Hike in The Urho Kekkonen National Park

On Friday, after finishing work, I started packing my backpack for the hike to come. On Thursday, I had already gathered everything I need. I had to once more check, that I had all the essential items in my backpack. It was difficult to sleep on Friday night since it was my first hike.

We had agreed with Pekka to leave at seven in the morning. One final item check and off to the car. After packing everything, we agreed on how we would start heading towards the Urho Kekkonen national park. At Heinola, we had our first coffee break, after which we had breaks whenever we felt like it.

The trip went swimmingly to Oulu, where we stopped to eat. I wanted to check once more, that all the essentials were with us. I noticed that I had forgotten my belt at home! We then had to haphazardly look for a place to buy me a new belt. A tailor saved the two adventures. I bought the belt and soon we were on our way again. At Sodankylä, we stopped to buy some snacks for the first evening, since we had packed all the other meals in our backpacks for specific days. Finally, after traveling for 14 hours and 1100 kilometers we drove to the yard of the Kilopää camping center. There was only one other car there in addition to ours.

Food for the hike

After switching clothes and weighing our backpacks we headed towards the first place where we were planning to spend the night. I had planned a three-kilometer hike for the first evening to the Sivakkaoja lean-to so that we could shake off the stiffness of the car ride off our legs. We walked for approximately two hours until we reached the lean-to at midnight.

We got to experience for the first time the Finnish “nightless night”. The rest of the evening was spent setting up our camp and roasting some sausages at the campfire.

The hammock is ready!

It got a little chilly in the hammock during the first night, because the temperature quite suddenly dropped below freezing. After crawling out of the sleeping bag I dug out the portable stove from withing my backpack and started cooking breakfast. It was around midday when we got to eat our breakfast. At the same time, some elderly people were arriving at the lean-to to have coffee.

Second day

During the previous day, I had already gone through the route for the second day and the possible challenges that we might be facing along with it. According to our planned route, were supposed to travel through a small swamp, which turned out to be extremely wet and we would have sunk into the swamp. I pulled out my map and we started to plan an alternative route to the first resting spot. Other people that were at the lean-to were able to help us out. They recommended us to travel along a much wider trail. It would, of course, take a little bit longer, but the terrain would be much nicer.

We packed our backpacks, cleared out all the trash, and thanked the people for their help. We traveled along the new route towards the Niilanpää cabin, where we were supposed to spend the day’s first long break. We found the correct route quite easily by looking at the map and we were off following the signs. The route was wide and easily traversable.

We walked along the trail for a few hours, until we got to the next crossroads, from which we headed towards Niilanpää. The distance to the cabin was equal to the amount that we had already traveled. I knew that the cabin was getting closer because we were heading up a fjeld. The cabin was located on the side of the fjeld and the was a bigger marked trail right next to the cabin. The accent seemed to take forever and finally coming into a clearing we saw a small cabin in the distance. After getting to the cabin, we noticed that someone had left a fire in the stove and the cabin was heated. We got to warm up for a little while and to dry our clothes that had gotten wet from the sleet.

On our way to Niilanpää

After taking a small break, we checked the map for a way to get to the next point and estimated the time that it would take to get there. It had started to rain sleet quite heavily and the piles of snow on the fjeld were increasing. We returned to the bigger trail and started traveling along with an old reindeer fence towards the Suomunlatvan lean-to. The trail carved by buggies was muddy and difficult to traverse. After the reindeer fence ended, we turned on a signless trail, along which we made it to the lean-to. For some time, we were walking on an open fjeld, until the trail started to descend towards a river and we knew that the rest spot was approaching. 

After reaching the lean-to, we took the backpacks off our backs rested our battered shoulders. We went to get some water from the nearby river to use for cooking and started making lunch. After having eaten lunch, we sat quietly and were in awe of the beautiful Finnish nature. We enjoyed the silence, that one can not experience in a city. After having or lunch break we gather all our belongings and started heading towards the final point of our route, the Suomunruoktun wilderness cabin.

