Finland’s beauty and appeal lie in its fantastic natural environment, with vast forests, long waterways, myriad lakes and Arctic northern wildernesses. Getting outdoors is the ultimate way to experience the country and Finland is remarkably well set up for all types of activities, from safari-style packages to map-and-compass DIY adventures.
- When to Hike
June to September is the main hiking season in Finland.
- Where to Hike
There’s a wide range of national parks with marked trails offering anything from short strolls to multiday treks.
- What to Take
Insect repellent! There are literally clouds of biting insects, especially in July, and especially (but by no means only) in Lapland. You’ll have to bring and carry all food when you walk in wilderness areas. Though there are plenty of huts to overnight in (sleeping bag and sleeping mat required), your own tent gives more flexibility and protection from mosquitoes.
- How to Plan a Hike
Finland’s protected areas are comprehensively covered in English by the website www.nationalparks.fi. It details walking routes, including all camping and other accommodation possibilities.
Finland’s excellent network of national parks and other protected areas is maintained by Metsähallitus (Finnish Forest & Park Service; www.nationalparks.fi). Currently there are 40 national parks that make up a total area of some 10,000 sq km (one million hectares). A similar amount of territory is protected under other categories, while further swaths of land are designated wilderness reserves. In total, around 9% of Finland's total area is in some way protected land.
The Metsähallitus website provides extensive information on all of these spots. The organisation also publishes individual leaflets on each park. Entry to all of Finland's national parks is free.
The largest and most pristine national parks are in northern Finland, particularly Lapland, where vast swaths of wilderness invite trekking, cross-country skiing, fishing and canoeing.
Many of the national parks have excellent networks of wilderness huts that provide cosy, free places to overnight on hiking routes.
Great National Parks
|National Park||Features||Activities||When to Go|
|Lemmenjoki||Broad rivers and old-growth forests; golden eagles, reindeer||Trekking, boating, gold panning||Aug-Sep|
|Linnansaari & Kolovesi||Luscious lakes and freshwater seals||Canoeing||May-Sep|
|Oulanka||Pine forests and river valleys; elk, white-tailed eagles; calypso flowers||Trekking the Bear’s Ring, canoeing, rafting||late Jun-Sep|
|Urho Kekkonen||Fells, mires and old Sámi settlements; reindeer, flying squirrels||Trekking, cross-country skiing, fishing||Jul-Sep & Nov-Apr|
|Archipelago & Ekenäs Archipelago||Strings of islets and skerries (rocky islets); seals, eider ducks, greylag geese||Boating, fishing||May-Sep|
|Nuuksio||Forest within striking distance of Helsinki; elk, woodpeckers, red- and black-throated, yellow-billed and great northern divers||Nature trails||May-Oct|
|Patvinsuo||Broad boglands and old forest; bears, beavers, cranes||Hiking||Jun-Oct|
|Pallas-Yllästunturi||Undulating fells; bears, snow buntings, ptarmigans||Hiking, skiing||Jul-Sep & Nov-Apr|
|Hossa||Canyons, four-millennia-old rock paintings||Canoeing, hiking, scuba diving||May-Sep|
The superb system of national parks offers memorable trekking throughout Finland in the summer months. The routes are supported by resources for camping and overnighting in huts, so it’s easy to organise a multiday wilderness adventure.
National parks offer excellent marked trails, and most forest and wilderness areas are criss-crossed by locally used walking paths. Nights are short or non-existent in summer, so you can walk for as long as your heart desires or your feet permit.
It’s important to remember what the Finnish landscape does and doesn’t offer. You will get scented pine and birch forest, low hills, jewel-like lakes and brisk, powerful rivers. Don’t expect epic mountainscapes and fjords; that’s not Finland.
The trekking season runs from late May to September in most parts of the country. In Lapland the ground is not dry enough for comfortable hiking until mid-June, and mosquitoes and horseflies are an irritation during July. The first half of September is the ruska (autumn hiking) season, when the forests are alive with a glorious palette of autumnal colours; it’s a very popular time to take to the trails. The insects have long since disappeared, and if there’s a bit of a chill in the air in Lapland, it's all the better for ruddy-faced treks through the forests.
