
Kuusamo has an airport with some flights from the rest of Finland, mostly Helsinki. From every flight, there is an airport bus going to Salla, but it can also drop you off at many places from which you can start a hike in the park. You can find the bus timetable here.
Fees and permits
No entrance or hiking fees.
Hiking is restricted in the border zone and in some other areas. Camping is allowed only at designated sites, free except at the proper camping sites. Drone flying requires a permit. Fishing mostly requires permits and is forbidden in some waters.
Campfires are allowed only at designated sites, and forbidden when there is a wildfire warning.
Paper maps should be available in major book and outdoor stores, in the visitor centre, in Customer Service Karhuntassu in Kuusamo and probably at the tourist information in Kuusamo and at Ruka info. They can also be bought on the net from Karttakeskus and delivered by mail (check whether addresses abroad are serviced). There are several map alternatives, with Karhunkierros Trail Waterproof Outdoor Map 1:50,000/1:25,000 probably the best, if it covers the area of your visit and your interests.
Metsähallitus has an online map, with trails and services marked. Also OpenStreetMaps covers the area, and there are numerous apps to use that map. The best of these seems to be mapy.cz, which offers to download maps for offline mode and where the trails are very visibly marked (do not count on having 3G coverage on the trail!). All the trails and huts can be found here, but this is rather a scheme than a real map.
- 2 Oulanka Visitor Centre (Oulangan luontokeskus), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Daily in season, Tu–Sa off season. Oulanka visitor centre is located in the park, in the middle of Karhukierros trail, and is reachable by car. There is a restaurant, a small exhibition about the park, some equipment for rent, and most of all, helpful English speaking staff. They can help you plan your stay in Oulanka national park if you contact them by email or phone. The visitor centre and the nearby 100 m Könkään kuohu trail to the Kiutaköngäs Rapids are accessible by wheelchair. Free; ordered guided tours €50/group/hr.
Hiking is the main option to get anywhere in the park except the starting points of the hiking trails. There is one main hiking trail, (Iso) Karhunkierros, leading 80 km from Hautajärvi to Ruka, and numerous branch trails, leading to starting points on the road. There are also some trails isolated from Karhunkierros, mostly day trip trails.
The border zone is off limits, and there are restricted areas at Korvasvaara and Juuma. As the park is popular, staying on trails is recommended also elsewhere, unless you go somewhere where no trails lead, and know you can manage on your own in the wilderness.
There is a good road which connects the starting points, but does not go through the park. The only place deeper in the park reachable by car is Oulanka visitor centre.
In winter, the frozen Oulanka river which runs though the park can be used as a road for snowmobiles. Note ice safety.
- 1 Kiutaköngäs. Huge red rocks rising above rapids of Oulanka river. Near to the Oulanka visitor centre and a road, so no need to sleep in a wilderness hut if you want to see this place. Accessible by wheelchair.
- 2 Oulanka canyon. A place where the Oulanka river canyon ends. You can see the whole canyon from a tall cable stayed bridge.
- 3 Lookout above Taivalköngäs. A place with beautiful view above Taivalköngäs autiotupa.
- 4 Jyrävä waterfall. A nice waterfall on Pieni Karhunkierros trail.
- Hike. Hiking is probably the most popular thing to do in Oulanka National Park, as the well known and scenic Karhukierros hiking trail is located here. There are actually sever ways to do it, varying in length and difficulty. Two short trails are even accessible by wheelchair.
- Iso Karhukierros – the longest trail, going 80 km from Hautajärvi to Ruka (halfway between the park and Kuusamo). This is done mostly in three or four nights, and includes climbing Valtavaara hill by Ruka. If hiking in late spring, you might want to start the hike at Rustikalio parking area and finish it in Juuma, as no buses are going to Hautajärvi and there is too much snow on Valtavaara. Note that first wilderness hut is 15 km walking from Hautajärvi. If needed, you can sleep in more conveniently located lean-to shelters, which do no have fireplaces and are less comfortable.
