Hiking the Karhunkierros trail in Kuusamo (Part 2)

… continuing ūüôā

Day #4

  • KulmakkopuroP√§hk√§n√§ 11km
  • Additional hikes to Saaripuro waterfall and up to top of P√§hk√§n√§ ~2km
  • Sights: Saaripuro waterfall, P√§hk√§n√§ scenery

In the morning we continued the trail uphill for quite some time before coming to the midway mark “41-41”. Another quick picture with the sign and on we go. We stopped for lunch in Jussink√§mpp√§ which is one of the bigger wilderness huts in the park (sleeps 20 people). Though the weather was nice we escaped indoors (the amount of mosquito must have doubled or tripled during the night) to eat our lunch.

After a while the trail starts to head down towards the river valley. At the top of the stairs we left our backpacks again to the side of the path and headed to the bush on the right. You can hear the waterfall all the way to the trail but there is no walk way to it. So navigating towards the sound and at the same time taking note of the surroundings so we would find back to our backpacks (it’s harder to find back as there is no sound to lead you, be careful not to get lost!). In the middle of woods, 150m from the path, Saaripuro waterfall runs down 20 or so meters down a rocky path. This was the biggest fall we saw during the trip and worth the extra few meters off the track. This is a sight that most hikers pass as there are no signs or paths leading to it.

 

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Saaripuro waterfall in the middle of the forest

 

Back on the trail we headed down several steps finishing to the valley of Kitkajoki river. There is a camp site right next to the river with a wooden tepee type hut and fireplace. The trail continues here to the right following the river and there are lean-to shelters every 500 meters. This is a popular fishing place (fly fishing) and many people wonder up and down the river bend looking for the right spot to get a big catch.

Just before making camp for the night we stopped at Ven√§√§nmutka lean-to shelter, left again our backpacks and followed the sign to P√§hk√§n√§ road “P√§hk√§n√§n tie 1.0“. There are 150 steps and 88 log steps up the hill and right after the last step a small path leading to the left. A short climb to the hill and the view over the river valley is spectacular. This is a favorite spot for Finnish nature photographers and of course we had to see it.

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View from top of Pähkänä

We stayed the nigh in the valley next to Pähkänä lean-to shelter. There were a lot more people passing by than in earlier nights as this is close to popular day hike routes.

Day #5

  • P√§hk√§n√§ – Puurosuo 13,5km
  • Hiking through small Karhunkierros day trail
  • Additional hikes up to Kallioportti and Myllypuro
  • Sights: Kallioportti view, Jyr√§v√§ rapids, Myllypuro old mill

In the morning we woke up early and saw some wondering reindeer just next to our tent (though they ran away when noticed us getting out side of the tent). After repacking our gear we had an hour walk to the popular “small” Karhunkierros day route. The day hiking routes are well kept gravel paths. This trail is a 12 km roundtrip and Karhunkierros trail only goes through it half way. So to see all the “major” sights we took two side tracks leaving our backs to wait by the trail. For the first one we climbed stairs (252 of them, without our packs though) up to see the views from Kallioportti. The view was nice with the sun shining and it felt so much lighter without our packs.

Back on the trail and reconnected with our backpacks we headed around the day route from southern side. During lunch we kept rain on the terrace of the Siilastupa wilderness hut. The passing shower extended our break to two hours but it was nice just sitting and watching the raging waters of Jyrävä rapids (9 meter long waterfall) on the other side of the river.

Karhunkierros continues out of the National Park a kilometer after the rapids but we wanted to make another detour and visit the old mill (Myllypuro) bit farther on the day trail. The mill was built in the 1930s and in use until 1949. Today the cabin has been turned into a wilderness hut with sleeping platforms in two floors, though it is only meant for day use.

Kitkajoki river and these rapids are popular also for river rafting, though we did not have extra time to try it on this trip.

