When Salla National Park in eastern Lapland was established in early 2022, it was the 41st national park to open in Finland – not bad for a country of just 5.5 million people! Covering more than 10,000 sq km of the country’s landmass, these parks are Finland’s national patrimony, places of extraordinary natural beauty whose pristine landscapes and diverse ecosystems are proudly protected for the benefit of all.
Located in every part of the country, with the largest and wildest reserves edging into the Arctic Circle in Lapland, the parks range from dense primeval forests to rugged fells, complex lake systems and coastal archipelagos.
All are well set up for active exploration, and are loved by visitors and locals for their hiking, skiing, cycling, kayaking and camping opportunities. The number of local and international visitors enjoying their manifold attractions is increasing each year – fortunately, crowds are easy to avoid if you visit outside of national holiday periods.
To help you choose from all these stunning reserves, here's our guide to the best national parks in Finland.
Lemmenjoki National Park, Northern Lapland
Best for fall colors
Finland’s largest national park is a true wilderness located in the homeland of the indigenous Sámi people. It incorporates the scenic Lemmenjoki River Valley, which can be explored on a variety of marked hiking trails. The 4.5km (2.8-mile) Lemmenjoki Nature Trail makes its way through old-growth pine forest, while the 22km (13.7-mile) Lemmenjoki Riverside Trail incorporates cable-boat crossings over the river. There are many other hikes, cross-country ski trails and canoe routes to enjoy in the park.
Visiting Lemmenjoki National Park: The park is located around 50km (31 miles) southwest of Inari. The best time to visit is September, when the ruska-aika (coloring of the fall leaves) can be viewed in all of its splendor – and when mosquitos and midges are blessedly absent. Most hiking trails start at the Njurkulahti and Repojoki parking areas; the hiking trails aren’t open in winter, but you can follow the ski trail instead.
Linnansaari National Park, Lakeland
Best kayaking and canoeing
The most satisfying way to explore this park in Finland’s stunningly scenic lake district is by canoe or kayak. While paddling on the 562 sq km (217 sq mile) expanse of Haukivesi Lake you may spot an impressive range of wildlife, including ospreys and the endangered Saimaa ringed seal. The waters are dotted with hundreds of uninhabited islands where you can forage for bilberries and edible mushrooms, and the largest island, Linnansaari, can be explored on a series of hiking trails and a 2km (1.2-mile) nature trail. In winter, a well-maintained 18km (11-mile) ice track between Oravi and Porosalmi delights touring skaters, and there’s also a track for cross-country skiing. Equipment for both activities can be hired at either end of the tracks.
Visiting Linnansaari National Park: The park is located east of Highway 5 and south of Kuopio, and its main access points are Oravi and Porosalmi. A daily ferry service takes day-trippers from both towns to Linnansaari Island during high summer (June to August). Taxi boats are available for charter at other times of the year. Longer lake cruises set off from the nearby historic town of Savonlinna in summer.
Ekenäs Archipelago National Park, South Coast
Best for diving
A watery wonderland located close to where the Gulf of Finland merges with the Åland Sea, this island park is a hugely popular summer destination. Scattered over the archipelago’s calm seas are some 1300 forested islands that are rich with birdlife including white-tailed eagles and common eider. Kayaking is a popular activity here, as is scuba diving; local operators can arrange trips for certified divers.
Some of the more ecologically fragile islands are off-limits to visitors but others offer a range of hiking options for outdoorsy types. The most popular of these is the 2km (1.2-mile) nature trail on the island of Älgö, which heads up hilly terrain to an observation tower offering spectacular sea views.
Visiting Ekenäs Archipelago National Park: The park can only be accessed by boat. Boat and kayak tours depart regularly during the summer months from the harbor at Ekenäs, about 100km (62 miles) southwest of Helsinki. Water taxis are also available for charter. If you have experience of sea paddling, you can access the archipelago independently by kayak; there are plenty of mooring spots on the islands.
Campgrounds on the islands of Älgö, Fladalandet, Jussarö and Modermagan offer decent facilities, and there’s a summer-only hostel and café on Jussarö. The best times to visit are spring, when arctic migratory birds can be spotted, and in summer, when kayaking, swimming and diving are popular.
Oulanka National Park, Koillismaa
Best for viewing flora and fauna
Home to the renowned Karhunkierros Hiking Trail (aka The Bear’s Ring), this 27,000-hectare park stretches along the Russian border and incorporates river rapids, waterfalls and boreal forest made up of pine, birch and spruce. Despite its name, the Karhunkierros Trail isn’t one circuit, but rather a point-to-point hike of anything from 52km (32 miles, from Ristikallio to Juuma) to 82km (51 miles, from Hautajärvi to Ruka).
More than 400 protected species of flora and fauna live in the park, including the calypso orchid. Look out for abundant bird species, including white-tailed eagles, white-throated dippers, black kites and grey wagtails. Other activities on offer include canoeing and rafting the rapids of the Oulankajoki River, mountain-biking, forest foraging and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on the 26km (16-mile) Oulanka Wilderness Trail.
Visiting Oulanka National Park: The park is located 200km (124 miles) east of Rovaniemi and 50 km (31 miles) north of Kuusamo, close to the Russian border. The trailheads for the Karhunkierros Trail are at Hautajärvi, Ristikallio, Ruka ski resort and Juuma, and the route is best walked between mid-June and October; the Oulanka Wilderness Trail is open from mid-February to April. Birdwatching is best in early June.
Nuuksio National Park, South Coast
Best for easy day hikes
It may not be as visually spectacular as other Finnish parks, but Nuuksio is close enough to Helsinki to make it a popular day-trip destination for visitors to the capital. From its informative nature center, easy walking or cross-country ski trails thread through wooded valleys that provide a habitat for a diverse array of flora and fauna. There are no limits on foraging, so in autumn hikes can be accompanied by copious enjoyment of the bilberries and lingonberries that proliferate in the park.
