Hiking in Lapland and shelters for staying overnight

On hiking trips in the Lapland nature and especially along hiking routes you will find shelters or huts to use for resting, just for some hours or even to stay over night. There are huts which hikers can use for free, and others for which a fee is charged. You can look for maps and useful information about hiking here.

IMG_2373The most common and well-known type of free, open huts are the open wilderness huts. The wilderness huts are meant for one-night stays. They are usually located in the northern and eastern parts of Finland, usually in roadless backwoods. Other open huts include day trip huts, which are not meant for staying

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overnight. Also open turf huts, or campfire sites as you also can call them, and Lappish pole tents are suitable places to stop and rest during the day, but in exceptional circumstances they can give shelter for the night, too. The shelters and huts are managed by the Metsähallitus of Finland. Near the huts and shelters there is also firewood for free use by the hikers.

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Reservable huts are locked, and a fee is charged for staying. By using reservable huts, the hiker can be sure to have somewhere to stay overnight. But then the hike must be planned in advance, and that is not always what the hikers want to do. There are of course also more equipped cottages to rent for more than one night’s stay managed by the company Wild North. 

Many extensive areas of forest and open fell are owned by the State and managed by Metsähallitus, especially in Finnish Lapland. In the south, more forests are owned by local people. Finland’s liberal laws of public access give everyone the right to roam the forests and countryside freely, no matter who owns the land.

I have spent many days in the Lappish forests and lakes and I have loved to explore different kinds of shelters. I, myself, have not yet stayed over night in any of these shelters, but I have heard other people doing it and they have loved it. In summer time of course there are the mosquitoes, gnats and horseflies bothering. That is not the case during winter, but I can think of a lot of reasons not to want to stay over night in a shelter during winter. But I could be wrong, I admit that. To be able to sleep outdoors in summer you have to use some kind of insect repellent or venom on your skin.

I have been surprised to find these shelters in so many different shapes. Some of them more architectonic with more constructions than others.

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On my trips in Lapland I have also found shelters for cooking or just eating, made of inhabitants of Lapland without any connections to the Metsähallitus and their huts and shelters.

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I must say the most fascinating hut I found was the one made of reindeer keepers long time ago for overnight stays. I felt the wind of ancient times blowing as I opened the door to the hut.

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The Arctic Circle Hiking Area for all year around use

As you drive about 20 km to the northeast along highway 4 from Rovaniemi towards Sodankylä you find the Arctic circle hiking area with Vaattunkiköngäs, Vikaköngäs and Vikajärvi. It is an area managed by Metsähallitus of Finland. It is about 36 km2 big and it is just a perfect area to visit when you long for pure nature experiences but you do not want to go away for a long time, and you want to return home in the evening. There are several marked trails suitable for day trips in the area.

Map of the surroundings of Arctic Circle Hiking AreaI visit the Vaattunkiköngäs many times a year. I want to visit it all year around in different times and enjoy at least autumn, winter and spring there. You reach the parking area for Vaattunkiköngäs as you turn right on your way towards Sodankylä approx. 20 km from Rovaniemi. There are informative signs that tell  you when to turn. Drive about 2 km from highway 4 and you will end up in a perfect parking area with information like maps and descriptions of the hiking paths starting from there. There are also toilets and waste recycling points.

IMG_7190Hiking and camping are allowed in Finland due to Everyman’s Rights, but at the Arctic circle hiking area you are recommended to camp in the vicinity of campfire sites and other rest spots. The area is mostly visited during the summer and when there is only little snow. But as the area is visited by so many people all the time I have managed to visit it also in the middle of winter because there are paths in the snow made by other visitors and they are easy to walk. In the summer and spring you can pick berries and mushrooms  here.

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My favorite time of the year for a visit at Vaattunkiköngäs is spring. During spring floods in late April and early May part of the duckboards in the area may be under water due to the melting snow. But as the snow  has melted you can safely walk the duckboards around the area.

