Eight seasons for eight activities in Lapland
While the Nordic countries mostly enjoy four seasons, Finnish Lapland is described with eight seasons. Here’s your outdoorsy guide to making the most of every season!
1. Get rocky
The height of summer in Lapland is a unique time when the sun never drops below the horizon. There is a sense of freedom under the midnight sun, to go whenever, wherever, and to follow the adventure as far as it takes you. Even though it is summer, there are typically only a handful of days that are hot (25-28 degrees Celsius).
Much of Lapland is covered with rocky terrain, with cliffs and boulders just waiting to be explored. Summer is the season for climbing, and the city of Rovaniemi is a great place to start. There are great bouldering spots within 20 minutes of the city, and sport climbing cliffs within one hour’s drive. This hidden cliff of Rastilampi is quiet, and close by. You’ll be in the middle of serene, wild nature!
The climbing community around Rovaniemi makes it easy to find out what you need to know and where to go at ‘Rovaniemen Vuoristoklubi’ on Facebook. Find out more about climbing locations at 27crags.com.
2. Kayaking away
Late summer in Lapland always feels like autumn is constantly only a breath away. Days are starting to shorten, and the weather is becoming less predictable. It is a time for harvest and the forests and marshes are now full of blueberries, cloudberries, and more, so getting off the beaten track can reward you with untouched fields of these seasonal delights.
Lake Inari provides an opportunity to feel the peace of the wilderness and some adventure on the water. Inari, the largest lake in Lapland, hosts more than 3,000 islands to explore. Visitors can rent kayaks in the town of Inari or in the village of Nellim, which is a popular spot for kayakers to embark on adventures. Nellim is only a few kilometres from the Russian border.
The further you head north, the more remote it gets towards the Vätsäri wilderness area (which contains no roads and very few cabins or inhabitants). Late summer provides long, bright days to explore by, but preparations should always be taken against the rapidly changing weather and conditions on the water.
3. Hiking haven
In autumn, the Lapp landscape comes alive in a mosaic of burnt orange, crimson, and golden yellow, known in Finnish as ‘ruska.’ It is a time of transition and preparation as nature readies for winter. In these few fleeting weeks in September while the fells and forests become their most colourful, there is a consistent crispness in the air, evenings become much cooler, and it is time to bring out the thick wool socks again.
Autumn is peak hiking time. Many of Finland’s best-known treks traverse the Lapland wilderness. The town of Kilpisjärvi, on the northwestern-most tip of Finland, is surrounded by hiking options, ranging from a few hours to a few days. The village’s hiking centre is the embarkation point for numerous popular treks. A favourite is a 7.5 km loop to the Saana fell, which overlooks the town and the lake, as well as Swedish and Norwegian fells beyond. The trail to Finland’s highest point, Halti, also leaves from here taking 5–6 days, covering 45 kilometres of wilderness, scree, and boulders. (Halti is ideally attempted in late July when temperatures are mildest).
4. Aurora chasing
Winter is a long and constantly evolving season, covering five of the eight Lappi seasons, where conditions of the snow are tell-tale signs of subtle shifts. The first snow falls are normally in October and signal the beginning of the best time for viewing the northern lights (Aurora Borealis). The further north you are, the more frequent the northern lights are (almost every night in some locations). In Rovaniemi, in late October, if the sky is clear, your chances are pretty good to see them.
Things to keep in mind as you chase this wonder in the sky: firstly, you can sign up for email alerts that will inform you of the likelihood of auroras. Second, you don’t have to travel far from the city lights for the best view of this wonder in the sky, and last, bring along some hot chocolate!
5. Ski touring
With the sun only up a short while each day in midwinter here, there is enough to inspire you to earn a few more turns! It is the time of frosty snow and some of the coldest temperatures.
Lapland’s fells often possess both broad and gentle slopes and are often outdoor-sports hubs throughout the year. At Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park (an hour’s drive from the town of Kittilä), all forms of skiing are possible. Increasingly one of the most popular for locals and visitors is ski touring, which is done off-piste and away from ski resorts or the aid of lifts. The vast, rolling topography and the drifting snow of untouched couloirs are ideal for creating your own track up and down the hill.
6. Fat biking
Early spring in Lapland still feels very much like winter, except for the first signs of awakening. The temperature is beginning to rise, bringing longer days and snow conditions more conducive to winter trail activities.
Fat biking is done with specialised mountain bikes with oversized tires made for winter and wilderness trails is becoming a hugely popular way to explore. Early spring’s crusty snow allows riders to traverse established trails and explore snow-covered fells in a whole new way. Getting started is easy as Lapland ski resorts including Levi, Pyhä, and Ylläs (with over 50 km of winter mountain biking trails recently opened) offer fat bike rentals and guided trips through the wilderness.
7. Ice climbing
Polar night is a phenomenon that only occurs within the polar circles, describing a time when the sun does not rise above the horizon. In the northern-most villages, the sun is not seen for 50 days. While there is light, it is quite dim, lifting only shades of purple and blue for a few hours in a day.
It is also the coldest time of year, setting the stage for the best season of ice climbing. Finland’s most popular and iconic ice climbing location is Korouoma. This 30-kilometre-long fracture valley has at its centre a deep gorge, which is a natural wonder and tourist attraction in itself. Its climbing routes are long (up to 60 m) and varied, with the additional opportunity for mixed climbing on the rock face with ice axes and crampons.
While cold and dark, with a headlamp, some warm gear and morning motivation, the views will not disappoint.
Life resumes as green returns to the landscape and winter’s grip is loosened. Migrating birds are flocking back and their calls announce this much-anticipated time.
The wide-open fells and taiga of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is the backdrop for some of the best birdwatching in Finland. Unrivalled views are available from atop the many birdwatching towers in the area, as well as along the classic hiking trails within the park. At this time of year there are few mosquitos and other visitors.
Perhaps the most interesting birds in the area are the owls. Up to ten different species of owl nest in Finland, many of them not seen in other parts of Europe. The hawk owl is a rare example that is active during the day, offering more photo opportunities.
Text Matt Mitchell
Photos Kuutti Heikkilä