- Pieni Karhunierros – the "small Karhunkierros" trail, a 12 km long circular route from Juuma. Easily doable in one day, features some of the most beautiful places of Oulanka National Park, such as Jyrävä waterfall, but you will miss some others.
- Keroharjun kuiskaus – a 17 km long one day trail which includes a cable boat. Not connected to Karhunkierros in any way. Problem with this route is that it goes from one parking lot to another, and there is no public transportation to these parking lots, meaning you will have to use a taxi, walk the trail both ways, designate one member of your group as a driver or have two cars.
- Hiiden Hurmos – a short, 5 km long circular trail from Oulanka visitor centre, which includes the famous red rock.
- Napapiirin nopia – accessible trail. The first 500 m of Karhunkierros, from Hautajärvi to Rytiniva, are accessible by wheelchair (in summer). The trail leads to a lean-to at the Koutajoki river.
- Show-shoe. In winter, you can take snowshoes and walk through the deep snow. Hiiden Hurmos trail is recommended for snowshoes. Snowshoes for rent in the visitor centre café and from some businesses.
- Cross-country ski. In late winter, you can do some cross-country skiing here. There is only one cross-country skiing designated trail, going from Oulanka visitor centre to Juuma. Most of the trail, to Juusinkampa, is the same trail as Karhunkierros, but from Juusinkampa to Juuma, there is "Wilderness track", available only in winter and offering a different point of view to the Oulanka national park. Skis for rent from some businesses.
- Canoeing. There are numerous large rivers in Oulanka national park, so canoeing is an obvious thing to do. There are even some wilderness huts reachable only by boat. There are two parts of the river designated for canoeing. The website of the national park has some links to companies that can rent you a boat.
- Kiutaköngäs to Jäkälämutka. Kiutaköngäs is near the visitor centre, while Jäkälämutka is at end of a road near the border zone. This part is 25 km long. Do not go beyond Jäkälämutka, as you might end up in Russia.
- Savilampi to Oulanka Visitor Centre. This part is only 13 km long, but it offers more challenging river rapids.
- Fish. You can ice-fish without permit at all places except Savilampi, Aventolampi and Haaralampi Ponds. Ice-fishing however requires special equipment, good clothing and a lot of patience. If you want to fish in running water, you have to get a permission, which can be bought here or at Oulanka visitor centre.
- Cycle. Most of the park trails are off-limits for bikers, but there are two trails which they can use. First is the trail from Oulanka visitor centre to Juuma, using the "Wilderness track" and thus available only in winter on fat bikes (this is the same route as the one for the cross-country ski. The other option is trail from Oulanka visitor centre to Taivalköngäs, available when the ground is not frozen.
You can get maps and some souvenirs at the visitor centre. There are no proper shops in the national park. You can find some supermarkets in Ruka or Kuusamo. There should be kiosks with some provisions at Oulanka Camping Ground and at Juuma Retki-Etappi, but these seem to be available only during summer.
There is a restaurant at Oulanka visitor centre, and numerous restaurants in Ruka, which is however some distance from the park. It should be possible to buy provisions in the kiosks in summer, which means carrying food for two days should be enough on Karhunkierros, but check. Otherwise you have to bring all the supplies with you. It is allowed to pick berries and mushrooms in the park, but it not allowed to fish or hunt animals without permission. It is possible to get fishing permits on this website or buy them at the visitor centre in person.
If hiking for a longer time, water presents an issue. Water from the rivers should not be drunk directly but rather boiled or filtered.
There are numerous hotels in Ruka, a winter resort at the southern end of Karhukierros trail, but there are no hotels north of it or in the park itself.
There are cabins at the Oulanka National Park Camping Ground (4 persons, €50/day; linen €3/person) and in the villages.