There is a small recycling point at the junction where Karhunkierros trail leaves the day hike. The National Park reminds people to carry out all the trash they bring in and this is a good stop to empty your packs of all rubbish. Heading out of the park it felt calm and serene again. The masses of visitor are left behind and we were again alone with the wilderness. Actually we did not see anyone after this until noon the next day ūüėČ

The walk to Puurosuo lean-to shelter left a feeling that now everything worth seeing is past us (oh how we were wrong!). The day was full of meeting new people on the hike and seeing nature at its best. And now we were in the middle of the woods next to a small creek, just us, no one else. At the same time it was calming again to just light up a fire, setup the tent and cook some dinner under the blue sky (no stars, as the sun shines through the night).

Day #6

  • Puurosuo – Suolampi 14,5km
  • Sights: views from Kumpuvaara and Konttainen

In the morning we woke up again to blue skies and sun shine. We gathered our gear and continued the trail. Difference in the surrounding nature was visible, we were not in a national park anymore. Now we were walking past clearcuttings and more economically grown forests which differ greatly from the free grown national park trees. At noon we stopped for lunch at Porontimajoki wilderness hut. The place looked wonderful in the sun and with a small river flowing by the camp ground. We were not in a hurry so just enjoyed the day and sun for a bit. It felt like the first warm summer day of the whole year and a bit reluctantly we finally put our hiking shoes back on and continued our walk.

After the stop the forest changed to more natural like and we crossed some smaller ponds with little frogs and saw some reindeer end their little ones. The trail also partially followed larger roads and machinery trails until it took us again up a hill Vattuvaara. After a snack break by a swamp lake Kuikkalampi we continued the gentle climb up to Kumpuvaara. Originally we planned to stay the night in Kuikkalampi but as our legs felt still fresh after the break we decided to get some of the last days climbing over already. Oh heads up, the remainder of the trail is almost all up hill and stairs…

The next hill to be conquered was Konttainen and just before starting climb we entered Valtavaara-Pyh√§vaara Nature Reserve. There were 200 steps up and same amount of steep hill climb to get to the top. And the view got better ūüôā On the other side there were 300 steps down and after crossing the road the trail leads back to the forest and uphill again. We stopped for the night in Suolampi lean-to shelter to get a good night’s sleep before the final 5 km climb up two more hills. The camp site was next to a swap pond with many little swimming creatures in the water. This time we did not drink the water as is but boiled it before.

Day #7

  • Suolampi Ruka center 5,5km
  • Sights: Valtavaara views

We woke up excited and sad at the same time. This was our last day of hiking and the kilometer signs showed that only 5 km to go. We had a slow start to the morning eating rest of the food we brought with us and talking to some new hikers on their first day heading the other way on the trail. The trail to top of Valtavaara was partly very steep with some ropes to assist on the climb. Finally at the top there is an old day hut and a picnic table. The day was clear and we could see all the way to the mountains on Russian side of the border (just to note that Finland does not really have mountains, more like rounded hills or fells). Again it was visible that we were on a day trail as there were many people passing us without large packs. Many bird watchers visit this Nature Reserve as some more rarer species can be found there.

Stone steps lead the trail back down the hill and again some parts needed help from ropes tided to the stone. And a lot of stairs down, a lot… Finally at the bottom we exit the nature reserve just to see the slopes of Ruka in front of us. Few hundred meters more to go and all of it steep uphill. After six and half leisurely walking days we came to Ruka village and 82km trail was finished. We had booked a hotel room for the night (real beds!!!), enjoyed reindeer burgers at the hotel restaurant, relaxed tired muscles in the sauna and had a good night sleep before driving back south the next day.

Conclusion

Like I wrote we took our time walking and kept our days short. Some people we met aimed for four day hike for the entire trail taking 20km per day and some even less. We were both pretty unexperienced hikers and therefore reserved time for the walk as well as to make stops when needed. Though the trail is 82km in total it can also be divided into several smaller day trips around the main sights.

Our main worry was the heavy packs that needed to be carried through the whole trail and supplies to last for a week. In the end our packs weighed around 20kg when we left and were 15kg when returning… so food and water are heavy though we packed mostly freeze dried and powdered meals.

This is a trail that I would recommend even if you are inexperienced hiker, just take your time and enjoy the nature and do not make it a race.

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Hiking the Karhunkierros trail in Kuusamo (Part 1)

Just after the midsummer night weekend we drove up north to Ruka, Kuusamo to hike the most popular trail in Finland РKarhunkierros 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.