The Crossing of an Ice-Cold River

The trip went swimmingly again along the river and admiring the beautiful nature of Lapland. We were wondering if a bear had sharpened its claws on a few trees that we spotted along the way because the claw marks on the trees looked like it. The buggy trail continued to the first river crossing. Pekka decided to cross the river by hopping on stones while hoping, that his shoes do not get wet. I put on my Crocs and crossed the river that was up to my thighs. The water in the river was ice-cold and I was not able to feel my toes after getting to the other side. Luckily there was a cabin right next to the river. According to the logbook inside the cabin, someone had stayed there the previous night. We fired up the stove, got some water, and started cooking lunch. 

Because we were the only ones at the cabin and it had been raining sleet all day, we decided with Pekka to sleep in the cabin. I had decided to sleep in my hammock throughout the trip and for this reason, I did not have a mattress with me. After a rough day, I went to sleep fast, even though I was sleeping on a hard wooden surface.

There are wilderness cabins in Urho Kekkonen national pard as well as in other Finnish national parks, where you can stay overnight. You should always bring your camping gear with you, whether it is a cabin or a hammock and you never know if the cabin is full or not. 

After having breakfast, we headed towards the Tuiskukuru wilderness cabin. I had planned the whole trip in a way, that would allow us to stay overnight close to a wilderness cabin. 

The day was rainy again and after checking the correct route from the map, we started heading towards the Aitaoja firepit. We had not decided which route we would take after Aitaoja. The options were to either get up to the open fjeld and travel without the possibility the refill our water reserves for the whole day or to follow the river through the forest.

We decided to follow the river and we made our first mistake in interpreting the map. We had followed the trail for a while, and on the left side, there should have been a river. We checked our location on a map app, and we had started to head towards the fjeld. We reoriented ourselves with the help of a compass and crossed towards the forest to the get to the correct trail. 

After the adventure in the dense forest, we found a trail and after checking the map, we noticed that we were already halfway to our next point for a lunch break. We had lunch at Salonlampi lean-to. Pekka was able to use his fishing rod for the first time.

Pekka kokeili syökö kala
Pekka tried to catch fish

We continued our trip for a while along the river, after which we started heading up towards the fjelds. The trip seemed to last for a long time and our feet were getting heavy. After getting to the top of the fjeld, the view along with three reindeers were fitting rewards for the traveler and we were able to get in touch with people back at home for the first time. There are lots of areas in the wilderness, where there is no phone coverage. We sent a text message to our people back home, saying that we were fine. After this, we started heading down towards Tuiskukuru. 

There was a small bridge over a river to help us get to the cabin at Tuiskukuru, which is why we did not have to get our clothes wet to get to it. The cabin was located in a small clearing and was not as cozy as the one in Suomunruoktu. I explored the surroundings while I was walking to the cabin and decided to sleep inside the cabin again, because the cabin was surrounded only by a short fjeld birches. 

After having a dinner we were too exhausted to even have a conversation so we both turned in for the night early. I again slept without a mattress on a hard wooden surface.

We bumped into many swamps on our hike

On the morning of the third day, the weather started to look a little better and it was not raining immediately after we woke up. The shortest transition was the name of the game today, and it was only eight kilometers over the Ampupäät. After hiking for three hours we once again checked where we had come from and we noticed, that all this time we had been going uphill. After the Ampupäät it was time for a long way down. While going downhill, we noticed the first person after many days. It had just been the two of us since we left Sivakkaoja. We knew that Luirojärvi was getting close because we descended below the treeline. We crossed several streams and decided to get some shots using a drone. The view was amazing. Luckily, a bridge had been built during the previous year crossing the river flowing into the Luirojärvi, which meant that we did not have to get ourselves wet again. There are many firepits on the beach of Luirojärvi and also a wilderness cabin, a cabin that you can book and sauna.

We made camp at the wilderness cabin at Luirojärvi and there were other travelers there too. After having lunch, we asked around whether they had been to the top of Sokosti, the highest fjeld in the national park. We were meant to travel to the top of Sokosti on the next day, but the weather would have been pretty rainy and visibility poor. Two women were about to set off to the top of Sokosti, and we asked if it is was possible for us to tag along. 

