ariel picture of a finnish national park in a winter
Finnish national parks
February 19, 2020

Exploring Finland: From Helsinki to Lapland

What does Russia, Mongolia, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, United States, Canada, and Scotland all have in common?

Whew... that's a mouthful

They are all, in part, home to the world’s largest land biome, the taiga forest.

tai·ga - /ˈtīɡə/ - noun: taiga
the sometimes swampy coniferous forest of high northern latitudes,
especially that between the tundra and steppes of Siberia and North America.
"the coniferous forest of the taiga"
From my own experience I have seen the similarities of the Canadian, Finnish, and Russian taiga forest. When you are placed into the wilderness of these three countries it can be pretty hard to find and real significant difference. Their resemblance is furthered by the fact that the wildlife in each country is nearly identical. Oh man I caught a fish… it’s a…pike… well that doesn’t help. Hey it’s a moose, that must mean we are in… ah yeah never mind. Look! A big pile of bear…crap, maybe we should keep moving. The list goes on and it doesn’t stop at animals.
  • hikers in taiga forest with backpacks on
  • nature path through forest
  • view of canadian taiga forest and lake
  • canadian lake landscape
  • russian taiga forest in the morning overlooking foggy oulanka river
  • finnish lake landscape
In Finland, the taiga forest is heavily characterized by its trees. Throughout the country you will be sure to find a mix of pines, spruces, and birch trees surrounding their fresh water lakes whereas in Canada spruces will dominate the forest with far fewer birch trees around.

Finland often gets broken into four categories when it comes to travel and tourism. Helsinki, The coast & Archipelago, Lakeland, and Lapland. In this post I would like to explore some of the unique features each region holds and my personal experience within each.

Let’s begin at the bottom!

HELSINKI

Colourful forests, clean lakes, and beautiful seascapes. Escaping into the wild is within easy reach of the Finnish capital.

From the very south of Finland starts rocky bays, rugged coast line, and thousands of islands which create the Archipelago Sea. One of the first sights many visitors see as they arrive by cruise ship or airplane. If you have come by cruise ship and only have a few hours in Helsinki, the archipelago coastline is one of your best options for seeing Finnish nature.


The capital city, Helsinki has hundreds of islands dotting the map around it, many of them you can visit by public ferries. E.g. the historical Suomenlinna, the small but personable Lonna, the greens of Vallisaari with rich flora and fauna and Pihlajasaari promoting a mix of sandy beaches and picnic perfect locations.


If you are visiting Helsinki in the spring time, May is a great time to take a trip into nature. The southern forests are running full steam and great migrations of birds have returned home to prepare for a busy summer. Once summer has begun, there will be berries, wild flowers, and edible greens that can be foraged all the way through til September and it does not stop there. Come autumn time the forest will be filling itself with a myriad of different mushrooms. But it is better not to pick these without a local and knowledgable guide.

So there is a lot to do from Helsinki but I don't know where to start!


If you would like to get some mud on your boots and visit one of the national parks inland there are a multitude of options. Our go to spot for a quick retreat is Liesjärvi National Park. A quiet and peaceful park with many trails, lakes, and great camping grounds. It is also where we choose to operate most of our guided trips! For the solo traveller not interested in hiring a guide, Nuuksio is your best bet. Public transportation is readily available offering everyone the ability to see what Finnish nature is all about.

If you would like to leave Helsinki on a guided excursion, we recommend visiting Porkkala peninsula as it offers some of the best hiking and seaside views you can get on a day trip from the city. You can also visit during winter time. If you are on a longer trip then you may also want to check out the network of bike/hiking trails, campgrounds, and beautiful seascape of the Archipelago national park which begins two hours west of Helsinki.

THE ARCHIPELAGO

Boasting one of the world’s largest archipelagos. This mass of islands covers the entire south and southwestern coast

In the heart of this national park, past the lighthouses and old wooden villages lays an island called Jungfruskär. The island is known as the brightest jewel of the archipelago and for good reason. In the midst of the Baltic Sea it boasts an abundance of species and lush vegetation which flourish throughout the island. Jungfruskär is only one of the 14 islands which are a part of the Archipelago national park. For more information and trip planning in this area you can visit the Archipelago national park webpage.


This past June I was fortunate enough to take part in some conservation and forestry work on Jungfruskär. Hosted by Metsähallitus and headed by the International Wilderness Guides program we took to the island for some good ol’ fashion tree chopping and meadow clearing. The clearing was meant to open up fertile ground to allow the more delicate species a chance to grow. As we toured the island we had a chance to the see the meadows which grew from the classes preceding ours and saw first-hand the before and after effect of how our work will change the land.


Throughout the archipelago islands and coastal regions, you will often find the nature trails have been established over the smooth rolling granite ground. On both sides of the trail lays the moss which has not been disturbed, leaving us with the natural boundaries of a footpath. These paths often weave between coastline and forest trails which always makes for an interesting hike. I like to think of these coastal areas as the place where the forest meets the sea, an unusual combination which really complement each other.

