This hike through Tarvantovaara Wilderness Area in Eanodat (Finnish: Enontekiö) in northern Finnish Lapland leads to the Stuorrahanoaivi peak on the World Heritage Struve Geodetic Arc, from either side of the wilderness area.
Our article on the Struve Geodetic Arc says "if you visit many points, the vastness of the project performed in the age of horses and carts may come off as what's really fascinating about this set of locations". This point is the one that remains in roadless wilderness, as most of Lapland was in the days of Struve. The couple of days on this trek of a mere 60 km could in your imagination be extended to the more than tenfold distance the expeditions trekked, without the comfort of modern hiking equipment.
Metsähallitus, responsible for the wilderness area, describes it as "a perfect retreat for experienced hikers looking for peace and quiet as well as unforgettable nature experiences". Take your time to enjoy.
The stretch of the arc from Tornio to Kautokeino was led by the Swede Nils Selander in the years 1845–1852. Struve himself made the last measurements on the stretch up to Tornio in 1851, while the stretch northward from Kautokeino was led by Norwegian Christopher Hansteen.
The next point southward in the World Heritage inscription is Pajtas-vaara – or Tynnyrilaki as it was named after Selander had hoisted a barrel there, to be seen from the next and previous distant measurement points – in Kiruna Municipality in Sweden, downstream Muonionjoki. The previous one to the north is Baelljasvárri in Kautokeino
What is now Tarvantovaara Wilderness Area played a role also in the 1950s: the veterinary surgeon, wilderness backpacker, photographer and author Yrjö Kokko wrote a book on his treks searching for any last nesting whooper swan, which he finally found in this area. The whooper swans were close to extinction in Finland, and his tireless work for them, including the book, were instrumental in their protection. The whooper swan is now the national bird of the country.
The wilderness areas were founded in 1991. Part of their function is to "protect the traditional livelihood of the Sámi" – although most regard the areas wilderness, they are home to Sámi communities, pasture for their reindeer and their fishing, hunting and berry picking grounds. Many Finnish also come to roam, fish and hunt, but there is still vast space for everybody venturing to here.
There is varying nature, with pine woods in the south, fell birch in much of the area, many wetlands, and fells and fell heath in the north, where this hike is leading you. The character of the legs from Karesuvanto and along the Norwegian border differ significantly, the former through forest, by lakes, rivers and bogs, the latter mostly on fell heath, with wide views.
This itinerary is for summer and early autumn. In winter and spring you can travel by ski, snowmobile and ski, or snowmobile and snowshoes, but the issues of a winter hike are not handled here.
Metsähallitus is responsible for the wilderness area. See their pages for some information on it: Tarvantovaara Wilderness Area. Their customer service should be able to give any advice needed:
- Fell Lapland Visitor Centre, Peuratie 15 (in Hetta), ☏ +358 20-639-7950, firstname.lastname@example.org. In season M–Su 09:00–17:00, off season M–F 09:00–16:00, 13–31 Dec M–Su 10:00–17:00.
- See also: Hiking in the Nordic countries
Treat this as Arctic wilderness. Off trails nobody will find you unless they know to search for you, and there are areas without mobile phone coverage. Freezing temperatures and snowfall are possible even in summer, as are high winds and heavy rain. The terrain is mostly easy, but if you venture out on the wrong marshes it is definitely not (and you can break a leg if you take chances). You will mostly follow established trails, but they are not marked, at least not all the distance.
Thus, map, compass (declination was about +10° in 2021) and the skills to make good use of them are essential. If you get lost, you may need good map reading skill to get back to the route. A GPS can be helpful, but only if you can remain its master, choosing waypoints and evaluating any suggested route. And any electronics can fail. A fully charged mobile phone, switched off and water-tightly packed, could be a good safety measure.
To see the neighbouring points on the arc, you will need good weather, binoculars and a suitable compass, preferably of course some real geodetic equipment. The points are some 45 km away.