We packed our smaller backpacks with water and snacks since the descent was going to be rather steep. After checking our gear and deciding on the orienteering shift we began our adventure towards Sokosti.

I had beforehand read from different sources about the difficulties of reaching the top of Sokosti. Almost all the sources said that reaching the top takes around four to five hours. Knowing this, we set off and the info was deemed wrong even before getting on the fjeld itself. After a few hours, the trail disappeared and it turned into a rocky terrain, which we travelled on all the way to the top. 

On our way to Sokosti

Our feet were getting heavy while ascending and it took over an hour to travel one kilometer. The wind was very strong at the top and we had to scream at each other so that we could get our point across. We had our snacks and drinks, took some pictures and Pekka flew his drone. The sun came out from among the clouds and the perfect weather crowed the amazing sights from the top of the fjeld. We enjoyed the scenery and send messages back to the people at home saying “everything is fine”. After sitting for a while we decided to head back to the cabin at Luirojärvi. This time we descended straight down the fjeld, since when going up, we took a lengthier route. The return trip went much faster, partly because of the route we chose and knowing that I would be able to get to a sauna. 

After getting to the cabin we noticed, that there were a few more traveling groups there. Four different groups were staying overnight close to the cabin. We agreed together about the sauna shifts and Pekka went off to get water for the sauna, while I stayed behind to set up my hammock. I went to help Pekka out with ´carrying the water and warming up the sauna. We got to go to the sauna first. I dreamed of swimming in the fjeld lake, but after I read in the logbook that the water was around +4 degrees I forfeited my dreams. Luirojärvi is a shallow lake and I would have had to walk for a very long time, to be able to get myself wet properly. We went to the sauna a few times and cooled off on the sauna terrace enjoying our sauna drinks, which we had carried for over 50 kilometers into the wilderness. After the quick sauna and washing up, we let the next people take over the sauna and headed off to bed. Tomorrow was a well deserved day off since we had gone to Sokosti already today.

The Hilton of Luirojärvi

On the morning of the fourth day, the weather got a little gray and we wondered, how we would spend our day off. Pekka gathered his fishing gear and went to try out if Luirojärvi would provide him with any fish. I went to explore the surroundings and the cabins that were present. There were two cabins on the beach of Luirojärvi that can be booked, two wilderness cabins, a sauna, and a cabin for the maintenance people. The maintenance cabin was a bit further away from the rest of the cabins. It had electricity and other commodities. While Pekka was still fishing I dug out the map again and started to look at the last points of the trip. According to the original plan, today was supposed to be a day off, and tomorrow we should continue from Luirojärvi to Lankojärvi. The past days and the exhaustion they had caused made us have a rethink and I started to think, how we could use the last three remaining days so that we could get closer to Kilopää already today. In the afternoon I checked the weather forecast for the coming days. It was supposed to rain the next day. Together we decided to pack our things and head towards the next sleeping spot. Fifteen kilometers away there was a firepit, where would spend the night. After all, we had the proper gear with us. 

After getting our backpacks in order and walking the first hundred meters, the sky opened up and heavy rain set in. The weather forecast had thus been incorrect. We returned along our tracks back to the bridge that crossed the river next to Luirojärvi and we began to follow the western edge of the lake towards the north. There were a few firepits on the edge of the lake. We noticed that there was a tent there. A lonely traveler had spent their night here. We continued our trip and were expecting to end up in a swamp. It was the first point of interest on the map so that we would know where we currently were. 

After getting to the swamp, I checked the map where we should be traveling. On the map, the trail went around the swamp, but we decided to head through it. In the final ten meters, we had to walk on a fallen tree. The swamp was deep at this point and one could not reach the bottom with the help of a hiking stick and there was room only for one foot at a time on the fallen tree. Pekka crosse the swamp first and I had was anxious about him falling into the swamp. I then follow suit. This short distance took several minutes. Our heart rates were sky-high and I wondered what I would do in case I fell. After crossing we were catching our breaths and realized that we did the only mistake of the trip being fully aware of it. After the swamp, the drenched forest took us to the beginning of a gorge, which we followed all the way to the firepit.