If heading off trekking on your own, always advise someone of your route and intended arrival time/date, or note these details in trekkers’ books in huts and hostels.
Right of Public Access
The jokamiehenoikeus (literally ‘everyman’s right’) is an ancient Finnish code that gives people the right to walk, ski or cycle anywhere they like in forests and other wilderness areas – even across private land – as long as they behave responsibly. Canoeing, rowing and kayaking on lakes and rivers is also unrestricted. You can rest and swim anywhere in the Finnish countryside, and camp for one night almost anywhere. Travel by motorboat or snowmobile, though, is heavily restricted.
Watch out for stricter regulations regarding access in nature reserves and national parks, where it might be confined to marked paths.
Except in strict nature reserves, it’s permissible to pick berries and mushrooms – but not other kinds of plants – under Finland’s right of public access. Finns do so with gusto, filling pails with blueberries, which come into season in late July, and delicious little wild strawberries. But there are more. Bearberries, cowberries (lingonberries), crowberries, cranberries, whortleberries and more are there to look out for. But the prize is the cloudberry, so appreciated by Finns that you may not have a chance to sample this orange, slightly sour, creamy berry in the wild. Edible mushrooms are numerous in Finnish forests, as are poisonous ones – make sure you have a mushroom guide or know your stuff.
Everyman’s right allows you to rest and camp temporarily in the countryside without permission, even on private property as long as you don’t do so near homes. Try to camp on already-used sites to preserve the environment. Camping is not permitted in town parks or on beaches, and in national parks and reserves it may be restricted to certain designated areas.
Under the right of public access, you cannot make a campfire on private land unless you have the owner’s permission. In national parks look for a designated campfire area (nuotiopaikka) and watch for fire warning signs – metsäpalovaroitus means the fire risk is very high. Felling trees or cutting brush to make a campfire is forbidden; use fallen wood instead.
Huts & Shelters
Metsähallitus operates a huge network of free, properly maintained wilderness huts across its swath of national parks and protected areas. Huts typically have sleeping platforms, cooking facilities, a pile of dry firewood and a compost toilet. You are required to leave the hut as it was – ie replenish the firewood from the woodshed and carry away your rubbish. The Finns’ ‘wilderness rule’ states that the last person to arrive will be given the best place to sleep, but on busy treks in peak season it’s good to have a tent, because someone usually ends up sleeping outside. You may also sleep sounder in a tent, as the huts tend to fill with mosquitoes as the evening goes on.
Some huts require advance booking, or have a separate, lockable section with sleeping mats that must be booked ahead. This is called a varaustupa.
Various other structures, including day huts and tepee-style kotas (Sámi huts) in Lapland, are designed for cooking and for temporary or emergency shelter from the weather. In a laavu (simple log shelter), you can pitch your tent inside or just roll out your sleeping bag.
It's a sociable scene in wilderness huts – take a bottle of something to join in the sharing culture.
The website www.nationalparks.fi has invaluable information on huts and hiking routes, and a 1:50,000 trekking map is recommended for finding wilderness huts. These are published by Karttakeskus (www.karttakauppa.fi) and are available from tourist offices, national park visitor centres or online. Karttakeskus also produces road maps, an annually updated road atlas and detailed maps of all the main walking areas and waterways. Waterproof plastic maps are also available.
Where to Trek
You can hike anywhere in Finland, but national parks and reserves have marked routes, designated campfire places, well-maintained wilderness huts and boardwalks over the boggy bits.
Lapland is the main trekking region, with huge national parks that have well-equipped huts and good, long hiking routes. There are other classic trekking areas in the Kainuu and Koillismaa regions, and in North Karelia, which has several long-distance forest trails.
Excellent trekking maps are available in Finland for most recommended routes.
Hetta–Pallastunturi One of western Lapland’s best walks heads for 55km through light forest and up and down fells offering spectacular views through national park.
Karhunkierros (Bear’s Ring) The most famous of all Finnish trekking routes, this trail in northern Finland covers 80km of rugged cliffs, gorges and forest.
Karhunpolku (Bear’s Trail) This 133km marked hiking trail of medium difficulty leads north from Lieksa through a string of stunning national parks and nature reserves.