Day #1

  • Bus from Ruka to Hautaj√§rvi
  • Trail Hautaj√§rvi – 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.

Day #2

  • Trail Vasaoja – Oulanka National Park Camping Ground 14km
  • Additional hike to see Oulanka Canyon ~1,5km
  • Sights: Oulanka Canyon, Taivalk√∂ng√§s 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 ūüôā

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.

Day #3

  • Oulanka Camping Ground – Kulmakkopuro 11,5 km
  • Sights: Kiutak√∂ng√§s 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.

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Woodpecker marks on the tree

 

Kiutak√∂ng√§s 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‚Ķ 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…

Escaping the city to visit Highlands… and meet some ‘coos’

I wrote previously that we spend long weekend in early April in Edinburgh and chose the get out of the city for two days. We booked online two different one-day tours to learn more of the country, history and people during our visit as well as to avoid driving on the wrong side of the road ūüėČ

Our first tour was Hairy Coo Free Highland tour promising us a one day adventure out of the city to see the real highlands and away from the crowds. The cute orange bus “Daisy” started from the center of the old town on Lawnmarket and we were lucky to get three guides for the trip (one of the founders as the main guide and two more in training). The tour took all day and we heard great stories and tales from Scottish history and life¬† today. I don’t want to spoil anything by quoting too much of the stories and rather let the pictures tell of the places we saw.

At the end of the tour all participants could choose themselves how much they wished to pay for the tour (in tips), as it was Free Tour. I my opinion this tour was very good and it delivered as promised a great day outside the city. I enjoyed the stories told by the guide and especially loved meeting some “locals”, highland cattle, up close.

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Our second tour was with NessBus (through Hairy Coo) and headed to Loch Ness and back. This was also a whole day tour and a bit longer than the Highlands Tour. The drive itself up to Lock Ness (Fort Augustus takes without stops almost 4 hours) from Edinburgh meaning this tour was a lot of sitting in the buss and looking at views. The guide was good and kept telling us stories of the places we drove by as well as history of Scotland with its Kings and Queens, continuous battles with England and tales of Rob Roy MacGregor (the Scottish Robin Hood).

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We started they day in Deanston Distillery learning about whiskey and getting to taste some the distillery’s 12 year old scotch.

After few hour drive we had a two hour break in Fort Augustus to take a cruise on Loch Ness and try to see the monster. On the boat we heard more about all the monster chases and evidence they have gathered of it during the years. On our way back I admit taking a nap in the bus as it had been long day ūüėČ

I did enjoy this tour also though the day schedule felt quite rushed, which is understandable do to long drive to Loch Ness. Of these two tours if I only wanted to use one day to visit outside of Edinburgh I would have to choose the Free Highland Tour and reserve more than a day to drive and visit Loch NessNessie

All in all I also have to admit that I loved Scotland and am already planning a new visit to see more of its castles and beautiful nature.

To the land of the Loch Ness Monster, Braveheart and haggis‚Ķ

… that was basically all I knew of this proud nation before my visit. I like so many others have heard the stories of Lock Ness Monster, watched Braveheart (couple of times), read the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon (and enjoyed the BBC series) and seen the many pictures of bagpipes, kilts and plated clothes. These were the images I had in my head before getting on the plane for a long weekend getaway to the nation’s capital Edinburgh.

For this long weekend trip we only had four days to spend in Scotland and though you could easily use to explore Edinburgh we wanted the whole experience with some Highland adventures too. So after searching online we ended up booking two one-day trips outside of the city and spend the other two days wandering around Edinburgh.

So to start with two days in the city, what to see?!

On our first day we arrived with a morning flight so chose to just walk around the major sights and get feeling of the place. We started from the Castle heading down Royal mile, popping in to see the beautiful St. Giles Cathedral, enjoying the calm and peace of the old Canongate Kirk cemetery and finally before ending up to the Palace of Holyroodhouse walking past the modern, perhaps slightly out of place among all the old houses, the Scottish Parliament building.

From the Palace of Holyroodhouse we headed back up towards the center via Carlton road and climbing past the Scottish Government house to Carlton Hill. The view over the city and across to the waterfront in Leith was great.