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After starting from the parking area you first of all cross the Raudanjoki river on a hanging bridge. The river has several rapids used for rafting and kayaking. You walk along the Könkäänsaari trail of duckboards and you can stop by and read on the information boards about the surrounding nature with its birds and animals. Soon you will end up at the Könkäänsaari lean-to-shelter, where you can set a fire and fry you own sausages or just rest before you continue. Along the trails there are several rest points. There are dry toilets at each rest spot. The trail from Vaattunkiköngäs to Könkäänsaari is suited for disabled visitors during the snowfree season. The Könkäänsaari lean-to shelter has also been designed for the disabled. The trail has been classified as a demanding wheelchair route.

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IMG_2180The Arctic circle hiking area is made up of several parts which are in their natural state and very wilderness-like. On one hand there are the rapid areas of the river and on the other hand there are parts of the river with still water. In the different areas you can become acquainted with the region’s typical plant and animal species on special information boards along the trail. As the area is not situated near the road there are no disturbing noises from cars. In spring time you can enjoy the hundreds of bird species singing in the area.

In spring you can find an adorable yellow flower there. It is the Globe-flower (Kullero); a Lappish flower I did not know existed before I came to Lapland. It grows only occasionally in the south of Finland, but is very common here in Lapland in spring time.

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The Globe-flower shines like a sun and only the sight of it makes you happy.

A visit in winter time has its own specials, like campfire where you can warm your toes or fingers and fry your own sausage. The Metsähallitus provides all the lean-on-shelters with wood all year around. You can just pick from the fire-wood store and set the fire. But be careful with the fire and extinguish the fire as you leave the shelter.

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Ice-fishing expedition to the Upper North of Lapland

One of the high-lights of my every year ice-fishing period is the fishing excursion to Far North; Kilpisjärvi in Lapland. A five hours (450 km) driving along among others the Northern Light road from Rovaniemi to Kilpisjärvi is worth every minute! The experience of going fishing on a river between the Swedish and the Finnish fells in the wilderness is just outstanding!

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This year’s trip took place on April 24th to 28th. The weather was really too perfect; sun, no wind and temperature around -2 to +2 Celsius. You could not ask for better outdoor weather in April in Lapland! Use sun protection on your skin and sun glasses to protect your eyes. The sun shining from a clear blue sky on to a snow white river for several hours a day is hard. In spite of all protection I always end up with the first sun burn of the year in my face and acing eyes because of the sun shine.

Me and my friends spent five days on the ice on the river of Könkämäeno in the so called “arm” of North Finland along the Swedish border. The river was frozen with about 0,70 to 1 meter ice, except for the two rapids that were open, and the hole making definitely needed a power auger. Once the holes were opened they really did not freeze that much during the nights. It was easy to break the thin ice in the holes in the mornings with your boot.

The river Könkämäeno is the last part of a long river starting from Kilpisjärvi lake, going along the Swedish border, changing name to first Muonionjoki and at the end to Tornionjoki before it ends up in the Gulf of Bothnia near the city of Tornio. This was the 6th time I made this trip and it has always been rewarding with a lot of fish. The fish would be greyling (Thymallus thymallus), whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus), pike (Esox lucius) and occasionally also trout (Salmo trutta). This time was no exception. We ended up with three pikes, one trout and a lot of whitefish and greylings. Greyling is a typical river fish in the north of Finland and it is very frequent in Könkämäeno. I love the taste of this fish and it is also very challenging to catch! As we spoke to some local people we although got the impression they value whitefish more than greylings.

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I had a big catch of a 3,2 kg pike. The challenge of getting it on to the ice was great, but frankly, I did not want that kind of fish. It is just too big to be tasty. I valued a lot more the trout I got the same day!

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And greyling is a really tasty fish. IMG_2485

The water in Könkämäeno is so clear and clean that you can actually see the bottom of the river up to 2 meters down through the holes. The water is of course streaming as it is a river and that is another challenge when ice-fishing. The rod and line do not go straight down as usually when ice-fishing in lakes, but they follow the stream and you could have some difficulties to find out the depth of the water.

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During the day there are several different times when the fish is easier to catch and times when there seem to be no fish at all in the river. One of the times when there were no catches for a couple of hours I got inspired to have a look through the hole down into the water. And I found out there were a lot of fish and they just moved around down there without paying any attention whatsoever to my hook with the delicious larva! They actually did not have any appetite at all at that time. It was amazing looking at the swimming fish in the absolutely clear water! Even if they came near and sniffed at my bite they did not try to eat it!