Spring is late here. By mid June the spring floods should be gone – and the mosquitoes have arrived. Have covering clothes, also for hot days, mosquito repellent and perhaps a mosquito hat. To avoid the worst mosquito (and black fly) season August–September might be better, but some coach connections end with the school vacations. On the open fell, a dry and windy day, mosquitoes may be few also in summer.
You should have suitable clothing, also for the night and for possible changes in weather, which can be quick. The wilderness huts do not have mattresses, blankets or pillows, so you need sleeping bag and hiking mattress regardless of whether you are carrying a tent. Also carry toilet paper and matches (water-tightly packed). Have something for carrying your litter. There are stoves for cooking and heating in the huts, but you may want a camping stove for cooking en route – and one of the stoves was broken and out of use in 2021. Campfires are allowed, provided you know how to handle them safely and unless there is a wildfire warning in effect (have a means to get weather reports including the warnings). You may use branches and twigs from the ground, but not trunks of fallen trees. Use existing fire rings where possible. Finding useful firewood can prove difficult, and making fires where firewood is a scarce resource should be avoided (use firewood sparingly at the huts).
The Every Man's Rights apply in all the wilderness area, except in the Sámi villages. This includes the right to pick mushrooms and berries, with the usual caveats on poisonous ones. There is the additional restricted right to make a fire as described above.
If you intend to fish, you should check possible restrictions on area and catch, which can vary from year to year. In most lakes fishing with rod, line and hook, without reel, is included in the Every Man's Rights. Angling with reel and artificial bait requires the national licence (for those aged 18–65; one rod per person), and angling in flowing water additionally the local permit 1551 or 1554 depending on area.
Depending on fitness, experience and preferences, you might have daily distances of 10–30 km. 10 km/day should be OK also for a moderately fit 10-year old, although probably not easy for them. For one night in your tent and two in huts, daily distances will be 15–20 km, plus any side trips.
Tell somebody about your planned timetable and route, including any backup plans, and a hard deadline when emergency services should be called. If you are belated and cannot contact that somebody, call the emergency services instead, to avoid them starting an unnecessary search.
If you have a car, you might want to get it to the other end of the hike. You might get a tourist business fix it.
There is a ford on the way from Karesuvanto (just after the wilderness hut), which can be difficult at high waters. If waters are high and you still want to do all the route, you should probably either start from Karesuvanto to be able to turn back if the ford is unpassable, or reserve extra days to be able to return to Bálojávri. The Fell Lapland Visitor Centre might know whether such safeguards are needed.
Three routes to Stuorrahanoaivi are described below: from Bálojávri (Palojärvi), from the Hetta–Kautokeino road (road 93, E45) closer to the customs, and from Karesuvanto on the Muonio–Kilpisjärvi road (road 21, E8) also on E45 from Kiruna. The first two routes join at Sálvvošjávri.
1 Bálojávri (Palojärvi) is on the Hetta–Kautokeino road (road 93, E45), 25 km north from Hetta, 10 km south from the Kivilompolo border crossing. There might be a coach connection or a local bus or line taxi connection from Hetta to the village. You could also hike along the trail from Hetta to Näkkälä and turn towards Bálojávri at a suitable spot (at latest at Näkkälä, then following the road).
The recommended route has its 1 trailhead 7.5 km north of the Bálojávri (Palojärvi) village and fuel station, 3 km south from the border, 2.5 km south from the customs. It is used by locals for getting from Bálojávri to Sálvvošjávri. The downside is that it crosses the border to Norway, which may be an issue e.g. if you have a dog. There might be a usable coach connection Hetta–Kautokeino; check what to call the place to get off. On the map you will find Gaskaurraeanan (Keskimuurinmaa) just north of the trailhead. You will start walking over Máčielgevárri (Maaselkävaara), and reach the open fell in Norway after 7 km.
2 Karesuvanto is on E8, with coach from Rovaniemi via Muonio to Kilpisjärvi, in summer farther to Tromsø. There is also a service from Kiruna to Karesuando across the border bridge. You have the option of following a road for the first 10.5 km.
