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Finns love to be outdoors, even in winter when temperatures plummet to -40ºC and the sun barely rises over the horizon. With over 70% of Finland covered by forests there’s plenty of wilderness to explore, and the country’s “Everyman’s Right” means you can hike and camp everywhere without permission. The government even provides cabins in National Parks where you can stay for free.
Luckily for us, when we visited Lapland in the spring we had long days and balmy weather, usually around 5-10ºC. Our primary reason for visiting Ruka, just south of the Arctic Circle, was to snowboard on the last weekend of the ski season, but we also made time to see what else the Ruka-Kuusamo area had to offer. With so many pristine forests and lakes it is known for outdoor activities and is a popular hiking and rafting destination.
Hiking in Oulanka National Park
Oulanka National Park is one of the most popular parks in Finland with 150 km of trails through unspoilt forest. We joined Ralph from Ruka Adventures for the 20 minute drive from Ruka to the park, passing many of the area’s 4000 lakes along the way.
We were hiking the Kiutaköngäs Trail, a 2 km return trail to the Kiutaköngäs Rapids. It was an easy walk through the forest of tall, thin spruces, silver birches, and Scotch pine trees; the path still covered in snow, but melting in parts. Ralph pointed out trees and plants along the way, and explained how Finns love to forage for berries and mushrooms, although with the forest only just waking up from the long winter there wasn’t much around. As we followed Ralph with his axe and backpack we couldn’t help feeling embarrassed that he was accompanying us on such an easy hike—he’s a wilderness expert who can survive for weeks in the forest, living off the land. Winter doesn’t stop him either and he often takes groups out snowshoeing in -40ºC weather—you just need to wear lots of layers, he says.
Our walk may have been easy but it was impressive, especially when we reached the raging Kiutaköngäs Rapids—a thunderous torrent of water crashing against the rocks.
Nearby we stopped for lunch at a shelter with a few fire pits, benches, and a well-stocked wood shed. A few families were already barbecuing sausages which Ralph explained is a Finnish tradition that we couldn’t miss—he’d brought veggie sausages for us. He carries his own axe as it’s essential for survival in the forest—without fire in this climate you have no chance. He skilfully chopped the wood into smaller pieces and got the fire started with some birch bark. Instead of matches he carries a fire striker, a small magnesium stick that he strikes with the blunt side of his knife to create sparks that easily set the bark alight. What a genius solution—much more reliable and long lasting than matches or a lighter.
Ralph had made us a veggie version of Finnish burgers—usually made with reindeer meat—with cheese, tomatoes, peppers, and onions in dense Finnish rye bread, pressed between a grill and cooked over the fire until melty. We stuck our veggie sausages on forks and cooked them over the flames until they were black. We’re not usually fans of soy meat but they were delicious cooked this way over the fragrant fire. The Finns barbecue at any time of year—it keeps them warm and tastes good. It made us laugh as us Brits so often cancel summer barbecues due to bad weather. We quickly embraced this Finnish tradition.
Horse Riding at Ruska Laukka Stables
Our next spring outing was to Ruska Laukka riding stables near Kuusamo. We love horse riding on our travels but unfortunately many horses around the world are treated badly. We didn’t have to worry here—the horses looked plump and happy, and owner Sanna obviously cared about them, encouraging us to groom and tack them up so we could get to know them before we got on.
I was riding a tiny black Icelandic pony called Blökk, whose fast legs made up for her size. Simon was on Sapiina, one of the beautiful national Finnhorses in the typical chestnut colour. They were both sweet, gentle, responsive, and sturdy footed, which we really appreciated as we made our way into the snow covered forest. It was a novel experience riding in snow for the first time, although a little concerning as we sunk down into the soft spring snow. We soon realised the horses knew what they were doing, and Sanna assured us that these sturdy animals can cope with snow up to their necks.
Despite the rain it didn’t feel miserable to be outside, like it would on a similar day in England. The snow brightens everything and it was a beautiful ride through the trees. It is always so peaceful and calming to be out on horses in nature.
After a gentle ride through the hilly forest and down by a river, we made our way back to the riding ring for a trot and canter, as the ground was too soft to do so in the forest. We hadn’t come at the ideal time of year—Sanna said it’s better in the warm summer or winter when everything is coated in snow and the landscape becomes a true winter wonderland. They also offer riding trips to reindeer farms and sleigh rides in the winter, which we’d love to experience. Whatever the season, we still enjoyed our ride and exploring the snowy Finnish forest on horseback was a unique experience.
A ride at Ruska Laukka Stables costs from €30 for 45 minutes. See their website for more details.
For more about the Ruka ski resort in Lapland see our Ruka guide.
Many thanks to Visit Finland who sponsored our trip to Finland.