Oulanka National Park Finland
How many surprising (and interesting) random things did I find out when visiting the northern part of Finland? Ten! I visited the Ruka-Kuusamo area in the summer at the invitation of the Visit Finland tourism board to experience what “Europe’s last great wilderness” had to offer. I had an amazing
time trying out bear viewing, wild water rafting, canoeing, horse riding and hiking with huskies among other activities. You can find out more at my page of videos, articles and photographs at tipsfortravellers.com/Finland – but before you do that here is an eclectic collection of things I found out that I found fascinating, interesting or surprising:
I flew into Kuusamo with Finnair from Helsinki. They fly in daily in summer and more often in winter. There are also direct charter flights in the winter from places like London, Manchester, Belgium and Holland.
Husky in Oulanka National Park Finland
10 things you should know about Finland’s Great Wilderness region
- Russian Border. The Ruka-Kuusmao region is close to the border with Russia. We stayed 3km from the Russian border which is marked on the Finnish side with blue and white poles and on the Russian side with red and green ones. However, the nearest official border crossings are 100km away. Most of the buildings and developments in the region are post the Second World War as the area was occupied and devastated during the hostilities.
- Long snow season. It has 200 days of snow cover a year and it is over one metre deep in peak of winter. It has the longest non-glacier ski season in the world that runs from October to May.
- Midnight Sun. In the middle of summer, around July, it experiences “midnight sun” with almost no darkness. When I was there in mid August we had a 5am sun rise and sun set around 9pm. In winter although it is dark all the locals told me that most of the day seems brighter due to reflections off the pristine snow.
- One Million Visitors. The region has attracted tourists for over 150 years when Finnish artists travelled by horse over weeks to stay here to capture, and be inspired, by the scenery. Now this region gets over one million visitors a year and has 150 tourist providers and over 40,000 beds. These used to be mostly Russian but after their financial crisis, travellers are now likely to be French, Dutch and English. Asian visitors are growing. The peak season is during winter when people come to take part in, or watch, winter sports like skiing. Summer is becoming more popular as they focus on offering travellers the chance to see wildlife, such as bear viewing, and take part in active adventure activities like hiking with huskies, canoeing and white water rafting in the Oulanka National Park. Horse riding and mountain bike trails and safaris are also available.
- Northern Lights. You are often likely to see the Northern Lights. Although it is not one of the prime locations.
- Bears. There are an estimated 200 Brown Bears, who avoid humans and so travellers can safely hike and camp. It is possible to buy licenses to shoot bears during the season but numbers are limited and you have to be member of recognised gun clubs. Licences are surprisingly cheap (10 euros and 100 if you kill one). You can go bear viewing in special viewing huts with holes to poke cameras out of. Food is laid out to attract them and has been for decades. This means they guarantee a 99% chance of seeing them. When I went I saw ten bears, including a mother and two cubs. Watch my video of bear viewing.
- Reindeers are not wild. They are owned by farmers and have collars to show who they belong to. In summer they are left to wander about freely and so you come across them in the wild. They are farmed for meat and their pelts. The locals are disinterested in them – a bit like we are of sheep or cows.
- Huskies. Whilst hiking with huskies in Oulanka National Park I discovered that the main activity is in winter when you can go for short rides through to 5-day trip including accommodation and food. You have your own your husky-pulled sleigh. In the five days you cover over 150km and it costs about 1700 euros. I was amazed to find out that huskies can pull twice their body weight, go at a speed of up to 50kph and can cover up to 100 km in one day. They start work from about 10 months of age and keep going until about 10 years old. It is believed they have worked like this as a breed for over 9000 years as archeological findings dating back this far seem to prove they used even then.
- Sauna. Having a sauna is an essential part of Finnish culture. It is a social activity and most Finnish homes and apartments block will have one. It is eve possible to go on a Sauna tour in the region. There are six included on the tour including Pyhapiilo Sauna which I visited.
- The Wild Food movement is big and growing. It is not organic as that means the crops and animals have been farmed and cultivated. Wild Food means it is harvested from the environment and wild. The Finnish people are natural and well-being focused.
Ruka Kuusamo Bears Finland
I was very taken with the region and the mix of beauty, attitudes to nature and the activities available to do in summer. I now want to go back and experience it in winter went it transforms into a white land of fluffy clear white snow. From the images it looks magical. However, if you are looking for somewhere that is still undiscovered and different to visit then I can recommend going in summer. Especially if you like active pursuits.
In this video I made I show you the activities available to do in summer:
Get more of my tips about Finland on my Tips For Travellers Finland page
Note: I travelled to the Ruka-Kuusamo region of Finland as a guest of Visit Finland. Visit the Visit Finland website for more on what the country has to offer.
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