Kevo Route A fabulous point-to-point or loop walk of 64km to 78km through a memorable gorge in far-north Lapland.
UKK Route The nation’s longest trekking route is this 400km route through northern Finland. It starts at Koli Hill, continues along the western side of Lake Pielinen and ends at Syöte.
Finland is proud of having invented the sport of Nordic walking, originally devised as a training method for cross-country skiers during the summer months. Basically it involves using two specially designed hand-held poles while briskly walking. It may look a little weird at first, but involves the upper body in the activity and results in a 20% to 45% increase in energy consumption, and an increase in heart rate, substantially adding to the exercise value of the walk. Nordic blading is a speedier version, using poles while on in-line skates. Nordic skating is the on-ice equivalent.
Riding a bike is one of the best ways to explore parts of Finland in summer. The terrain is largely flat, main roads are in good condition and traffic is generally light. Bicycle tours are further facilitated by the liberal camping regulations, excellent cabin accommodation at campgrounds, and the long hours of daylight in June and July.
The drawback is this: distances in Finland are vast. It’s best to look at planning shorter explorations in particular areas, and combining cycling with bus and train trips – Finnish buses and trains are very bike-friendly.
Even if your time is limited, don’t skip a few quick jaunts in the countryside. There are very good networks of cycling paths in and around most major cities and holiday destinations (for instance, the networks around Oulu and Turku).
Mountain biking on forest trails is popular in summer; in winter, try fat-biking – bikes with wide tyres especially adapted for the snow.
In most towns, bicycles can be hired from sports shops, tourist offices, campgrounds or hostels.
Bikes on Buses & Trains
Bikes can be carried on long-distance buses for €3 to €12 (often free in practice) if there is space available (and there usually is).
Bikes can accompany passengers on most normal train journeys, with a surcharge of up to €5. Inter-City (IC) trains have spaces for bikes, which should be booked in advance. You’ll have to take your bike to the appropriate space in the double-decker wagon. You can take your bike on regional trains that have a suitcase symbol on the timetable; put it in the luggage van.
Where to Cycle
You can cycle on all public roads except motorways. Many public roads in southern Finland have a dedicated cycling track running alongside.
The Åland islands are the most bicycle-friendly region in Finland, and the most popular region for bicycle tours. The flat, scenic terrain, manageable distances, network of ferries and general absence of traffic make the archipelago ideal.
Southern Finland has more traffic than other parts of the country, but with careful planning you can find quiet roads that offer pleasant scenery. Around Turku, the Archipelago route offers excellent coastal scenery and island hopping.
Karelia & Northeastern Finland
Two themed routes cover the whole eastern frontier. The 1080km-long Runon ja Rajan tie (Poem and Border Route), from Hamina to Kuusamo, consists of secondary sealed roads and passes several typical Karelian villages. Some of the smallest and most remote villages along the easternmost roads have been lumped together to create the 266km Korpikylien tie (Road of Wilderness Villages). This route starts at Saramo village in northern Nurmes and ends at Hossa in central Finland.
A recommended loop takes you around Lake Pielinen, and may include a ferry trip across the lake. Another good loop is around Viinijärvi, west of Joensuu.
This flat region, known as Pohjanmaa, is generally good for cycling, except that distances are long. The scenery is mostly agricultural, with picturesque wooden barns amid fields of grain in this breadbasket of Finland. The ‘Swedish Coast’ around Vaasa and north to Kokkola is the most scenic part of this area.
Winter is a wonderful time to get active in Finland. For most activities, the best time is in March and April, when you get a decent amount of light and temperatures are less harsh.
Sled Safaris & Snowmobiling
Whether you head out for an hour, or on an epic week-long adventure, being whisked across the snow by an enthusiastic team of huskies or reindeer is an experience like no other. Lapland is the best place to do this, but it’s also available further south in places such as Nurmes and Lieksa. Driving a sled takes a bit of practice, so expect sore arms and a few tumbles at first.
Similar excursions can be made on snowmobiles (Skidoos). Operators in the same locations offer these trips. You’ll need a valid driving licence to use one.
Prices for both sled safaris and snowmobiling are normally based on two sharing, taking it in turns to drive. If you want one to yourself, count on a hefty supplement.
