A wonderful hiking trail, offering you views of the diverse landscapes of Finnish nature. Doable in 4-5 days, giving you a way to connect to yourself and nature.
With the right equipment it is a lot of fun, the feeling to carry everything you need to survive for 5 days in the forest is an empowerment of yourself and on how you see the world.
Everybody should go on a hike at least once in their life. I'm already looking forward to my next one.
Kuusamo to civilization
Our plan was to get south to Tampere and then Helsinki - so we needed to get back to Oulu to catch the train.
We actually hitch-hiked from Kuusamo to Oulu, saving us €40 which we then happily spent on the train.
Hitch-hiking in Finland is quite safe, people who like to take you on their journey with them are friendly, open-minded and interested in what brought you to Finland. Still, you'll have to endure some laughter from people driving by that think you're hilarious holding up a sign with the destination you wan to go.
Hautajärvi Visitor Center
This was our first contact with civilization again!
I used a toilet and bought something to eat, although I kind of felt like another crispbread-soup-like-dinner.
We stayed at the visitor center for a bit and then walked towards the big road with many (horribly loud) cars. We waited for the bus there to take us back to Kuusamo.
Back to civilization
The last part of the hike brought us back to swamp land and led us along beautiful flora. We didn't talk much, soaking in the last bits of nature around us. Still, the mosquitos didn't fail to remind us about our destination: the civilization.
25 August 2013
Camp site next to the river again
We actually aimed for a camping spot a bit further away from water to escape the mosquitos, but there was no way. And we were lucky to not do that - we had such a lovely camping spot for our last night in the forest, I wouldn't have wanted to miss it.
We stayed awake for longer than on the other days, because we didn't want to wake up and leave the forest. This also meant it got quite dark (which was a bit freaky), which we hadn't really experienced as being so far north in summer means no real darkness and enough sunlight to hike until 9pm.
Rapids, bridges and a canyon
Last full day in the forest. Still one snickers left - boy, did I enjoy that!
This day's part of the trail led us along rapids and over many rope bridges again, which was really beautiful and lightened up the walking. Many beautiful photo spots too! At the end we hiked up to a canyon, getting the vastest view over a huge area of the national park.
Exhaustion was omnipresent on this day, I joked that if I would fall down on my back, I would never be able to stand up again, like a beetle turned on its back.
We saw reindeers again, it didn't want to join us on our hike unfortunately though.
24 August 2013
Beautiful camping spot
This night we found ourselves camping next to a waterfall. It was a beautiful evening, sitting at the fireplace for a long time, talking about life and where it leads us :) (Yes, the nature and its purity gets to you.)
I still hadn't really found the right way of undressing, washing myself in the river and getting dressed again without getting half-eaten by mosquitos, but that's part of the fun and gives you a great adrenaline kick.
I also learned that you should always apply mosquito spray also to the back of your pants. Sitting at the fireplace and making sure no mosquito could land on me, left me inattentive to mosquitos stinging my behind through the hiking pants!
Third Day - Exhaustion hits
Somehow on this day the backpack seemed to get heavier again. The famous third day of doing sports hit us. We made many breaks, snacked blueberries and granola bars to keep the energy level up and had an amazing realization when we saw the kilometer sign. Less than 40km to go! We already made conquered half the distance! Also the view over the beautiful Oulankajoki river motivated us to cheerfully carry on with our hike :)
23 August 2013
Camping right next to the Kitkajoki river
Moving water is very pleasing on your hike as it does not attract that many mosquitos as lakes and of course especially swamps do.
We found ourselves a perfect camping spot... RIGHT next to the river. Amazing feeling to wake up and peak out to get a view over the Oulankajoki.
By that day we already had developed a habit - once we arrived for the night my friend would start looking for firewood or chop down firewood from the camp sites stack and start making a fire to boil water and make it drinkable and to cook our dinner. I in the meantime would look for the perfect spot for our tent and put it up. Then before we would sit down to eat, I would jump into the river or lake to get freshened up and wash myself :) Nothing is more refreshing after a day of hiking!
After the swamp land the landscape transforms into burnt-down woods but then the trails guides you along the Kitkajoki river, offering you beautiful views from above before letting you descend and walk up close to thunderous Jyravä rapids and the Siilastupa wilderness hut, where we stopped for our lunch break.
A lot of Finland is covered in swamps, also in the Oulanka National Park, you will find those diverse kind of landscapes. Parts of the trail are fixed with wooden racks, so you can cross the swamps where you usually might get stuck.
22 August 2013
Iso Kuikkalampi Camping Spot
To start off easy we only hiked about 10km this very first day, mostly also because my friend had some stomach problems after mistaking a not too digestible berry for a delicious blueberry. Still, everything was ok again in the evening with a little bit of help from tea and stomach pills.
Cute camping site next to a sea, chlorinated pills can also make still water digestible - so no worries if you don't find a spring or river, the water just has to be clear.
"Mountains" & the first day with our backpacks
This morning we started off by walking back down to Ruka, getting some shopping down (there is a separate tip about which food to bring along the trail), and then finally really starting our hike!
As Austrians we were quite amused about our guidebooks description of the "mountains" in this southernmost section of the trail, but with the first day of hiking with our really really heavy backpacks (I learned a big lesson about packing lightly during those days.) we didn't think the description was too funny anymore.
So we "normal" people usually don't go straight up and down a mountain, but hike along winding trails and serpentines - Finnish people take the direct route, partly with wooden staircases build into the trail. Prepare yourself for an exhausting first day!