The route is described from the Kautokeino road and from Karesuvanto to Stuorrahanoaivi. You can return the same way after Stuorrahanoaivi or continue to the other trailhead.
There is a snowmobile track from Bálojávri to Karesuvanto. It is marked and trees are cleared on it, so it might be a tempting route. But it is not planned to be the nicest route in summer. The obvious problem is that it crosses marshes, bogs and lakes, which are frozen in winter.
Gaskaurraeanan to Sálvvošjávri
This leg is a 17-km trek. If you cannot start early, you could split it in two, heading for Duolljejávri from the slopes of Roavvoaivi or sleeping on Roavvoaivi (below the peak), or camping somewhere after the peak, such as at Niemijärvi. Starting late in the day you will spend the night in the birch wood, perhaps at the creek just after Máčielggevárri, making the next day 14 km.
The path goes west-northwest from the Hetta–Kautokeino road. For the first 200 m there are several paths, but after that it should be quite easy to follow through the fell birch forest. It soon starts to ascend the Máčielggevárri (Finnish: Maaselkävaara). There are a few wet places in depressions, but no marshes on your route, which follows high ground between them.
The path reaches the border 3.7 km from the road, near the north-east corner of the wilderness area (there is also a separate narrow "Tarvantovaara wilderness" nature conservation area along the border). A reindeer fence follows the border. You'll follow it to the south-west for 175 m, where it makes a shortcut through Norway. At this point there is also a gate, through which you cross the border. The path follows the general direction of the fence, but soon at some distance.
You leave the forest behind 2 km after the border, and get up on the fell heath. The path ascends for 3.5 km to the top of the 568 m Roavvoaivi. The fell should be easy to spot from a distance, in case you lost the path somewhere. There is a small lake, which might make a nice place for a stop unless it is windy. The path forks, leading through a gate by the fell top or one a bit farther. The forks rejoin after that other gate. There are more forks further on, but the path should lead in the same general direction regardless of which one you choose. You can also take a path leading more directly towards the wilderness hut. If following the paths towards the Sámi settlement you soon cross the border back to Finland and cross a marked snowmobile track (probably high poles with X-marks; some 3.5 km after the peak).
The path now leads westward and descends to a marshy area, which should be easy to cross along the paths. If you lose the path, just cross somewhere sensible and find it on the other side. After fording Suoidnája you have a steep ascend up Sálvvošbuollán. You could also follow the reindeer fence on the north side of the marshes (the more direct route to the hut). Once on Sálvvošbuollán you could use the paths or the snowmobile track markings to find the hut.
As you reach the "spine" of Sálvvošbuollán, 2 km after crossing the snowmobile track, the path to Salvasjärvi wilderness hut forks to the north-east following it, while the path continues to the west, ascending towards the southern end of the lake Sálvvošjávri (Finnish: Salvasjärvi), a reindeer round-up site and the Sámi summer settlement of Sálvvošjávri. 2 km to go for the wilderness hut, 17 km from the road.
Bálojávri to Sálvvošjávri
The 2 footpath from Bálojávri toward Sálvvošjávri starts 875 m north from the snowmobile track starting point (with an information board 200 m from the road), orthogonal to the road. It leads over Áhkubuollán, on the north side of Bálovárri and towards Luovvevárri 7 km from Bálojávri. You might want to fill your water bottle at Várrejohka before you climb the hill and enter the wilderness area. On the top it is probably time for dinner (the highest peak of Luovvevárri is 1 km away).
After crossing Rádjejohka you might want to turn away from the footpath to join the snowmobile track on Rádjeskaidi. Don't follow it slavishly (avoid the worst wetlands), but it can hinder you from straying away over the border. You might want to take a quick sidetrip to the border mark on Rádjeskaidi. Crossing is no problem (probably not a great problem even if you have a dog, as long as you keep to the Finnish side of the reindeer fence), but your maps may end at the border.