LAKELAND

A labyrinth of pristine lakes and wild taiga forest. This is the heart of Finland.

Nearly half of the country’s 40 national parks are in this region. Among the thousands of lakes and forested backcountry lays a countless amount of nature trails, saunas, canoe routes, islands, cottages, campgrounds, national parks, and great fishing opportunities. Welcome to the largest Lakeland district of Europe and the heart of Finland.

Connecting with nature here is as easy as walking out of your backdoor and stepping into the woods and walking, walking, walking and more walking until you find a lake. Once you have found that lake and you realize it is only you, the lake, the birds, and the bees; you can strip down to your birthday suit and take the plunge. If you have not been swimming in a fresh water lake surrounded by forest, you will remember this moment for the rest of your life.


Surrounding this beautiful lake lies the forest. A forest filled with wild blueberries which you can pick until your heart is content.


I can honestly say I have not walked into a patch of forest here that does not have some sort of edible berry plant growing in it. More often than not, it is the delicious and easily identified blueberry. If you have planned your trip out before you theoretically walked out of your back door, you will know there is a firepit close by where you are going to cook your lunch over the campfire! Grab your daypack and continue on the days adventure!


The best experiences here are often spent in cozy cottages overlooking a lake or taking a few nights backpacking through a lakeland national park such as Linnansaari or Repovesi. If you are stuck for time or transportation, visiting these areas can be quite difficult, your next best bet would be to join a guided tour from Helsinki. There is always a good reason to take a trip into Lakeland Finland and activities year-round.

As the nights grow longer and the snow begins to fall our activities begin to change. Local and national parks maintain cross country skiing trails throughout the country. Visits to the sauna now include swimming in a frozen lake and the big cameras are out to capture that magical moment the northern lights make their appearance. These are just a few of the many unique opportunities you will have when visiting Finland in the wintertime.


When there is a long weekend or holidays coming up, Kiia and I often take a road trip into the interior of Finland in search of that cozy cabin in the forest. You never have to visit the same one twice and each area always offers a new perspective on a familiar setting. Many of these cabins are tucked away on a lake with very few neighbors, the perfect grounds for a nature retreat. Add in a few meters of snow, a sauna, and a pair of cross-country skis and you are all set.

LAPLAND

Home to over 700 fells, vast wilderness, 24 hours of daylight in the summer and darkness in the winter, husky tours, snowmobiling, ice fishing and… Santa Claus.

Lapland is located inside of the arctic circle so you can already guess that the weather is a little different up there. If you think it sounds cold, well you’re right. The temperature can easyily drop below -25°C (-13°F) and average winter temperatures will sit around -10°C (14°F) give or take (usually take) a few degrees and the summers do not make up for that with extra warm weather.

All of these incredible people give international visitors an opportunity to really see and experience the great outdoors of Lapland.


Nature gives and nature takes and in the case of Lapland where most people would consider these temperatures rather unpleasant, it more than makes up for it in natural beauty and charm. The natural beauty comes from unspoilt land which is far away from the hands of any metropolis and the charm lays within its people.

You have your outdoorsy locals, reindeer herders, husky sledders, aurora hunters, elves, international guides, the ice-fishers, the long-distance snowshoe folks, sauna connoisseurs, the skiers and snowboarders, and everybody else that help make Lapland an amazing place to visit. All of these incredible people give international visitors an opportunity to really see and experience the great outdoors of Lapland.


I have made three backcountry winter trips in Lapland. The most memorable was an 8-day solo ski trip through one of Finland’s five wilderness areas Hammastunturi. Armed with a map and compass, a fully packed sled with everything I would need for the week and a freshly waxed pair of forest skis. 14 students set off in 14 different directions. The plan was to complete a circuit which I had created in the weeks preceding the trip. My objective during this trip was to let my inner adventurer out and let my curiosity lead me while exploring my route through the icy fells, forests, and the wind-swept bogs of the North.


I can say I have a new found love for cross country/forest skiing after that trip. It is the most fascinating and fast way to travel in a land which otherwise would be impossible to traverse by foot. When you ski your movements are almost silent and move much faster than normal, it gives you a great opportunity to see wildlife as you can cover much more ground and are very focused on your surroundings. There are many options for guided trips in the north which can offer you a similar experience with small groups of people in a safe manner. We too will offer similar excursions in the future.

What are you waiting for?! Get out there and explore.


There is so much to see and do in Finland and it is truly a unique opportunity in every month of the year. Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. All incredibly different and yet the land beneath the season remains the same. Throughout the entire country, national parks and nature reserves are taken care of and looked after with the utmost respect. It has been ingrained the people who live here to take care of what they own and to enjoy it as it was meant. Completely natural.

I will leave you with a Finnish proverb and a quote to marinate on:


“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

- John Muir


"When you flee from a wolf, you run into a bear"

- Finnish proverb

 
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