During such a time of the day you just have to find other things to do. We made a log fire and fried some sausages and had coffee and sandwiches and above all: enjoyed the perfect weather. There were some Whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus) flying over looking for water to swim in. Without success, of course. We also could watch the little White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) making dives into the part of the rapids that was ice-free.

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Greyling and trout spend a lot of time in the streaming water heading towards the rapids, while the whitefish is to be found more in still waters. Along the river, between the rapids,  there are both streaming water and also the stream pool. A stream pool, is a stretch of a river or stream in which the water depth is above average and the water speed is quite below average. We were fishing in both of these areas. The 1,5 kg trout I caught was to be found in the area where the stream pool changes into streaming water. This time we had difficulties to find out where the whitefish were. From earlier years we knew about a few places where they had been found. But this year we ended up with three pikes from that area. I do not know, but had the pikes frightened away all the whitefish? We never really found out where the whitefish had gone.

The time we spent sitting on the ice varied from 6 to 12 hours per day. People, who do not understand the philosophy of ice-fishing could ask me: “What is the use of sitting for hours staring at a hole in the ice?!” I could only answer: “There is no use whatsoever!” But to spend time wondering about life and its opportunities and enjoying the nature around you. There is always the possibility to catch something to eat, of course. I can promise you the fish in Lapland is really delicious!  It is also challenging to always be alert if there is a catch and not least, the challenge of getting a really big fish up through the hole in the ice without breaking the hook or the line. Sometimes it happens the fish releases itself before you get it on to the ice, and the feeling of disappointment is always a fact. But that disappointment you soon forget as you get a new catch!

 

Winter Net Fishing in Lapland

In winter time as the ice is thick on rivers and lakes in Lapland, the Lapish people want to go fishing anyway. Besides ice-fishing done through a little hole in the ice with a short rod, there is also the winter net fishing. As I learned during my time in Lapland: Fishing is the only necessary.

The fishermen spread the nets under the ice at an early stage of the winter, as soon as it is possible to walk on the ice, preferably already in November. Of course it is also possible to put the nets at a later time of the winter, but as the ice is then probably a lot thicker, that demands a lot of efforts to saw through the ice to get the holes required for the net fishing.

This is a picture I found on the Internet. With this I try to explain how the net is supposed to be spread between two holes in the ice. The net is not supposed to float near the surface as it then will freeze to the ice and it is after that not movable. You net to get it sink at least 1 meter down from the surface by using weights of some kind.

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This is the hardest part of the winter net fishing. You make two holes at approx. 60 meters from each other and then you have to get a line between those two holes. To me that seemed absolutely impossible. I even imagined someone to go diving in between these holes with the line….Then I got it explained to me. There is an equipment called “uittolautta” in Finnish, that in an absolutely amazing way searches its way from one hole to another as the fisherman pulls the rope attached to this uittolautta. This procedure will never stop to amaze me. Here is a picture of a “uittolautta” and also a picture of all kinds of equipment you need when spreading the nets under the ice.

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You can put several nets in a row under the ice. You just continue from one hole to the next with help of this uittolautta.

When checking on the nets after they have been in the water for some days, you start by opening the hole in the end of the net and attach a rope to that end. Then you open the hole in the beginning of the net and start to pull out the net and loose the fish, if there are any. After checking the first net, you have to pull it back in place by the 60 meters long rope.

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Winter net fishing could be a very cold experience, at least for your hands as you have to deal with wet nets and fish. During the sunny days of April this is not such a big problem as during windy, ice-cold days earlier in the winter when the nets freeze before you put them back into the water. The nets should be checked on at least once a week during the season to get fresh fish, in spite of any weather conditions. There could occur all kinds of problems. But the reward is of course always the fish. Mostly you get IMG_8899pike or perch on winter net fishing, but also salmon and pike-perch is possible to get, and also this ugly, but delicious fish, living on the bottom of the lake is a good catch; burbot.

There are several possibilities also for tourists to take part in winter net fishing at several different places and tourist villages in Lapland.