The snowmobile track leads to a bridge over Dápmotjohka. After the bridge the route leads over swamps, which you might want to avoid. Do your best. A kilometre after the Dápmotjohka bridge you reach the open fells, with the 545-m Sálvvošduottar to the west. Continue on the fell heath left of the snowmobile track. At Niemijärvi you are 8.5 km from Luovvevárri. Sálvvošduottar is a 2×2-km sidetrip away. Niemijärvi may be a good place for the night, if the hut being only 4.5 km away does not bother you. Dápmotjávri ("brown trout lake") is 1 km to the east.
Join the footpaths to the north and follow them to Sálvvošbuollán 2.5 km forward, where a fork to the north leads to Salvasjärvi Wilderness Hut a further 2 km away. You have now come 20 km from Bálojávri.
Salvasjärvi wilderness hut
1 Salvasjärvi Wilderness Hut (Sálvvošjávri ávdinstohpu) sleeps 6, more if needed, in a wide bunk bed. It has a wood fired stove for heat and cooking (you might want to use your camping stove instead). There is a dry toilet and a woodshed nearby. There is a folder with instructions. Check the fireplace and chimney before lighting a fire (it was broken as of 28 March 2021). Write something in the guestbook, at least date, names, from where you are, where you are heading and any changes in your plans. Leave the hut at least as tidy as when you arrived, and make sure there is dry firewood for the next guests (this is the only way you pay for your visit). Don't leave litter or food. If somebody arrives in the night, make sure there is room for them (leaving if necessary, but it shouldn't be necessary unless you arrived early, having had time to put up your tent). Pets are allowed in the hut, given that all guests agree.
Sálvvošjávri to Stuorrahanoaivi
As you continue from the hut you could either backtrack along Sálvvošbuollán and walk via the Sámi settlement or cross the wetland between the lakes Sálvvošjávri and Sálvvošsáiva. Finding your way through the reindeer round-up site can be difficult if you take the wrong path, try to choose the right one from the beginning. If you choose the northern route, use the path over Lumpuvaara and either the gate for the snowmobile track or the one for the track from the settlement. The distance from the hut to Lumpuvaara via the settlement is 4.5 km, via the northern shortcut 3.5 km. 1.5 km farther you reach the 535 m Guolbboaivi. The path goes north of its peak and passes through a gate to the northern side of the reindeer fence.
The path leads via the lake Lulit Guolbbajávri, probably to avoid most of the ("difficult to traverse") wetlands and up to the hilltop by Bielojávri (Kellojärvi). There is a gate at the top. The lake is 7.5–8.5 km from the hut where you stayed. Perhaps time for lunch.
After ascending Duolvanjunni (Tuolvanenä) you will probably see Stuorrahanoaivi. You could climb the Duolvajunni peak or go closer to the south-western hillside to get a view of the wilderness landscape, at least if you didn't at Guolbboaivi. To the south you have a good view over the marshes, lakes and fell birch forests, and to 1 Darvvatvárri (Finnish: Tarvantovaara), which has given the wilderness area its name. To the west-northwest you have Gielleduottar (Kiellitunturi), over which the path will lead.
The path leads over a lower top of Gielleduottar and then close to the reindeer fence, which crosses over to Norway, to avoid the gorge 3 Kinoskuru. Continue to the southern 565 m peak of Gielleduottar, 4.5 km from Bielojávri, with a border mark (no 320). The fell has another top a kilometre northward, with the highest peak 580 m.
To the west is the northern end of the small lake Sturrahanoaivvejávre, 13.5 km from the Salvasjärvi hut, and across the lake you have the peak of Stuorrahanoaivi. Circle slightly to get a less steep path down to the lake. The lake is at 490.4 m, the peak at close to 600 m. Climb to the Struve point now or after having a good night's sleep by the lake. Hiking up to the top is probably easiest straight from the souther end of the lake, from its mouth.
