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Saariselkä, Finland: Ski Tour in Lapland Wilderness

We spent a week on a ski tour in Lapland, in the wilderness of Urho Kekkonen National Park. I flew to Ivalo, Finland with three friends from Switzerland during Easter 2015.

All we had with us was backpacks with warm clothes and food. No electricity, no modern conveniences. Only snow, sunshine and wild nature.

– Guest post by Maria Nygård –

Ski tour in Lapland wilderness, Finland

On a ski tour in Lapland wilderness, Finland

Lapland, the North of Finland

The North of Finland, i.e. Lapland, is known for its beautiful landscape and the Lapland wilderness. Most of the land above the arctic circle is uninhabited and you can walk around for days without seeing another human. The combination of fells (round mountains), forests, swamps, lakes and rivers is just breathtaking.



Map of Lapland, Kiilopää, Saariselkä marked on the map

Lapland is good for traveling all year around, but if you want to see something extraordinary I would recommend the Ruska-season in the autumn when all the leaves change their colors which changes the landscape to a mighty ocean of different shades of red, yellow, brown and purple.

Another popular season is during the winter when thick layers of clear white snow covers the nature like a blanket. Around Christmas time the sun won’t rise and it is dark all day. At this time of the year, light will be provided by the moon and millions of stars reflecting to the snow. During cold nights even the Northern lights (Aurora Borealis) might be dancing in the sky.

If you want to read about the Northern lights, this post contains information on them: Autumn Trip to Lapland: Reindeer, Ruska and Auroras


Our Ski Tour in Lapland (~100 km) on the Map




1. Kiilopää – Suomunruoktu (~15 km)

We started our ski tour in Lapland from the Saariselkä Fell Center Kiilopää, where we rented skis and two Pulkkas (sleds). Our backpacks, food and sleeping bags could all fit in the Pulkkas even though they ended up being slightly heavy (35-40kg each).

Skiing with a pulkka in Lapland

Skiing with a pulkka in Lapland

The Pulkka is actually very comfortable around the waist and a very convenient way to carry loads of stuff with you. The only challenge is steep slopes where usually the Pulkka decides to take its own route and you end up rolling in the snow or crushing into a tree. But that is all just a part of the adventure!

The huts are very nice, clean and well equipped. Reservations can be made in forehand from Metsähallitus (www.outdoors.fi). Gas is provided to make cooking a little bit easier. For  EUR 11 /night a mattress and pillow is also provided.

To warm up the hut there is a wood-burning stove which was very effective. Only a couple of nights we woke up freezing and had to make fire in the middle of the night. To get water it is either possible to make a hole in the icy river/lake or to melt some snow. Dishes were easy to wash with some fresh snow!

Day 1: Kiilopää to Suomunruoktu

2. Suomunruoktu – Tuiskukuru (~13 km)

To get to Tuiskukuru we had to climb up a fell and since the day was a little bit windy and snowy the visibility wasn’t the best. On the top of the fell we could merely see old skiing tracks or tracks from a snowmobile. The skis started to get a bit slippery so we decided to take them off and attach them to the pulkka and hike up the fell.

Luckily we left early in the morning so that the snow wasn’t too slushy and soft. Once the snow gets soft you start sinking through and this time of the year there was snow until our hips (>1m).


Tuiskukuru, Urho Kekkonen National Park, Lapland

In Tuiskukuru we built an Igloo! It took us some hours but it ended up being a new landmark. In Tuiskukuru  a fox came to visit us in the evening, probably hoping for a delicious dinner to steal.

3. Tuiskukuru – Luirojärvi (~9 km)

From Kiilopää until Luirojärvi the tracks are fairly good as long as it doesn’t snow.

After Luirojärvi we started to use our compasses and maps more often. In Luirojärvi there might be a possibility to use a mobile phone even though we were not able to find any service.


Ski tour in Lapland wilderness: from Tuiskukuru to Luirojärvi

The hut in Luirojärvi is located next to a big lake. There is a separate building with a wooden Sauna which can be used by any visitor. We carried water to the Sauna from the frozen lake. It for sure felt good to bath in the Sauna and roll in the snow after 3 days of sweating!


Fishing in Luirojärvi

In Luirojärvi we met some Finnish men who had made a hole in the ice and they were fishing, in Finland we call this type of winter fishing Pilkkiminen. In the end there was enough fish for a soup!