Downhill Skiing & Snowboarding
Finnish slopes are generally quite low and so are well suited to beginners and families. The best resorts are in Lapland, where the fells allow for longer runs. In central and southern Finland, ski runs are much shorter, averaging about 1km in length.
The ski season in Finland runs from late November to early May. It runs slightly longer in the north, where it’s possible to ski from October to May. Beware of the busy Christmas, mid-February (or early March) and Easter holiday periods – they can get very crowded, and accommodation prices go through the roof.
You can hire all skiing or snowboarding equipment at major ski resorts for about €35/123 per day/week. A lift pass generally costs €42.50/204.50 per day/week (slightly less in the shoulder and off-peak seasons), although it is possible to pay separately for each ride. Skiing lessons are also available and start at around €60 for an hour’s lesson for two.
The best resorts are Levi, Ruka, Pyhä-Luosto and Ylläs, but Syöte, Koli, Pallas, Ounasvaara and Saariselkä are also good.
Cross-country skiing is one of Finland's simplest and most pleasant outdoor winter pursuits. It’s the ideal way to explore the beautiful, silent winter countryside of lakes, fells, fields and forests, and is widely used by Finns for fitness and as a means of transport.
Practically every town and village has a network of ski tracks (latu or ladut) around the urban centre, in many cases illuminated (valaistu). The one drawback to using these tracks is that you’ll need to bring your own equipment (or purchase some), as rentals often aren’t possible.
Cross-country skiing at one of Finland’s many ski resorts is an easier option. Tracks are much longer and also usually better maintained. Ski resorts offer excellent instruction and hire out equipment. The best cross-country skiing is in Lapland, where resorts offer hundreds of kilometres of trails. Keep in mind that there are few hours of daylight in northern Lapland during winter – if you’re planning on a longer trek, spring is the best time. Cross-country skiing is best during January and February in southern Finland, and from December to April in the north.
Rowing, canoeing, rafting and fishing are popular summer water sports; in winter, there are numerous ice-fishing opportunities.
Rowing, Canoeing & Rafting
With 10% water coverage, Finland has always been a boating country, and until relatively recently boats were an important form of transport on the lakes and rivers. Every waterside town has a place (most frequently the campground) where you can hire a canoe, kayak or rowboat by the hour or day. Rental cottages often come with rowboat included that you can use free of charge to investigate the local lake and its islands.
Canoes and kayaks are suitable for longer adventures lasting several days or weeks. Route maps and guides may be purchased at local or regional tourist offices and at Karttakeskus (www.karttakauppa.fi), which takes orders through its website. Canoe and kayak rentals cost €25 to €45 per day, and €90 to €200 per week; more if you need overland transport to the start or end point of your trip.
Where to Row & Paddle
The sheltered bays and islands around the Turku archipelago and Åland in southwest Finland are good for canoeing in summer.
Finland’s system of rivers, canals and linked waterways means there are some extensive canoeing routes. In the Lakeland, the Kolovesi and Linnansaari national parks have excellent waters for canoeing, and offer plenty of exploration opportunities. North Karelia, particularly around Lieksa and Ruunaa, also offers good paddling. Rivers further north are fast-flowing, with tricky rapids, making many of them suitable for experienced paddlers only.
Ivalojoki Route (easy) A 70km route along the Ivalojoki in northeast Lapland, starting at the village of Kuttura and finishing in Ivalo, passing through 30 rapids along the way.
Lakeland Trail (easy to medium) This 350km route travels through the heart of the lake district (Kangaslampi, Enonkoski, Savonranta, Kerimäki, Punkaharju, Savonlinna and Rantasalmi) and takes 14 to 18 days.
Oravareitti (easy to medium) In the heart of the Lakeland, the ‘Squirrel Route’ is a well-marked two- or three-day trip from Juva to Sulkava.
Oulankajoki and Kitkajoki (easy to difficult) A variety of choices on these neighbouring rivers in a spectacular wilderness area of northeast Finland.
Savonselkä Circuit (easy to difficult) The circuit, near Lahti, has three trails that are 360km, 220km and 180km in length. There are many sections that can be done as day trips and that are suitable for novice paddlers.