21 August 2013
First night in the forest
So we arrived to Ruka quite late and as all shops had closed already, but we still needed a supermarket before setting off into the forest for the whole trail, we decided to spend the night close to Ruka. First we wanted to hike up to a real camping site, but it was too far away. So, after enjoying a greasy and delicious pizza, we hauled the backpacks over our shoulders and went off into the direction of the Karhunkierros Trail.
But, we only went a couple of hundred meters into the forest and then looked for a rukaquiet spot to set up the tent and get ready for the night :)
It was a beautiful first night, just the nature, blueberries and us.
Getting to Kuusamo and deciding where to start your hike
You get to Kuusamo by taking the bus from Oulu. Matkahuolto is the company selling long-distance bus tickets in Finland. It takes you about 3 hours to get to Kuusamo.
Traveling around the country is quite expensive in Finland, this trip will cost you about €40, unless you are enrolled in a Finnish university, which always gives you a 50% discount and bus/train tickets.
From Kuusamo to Ruka or Hautajärvi, which are the starting points for the Karhunkierros trail you can take a bus. Plan ahead where you want to start your hike, to make sure you reach the destination as there is only one bus per day going up all the way to Hautajärvi. We reached Ruka with the Karhunkierros Trail coach and decided to start from there, because we still needed to do some food shopping before leaving. Ruka is a little ski resort town, offering everything. Hautajärvi in the north is just a Visitor Centre next to nature :)
20 August 2013
What to do in Oulu
Oulu is a beautiful Finnish town at the sea. There is not too much to do, but a nice walk should definitely lead you to the seafront, along the nice parks and the promenade.
There is a market going as in most Finnish cities, where you can eat delicious food cheaply (eating out is usually really expensive in Finland). There is also the market hall, offering the same delicacies inside - also a great place to do some souvenir shopping (although you might not want to do that before starting your hike ;))
Getting to Oulu
We started our journey in Vienna, Austria, and flew into Oulu with airbaltic. Airbaltic's hub is in Riga, and connects to many cities around Europe, so this is definitely a cost-effective way to get all the way up to Oulu.
You can also fly into Kuusamo, but this will set you back a huge amount of money.
We didn't need a GPS device or similar, we just bought a Guidebook about the Karhunkierros Trail in a hiking equipment shop in Oulu, which included a map of the whole trail, with descriptions of the different parts. There are many out there, in Ruka there is also a shop with many different ones.
There are many only resources too, but go for a map you can carry with you.
There are various ways on how to survive about 5 days in the forest, still this is what we were quite happy with.
- Porridge which can be made with water, pick blueberries and add them to your delicious bowl of morning food.
- Some crispbread and kind of spread with it that doesn't go bad easily. There is also "Ruispalat" (rye bread) in Finland which you could take as an addition to crispbread
- Delicious granola bars. Snickers is also great - after a few days on that diet while being outside, you will begin craving chocolate! I also recommend banana oat flakes bars.
- Pre-made hiking meals. You'll get them at all sports/hiking shops around Finland (or already at home)
- Instant noodles
Basically everything light, filling and powdery you can make with water. Warm, soup-like meals will definitely make you happy in the evening.
- Tea bags (Adding some taste to the boiled and chlorinated water will be very welcome!)
Finnish Everyman's right
The Finnish Everyman's right means that people are allowed to walk around freely in the forest ("freedom to roam"). You are allowed to pick mushrooms and berries from the ground. Still, this also comes with responsibility. Whatever you take into the forest - take it out with you too. Finnish people are careful with their nature, it's part of the culture.
You can also freely camp in the forest, just make sure not to leave anything behind! In National Parks, like Oulanka National Park where the Karhunkierros Trail is located, this is a bit different. Here you are allowed to camp at designated camping areas and make fire only at the fire places. Still, there will be firewood and an axe at every camping area making it easier for you to spend the night. Most areas also have a dry toilet (using sawdust).
Karhunkierros is the Finnish word for "Bear's Ring", even though the trail is not really a "ring". Don't worry, you will not see a bear, in this area - the name only comes from years back, when there were still bears in Northeastern Finland.
You will see many many squirrels, but also free reindeers roaming around the forest. Don't be afraid of them, they don't really care about you as long as you keep some distance.
The full Karhunkierros Trail of 80km is doable for most people - there are many campsites along the way, giving you the opportunity to make as many stops as you want. Only the southernmost part is quite hilly, with a long of elevation gains and losses, the rest is fairly easy to manage.
Still, you have to be able to carry everything you need for the duration of your trip in your backpack, even packing light will add up to around 8-10kg for sure.
Things you'll need II
- Mosquito spray (Very important, they are everywhere - opt for one used in jungle areas, you will need the strength.)
- Chlorine pills to make water drinkable (You get those in pharmacies, just ask for them.)
- Matches and or a lighter
- Biodegradable soap (To wash yourselves in rivers and lakes without harming the nature.)
- Torch lamp
- Book about eatable berries and plants in the forest
Things you'll need
This is a list of tools, gear you will need for your hike.
- Tent (In summer months there are many mosquitos, why it is better to sleep in a tent, than in one of the huts. Also there are fewer huts along the way than designated camping areas.)
- Camping mat
- Sleeping bag
- For example ski underwear or similar to wear for sleeping (Even in August, it is getting chilly at night.)
- Gas cooker (It's possible to make a fire at the marked fireplaces to cook your food or boil water to make it drinkable, but you will prefer the speed of your gas cooker at some point.)
- Bowl for all kinds of food
- Pocket knife / Leatherman
- Little box for berries, etc. you can pick and collect along the way
- 2 Bottles of water (Always make sure you carry at least 1.5 liters while hiking)
- One of the bottles should be a thermos bottle for tea and to fill in boiled water - we used our thermos bottles at night to keep our feet warm by putting them inside the sleeping bag.