Walking all day we ended up getting some cute and delicious cupcakes from Bibi’s Bakery and getting some dinner from a Japanese restaurant close to our accommodation. I have to recommend both, the ramen was excellent as was the cookie monster cupcake for desert ūüėČ We stayed in Averon Guest House on Gilmore Place. It was really nice place built in an old 19th century house. The room included warm breakfast which was cooked each day from 8am onwards and each evening the owner performed old Scottish songs and stories in the breakfast lounge at 9 pm.

For our second day in the city we had still many things to do and see. We started early by heading to the castle (to avoid crowds) with many other tourists. We chose to take audio tour to learn some more of history of the place. It took us almost two hours to just walk around the castle, listen to the audio guide, see the Scottish crown jewels and visit the Prisons of war. I thought the most impressive part was to visit the Scottish National War Memorial to commemorate the lives lost in various conflicts. As it is a memorial no photography was allowed inside and I think this also brought the feeling of calm and peace inside the building as people were not trying to get the “perfect picture” but rather focused more on what they were seeing and listening (me included). Do not miss looking up in the Shrine to a large impressive figure of Archangel Michael hanging from the ceiling and the words “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of the God – There shall no evil happen, they are in peace” written across the wall.

From the castle we headed through the blooming Prices Street Gardens down the hill to a bus stop get a ride closer to the Royal Botanic Gardens. Weather was turning to more sunny so we thought it would be nice to be outside for a while. The gardens are well worth the visit even this early in the spring, though not so many flowers were blooming just yet. The entrance is free with the exception of visiting the Glasshouses (fee ¬£6,50). We entered the park from West Entrance and headed first to the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden. It had a beautiful little hut which was entirely decorated with sea shells and pine cones inside.

Next we headed to the Glasshouses of which the oldest one, Tropical Palm House, was built already in 1834. There are 10 separate houses with each a different climate and variety of plants. We were really lucky as the rain shower for the day went over the gardens during our visit indoors. A calm walk through all the glasshouses took about 45 minutes.

I have always wanted to try the traditional afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches, just like in all the movies and books ūüôā We reserved a table from the Gateway restaurant at the West Entrance which offered a¬†lovely afternoon tea setting with¬†different salty and sweet treats. On our way out of the park we stopped for a while to admire the booming Yoshino cherry tree near the East Entrance.

For the evening we still had one more thing on our to do list, to climb to the Arthurs Seat to admire the view and sunset. Well scheduling is not our forte so we were a bit late getting again across town so instead of climbing the higher Arthurs Seat we decided to head for the peak (Salisbury Crags) closer to the road. The path starts next to the Place of Holyroodhouse. Do not take the stairs and path to the right unless you only want to climb to Arthur’s Seat. Instead walk a bit on the paved road to the left and then the path up the hill. This will take directly to the edge of Salisbury Crags and then to a small valley where the stairs up to Arthur’s Seat start. We did not follow this guide and headed up the stairs to the¬†right so it took us a bit longer detour to get to the peak. The view was very nice over the center and¬†also to the sea.¬†However it was very windy on the top and a flashlight would have been nice coming down after sunset. Just to keep in mind for the next time ūüôā

Lofoten Islands – day hiking

I mentioned in my previous post that we visited in August 2016 Lofoten islands in northern Norway to take photos of their amazing nature and to do some day hikes. The hike locations and routes were inspired by 68north blog which has great instructions and pictures of different hikes around the islands.

After looking through most of different recommended routes and their difficulty levels we ended up taking three one day / half day trails during our trip: R√łren, Festv√•gtind and Kvalvika Beach. Just to mention that Lofoten trails have a bit different difficulty levels than what we have at least here in Finland. For me the hike up to Festv√•gtind, although scaled as moderate, felt quite rough and the climb was very steep. I do need to admit though that I am not very accustomed to hiking on mountains and this might also be why I felt it more difficult than anticipated by the description.

