Ruunaa is busy all year, hosting snow sports in winter and rafting and canoeing in summer.
North Karelia’s best trekking routes form the Karjalan Kierros, a loop of 14 marked hiking trails (plus some canoe and cycling variants) with a total length of more than 1000km between Ilomantsi and Lake Pielinen. The best known are the Bear’s Trail (not to be confused with the more famous Bear’s Ring in Oulanka National Park) and Wolf’s Trail, which link up in Patvinsuo National Park. They're described here from south to north; but you can walk in either direction. You’ll need to arrange transport to the trailheads in advance.
Wilderness huts and lean-to shelters are scattered along the way, but it’s advisable to carry a tent in case they're occupied. Much of the terrain is boggy marshland, so waterproof footwear is essential. Contact the Lieksa or Ilomantsi offices of Karelia Expert, or Metsähallitus, the information office for the Forest & Park Service for information and advice on equipment rental. Lomarengas can book huts and cabins along the trail.
Susitaival (Wolf’s Trail)
The 97km Wolf’s Trail is a marked four- to six-day trek running north from Möhkö village to the marshlands of Patvinsuo National Park. The terrain consists mostly of dry heath, pine forest and swampy marshland, which can be wet underfoot – in places, you’ll need to haul yourself over watercourses on a pulley-operated raft. This trail skirts the Russian border in areas where many of the battles in the Winter and Continuation Wars were fought. Early in the trek, at Lake Sysmä, you’ll see a memorial and antitank gun. There are five lean-to shelters and three wilderness cabins along the route, and farm or camping accommodation is available in the village of Naarva. Around 100 bears and 50 wolves inhabit the area – the chances of running into one are slim but not impossible. If you do happen to meet a bear or wolf in the wild, back away slowly in the direction you came from.
Karhunpolku (Bear’s Trail)
The Bear’s Trail is a 133km marked trail of medium difficulty leading north from Patvinsuo National Park near Lieksa, through a string of national parks and nature reserves along the Russian border, including through the Ruunaa Recreation Area. This accessibility means the trail can be walked, or even mountain-biked, in relatively short stages. The trail ends at Teljo, about 50km south of Kuhmo. You’ll need to arrange transport from either end.
From Patvinsuo, the trail crosses heathland and boardwalks for 17km to the first lean-to shelter at Ahokoski, then runs another 9km to a wilderness hut at Pitkäjärvi. Four kilometres further, a short trail detours to the WWII battleline of Kitsi. The trail then heads northwest to the Ruunaa Recreation Area.
Beyond Ruunaa it’s around 30km to Änäkäinen, once a WWII battlefield but today a tranquil recreational fishing area. The trail follows the Jongunjoki through a peatland nature reserve on its final leg to the Ostroskoski wilderness hut, about 6km from Teljo. If you still have energy to burn, it's possible to canoe back to Nurmijärvi: contact canoe-rental outfit Erästely in advance.
Tapion Taival (Fighter’s Trail)
The easternmost trekking route in Finland, Tapion Taival gives you the choice of a 13km wilderness track along the Koitajoki, an 8km northern extension across the Koivusuo Nature Park, or another extension north of Koivusuo to Kivivaara. The Koitajoki section through epic Karelian wilderness is a highlight. The path is marked by orange paint on tree trunks. You’ll need your own transport and a good local map to reach the trekking area.
Rafting & Canoeing
Above all, Ruunaa is synonymous with rafting. Within a 16km stretch, there are seven rapids (Class II–III) that you can shoot in wooden or rubber boats, the latter being more thrilling (and sometimes more spilling). Another way to ride the rapids is by canoe.
From May to October several launches depart daily from the Ruunaa Visitor Centre area or the rafting operators' wilderness camps. Most trips last around three hours. Advance reservations are definitely recommended. Transport can usually be arranged from Lieksa if you book a tour, and packages that include camp meals, smoke saunas or overnight accommodation are available.
Nurmijärvi-based Erästely also offers various rafting and canoeing trips here.
Ruunaa is a prized fly-fishing area. Trout and salmon fishing is exhilarating in the numerous rapids, with quieter areas accessible along a long wooden walkway.
Fishing is permitted from June to early September and again from mid-November to late December. One-day/weekly fishing permits (€15/75) are available online at www.eraluvat.fi, at the Ruunaa Visitor Centre, and in Lieksa at Lieksan Retkiaitta.
The Karhunpolku (Bear’s Trail) passes through Ruunaa. You can pick it up just 50m north of the Naarajoki bridge – the path is marked with round orange symbols on trees.
Around the river system and over two beautiful suspension bridges runs Ruunaan Koskikierros, a marked 29km loop along good pitkospuu (boardwalk) paths. If you have more time, there are another 20km of side trips you can take. Starting at the Naarajoki bridge, walk 5km along Karhunpolku to reach the trail. Another 3.3km brings you to the Ruunaa Hiking Centre.