Where: Oulanka National Park, Kuusamo, Northern Finland
Best season: June – September for fishing, late spring and early autumn for breathtaking hiking
Best sights: Rupakivi Rock, Oulanka Canyon, the Taivalköngäs and Kiutaköngäs rapids and the Jyrävä Falls
Remember to bring: food, tent & sturdy hiking boots
Where It’s At
If you want to escape city living and experience the beauty of Finland’s natural landscapes first hand, hiking has to be the best way to do it. One of the most well-known treks is the Bear’s Ring Trail, or Karhunkierros Trail in Finnish. The route winds through the length of the Oulanka National Park, north of Kuusamo, and close to the Russian border on the edge of Lapland, just south of the Arctic Circle. It will take you through some of Finland’s most spectacular scenery, including rapids, gorges, waterfalls, canyons and some breathtaking lookout points as well.
During the freshwater fishing season (June to September) you can also combine fishing and hiking. Fishing licenses are sold in most tourist service points in the nearby town of Kuusamo. Depending on your stamina, it should take between four and seven days to complete the trail. You can either hike from north to south, starting at Ristikallio, or south to north, starting from Ruka or Juuma.
The trail is around fifty miles long and runs through and beyond the Oulanka National Park,following the Savina, Oulanka and Kitka rivers for much of its length. As a whole, it’s not difficult, but there are some rougher parts where you’ll need to navigate rocky areas or climb some steepish slopes. The section near Ruka is the hardest stretch, as you need get over several peaks, which are quite tough work!
Where To Stay
Accommodation along the trail is on the basic side. Try to get hold of a trail map, available in most shops and visitor centres around the Oulanka Park. You can use it to plan each day’s walk and to work out where the cabins and campsites are located on your route. Cabins only have space for a small number of people at a time, although more can usually be squeezed in if the weather is bad! Be warned – you can’t reserve cabins, so whoever arrives first gets a place. It’s therefore a good plan to take a tent along with you, preferably a small one needing only a few pegs, as the Bear Ring campsites are sometimes rocky and are not always clear of trees. Most campsites and cabins have a large supply of chopped firewood so you can always light a fire. They’re usually near a source of fresh water as well. Some have toilets (outside though), and others have wooden picnic seats where you can sit to eat and relax at night. A few cabins even have their own gas stove, but many people take their own equipment along so they don’t have to wait for a shared stove at the end of a long day’s hike.
If the cabins and campsites don’t appeal, you can also look out for kotas and laavus. These are simple shelters where you can spend a night. A kota looks a bit like a teepee in shape, but it is made of wooden slats. They are usually quite small and there are only a few of them in the park. Laavu’s are more common and are also marked on the trail map. They are much more basic than a cabin, often having three wooden walls and a roof, with one side open to the weather.
Breathtaking sights along the way include the Rupakivi Rock in the River Savinajoki, the amazingOulanka Canyon, the Taivalköngäs and Kiutaköngäs rapids and birds-eye views of theJyrävä Falls.
The most popular time to hike the trail is in autumn, when the trees come out in rich oranges and reds. May and early June are also good times to do the Bear’s Ring, as the winter ice has melted away by then.
– Good hiking shoes are essential, preferably with ankle support, as you’ll need to navigate some rough terrain and rocky bits.
– As the shops in the park are often open only in the peak season, expect to take most of your own supplies, except water as it is safe to drink from the streams. You can’t rely on finding food at regular points on the trail route.
– Remember that the Ring isn’t circular! You’ll need to plan some transport to your starting point.
Useful if you’re starting from Kuusamo and looking for places to stay beforehand
Finnish Tourist Board
General trip planning information.
By Isobel Stewart