Karesuvanto to Lávvárri
This is a 20-km trek. If you start late, have a ride to Lávvárri or camp on the way.
Take the road northward 800 m east of the junction to Sweden. It leads to the 4 Karesuvanto school. There is a junction to the right for the road to Lǘvárri. A footpath leads to the north from the school yard. You can take either. The routes join 750 m after the school. 1.5 km after the school there is an information board for the snowmobile track to Hetta and Käsivarsi Wilderness Area. 3 km from the school the footpath forks off by the bridge over Báktejohka (Lavijoki).
Both routes mostly lead through fell birch forest, with some views to open mires. "Pyyntikuoppia" on the map signifies ancient wild reindeer pitfalls. There has usually been several in a row. They are much more shallow now than when in use, but you could still try to imagine the hunt.
The route by the footpath and the one along the road join again by Lavirovajärvi, just after Lávvárri (Finnish: Lavivaara). The lake cannot be seen from the footpaths, as it is higher above a steep hillside.
By the road
There is a road from Karesuvanto to the foot of Lávvárri (Finnish: Lavivaara). The road continues for 7.5 km to the foot of Lávvárri. At Lavirova, a foothill of Lávvivárri, you pass the northern limit for pine woods (although you probably did not see many pines).
The road ends at a cottage at the foot of Lávvivárri. Backtrack 150 m to get to a footpath from here. After 300 m along the path you reach a few ancient reindeer trapping pits. There are more of them a kilometre farther along the path. 3 km after leaving the road you join those who left the road earlier, by Lavirovajärvi.
By the footpath
At the school, go straight northward along the footpath. It joins the road after 750 m. 3 km from the school a footpath forks off to the left, just before the bridge over Báktejohka (Lavijoki), leading between the river and a snowmobile track (probably unmarked), at some points along the latter. "Pyyntikuoppia" on the map signifies ancient wild reindeer pitfalls. After a pine wood where the footpath and snowmobile track join, you will cross the northern limit for pine forest. Just after that point you cross a creek and have an open mire to your left. At Aittamaa (the name suggesting hay harvesting) the footpath again forks away. You pass Lávvárri and Pikku Lavivaara. By a big open mire you cross Báktejohka and join those having come by road by Lavirovajärvi, 12 km from the school.
Lavirovajärvi to the Syväjärvi hut
There is some open terrain where the routes join. Across a hill to the right there is a lake, Lavirovajärvi, and a creek from the lake passes the footpath. Probably either of the water sources can be used. This might be a place for lunch or for camping.
One kilometre farther the path forks, just before entering the Tarvantovaara Wilderness Area. The left path leads to the Syväjärvi wilderness hut, while the right leads to Márddajávri (Marttajärvi) and farther to the north-east. You will probably want to go via the hut, by the left path.
The path leads by Kaivosjärvet and forks (2.5 km after entering the wilderness area). The right fork is the more direct route (3 km), but there are further forks, so you have to use your navigation skills. If you chose the left fork (4 km) you are between marshes and a steep hillside, so there shouldn't be much deviating paths, just don't cross the Jiehtájohka (Hietajoki). The path eventually leads to the river, but at that point you should turn back to the right to find the wilderness hut.
Syväjärvi wilderness hut
The 2 Syväjärvi Open Wilderness Hut (named after Čiekŋalisjávri 1.5 km upstream) sleeps 4 persons officially. There is a wood stove for heating and cooking, and a woodshed and a dry toilet nearby. See Salvasjärvi wilderness hut above for instructions.
There are at least three fords over Jiehtájohka: at the hut, 500 m downstream (by path, 850 m by the river), and 1 km upstream. The paths from the fords join some 2.5 km farther. Choose the handiest if it seems easy, otherwise one that is safe. If none is and you don't find another way, just turn back. One option is to take the path east of Čiekŋalisjávri and Coagesjávri, then circling also Jaarna, Kaura and Kalaton-Kaura, but then you are on your own.