Seal Trail (easy) Explore the watery national parks of Kolovesi and Linnansaari, maybe spotting a rare ringed seal from your canoe.
Plenty of operators offer white-water rafting expeditions in canoes or rubber rafts. The Ruunaa area is one of the best of many choices for this adrenaline-packed activity.
Finnish waters are teeming with fish, and with people trying to catch them – Finns must be among the Earth’s most enthusiastic anglers. Commonly caught fish include salmon, trout, grayling, perch, pike, zander (pike-perch), whitefish and Arctic char.
With so many bodies of water there is no shortage of places to cast a line, and not even the lakes freezing over stops the Finns. Lapland has the greatest concentration of quality fishing spots, but the number of designated places in southern Finland is also increasing. Some of the most popular fishing areas are the spectacular salmon-rich Tenojoki in the furthest north, the Tornionjoki, the Kainuu region around Kajaani, Ruovesi, Hossa, Ruunaa, Lake Saimaa around Mikkeli, Lake Inari and the Kymijoki near Kotka, where the tsar used to catch his dinner.
Tourist offices can direct you to the best fishing spots in the area, and usually can provide some sort of regional fishing map and put you in touch with local guides. Fishing equipment of varying quality is widely available for hire from campgrounds and other accommodation providers in fishy areas.
The websites www.fishinginfinland.fi and www.fishing.fi have plenty of useful information in English on fishing throughout the country.
Nothing stops a Finn on a mission for fish – not even when the winter closes in, the lakes freeze over and the finny tribes below grow sluggish and hope for a breather from those pesky hooks.
No, the intrepid locals just walk or drive out to a likely spot on the ice, carve a hole using a hand drill, unfold the camp stool and drop in a line. And they wait, even if the temperature is around -30°C. Seriously warm clothes and your choice of a flask of coffee or a bottle of Koskenkorva vodka are welcome companions.
Many tour operators offering winter activities organise ice-fishing excursions.
Several permits are required of foreigners (between the ages of 18 and 64) who wish to go fishing in Finland, but they are very easy to arrange. The website www.eraluvat.fi has all the details.
Simple angling with hook and line requires no permit. Neither does ice-fishing, unless you are doing these at rapids or other salmon waterways.
For other types of fishing, you will need a national fishing permit, known as the ‘fisheries management fee’. A permit is €5/12/39 per day/week/year. They’re payable online at www.eraluvat.fi, or at any bank or post office. In addition to this a local permit may be required. There are often automatic permit machines, while tourist offices, sports shops and campgrounds can also supply permits. The waters in Åland are regulated separately and require a dedicated regional permit.
The Metsähallitus website (www.nationalparks.fi) details fishing restrictions in protected areas.
Birdwatching is increasingly popular in Finland, in no small part because many bird species migrate to northern Finland in summer to take advantage of the almost continuous daylight for breeding and rearing their young. The best months for watching birds are May to June or mid-July, and late August to September or early October.
Liminganlahti (Liminka Bay), near Oulu, is a wetlands bird sanctuary and probably the best birdwatching spot in Finland. Other good areas include Puurijärvi-Isosuo National Park in Western Finland, Siikalahti in the Lakeland, Oulanka National Park near Kuusamo, the Porvoo area east of Helsinki and the Kemiö islands. Dave Gosney’s Finding Birds in South Finland and Finding Birds in Lapland are field handbooks on birding sites with many practical tips. You can order them online at www.easybirder.co.uk.
Check out www.birdlife.fi for a good introduction and a few links for birdwatching in Finland.
For centuries the sauna has been a place to meditate, warm up and even give birth, and most Finns still use it at least once a week. Saunas are usually taken in the nude (public saunas are nearly always sex-segregated) and Finns are quite strict about its nonsexual – even sacred – nature.
Shower first. Once inside (with a temperature of 80°C to 100°C; 176°F to 212°F), water is thrown onto the stove using a kauhu (ladle), producing löyly (steam). A vihta (whisk of birch twigs and leaves, known as a vasta in eastern Finland) is sometimes used to lightly strike the skin, improving circulation. Cool off with a cold shower or preferably by jumping into a lake. Repeat. The sauna beer afterwards is also traditional.