WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT KILPISJÄRVI – 10 TIPS FROM A LOCAL’S POINT OF VIEW!
I first came to Kilpisjärvi in the summer of 2015. Oddly enough, having lived less than three hours’ drive away I had no idea that such a beautiful place existed so close to my home. I remember driving here on a hot summer’s day when suddenly these snow-covered mountain tops emerged, then the beautiful crystal-clear lake Kilpisjärvi and finally the distinctive profile of fell Saana. I couldn’t believe my eyes; it was so different from anywhere else I’ve been to. It was love at first sight!
I and my two dogs finally moved to Kilpisjärvi three years ago and I am now one of the about 150 lucky ones who can call Kilpisjärvi their home. I and the girls aren’t what you could call true hikers nor do we go on extreme tenting trips during the arctic winter. We enjoy our surrounding nature mostly by just taking long walks and wondering the constantly changing seasons. Every now and then we find a new waterfall, creek, or a fell and this is what gives us the most pleasure.
Tips for planning your trip to Kilpisjärvi
Here are my tips for you whether you are only planning your trip to Kilpisjärvi or just booked a holiday for next autumn. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that the world will soon win the fight against the pandemic. If you ever see me and the dogs having a lunch break on a fell top, please stop for a chat – we would absolutely love to hear about your experiences!
1. BEST TIME TO VISIT SAANA FELL IS DURING NIGHTLESS NIGHT
Fell Saana is one of the most popular nature destinations in Finland. Last summer all previous records were broken when more than 30 000 people hiked on top of Saana. No wonder, it really is a beautiful mountain with awesome views to three countries. Saana is also the only over 1000-meter-high top in Finland that is fairly accessible to people of different fitness levels all year round. There are stairs along the way that were built to help you through the steepest part of the climb. In the peak season (mid-June to mid-August) you can actually see a line of people walking on these famous stairs. I personally prefer it quieter and this is one reason why I love to visit Saana around midnight. During summer months, June and July, the Sun does not set at all which makes that period perfect for late night outings. So, my advice for you is: hike on top of Saana during midnight sun; from late evening to early morning. There is something so magical in the soft and dreamy midnight’s light, bluethroats singing in the birch trees and glacier buttercups swinging in the wind. Oh dear, now I started to long for the summer again!
2. HOW TO FIND THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BOAT IN FINLAND!
There is a boat on the shores of lake Tsahkaljärvi. This boat is old and rickety, and the last time someone has rowed the boat must have been before the Internet. Still, there is something so appealing about this boat, that you really should start calling it THE boat. If you follow the hashtag Kilpisjärvi on Instagram, you will quickly find out what I am talking about. This wreck of an old rowing boat has inspired hundreds of photos with itself on the foreground and fell Saana reflecting on the clear waters in the back. So, if you now feel like you have to get your own immortal shot of THE boat, lemme tell ya how! First, you start by leaving your car on the parking area of Kilpisjärvi Visitor Centre. Then you follow the marked trail up to lake Tsahkaljärvi, about 1 kilometre. After you have reached the lake, start following the lake’s southern shoreline which is directly on the opposite side of the lake compared to fell Saana. After about 10 minutes’ walk along the shore, you should now be able to have a visual on THE boat. Snap away!
3. BRIGHTEST COLOURS COME WITH THE POLAR NIGHT
Polar night is so much more than a dark, sunless period of time! True, we don’t see the sun for 7 weeks and also true, we really start to miss it at some point. But it’s also a fact that this is the time of skies turning into crazy pastel pinks, of silver pearly clouds and of the brightest northern lights. Because of the snow, it never actually even gets dark. Snow reflects light even on the darkest nights, and just think what happens during full moon! The forest turns into a sparkling field of diamonds. So, if you are spending a longer time in Kilpisjärvi during the polar night, don’t be scared – eat your vitamin Ds and embrace the colours!
4. VISIT THREE GREAT NORDIC COUNTRIES WITHIN 10 SECONDS
Flying and travelling around the world are not as cool as they used to be. Don’t worry, we in Kilpisjärvi are ahead of time in this one too. At the northern end of lake Kilpisjärvi starts a 3-kilometer trail that takes you to the Three-Country Cairn. The Cairn itself is in the middle of water, but a wooden construction has been built around it. This makes it possible for you to go around the Cairn freely, without passports or border controls, and visit Sweden, Norway and Finland within 10 seconds or maybe even faster, I haven’t clocked it. There you go, two more pins to your map of the world!