There are open wilderness huts along the whole Karhunkierros trail. These are free and maintained by the park staff, including supplying them with firewood (there are fireplaces in the huts). You will have to use your own sleeping bag and mattress when using these. There is a quite a lot of space in them, but they might still get full during the summer. In such case, you will have to go to the next one, sleep outside, or (the least Finnish way to do) ask the people inside to squeeze a bit – the general rule about latecomers' right to the facilities does not work well here, as many of the hikers are ignorant. Come prepared with a tent or walk fast to be in the hut first. There are also Lapp Huts, a pyramid-like wooden structures with fireplace in middle of them, but sleeping in these is not very comfortable. There are also a few reservable wilderness huts, which are locked. For these you have to reserve a bed, pay and ask for a key at the Oulanka visitor centre. Last type of lodging are lean-to shelters, which only offer basic protection against wind, snow and rain.
- 1 Taivalköngäs autiotupa. Probably the most beautiful of the huts, located at the shore of Oulanka river, near some waterfall and rope bridges.
- 2 Ristikallio autiotupa. A useful wildress hut outside the mail trail, on the way to Ristikalio parking lot – useful when starting the trail from this hut.
- 3 Myllytupa. A former water-mill turned into a wilderness hut, close to Juuma (and road), where the Small Karhunkierros trail ends. There is no fireplace inside the hut, which might make staying here a rather cold experience
- 4 Siilastupa autiotupa. A beautiful wilderness hut with nice view on the Jyrävä waterfalls. Quite small, do not count on sleeping here even off season
- 5 Ansakämppä. A large wilderness hut on a sandy bank of Oulanka river. There is a lot of space to raise a tent if you the hut is full, and it is a also a good place to swim in the river – but heat up the hut first, as the river is cold all year long.
- 6 Savilampi autiotupa. A small wilderness hut (10 people) at the end of Oulanka canyon, below a tall cable stayed bride.
Camping is possible next to wilderness huts, and doing so might be necessary in season. There is also a proper camping ground in the middle of the park.
- Oulanka National Park Camping Ground, Liikasenvaarantie 137 (1.5 km from Oulanka Visitor Centre), ☏ , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. June–August; in September by appointment. Check-in: before 21:00. This is the only real camp site in Oulanka national park. Located near the Oulanka visitor centre. There should be a kiosk selling groceries and fishing permits. Canoes and rowing boats for rent. Caravan/tent €15 + fee per person; electricity €4; sauna €15/5 pers./50 min.
Wild camping is not permitted.
- See also: Cold weather
There are trails available in this park all year long, which might present a danger for the unprepared traveller. Winter hikes require that somebody in the company has enough experience of hiking in cold weather, and that all of you prepare yourselves. If you go off season you should at least have a sleeping bag with "comfort" temperature well below freezing (well below -20°C in midwinter unless you are sure you will reach a wilderness hut), a good hiking mattress (or two) and several layers of clothing covering the whole body. Ankle boots are an important thing, and these should be at least partially water resistant, because there is a lot of water everywhere and you do not want to walk with your feet wet (although you can dry your shoes at every wilderness hut).
Some parts of the trail are far away from any road, and getting help there might be difficult and take considerable time. There are places without phone coverage, especially in the valleys.
- Paanajärvi National Park. A larger national park just at the other side of the border. To get there, you have to cross the border north at Salla or south at Kuusamo.
- While Karhunkierros ends in Ruka, you can continue southward by the UKK trail. There seems to be a discontinuity, but at least from the north end of Syöte National Park 65 km from Ruka (25 km south-west from Posio) you can catch it and hike all the way to Koli National Park (some research is needed, as some legs have different names and a few short stretches are by road, not necessarily marked in any way). There are lean-to shelters all the way, but no open wilderness huts (also camping in your tent is possible nearly anywhere).
- The UKK trail continues also northward. From Hautajärvi the trail goes all the way to Nuorttijoki in Urho Kekkonen National Park. These legs should be adequately marked and documented.
- Also Riisitunturi National Park is quite near, just north-east from Posio centre. It is known for colourful slope mires and the crown snow-loads in winter.