Visiting Nuuksio National Park: Located 35km (22 miles) northwest of Helsinki, Nuuksio can easily be explored by public transport. Bus 245A runs to various stops around the park from Espoo Central train station, which in turn is served by frequent trains from Helsinki's main train station. This is a year-round destination, although hiking trails are not maintained in winter.
Urho Kekkonen National Park, Northern Lapland
Best for seeing the Northern Lights
Stretching over a huge tract of arctic wilderness in Finnish Lapland, this remote park can be explored on skis in winter and on foot or by bike at other times of the year. Its northerly location makes it a prime spot for viewing the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) and spotting free-grazing reindeer on the fells is pretty much a given. Hiking and cross-country skiing here is incredibly rewarding, but heading off marked trails is only for those with wilderness and orienteering experience, and heavy snow in winter can make for tough going. There are maintained ski trails and marked hiking routes and mountain biking trails in the vicinity of Saariselkä, Kiilopää and Kakslauttanen.
Visiting Urho Kekkonen National Park: The park is located east of the Sodankylä-Ivalo road, 240km (150 miles) north of Rovaniemi and 50km (31 miles) southeast of Ivalo. Consider basing yourself in Saariselkä, a ski resort just north of the park that also offers adventure activities such as sled safaris, white-water rafting jaunts and aurora-spotting snowmobile tours.
The best months to see the Northern Lights are March and April, and this is also the time when the sun re-emerges after its winter hibernation. Avoid high summer, when mosquitos and midges are ever-present.
Patvinsuo National Park, North Karelia
Best for birdwatching
Extensive wetland areas make Patvinsuo a popular birdwatching and walking destination, and this waterlogged landscape can be explored via a 20km (12-mile) network of boardwalks as well as endless miles of marked trails on terra firma.
Birders are drawn here in springtime, migratory species feed and breed in the wetlands. One of the park’s most popular hiking routes, the 25km (15.5-mile) Patvinkierto Trail passes a birdwatching tower at Teretinniemi and a birdwatching platform at Lahnasuo. Both are wonderful spots to observe avian life; look out for numerous species of mire and water birds, gamefowl and birds of prey.
Other hiking options include the 16km (10-mile) Suomunkierto trail that circles Lake Suomunjärvi and the short Kuusipolku, Lakkapolku and Mäntypolku Trail nature trails.
Visiting Patvinsuo National Park: Close to the Russian border, Patvinsuo is accessed via the Joensuu-Lieksa highway (National Road 73). The best times to visit are spring and autumn.
Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, Western Lapland
Best for summer cycling
Imagine foraging for ripe cloudberries while hiking through magnificent fell landscapes or cycling under the midnight sun on long, gently undulating trails. These are just two of the many activities on offer at this 102,000 hectare (252,050 acre) national park – you can also take advantage of well-maintained cross-country skiing tracks and marked mountain-biking routes.
The most popular trail in the park links Hetta and Pallas – a journey of 50 km (31 miles) – and the track is suitable for hiking and snowshoeing. It’s not flat; there’s plenty of ascending and descending but the vistas of the Lapland fells along the way more than compensate for aching calf muscles the next day. There’s also a cross-country skiing track further down the slopes. Make sure that you pack for cold and windy conditions, as long stretches of the route are fully exposed to the elements.
Visiting Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park: The park is located in the fell area between Kolari, Kittilä, Muonio and Enontekiö, south of the Sámi settlement of Hetta. Cycling and hiking are best between late June and September; the best time for cross-country skiing is mid-March to April, when the Northern Lights will often illuminate your route. It’s possible to snowshoe the Hetta and Pallas trail from January to April.
Hossa National Park, Central Finland
Best for accessible tourism
Founded in 2017 to commemorate Finland's centenary of independence, Hossa boasts an 11,000 hectare (27,180 acre) wilderness landscape showcasing deep lakes, rivers, dense forests and ancient rock paintings. A year-round destination, the park offers numerous activities including canoeing, mountain biking, fishing, cross-country skiing and hiking. A particular highlight is viewing the prehistoric rock paintings at Julma-Ölkky and Värikallio.
Many of the trails in the park are accessible to visitors in wheelchairs and facilities include campfire sites and composting toilets that have been constructed to cater to wheelchair users. The park also has fishing and boat jetties adapted for wheelchair users, and a visitor center where wheelchair batteries can be recharged and electric scooters can be hired.
Visiting Hossa National Park: Hossa is located 80km south of Kuusamo, a frontier town on the Russian border. The visitor center is on the shore of Lake Öllöri, accessed via Hwy 843.
Koli National Park, Karelia
Best for scenic vistas
There’s only one word to describe the views on offer in this national park, and that’s magnificent. The slopes of the Mäkrävaara, Paimenenvaara, Pieni-Koli, Jauholanvaara, Hirvivaara and Ukko-Koli hills are steep, but climbing to the hilltops is totally worth the effort. If you only have the time or energy for one ascent, make it Ukko-Koli, which can be climbed via a short, steep stairway or a 0.8km (0.5-mile) accessible track.
At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a sweeping vista over Lake Pielinen – one of the most spectacular sights in Finland. Visitors who wish to explore on skis rather than on foot can enjoy downhill skiing at Ukko-Koli, home to a 230m (755ft) vertical drop that is the most demanding ski run in southern Finland.
Visiting Koli National Park: Koli is located east of Hwy 6 on the western shore of Lake Pielinen. Go in summer for hiking and in winter for skiing.
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