4. Luirojärvi – Sudenpesä (~19 km)

To get to the valley that would take us to Sudenpesä we had two options: either to cross the lake or to follow its shore. In April the sun is already pretty warm and the snow is melting and getting soft in the afternoon. With two heavy pulkkas attached to us we didn’t want to end up swimming so we followed the shore. The view was breathtaking with the blue sky and white fells in the horizon.


Skiing in Luirojärvi

Rivers are usually a good and easy way to navigate and stay in the right direction. This late in the spring the rivers had already opened and we had to be careful about where it is safe to cross the river. In some points the only option was to take a long detour or just to count to three and ski quickly over!


Sudenpesä hut

The design of the Sudenpesä hut is a little bit different than the other huts and it has a cozy fireplace inside. Wet and sweaty clothes and boots could be dried in every hut next to the stove!

5. Sudenpesä – Lankojärvi (~21 km)

From Sudenpesä we had to leave early in the morning so that we could hike over the Fell before the snow gets too soft. Luckily it was an extremely beautiful and cold morning, these pictures are taken at 7:30 am.


Ski tour in Lapland, setting off from Sudenpesä

This hike follows some rivers and crosses some lakes. We took a great risk going this way since the streams in the rivers had already moved the ice and snow. A few days later this path would have been too dangerous to take.

A great advice is to read the other hikers experiences from the guest books in the huts or then just to talk to them if you happen to see someone. Take your time and be prepared for detours. To observe and read the nature is essential, especially next to open water.



Starting from the right: Sudenpesä to Lankojärvi.

We didn’t see any wild animals, but the tracks of them were everywhere. Foxes, wolfs, lynx, rabbits, reindeers… Birds could be seen and heard non-stop! Especially the Siberian Jay (in Finnish Kuukkeli).

6. Lankojärvi – Kiilopää (~18 km)

The last day we were counting on to be easy, but after skiing/hiking for almost a week we just simply didn’t have too much energy and strength left.

The weather also decided to change rapidly and the last fell was therefore very tough to climb. When going down the steep slope with bad visibility, we changed the pulkka to be on the front side so that we could have more control over it.

Skiing with a pulkka in Kiilopää

Between Lankojärvi and Kiilopää

The altitudes for the last day: lowest point 80m – highest point 482m.

Altitudes in Kiilopää


When we finally arrived in the Fell Center Kiilopää again, we were weary! We gave our all till the last meter.

In Kiilopää we enjoyed traditional Finnish Smoke sauna and swimming in the frozen lake! And of course we had some reindeer, lingonberries and blueberry pie for dinner! So refreshing after a sporty week!


Back in Kiiliopää!

In Kiilopää they had a Moomin and Angry Birds ice sculpture exhibition. Before leaving to the airport we visited Saariselkä which has a little bit more tourist attractions to look at, e.g. Santa’s Office, Spa, Husky tours, Souvenir shops and downhill skiing slopes.

Ski tour in Lapland, skiing in the Saariselkä wilderness

Enjoying the amazing Saariselkä wilderness

Amazing, active, extreme and relaxing week out in the wilderness! Sore muscles and legs full of bruises, it was all more than worth it!

If you got inspired to make a ski tour in Lapland,  I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

 -Maria Nygård

The Northern Lights of Saariselkä

The arctic Lapland: northern lights and stars

Northern lights dancing in the Lapland night sky

The Saariselkä area is just perfect for northern lights watching. Located long ways beyond the Arctic Circle Saariselkä night skies offer amazing light shows throughout the winter. Learn more about the northern lights in this post: The Arctic Lapland Spring: Snowdrifts and Sunlight and Autumn Trip to Lapland: Reindeer, Ruska and Auroras.

The Lapland spring post also shows you glass-roofed cabins where you can watch auroras. Similar cabins also exist in Saariselkä. More information on them: Northern Lights Village Saariselkä

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  1. Hello!
    I am living in Helsinki this year and I do not want to leave finland without visiting lapland, so I booked a flight to ivalo for late february! I was planning to do the same route as you did but hiking, so I would appreciate any important advice you could tell me such as where didi you take the maps and information about the huts and also any specific issue you had to deal with worth to say.. Thanks!! Adrián

    • Hi Adrian, it will be a great thing to do the route but I’m not sure if you can do it hiking since there should lots of snow by that time. Maria who wrote this post is in Ethiopia right now but she’ll be back next week and she’ll be in contact with you.