 

As our first hike we chose R√łren which is a moderate (quite easy, though winding steep path in the mid-way)trail and started from Yttersand Beach (left from car park and across the sheep enclosure). This was easy and nice start to hiking on Lofoten. It took us approximate one hour to climb up and the views from top of the mountain towards Yttersand beach were beautiful. We took lunch with us and enjoyed it together with the view on top. It is good to bring a light jacket or hoodie even in warmer summer days as the wind gets a bit cold on the top.

 

The second hike we did was just before to Festvågtind with great views over the town of Henningsvær. The start of the trail is not very clearly marked but it seems to be quite popular (at least during summer) so we followed some other hikers to the start. There are some parking places by the road in Festvåg and trail starts across the road few hundred meters towards Henningsvær. Beginning of the trail was over large boulders but then continued steep uphill on both sides of a rock fall. On this trail I was really happy to have hiking sticks to keep balance and help me climb up the path. Halfway up the trail divides into two, the right one going to a lower peak with a pond on top and the left one continuing to the top. It was very warm and sunny day and it took us with a lot of stops over 2 hours to climb to the top (take plenty of water!). The view from the top over Henningsvær was definitely worth the climb. On our way down we took a different path and walked to have a lunch break at the pond on the lower peak. The water was freezing cold though some local kids were swimming in it on our way up. As the hill was still steep going down it took us some time long to get back to the car (and my legs were shaking after it, great workout;)). After the hike we drove few minutes to Henningsvær for well deserved ice-creams.

Our third and final hike was quite easy, a bit over an hour hike to Kvalvika beach. The parking lot to for the beach is along the road after a town called Fredvang. The parking space is not very big and the beach is popular. When we arrived there early evening the lot was full but luckily as we came for the sunset some people were already leaving and after few minute wait we were able to secure a spot in the official parking lot. There is a clear stone path in the beginning of the trail (trail marker by the road) and some planks to get over the muddiest parts. First half of the trail is uphill until you see over the pass to the beach. This was definitely the best place to get sunset pictures of the whole stretch of sand. The beach itself consists of two parts accessible on low tide but cut off by rocks on higher water. The beach is popular camping place and many people were staying there for the night.

From these hikes Kvalvika Beach was the easiest and Festv√•gtind the roughest. All were approximately half day trips (for Festv√•gtind I would reserve more time) depending on how many stops are taken or how much time wants to stay at the end before returning.¬†Here some more pictures of our Lofoten trip. Beautiful place, great hiking possibilities and the natures is just… wow! Well recommended ūüôā

Lofoten Islands, Norway

Last August we took a roadtrip from Helsinki to the Lofoten Island in northern Norway (above the Arctic Circle). We had seen some magnificent pictures of the nature and small fishing villages. We also wanted to do some day hikes and were really inspired by the blog 68north with awesome pictures of the islands and guidance for the different hikes. The blog also has really good tips on traveling in Norway on budget and what to take along. Our main purpose for this trip was to find good photo locations and capture the beauty of the nature on the islands.

Our drive from southern Finland went through Tornio border town to Kiruna, Sweden and onwards to Abisko (famous for seeing Northern Lights), over the Norwegian border and to the Lofoten islands. All in all this drive was approx. 1600 km one way and took 20 hours total.

We started early in the morning in Helsinki and headed to Oulu and Tornio. I have to admit that as I was not driving I did sleep most of the way. It took about 9 hours to drive to the Swedish border (plus breaks for snacks and lunch). After the border crossing we drove 4 more hours to Kiruna where we stopped for the night.

In the morning we continued to Abisko which is famous for its great hiking grounds and almost guaranteed Northern Lights during the winter season. We had a short stop in the town, walked a little around the visitor center before continuing to Norway.

Just before the border crossing we stopped once more to get some food supplies from the supermarket. The price level of goods is lower in Sweden than in Norway so the stacked up with some breakfast and lunch supplies (we were on a budget). The drive from the border to the town of Ballstad that we were staying in Lofoten Islands was four more hours. We scheduled the drive so that we drove longer on the first day and would arrive at the accommodation early evening on the second day.