 

 

 

Snowmobile safaris for beginners

As you visit Lapland and Rovaniemi you can see them everywhere. The snowmobiles. Would not that be nice to test? A snowmobile ride is easy to attend even for beginners. You have to have a driver’s licence for cars, though. You just join one of the guided tours sold by the safari companies in Rovaniemi or in other places in Lapland. One of the biggest is Lapland safaris. Others are Safartica and Arctic circle snowmobile park. They all arrange unforgettable snowmobile safaris during the winter, both for beginners but also for more adventurous and experienced customers. You can choose just a snowmobile ride, but it is also nice to visit a reindeer farm or a husky farm or even go on a guided ice-fishing safari to a wilderness lake. IMG_0491

Snowmobiles are manufactured in Rovaniemi, by the BRP Finland Oy company. Two snowmobile brands manufactured in Rovaniemi are Lynx and SkiDoo.

 

 

The safaris I have attended have started from the shore of the frozen river Kemijoki in the city center of Rovaniemi. Once I went on a safari by snowmobile to a reindeer farm and once by snowmobile on an ice-fishing trip.

The first thing (after booking and paying, of course) is to get the suitable outfits. You actually do not need any of your own, just come as you are, and the safari company provides you with everything needed to keep you warm and safe on a snowmobile safari. There are dresses, boots, gloves, balaclavas, socks and scarves for every size and on top of everything you get a helmet to protect you from head damages in case something goes wrong.

IMG_5160After that the group (2-15 persons) gathers outside the safari company and you get the first look at the huge snowmobile parking of hundreds of snowmobiles. The tour guide presents himself (or herself) and after that the training begins. The guide sorts out who is the beginner and who has done snowmobiling before. You have either ordered a trip with an own snowmobile or you have chosen to share it with someone. You can sit two persons on one snowmobile. You will get to know the important hand signs that are used during the trip for slowing down, stopping and continuing again. There will be one guide in the lead and one guide follows in the end of the row. They start up the engines of the snowmobiles and the safari can start.

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In the beginning the snowmobiles move slowly out on the ice of the river Kemijoki and out there on the ice, the guide starts speeding up a bit. He follows up how the group joins him and takes care of the beginners. It is really not hard to drive a snowmobile even if it is your first time. After a while the tour guide makes the row of snowmobiles slow down and stop. Just to check everyone is ok and everything works as supposed. There is also the possibility to switch driver if you are two on one snowmobile.

An ice fishing safari goes to a wilderness lake. The safari heads north on a marked snowmobile trail that takes you along the frozen river Ounasjoki and through snowy forests up into the hills, where you can admire the beautiful surrounding countryside of Lapland. You follow the trail through white, snow-covered fields and finally arrive at a small wilderness lake.

IMG_5176On the ice-fishing safari the tour guide has all the equipment needed and he guides you how to make your hole and start fishing. Catch is not guaranteed, but most likely for patient fishermen. Anyway you can enjoy the wilderness and the beautiful nature around you.

 

 

A reindeer farm safari goes south from the center of Rovaniemi, following official snowmobile trails, via a couple of small lakes and through the forest to the farm.

After a safe and nice trip you will arrive to the goal. On a reindeer farm you will meet the owner and he or she will tell you about the reindeer and you can go on a short reindeer drive.

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The safaris also includes warm beverages by the fireplace and also possibilities to fry your sausages or eat a sandwich. You can even prepare the catch by the open fire. Some customers prefer to bring their caught fish to their hotel and have it prepared in the hotel kitchen for dinner.

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The return to Rovaniemi is usually a faster ride, as the customers have learned how to ride the snowmobile and many of course also want to test and speed it up a bit. On the open ice of the river there is safe to speed it up, but through the forest you better follow the tour guide’s advice and he knows how to ride safe there.

 

 

Ice-fishing basics

I have spent the last 4 days ice-fishing and it inspired me to share some ice-fishing experiences with you. I, myself, started this hobby only 6 years ago and on my first ice-fishing expedition I caught a big pike. That was pure beginner’s luck, but it inspired me to continue doing this.

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Ice-fishing is free all over Finland; you do not need any license. Ice-fishing is possible in Lapland for several months during winter time. In the beginning of the winter you have to keep your eyes open for how thick the ice is. It should absolutely be at least 5 cm thick before you can enter it safely. Remember to bring your ice-picks. The thicker ice, the better, of course. To start ice-fishing in November is possible, but on the other hand the day light in Lapland in November does not last for more than a few hours and the temperature could also be too could for you to spend several hours on the ice just sitting and waiting to get some fish.