      • Hi Adrián,
        Thank you for your questions and interest. So exciting that you are going to Lapland!

        Maps can be bought online: https://kauppa.luontoon.fi/PublishedService?pageID=3&file=page&# or at some shops at Saariselkä. Since there is no network in the national park, I would definitely recommend to get maps in printed form. The information about the huts can be found here: http://www.nationalparks.fi/

        You said that you wanted to do the same route as we did but by hiking. There is a lot of snow (easily over 1m) and if the weather stays as warm as it has been I would not recommend hiking without skies. The snow will be very soft and you will drown in the snow. It happened to us a few times even with skies and I can promise you that it is very slow and heavy to move in that kind of snow.
        But don’t worry, there are a lot of routes in e.g. Saariselkä which are good for hiking even in the winter. Snowmobiles are also a fast and fun way to explore the nature. Saariselkä offers a lot of different types of activities, so I warmly recommend to visit the village during your stay in Lapland.

        Please let me know if you have more questions! Good luck with planning your trip! 🙂

  2. Hi!
    I am interested in doing a similar self guided ski tour in Lapland. I am however hesitant whether my experience is sufficient. Would you say that one needs to have extensive cross country skiing and outdoor surviving skills to do this? I am experienced with downhill skiing and have lots of camping experience but map reading for instance is not exactly my forte… I would appreciate any tips on this!

    • Hi Sarah, this tour in fact is for experienced skiers. You have to ski long distances in a cold weather and in deep snow (maybe 1 meter of snow) and find your way without any visibility in case there is a snowstorm. In the cottages you will need camping skills. You have to know how to get your drinking water from the frozen lake and you have to heat the ice cold cottage. Without the skills needed for this kind of extreme trip it could be dangerous.

      So this is what I can say. If this is too extreme for you Lapland is full of shorter skiing tracks many of which have cottages for overnight stay. Hope my answer helps you plan your trip to Lapland 🙂


  3. Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for this. You wouldn’t happen to know any good guides in Finland/Lapland that we could hire to do the trek with us? We will only be 2 to 4 people and we sort of feel that our relative inexperience could be compensated for by having a pro with us… 🙂


  4. Hello, your itinerary is so interesting, thanks a lot! We spent a week in kiilopaa this year (we live in France) and we loved it. We did cross country skiing the whole week, what we preferred were the nature trails. We really want to come back next year and do a 2 or 3 days skiing trip in the wild, but not too wild because we are not that skilled. Your trip seems too extreme (and also too long) for us, our idea would be to do something shorter but also from kiilopaa. Do you have ideas regarding this? Also I have a map of the area I am looking at right now, and I can’t find any path on it for what you did so I am guessing there were no marks at all on the way. How did you manage…? I am a little bit worried about this as well because we are used to hiking in the alps and find our way but in winter, especially if there is no visibility, it would be a completely different story… How did your make it?
    Thanks a lot for your recommendations, they would be very precious to us!

  5. Hello Nancy,

    Thank you for your question! I’m happy to hear that you have been enjoying your stay in Kiilopää.

    The skiing trip that we did was planned on the basis of a route that is used also by others. What we did was to choose the cabins that we wan’t to stay in and then plan a route that takes us there. Most of the routes were covered with thick snow, so we had to just navigate with gps, compasses and maps. We had the coordinates for the cabins so that we wouldn’t get lost even if we would need to change the route a little because of the weather conditions. Telephones (google maps etc.) don’t work out there because of the weak signal, so it’s good to be prepared with other devices. On the routes closer to Kiilopää there was snowmobile routes that we could follow, those makes it already a lot easier to navigate.

    I would recommend that you contact the Kiilopää tourist center (https://www.kiilopaa.fi/en/outdoor-activities/cross-country-skiing.html) for details about their routes this winter. For example, the route to the first cabin, Suomunruoktu, was very pleasant with beautiful views. At that time of the year (April) there were snowmobile tracks most of the way, so it was quite easy to navigate. The tracks helps a lot but you still get the feeling of being out in the wilderness.

    I hope that this would help you to plan your trip. There’s many routes and options, so I’m sure you would find something that is good for you! Yes, Suomunruoktu is a good start and worth a visit!

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