Practical Tip: Chasing the Northern Lights
The otherworldly lights of the aurora borealis, named after the Roman goddess of dawn and the Greek term for the north wind, have captivated the imagination of the people of the north and travellers alike for centuries. The celestial spectacle of the streaks in the sky – from yellowish-green to violet, white and red – are caused by the collision of energy-charged sun particles with atoms in the Earth’s magnetic field, and are visible in the north of Sweden between October and March.
Don't expect to see the northern lights every day; all depends on weather conditions, and if it's cloudy the lights aren't visible. One of Lappland's best spots for aurora borealis viewing is Abisko's Aurora Sky Station, away from the village's light pollution and vastly aided by Abisko's dry climate.
Nutti Sámi Siida, the Icehotel and most tour agencies in Kiruna, Abisko and elsewhere in Lappland organise northern lights tours, often combined with other outdoor activities. Lights Over Lapland teaches you how to capture this otherworldly shining for posterity.
The Midnight Sun
Northern Sweden’s most spectacular attractions are its natural phenomena. In summer, beyond the Arctic Circle, the sun does not leave the sky for weeks on end. You can see the midnight sun just south of the Arctic Circle as well (Arvidsjaur is the southernmost point in Sweden where this occurs), due to the refraction of sunlight in the atmosphere. The midnight sun can be seen on the following dates in the following places:
12/13 Jun to 28/29 Jun
8/9 Jun to 2/3 Jul
4/5 Jun to 6/7 Jul
28/29 May to 11/12 Jul
26/27 May to 15/16 Jul
22/23 May to 17/18 Jul
Kungsleden (King’s Trail) is Sweden’s most important hiking and skiing route. It runs for around 450km from Abisko in the north to Hemavan in the south, through Sami herding lands consisting of spectacular mountainous wilderness that includes Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise (2111m), fringed with forests, speckled with lakes and ribboned with rivers.
The route is split into five mostly easy or moderate sections, with Svenska Turistföreningen (STF: Swedish Tourist Association) mountain huts, each staffed by a custodian, spaced out along the route. They are 10km to 20km from one another (first come, first served), and there are four STF mountain lodges and two hostels en route. Many of the mountain huts sell provisions (check which ones on the website), and kitchen facilities are provided, but you’ll need your own sleeping bag and there’s no electricity. The section between Kvikkjokk and Ammarnäs is not covered by the STF, so you'll need to be prepared to camp.
Insect repellent is a must in summer to avoid becoming a walking mosquito buffet, and you have to be prepared for changeable weather.
Getting Out to the Kungsleden
The Kungsleden is reasonably straightforward to access from its most popular entry points, but if you're aiming for a remoter part of the trail, you may have to contend with limited (or, outside peak season, practically nonexistent) bus services.
Frequent trains stop at Abisko en route from Kiruna to Narvik (Norway). Inlandsbanan trains stop at Storuman (for Hemavan), Sorsele, Arvidsjaur (for Arjeplog), Jokkmokk and Gällivare in summer.
There are bus routes to other starting points along the Kungsleden:
Kiruna–Nikkaluokta Bus 92 (110kr, 70 minutes, two daily)
Gällivare–Ritsem via Kebnats and Vakkotavare Bus 93 (200kr, 3¼ hours, daily)
Jokkmokk–Kvikkjokk Buses 47 and 94 (178kr, 2¼ hours, daily)
Arjeplog–Jäkkvik Bus 104 (105kr, 1¼ hours, daily on weekdays)
Sorsele–Ammarnäs Bus 341 (119kr, 1¼ hours, one to three daily)
Umeå–Hemavan via Tärnaby Bus 31 (275kr, 5¼ hours, one to three daily)
Kallax Flyg helicopters transport hikers twice daily between Nikkaluokta and Kebnekaise from late June to late August and daily until late September, while Fiskflyg has helicopter flights from Kvikkjokk. If you wish to be dropped off in a wilderness location of your choice, that can also be arranged.
When arming yourself with maps for different sections of the Kungsleden, you have a choice of either the detailed Fjällkartan (www.lantmateriet.se; 1:100,000) or the Calazo (www.calazo.se) series. Fjällkartan maps cover a slightly wider area around the Kungsleden and are one sided, whereas Calazo maps are double sided and water-resistant.