As I mentioned before Norway is not the cheapest place to visit however you can travel with budget by cooking your own meals and staying in hostels or even on camp grounds in a tent. We did not go that far though and stayed in hostel cabins. All in all we stayed on the islands for five whole days. For the first three days we stayed in a Rorbu, an old fisherman’s cabin, booked through Hostelling International in town called Ballstad. Staying in a Rorbu was a nice experience. The cabin had two rooms with private bathroom but no other amenities. It was an old hut (and not one made to look like one) and we could even see ground below through the cracks on the floor boards at places. The cabin key was huge and had an additional padlock to it when leaving outside. We were told that renovation project was on its way but had not unfortunately yet reached the cabin we had booked. The kitchen facilities were short 5 minute walk away across the road in another Rorbu. Our plan was to spend most of the day outdoors so really only wanted to have a place to sleep and shower (bed + bathroom) so this was just what we were looking for. This was a nice experience and suited for budget traveler (night in real Rorbu for ¬®90‚ā¨/room). Also the location was great (if you have a car) to get around the islands.

For the last two nights of our trip on the islands we stayed in Ramberg at a Guesthouse cabin. This was more expensive (130‚ā¨/night) and was better equipped (cooking facilities, separate bedroom, kitchen and bathroom). It was just by the beach on a camping ground and you could sit on the porch watching sunset while having dinner.

We were really lucky with weather and the sun shined for us most of the trip (it was cloudy on the day we arrived and the morning we left back home). As it was summer the dark time during the night was really short, sunset and rise were only few hours apart. During our trip we did some day hikes on the mountains (more on this in another post) and visited fishing villages and beaches accessible by car during.

√Ö was a very small town farthest from the mainland and at the end of the E10 crossing the islands.

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Reine was very picturesque little town and had busloads of tourists walking its streets. One of the hikes we had planned to take was high over this town, Reinebringen, however we chose to skip this as the level was hard and we had heard that the path is very slippery and muddy at that time (they construction of the path had begun during the summer so hopefully next time we will be able to conquer also this peak).

Njusfjord is a small fishing village and during the day an outside museum with buildings dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s. We did not go for a walk in the town (small entrance fee) but rather took some pictures from the parking lot above the village.

Gims√łya island is small mountainous patch of land with its highest point the 767-metre tall Bardstrandfjellet.

Vikten is a small village on a rough coast. It is also known for its Glass Hut and glassblowers. These artist can also be often seen at work in the studio.

Haukland and Uttakleiv Beaches – Haukland is just next to the road with camping possibilities and sheep meadows next to it. There is a small stream going through the white sand beach and during late summer it is picturesque especially during sunset. Uttakleiv is the most photographed beach in Lofoten and a place where we ended up couple of times on our trip also to take pictures. Road to this beach went through a tunnel next to Haukland Beach. It has both rocky coastline and white sandy beach. During the day we also saw many sheep grazing both on the grass as well as visiting the beach.

USA Roadtrip #10 – Back to Vegas + day trips from there

Our last leg of the road trip was to drive back to Las Vegas from Page.Page-Zion-ValleyofFire-LV map

As we spent the whole morning in Antelope Canyon we then drove the afternoon on Hwy 9 through Zion National Park. We entered through East entrance and first noted the different color in the road pavement. The hills also had several colors in them. There are some tunnels on the way and steep serpentine road down to the Zion Canyon. We happened to be by the river during dusk and got view the last sun rays over the mountains from¬†bridge over North Fork Virgin River. This time¬†we did not have time to spend in the park, just passing by.¬†The brochure¬†did¬†show many interesting¬†trails and even a shuttle bus driving the otherwise closed scenic road in the canyon. Something for the next visit¬†then ūüôā

We stopped for the night in a hotel in Mesquite and then visited Valley of Fire State Park (entered from East Entrance) the next day before getting back to Las Vegas. It¬†is a really nice park just approximately one hour drive from Las Vegas so it can also be visited on a day/half day trip from there. This park is also not that commonly known destination. When entering the park there wasn’t any open pay booths so the entrance fee was left in an envelope to a mailbox (soon after a ranger came to empty the box). Just next to the entrance was the Elephant Rock, an arched rock that looks like a sitting¬†elephant when you climb higher on the hill.