In March and April is the optimal time to go ice-fishing in Lapland. The days are long and very often the sun is shining on the white snow from an absolutely clear blue sky. The ice is also very thick and it is absolutely safe to move around on the ice even by a snowmobile.

It is good to know the places on a lake where the fish usually go, before you start drilling your holes. Try to ask someone local well acquainted with the lake, if possible. If that is not possible, you just have to trust your own intuitions on where the possibilities to get fish are the best. The depth of the water should be from 1 – 5 meters.

The first you have to make is the hole. There are special ice augers to drill with. There are the hand worked augers but it is not very easy to do a hole by hand in an ice about 90 cm – 1 m thick. You need a lot of strength and you will get very exhausted before you are done. It is better to work the hole with a power auger. This kind of drill is of course expensive to buy and also very heavy to move, but you will get perfect holes in a short time and after that you can fully concentrate on the fishing. You will also want to bring a strainer to remove the ice that forms in the hole that you cut.

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The fishing equipment you need is a rod with some kind of line with hooks or lures. There are probably thousands of opinions of what kind of line and what kind of hook you should use, but I must say, I have never really understood that. You get fish when there is fish and the fish is willing to eat. There are also periods when it is almost impossible to get any fish, depending on the unwillingness of the fish to attack the bait. But on a period like that no-one gets fish and it is no different what kind of hook you use. During periods when the fish is active and keen on attacking moving baits you easily get fish of all kinds of sorts and sizes. Fishing equipment and fresh baits can be bought from special fishing equipment stores but also from the fishing department in a department store. From this book, “Ice-fishing tips” you can probably find useful information of how to get more fish on ice-fishing.

As you have made the hole and you have loaded your hook with some kind of bait; usually red flies’ worms, you sit down on something you have brought with you to sit on and you send the hook down into the hole until you realize it has hit the bottom of the sea. From that you lift it up about 30-40 cm:s. That is where the fish usually is. Then you just start moving your rod up and down in different ways and wait. The waiting could be very short, but it could also last for a long time. During waiting time you have the chance to look at the surroundings and enjoy the weather and have a sun bath for your face. I sometimes use the waiting time listening to language courses on my mp3-player in my ear. Sometimes I listen to the radio on my Nokia 700 and sometimes I listen to music, but mostly I enjoy the absolute quietness of the nature around me. I prefer fishing when there is also waiting time to calm down and gather your thoughts in between the catches. It must not be too easy, that would be no challenges!

The feeling when you feel the movement around or on your hook from a fish down there in the water under the ice, is very exciting. Then the challenge of getting the fish all the way up on the ice starts. Sometimes it happens the fish struggles so much that it releases itself and can return down to the freedom. Sometimes you have caught such a big fish and by mistake your line or your hook or lures break. You learn from your mistakes and little by little you learn more and more how to manage.

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By ice-fishing nothing is really normal. Every time is different. That is one of the biggest challenges of this hobby. You can never tell as you enter the ice how the fishing is going to turn out, and I find that very challenging. I do not like things to be too predictable. One very important thing is that  you have warm clothes; it is really not nice to be freezing while sitting on the ice. And one of the highlights of a fishing expedition is the well deserved break by a fireplace, laavu, near by where you can make your coffee or tea and fry your sausages and even meet up with other fishermen or -women and listen to their fishing stories and perhaps learn some new tricks.

 

Here I want to show you pictures of some of my catches during these last 6 years. There are whitefish, grappling (harjus), salmon and perches:

 

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Hiking in Korouoma canyon in Lapland

Korouoma is about 30 kilometers (20 mi) long, few hundred metres wide and up to 130 m (430 ft) deep canyon at Posio about 200 km east from Rovaniemi. The entire area is natural reserve. At the bottom of the canyon there is the very narrow Korojoki River, which ends up to Kemijoki river, which is also running through Rovaniemi. Kemijoki river makes a great impact on the Lappish nature as it flows through different places on its way out to the sea near Kemi city. Korouoma offers great opportunities for hiking and enjoying the nature.