The best maps for each section of the Kungsleden are:
- Abisko–Kebnekaise Fjällkartan BD6 or Calazo Kungsleden
- Kebnekaise–Saltoluokta Fjällkartan BD8 or Calazo Kebnekaisefjällen
- Saltoluokta–Kvikkjokk Fjällkartan BD10 or Calazo Sarek & Padjelanta
- Kvikkjokk–mmarnäs Fjällkartan BD14 (north) and BD16 (south) or Calazo Kvikkjokk-Ammarnäs
- Ammarnäs–Hemavan Fjällkartan AC2 or Calazo Ammarnäs-Hemavan
Abisko to Kebnekaise
From Abisko it’s 86km to Kebnekaise Fjällstation (around five days of hiking), and 105km to Nikkaluokta if you’re leaving the trail at Kebnekaise (around seven days).
This, the most popular section of the Kungsleden, runs through the dense vegetation of Abisko National Park, mostly following the valley, with wooden boardwalks over the boggy sections and bridges over streams. The highest point along the trail is the Tjäkta Pass (1150m), with great views over the Tjäktavagge valley.
There are five STF huts along the trail: Abiskojaure (in a lovely lakeside setting), Alesjaure (with a sauna and a great view from the mountain ridge), Tjäkta (before Tjäkta Pass), Sälka and Singi. The STF has mountain lodges at Abisko and Kebnekaise.
Kebnekaise to Saltoluokta
This section is 52km (four to six days) from Kebnekaise Fjällstation and 38km from Singi to Saltoluokta.
South of Singi, 14km from Kebnekaise, this quieter section of the trail runs through peaceful valleys and beech forest. Row yourself 1km across Teusajaure lake and then cross the bare plateau before descending to Vakkotavare through beech forest.
A bus runs from Vakkotavare to the quay at Kebnats, where there’s an STF ferry across Langas lake to Saltoluokta Fjällstation. STF has a mountain lodge at Saltoluokta, and four huts en route, at Singi, Kaitumjaure, Teusajaure and Vakkotavare.
Saltoluokta to Kvikkjokk
This section is 73km, or four to six days of hiking. From Saltoluokta, it’s a long and relatively steep climb to Sitojaure (18km, six hours), where you cross a lake using the boat service run by the hut’s caretaker, followed by a boggy stretch with wooden walkways. At Aktse (an excellent base for side trips into Sarek National Park), on the shores of Laitaure lake, you are rewarded with expansive views of the bare mountainous terrain, before you cross the lake using the row boats provided and pass through pine forest to reach Kvikkjokk.
STF has a lodge at Kvikkjokk, and huts at Sitojaure, Aktse and Pårte.
Kvikkjokk to Ammarnäs
This is the wildest and most difficult section of the park, recommended for experienced hikers only. It stretches for 157km, or seven to 10 days of hiking. Bring your own tent, as accommodation is very spread out.
Take the boat across Saggat lake from Kvikkjokk before walking to Tsielejåkk, from where it’s 55km to the next hut at Vuonatjviken. Then cross Riebnesjaure lake and another one from Hornavan to the village of Jäkkvikk, from where the trail runs through Pieljekaise National Park. From Jäkkvikk it’s only 8km until the next hut, followed by another stop at the village of Adolfström. Cross Iraft lake before making for the cabins at Sjnjultje. Here the trail forks: either take the direct 34km route to Ammarnäs or take a 24km detour to Rävfallet, followed by an additional 20km to Ammarnäs.
Ammarnäs to Hemavan
This section is 78km, or four to six days’ hiking. Much of the southern section of the Kungsleden runs through Vindelfjällen Nature Reserve. This trail is the easiest of the five sections, mostly consisting of a gentle ramble through beech forest and wetlands, and over low hills. There’s a long, steep climb (8km) through beech forest between Ammarnäs and Aigert, but at the top you are rewarded with an impressive waterfall.
To reach Syter, cross the wetlands using the network of bridges, stopping at the hut by Tärnasjö lake for a spell in the sauna. The hike up to Syter peak (1768m) from Syter hut is greatly recommended and the view on the way down to Hemavan, taking in Norway’s Okstindarnas glaciers, is particularly spectacular.
STF has a hostel at Hemavan, and five huts en route at Aigert, Serve, Tärnasjö, Syter and Viterskalet.