Coming from the other direction, you might want to check the ford upstream first, then ford at the hut if that is easy, and if neither is, check the one downstream.
Syväjärvi hut to Jiehtáčearru
Jiehtáčearru is 8 km away.
There are several paths criss-crossing west of Čiekŋalisjávri, where you also have some open terrrain. Most paths join, and your footpath leads to the nort-northeast, crossing the marked snowmobile tracks to the Käsivarsi Wilderness Area, Hetta and Karesuvanto.
At Tommuttijärvi a path leads eastwards over Kielinen. Your path continues to the fell Jiehtáčearru (Finnish: Hietakero). This is the first bigger fell, with a large area above the treeline. You could take a sidetrip along the path to its peak and enjoy the views. Darvatvárri (Tarvantovaara), for which the wilderness area is named, is 9 km to the south-east, Stuorrahanoaivi, with the Struve measuring point, is 6 km to the north-east, and the Käsivarsi Wilderness Area, with many fells, 25 km to the north-west, behind the river Leahttáseatnu (Lätäseno) and the associated mire protection area.
Jiehtáčearru to Heargejávri
Heargejávri (Finnish: Härkäjärvi) is 6.5 km away.
Get back from the fell and continue along the path to the north-northeast. Fell birch forest and fell heath alternate, you pass some more minor lakes, and reach Heargejávri. If you continue you reach the border to Norway by a border mark, and there is a gate in the reindeer fence 150 m farther.
If you intend to return to Karesuvanto, you might want to camp or have lunch by some of the lakes, look for good spots. You could also camp somewhere here to continue to Stuorrahanoaivi in the morning.
Heargejávri to Stuorrahanoaivi
The last leg to Stuorrahanoaivi is a 4.5-km hike. Sturrahanoaivvejávri is on the other side, 5.5 km from Heargejávri.
The easiest route from 5 Heargejávri (Finnish: Härkäjärvi) to Stuorrahanoaivi is probably south of the lake, first going back 500 m to the south-west, then turning south before the wetlands, and turning south-east after 800 m to Pekankielas and the other foothills, climbing the last 30 m from south or south-west.
The 2 Stuorrahanoaivi peak peak was one of the points on the Struve arc. Can you see the adjacent ones, 3 Bealjášvárri to the nort-northeast (30.25°) and 4 Pajtas-vaara (Tynnyrilaki) to the south-southeast (168.64°), in Norway and Sweden respectively? Each is some 45 km away. Bealjášvárri is the leftmost of a series of peaks east of Kautokeino. Tynnyrilaki should be behind the eastern slopes of Darvvatvárri. Check declination (zoom and drag or search for Darvvatvárri, click the position; declination is given for the centre of the map sheet, NEK is declination, NAK is difference between true north and map north on their maps); on 1 January 2022 it was +10.84°, changing +0.24°/year.
Respect the wilderness: don't come unprepared, don't try a ford when the waters are too high, don't do anything foolish. Have clothes and equipment for the worst possible weather.
If you loose your way totally, know in what direction (you have a spare compass, don't you) the Norwegian border and the snowmobile routes are, and whether they are reasonably close (without any bad bogs in between). On the east–west legs the border and the snow mobile track are both close enough to be reached for unless you have a better idea (just keeping an eastward course between would work, but you might want to see something tangible). On the leg between Karesuvanto and the Syväjärvi hut you have the snowmobile route from Karesuvanto on either side, likewise at most a few kilometres away, although at Terävänpäänharjut and Syvärova, where you are most likely to get lost, you might just want to follow any path southwards to eventually reach the road.
A dog can break havoc among nesting birds or reindeer, even if it is friendly. Keep it on a leash unless where you have full control and know there are no ground-nesting birds.
- Continue along the Struve Geodetic Arc, with more accessible measurement points.
- Explore the rest of Tarvantovaara Wilderness Area, or the other wilderness areas in the vicinity, e.g. Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area, easily reached from Bálojávri, or Käsivarsi Wilderness Area, much of which reaches above the treeline.