Jäätynyt lammikko kansallispuistossa
Some snow still remained on the ground

While getting closer to the firepit, we had to cross a river a few times. In Lapland, tiny rivers or streams are luckily pretty shallow, so we did not need to take off our shoes and we were able to quickly continue our trip. After getting to the firepit, we agreed that the weather was awful, and the rain kept getting worse. We had no firewood and the area was quite boring. I took out the map and started to look for the next place where we could stay overnight. A few hours of walking, and we would be at the next firepit, which should have firewood. We put our backpacks on and continued towards the next destination. We walked away from the river and continued along a small trail in the pine forest. We were both starting to get quite tired with the rain, wet clothes, and the roughness of the trip. We did not talk much on our way to the Pedagova firepit. 

At Pedagova, the sight was as miserable as the one at the previous firepit. There was firewood, but they were soaking wet. There was no cover from the rain and it was a steep downhill trip to the river, where we would have needed to go to get water. At this point, we decided to go on more time, to reach the place where we were supposed to stay overnight and dry our clothes. We had almost walked to Lankojärvi. At a crossing, we headed towards Kotangäs lean-to, which was close to Kiilopää camping center than Lankojärvi. We could travel either along the river and take a more straightforward route through the forest. We had walked all day up and down hills and we though the trail through the forest would be flatter. I was wrong and the trail had several steep climbs. It was getting close to midnight again when we got to the lean-to. Luckily, there was nobody here and we got to spread our wet clothes to dry on the lean-to. It took the firelighter from my backpack and lit a bonfire. Pakke stayed behind to unpack his backpack, while I went to get some water from a nearby river. The day had been rough and I had to force myself to eat. We had to have the energy to travel the next day back to the car. 

It was midnight. After struggling for a little while, I managed to make myself a spot of dinner, after which I crawled into my sleeping back on the lean-to floor. I still did not have a mattress with me, but a tired traveler sleeps well also on a hard floor.

After walking in a downpour rain it is a good idea to dry your gear.

After I woke up and made breakfast, an experienced traveler arrived at the lean-to. He was on his way from Tuiskukuru, from the same direction where we had stayed overnight on the second night of our trip. Time flew, while we were listening to his stories and it was really difficult to leave him and start heading towards our car. The travels gave us a few final tips, for example, which routes to take so that the travel is less straining and where we could get the best sights. We packed our backpacks, said our goodbyes, and took his advice when heading towards Kilopää. Right after crossing Kotaköngäs we turned and traveled between two ponds. Pekka was wondered whether it would be possible to get fish from a closeby river. The fishing rod had broken down earlier, so we were not able to try it out. 

The wind picked up and we were worried that the trees could fall over while were heading towards the fjelds. I had looked up a place for lunch close a lake next to a fjeld and while we were getting closer to it, I wondered why Pekka was not answering when I was talking to him. He had stayed back one hundred meters and was leaning on his hiking sticks. I was waiting for Pekka to catch up with me and was wondering why he had lost all the color on his face. I asked if he was okay and whether he needs to stop and eat. We decided to take a break and set up our camp right in the middle of the trail between the trees. We both ate quietly and after eating, the color of Pekka’s face returned to normal and he was able to keep up a conversation. We both agreed that he had had too little to eat the previous day. 

After eating we were getting on the open field and after the lake close to the fjeld, we knew to follow the buggy trails back to the hill where we're able to get to the marked trails of the park. After getting to the top of the hill, a valley opened up on the other side which had had the Rautalampi day cabin. The cabin had burned down las winter and now only a stony foundation remained. After walking past the pond we started to follow the signs towards Kilopäätä. At this stage, the idea of getting to a sauna and a warm soft bed started to feel pretty great. 

After ascending the last fjeld, Niilanpää, I realized that the trip was about to end. I had to come back here again. After a long descent, we were once again at the day cabin of Niilanpää and we knew that we were close to the car. The last kilometers we traveled a wide buggy trail to the car. We took the compulsory pictures at the gates of the national park and headed towards Saariselkä by car, where we had booked a hotel for the last night of the trip.

At the Finish Line!

Video from the Hike in The Urho Kekkonen National Park

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The cover photo of this article: Tero Laakso