5. WHERE TO ENJOY A WARM LUNCH BREAK ON A CHILLY DAY?
Are you visiting Kilpisjärvi during the wintertime? Here is a great one-day activity for you! Rent yourself some snowshoes, touring skis or a snowmobile and visit the Saanajärvi hut. The distance to the hut is about 3,5 kilometres one way, when starting from the K-market at the village centre. Saanajärvi is a lake just behind fell Saana and the hut is located on the lake’s southern shoreline. The hut is open for everyone to use and firewood is also provided. Make sure to pack some warm clothes with you to keep you from not getting cold. It will take some time to build the fire and heat up the kota. (right, remember matches!) Imagination is the limit on what you can cook on the open fire, but as a dessert I urge you to try some chocolate baked bananas! Almost the whole way back to the village centre is downhill and it shouldn’t take you too long, especially if you’re on skis. Enjoy the ride!
6. EXPLORE THE ENDLESS SNOW FIELDS & GO OUTSIDE THE MARKED TRAILS
Everywhere in Lapland people love to go cross-country skiing on maintained routes. This is also possible in Kilpisjärvi, but you are truly missing out if you don’t go exploring the world outside the trails. For this you will need a pair of touring skis, which can be rented from Kilpisjärvi. If you feel unsure of your skills it is a great idea to hire a guide as well. Like many Kilpisjärvi experiences, it is so hard to describe the feeling you get gliding on the vast never ending snowy hills and the sunshine reflecting from all around. It is absolutely beautiful, especially the wilderness area can look like from another planet! Late-March to May is the best season for skiing in Kilpisjärvi, but there is something magical also about skiing under the northern lights in December.
7. TAKE YOUR TIME WHEN VISITING MALLA STRICT NATURE PARK
Malla strict nature park is the oldest protected nature area in Finland. As soon as lake Kilpisjärvi is free from its ice cover, usually around mid-June, the boat Malla starts taking people to Koltalahti three times a day. From Koltalahti you can start a 15 kilometre walk back to Kilpisjärven Retkeilykeskus. This walk is absolutely amazing! The scenery is similar to the moors of Scotland and you can feel like you are walking into a set of Game of Thrones. Remember that you are not allowed to wander off the marked trail that goes through the park. Take some proper picnic lunch with you, hot drinks and warm clothes and don’t hurry. Enjoy walking slowly and taking in the views. Great place for a lunch break is at the Kitsiputous. Kitsiputous is a waterfall that forms the longest series of waterfalls in Finland!
8. AUTUMN COLOURS IN KILPISJÄRVI ARE OUT OF THIS WORLD!
There are too great benefits with Kilpisjärvi not having any conifer trees. One: it is nearly impossible to get lost on a clear day because you can see miles ahead and two: all the trees we do have change colour in the autumn time. Best time to come and enjoy this magnificent colour show are the two weeks in the middle of September.
9. WHERE TO FIND THE COOLEST CAMPSITE FOR TENTS
This secret camping place is actually on the other side of the border, in Norway! And here come the driving instructions: 150 meters after the border between Finland and Norway, turn right. And notice that I am talking about the border, which is marked pretty clearly, not the customs station. Follow the road down to a lake or leave your car at the start of the road and walk. It is only a few hundred meters, but if you have a four-wheel drive, go ahead. Around this beautiful lake Galggujärvi you will find many secluded little beaches where you can set up your tent. If you are brave, go for a swim! At its warmest, the water is about 10-15 degrees Celsius. If you do decide to tent here, please remember that we are in the middle of very fragile arctic nature and you have to camp responsibly – do not leave a trace!
10. VISIT MY FAVOURITE PLACE IN KILPISJÄRVI
Every dog owner has that one place they keep going back to again and again. It is usually a place your dogs enjoy the most, where you yourself can find something new every time and it is easily accessible. For us, this place is a fell called Leutsuvaara. The starting point for this trail is 10 kilometres south from Kilpisjärvi, at a place that happens to be the highest point on Finnish roads, 565 meters above sea level. The trail is not marked, but in the summertime it is clearly visible all the way to the top. The views towards Pältsa mountain in Sweden and to Saana are breath-taking! Often you can see a big rough-legged hawk flying in the skies and in May it is always on these hills we can find the first alpine azaleas blooming after the long winter.
Texts and Images By Suvi Mansikkasalo