Korouoma is a fairly popular hiking area. There is a marked hiking path at the bottom of the Korouoma and several fireplaces, huts and cabins. Finnish Administration of Forests takes care of the routes and hiking related infrastructure there. Korouoma with its steep cliffs and the frozen pouring water is also the best place in Finland to do ice climbing, and also climbing in the summer is popular.

As I made a hiking trip together with a good friend we only made a part of the 30 kilometers but the nature was outstanding. In ancient times there has been a kind of earth quake that has formed the place to a canyon with steep cliffs on both sides. There is said to be some bears’ dens, too. I am glad we did not meet any bears.

We partly walked along the Korojoki river but we also took the over 100 steps of a stair leading up to the top of the cliff; a condition testing achievement. It was much easier to walk down again. We stopped at a fireplace, i.e. a hootchie or laavu, and had our break before we returned to the parking where our car was waiting. I dream of the day I can make the whole Korouoma hiking, 30 km. Here you find more hiking routes in Lapland and other places in Finland. .

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Out in the nature just outside the Rovaniemi city center

After I had explored the city center of Rovaniemi with its amazing city plan formed like a reindeer’s head and after I had visited the big amount of different memorial stones in parks all over the city, I took the Lumber jack bridge over to the Ounasvaara hillside. Ounasvaara is a hill about 200 m high above the sea. Up on the hill there is an enormous amount of possibilities to enjoy the nature and stay outdoor during all seasons of the year.

The sport center Santasport up on the hill of Ounasvaara, near the arena for ice hockey among other sports and exhibitions, is definitely the best provider if you are interested in getting a more throughout experience of indoor sports in Rovaniemi. On the other side of Ounasvaara, on the northern side, is the Ounasvaara ski center you can go downhill skiing or cross country skiing. You can also take part in ski schools and rent equipment. On the home page of Ounasvaara ski center you find a good map of the slopes and also about the tracks all over Ounasvaara.

In summer and autumn there are hiking paths that take you around the hill with stops on lovely little fireplaces or cooking shelters, in Finland called laavus, hootchies, where you can fry your own sausage and have a lovely break in the sun. You always find wooden logs by these fireplaces to use to make your own log fire, you do not have to bring your own. It is also quite possible that someone already has made the fire as you arrive. The nature of Ounasvaara is very frequently used by the inhabitants of Rovaniemi but also by all the exchange students that arrive to the University of Lapland to study. The nature path of Ounasvaara also provides you with information about the ice age and its impacts on this hill on information stands along the route. You can also visit the upper side of the downhill slopes and have a marvellous view over the city of Rovaniemi.

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In winter time there are well prepared tracks, partly with lights and partly without lights, to go skiing all over Ounasvaara. The perceptions for the ski season start usually already in October, when stored snow is spread in the forest to form a shorter ski track to begin with. The most enthusiastic skiers start the season with that. Then after some weeks of natural snow falls the main track building starts. You can now go skiing and stop by on cooking shades, laavus, to fry your sausage or just have a break. On Ounasvaara there are three different shades for breaks. By one of the laavus you can also climb up in a view tower and take a look over Kemijoki and the city center. Astonning! During your excursion on skis on Ounasvaara you will probably meet all kinds of people, as well the sport enthusiasts of Rovaniemi as the untrained tourist trying out the cross country skiing for the first time in his life. You can probably also meet people on snow shoes, mostly tourist groups, strolling around in the forest outside the tracks. On a sunny winter day with all white snow around you there is no doubt: this is absolutely the most beautiful you can experience in the Lapish winter time! At the laavu you can have the chance to meet some friendly birds searching for some left overs from the visitors’ breaks. The Lapish birds are very tame up here, because they are used to people and the fact that they could catch something to eat from here. Some inhabitant brings some seeds for the birds on his daily ski trip here.

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People in Rovaniemi are very keen on going skiing, so they also use the huge river to go skiing on the ice. You can also find laavus along the riverside on several places near the city center of Rovaniemi. Look at the photo! Tempting or what?! Just get your skis and start. If you do not happen to have your own skis, there is possibilities to rent ski sets at the Ounasvaara ski center; both for downhill skiing as for cross country skiing and also snow shoes.

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