Next we continued directly to Parking lot P3 to take the trail to Fire Wave. The trail is a sandy path (sand goes everywhere) and takes about one hour. It was very windy day causing the sand to fly with the gusts. Well worth the hike. Fire Wave was beautiful with its different stripes and the hills behind were very colorful. I have not seen this kind of rock coloring and stripes anywhere before.

This time in Las Vegas we stayed in Stratosphere hotel at the other end of the Strip. This was quite far from the other resorts (longer walking distance to everywhere) but otherwise very nice hotel and casino. Of course we went to the top of the tower the very first evening to see the crazy amusement rides on top of it (I did not dare to try as I am afraid of heights) and admire the view over the city. The hotel casino had everything one might need inside (restaurants, shops, gambling, amusement park rides, pool etc.) so really there would have been no reason for anyone to leave. However there was still some places around Vegas that we wanted to see and couple of days before our flight home.

We did a half day trip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area just outside of Las Vegas. It was only 30 min drive from the Strip and had a 13-mile scenic drive around it. It was Saturday when we visited the park and though the weather was very windy and cloudy there were many families enjoying time outdoors climbing the rocks, having picnic in park or just walking around.

We also did one more day trip towards Death Valley. I had heard that there are many abandoned (ghost) towns around this area and really wanted to visit one. So we took the I-95 through Beatty to Rhyolite Ghost Town. I had high expectations of the place and images in my head of this western style empty town. In reality however it was only few walls left in some buildings scattered along the main town road and a closed up old Casino/Saloon with abandoned railroad wagon at the end of it. It was quickly looked through.

We continued towards the state line and noted a dirt road with sign for Leadfield Ghost Town. We thought that this might be more what I was imagining and turned to the road. This was one-way road so no turning back. After a while driving to more and more mountainous scenery the road got really bad. Good thing that our rental had four-wheel drive because otherwise I am not sure we would have made it across the mountains. There were huge holes on the road as well as soft sand in some parts. The nature and scenery though was picturesque. When we finally arrived in the ghost town it really was only three rusted shacks far apart. However the feel was very different from Rhyolite as this was in the middle of nowhere and you could see the closed up mineshafts around the town. There were only very few other cars and adventurous people taking the same road (so not the common tourist road).

Continuing the drive towards Death Valley the road declined to the bottom of Titus Canyon. Actually the road was the dried up river bottom and you still could see where the water had flown earlier in the year and years ago. This trip took us the whole day and after getting out of Titus Canyon we still had over two hour drive back to Las Vegas.

 

 

USA Roadtrip #9 – Page and Lower Antelope Canyon

From Bryce Canyon we headed to Page to visit famous Antelope Canyon.

Bryce-Page map

On our way we drove through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a dirt road. We stopped to see the Grosvenor Arch (B on the map) and then followed the Cottonwood Creek (Cottonwood Canyon Road) all the way to Hwy 89. As the road was not paved I do not suggest taking it during spring floods or rain. We also had four-wheel drive which would have come in handy if the road had not been in such good shape.

The reason we came to Page on our trip was to visit the Antelope Canyons. These are narrow canyons mostly underground (not visible up above) and always require a guide to go with. They have been molded by erosion and flash flooding which still occur at times. There are two different Antelope Canyons. The upper Antelope canyons are larger and more famous (National Geographic pictures) and the lower Antelope smaller with only two tour companies taking people there.

We didn’t book guided tour in advance because wanted to be sure that the weather was good on the day we would be visiting. Well this was not a good decision and all the tours were fully booked for Upper Antelope when we checked the day before. After checking through all the companies we managed to book a photography tour for the lower canyon. Instead of normal tour we chose a photography tour because it gave us more time to take pictures inside the canyon and to use tripods. On a normal tour you just walk through the canyon with a guide. The canyon is very narrow and has steps to get in and out. There also is a continuous flow of groups passing through so in some places there will be queues to go forward. This causes also that groups are hurried forward and you cannot just stop to take photos where ever you want. We were on Ken’s tour and noticed that their guides did not tell much of the canyon but rather let people listen to the other tour company’s guides explain the history and formations (one even had a flute with and played it at some point). Next time I would choose Dixie Ellis’ tour.