Just after the midsummer night weekend we drove up north to Ruka, Kuusamo to hike the most popular trail in Finland – Karhunkierros Trail. This legendary 82 km route starts north from Salla and heads south through Oulanka National Park and Valtavaara Nature Reserve finishing to Ruka Skiing Village. The original 1950s route starts from Ristikallio and is 72km long but we chose to walk this bit longer version from Hautajärvi. The two routes merge in Taivalköngäs (day #2 on our trip).
We drove up to Ruka (831 km and 12 hours including stops) and reserved a room from a hotel in the middle of the town. In the morning we enjoyed the complimentary buffet breakfast before leaving our car in the parking lot to wait for our return and took a shuttle bus to the start point of the trail. We reserved week for the trail though people usually tend to aim to complete it in four to five days.
- Bus from Ruka to Hautajärvi
- Trail Hautajärvi – Vasaoja 12,5km
- Sights: Rupakivi stone pilar
The bus left from Ruka at 7:45 and we were eager to get started. The same bus takes you to both starting points and to Hautajärvi it took approx. 1 hour to drive. Hautajärvi has a small visitor center but it was closed when we arrived so we just started out on the trail. Although the center is closed there is a water tab outside behind the building if you forgot to fill your bottles for the day. Otherwise the water from the small springs and streams are clean and refreshing on the way.
The trail is clearly marked with yellow paint along the whole way. There is also kilometer signs every km indicating how long you have walked from Hautajärvi ja how much is still to go to Ruka. This was a fun addition to walking and we took a picture with each sign (though I we think three signs were missing, or we did not notice them between Porontimajoki and Konttainen).
The trail was quite easy on the first day with very little hills on the way. We did cross the first of the many hanging bridges and walk on wooden planks (duckboards?) over some swamp areas. We had a lunch break at the first lean-to shelter (with hundreds of mosquitos). Camping and open fire are only allowed in designated areas next to these lean-to shelters or open wilderness huts. Just before Vasaoja there is a sign to steep downward stairs to Rupakivi (at this point we left our backpacks by the trail and headed down without them… whoa it felt light:)). This is over six meter tall rock standing alone in the middle of the river (Savinajoki) and molded by erosion and water masses. The weather was murky and indicated rain so we setup camp already in Vasaoja lean-to shelter in the afternoon and took a 2 hour nap as the thunderstorm and rain roared around us. In the evening we enjoyed dinner cooked on the fire before heading to sleep early.
- Trail Vasaoja – Oulanka National Park Camping Ground 14km
- Additional hike to see Oulanka Canyon ~1,5km
- Sights: Oulanka Canyon, Taivalköngäs rapids
We got up early after over 10 hours of sleep (one really sleeps better in fresh air!) and were greeted by beautiful sunshine (though here the sun really does not go down at all at this time of the year). We decided to made breakfast with camp cooker (oat porridge), repacked our backpacks and tent and headed out on the trail. We were lucky to have the camp site to ourselves in the evening and noticed that two more tents had been set up during the night. At this stage we also decided to call Oulanka National Park Camping Ground and booked a hut for the next night to dry out our wet tent and other gear (it really did pour during the evening thunderstorm).
After a while we came to Savilampi open wilderness hut which can be freely used for overnight stay. The cabin itself is very base with rough wooden platforms for sleeping and stove to keep warm during the colder time. There are also a gas stoves usually outside the wilderness huts and they can be used freely for cooking (bring your own kettles). We left here our backpacks again next to the hut and headed up the stairs to see the Oulanka Canyon. This was about 1,5km round trip to the best viewpoint and in my opinion worth it 🙂
Next to the hut the trail crosses the river on a hanging bridge and approx. 300 meters from here there is a bright, flowing stream to refill drinking water for the day. We stopped for lunch on the next camp ground at Taivalköngäs wilderness hut. There are rapids starting just next to the hut with a hanging bridge going over it. The weather was still a bit rainy so we ended up eating lunch inside the hut. Crossing the three bridges we continued the trail. Thunderstorm roared again the same time as previous day but now we were still walking in the woods. The rain was like a shower for 20 minutes. At this stage we were really happy that we had reserved the hut for next night as we were completely soaked. Luckily the shower past quickly and sun dried a bit before we finally got to Oulanka Camping.
- Oulanka Camping Ground – Kulmakkopuro 11,5 km
- Sights: Kiutaköngäs rapids, Kulmakkopuro logging
We slept again really well and long, took our time in the morning and finally hopped on the trail just before noon. From the camping grounds it was a short walk on a paved road to Oulanka Visitor Center (they also offer daily warm lunch at a reasonable price) and then back to the trail. This time it was also a day trail which meant wider gravel paths.
Kiutaköngäs is a 200 meter long set of “waterfalls” and rapids with rugged cliffs around it. There are some gutters left from early 1900s logging drives. We left again backpacks on the side of the trail and took a walk on the cliffs left side of the path. There are also some protected plant species visible at this part of the National park. It is important that in this part you stay on the path not to stomp over the delicate plants. We managed to spot the rare Calypso bulbosa/orchid and protected mountain avens (dryas octopetala).
The trail continued high up on the cliff edge showing beautiful views down to the flowing Oulanka river. We had a lunch break at the Merenoja camp ground with the blooming globeflowers.
Right after Ansakämppä camping grounds are picturesque meander scenery over the Oulanka river. Sandy beaches close to the camp ground look inviting when the sun shines (though the water is freezing).
After this it is up hill for a while. We stopped for the night in Kulmakkopuro which is a site for a logging drive gone wrong… in early 1900s they used to pile logs close to streams in the winter and then run them down to the river with flood water. However in this case it did not work and the logs were left to decay until a sawmill bought them in 1930’s, sawed them to planks and left the round edges in the woods. This is what is left now around the camp site. This site does not have a lean-to shelter nor a hut, just some campfire places. This time we were the only ones staying the night and it was really calm and quiet alone in the middle of the forest the only sound coming from the little stream few meters away. Definitely one of my favorite camp sites.
To be continued…