September is said to be one of the best months to explore the Finnish Lapland. All the million mosquitoes that are torturing hikers and campers throughout the summer months have finally gone to winter sleep, the famous "ruska" (autumn colors where the leaves are turning red, orange and yellow) has started, and the temperatures are still pleasant for camping, hiking and other outdoor activities - and most importantly, it's dark enough to see the northern lights dancing on the autumn sky!
It was a sunny morning in September when we packed the car and started our trip up north from Turku in the south of Finland. We were well equipped with lots of food from Lidl, a portable gas kitchen, sleeping bags, warm clothes and a thick inflatable mattress (which wasn't very smart to bring, it turned out later...). Our first destination was 4 hours up north to Vaasa.
That feeling when you start driving and you know you have the whole road trip ahead of you; a mix of freedom and excitement and maybe a tiny bit of nervousness (I hadn't been driving much during the last years). We stopped by the famous beach Yyteri outside Pori on the way and despite the cold wind it was nice to walk along the beach. We were the only ones as far as we could see, and we already started feeling the rough empty wilderness that was waiting for us the further up north we would get.
After the first night in Vaasa, we continued another 4-5 hours north towards Oulu, where we were supposed to do Couchsurfing, but the guy cancelled last minute. It was late, almost dark and cold - and now the tent was our only option. We had found an online map called Tulikartta (check it out here!) over all the small huts and shelters in Finland were you could sleep for free, and decided to drive to a "laavu" (shelter) not too far away, to at least put up our tent by a fireplace. We found the laavu and met another guy and his dog who had already lit a fire in the fireplace. We joined him by the fireplace and tried to start a conversation, but as always with Finns it's not the easiest thing to do. He grilled his "makkara" (grill sausages) and drank his beers, and didn't say much. I tried to use the poor Finnish I speak but realized that as many "real" Finns, this guy probably just wanted to be quiet alone in the peaceful forest.
We managed to put up our tent inside the shelter which gave me a false feeling of safety and warmth. We survived the first night in the tent, although I woke up half frozen.
The next day we continued up north towards Kilpisjärvi, where Finland, Sweden and Norway meet. We stopped one night by Pallas-Yllästunturin national park and managed to find an actual hut - an "autiotupa" - where we could sleep for free. Although we had to hike through thick forest to reach to the hidden hut, it felt luxury once we got there - a whole hut for ourselves! We lit a fire in the fire stove and soon the hut was nicely warm too. We could even cook on the small stove. These free huts are definitely one of the peaks with traveling in Finland. This night we didn't have to freeze - during the night the hut turned into a sauna since the stove was a bit too effective, and the next morning we used to opportunity and went for a swim in the nearby lake. Well, at least I dipped my toes...
We had time to do a long and beautiful hike through the national park before the weather changed completely and it started snowing. We continued driving up north where the climate was winter - and we only had summer tires on the car. The nature just got more and more stunning though, and once we finally reach Kilpisjärvi we were surrounded by the real Lappland: the wilderness, freedom and rough but beautiful nature. We did a small hike but didn't make it all the way to the peak - Kilpisjärvi. The woman in the info center recommended us another hike instead, which truly was beautiful.
While driving up north through Finland, there will be frequent nature centers where you can stop and ask for recommendations or free huts to stay in. My Finnish languages skills were barely enough to communicate with the information desk ladies but somehow we managed - and surprisingly quite many of them spoke decent English.
In the night we found another "autiotupa" (free hut) to sleep in, fairly close to the road. We could drive quite close but had to hike with all our inconvenient camping equipment for a few kilometers and felt a bit embarrassed when we met experienced hikers staring at us. This time we didn't get the hut all for ourselves, it was already occupied by 3 women - but luckily they were welcoming and offered us to squeeze together and sleep there as well. It was a bit embarrassing to inflate our huuuuge mattress and we realized that we might not be any professional wilderness people at all...
We had a great but adventurous few days in the Finnish lapland. After Kilpisjärvi, we decided to leave Finland for now and continued to Sweden and Norway.
Continue reading the whole article about my travels in Lapland and how the trip continued to Sweden and Norway afterwards here.
For any questions please feel free to get in touch with me!