Karhunkierros ( The Bears' Trail) Ruka - Finland (Part - 1)

Date walked: 06/07/2020

Time taken: 2.5 days

Distance: 82km

Ascent: 2244m

I am Scottish but moved to Finland 21 years ago and currently live in a small town called Lempäälä.

Initially l came for project work that was due to last 5 months. Now I'm pretty settled here but l do like my return visits for Scottish hillwalking. This year l have missed my hillwalking due to the Cov-id 19 issues with international travel and restrictions inside Scotland.

When I got the news that my flights would be cancelled and hillwalking visits to Scotland would not co-ahead, I wanted to look for something in Finland that would meet my needs for outdoor life after the spring lock-down.

I had done some Finnish day hikes but there are no walks similar to Munros or Corbetts. The terrain is different and also dissimilar to Sweden and Norway. However, there are some through-hikes on marked and unmarked trails. One of the most famous of these is the Karhunkierros ("Bear's trail" translated).
It runs through part of the scenic Oulanka National Park in the north east of Finland, close to the Russian border.


This is an 82km end to end hike, usually done over 3 - 4 days. It mostly passes through forest and open Lapland moorland with some hills thrown in toward the end of the walk. I had walked on parts of this before but always wanted to do the full e2e and now was the perfect opportunity.

With minimal planning, I contacted my friend that lives in Lapland and asked if he would like to join the expedition :D . This was quickly confirmed and l started the map checking. As there is a fully marked trail, it is not really necessary to have the maps or the GPS but I tend to over-plan :roll:

Day 0

We met up on the Sunday afternoon and planned to start around midday on the Monday. We had a lot to catch up on as we hadn't seen each other for a couple of years.

We spent the evening checking and comparing out kits and getting the weight down. The plan was:-

1. Take the cars to the end point, where we would catch the bus to the start.
2. Do 7km or 14km to a laavu or kota with some facilities, like dry toilet, campfire etc (common throughout the walk as you will see from some of the pictures)
3. Complete the walk in 4 days (3 overnights)

We managed to get our total weights down to 15kgs each, including all food and drink). I was delighted with this as l have done Munros with 17kgs for 1 night :roll:

After a calorie filled dinner and same idea for breakfast, we drove to the start point to catch the bus.

Day 1

We had enough time for final coffee and pulla (Finnish cinnamon buns) before the 50 min bus journey to the start point.

Lock-down look at the end point bus stop

The end point where we caught the bus to the beginning - Ruka Ski Resort

The actual start point in the north is at Hautajärvi village. This is almost exactly on the Arctic Circle line 66.5 o N

Milage Chart

The route

After 1 more coffee at the Visitor Centre and making final preparations, we set off on the well marked track.

The two of us at the start of the trail

I should explain at this point that the Finnish Lapland summer period is plagued with local mosquitoes. Pretty much in the same way as north of Scotland is infested with the dreaded midge. The only difference being these are bigger and bite harder :lol: This is my vain attempt to excuse a lot of pictures of myself hiding behind a mosquito head net. My Finnish friend told me clearly that these levels were not bad and l was a bit overreacting but it felt like swarms constantly trying to access my brain via my ears :lol:

Now on with the story :o

As mentioned, this was a half day with 13:00 start. The idea was to take it easy and camp at either the first camping spot (7km) or perhaps push onto the 2nd (14km) if we still had time and were feeling good.

We passed through forest tracks of pines, birch and spruce and occasionally over some swampland covered on bog cotton. The tracks were good, flat and the bog had walking planks, laid out by the national park.
Typical well-maintained track at the beginning

National park maintained planks through the swamps

Some views of the open swampland with the bog cotton.
Occasionally the forest gave way to open swampland

The speed was quite high and we pretty soon came across our first potential campsite at Perttumakoski. It was too early to think of camping and it didn't have any of the facilities we were hoping for in any case.
Marker for the "National Park"

We were both feeling fresh and agreed to head for the 15km location at Savilampi.
Occasionally we passed over wire bridges

The scenery didn't change much at this point until we reached the first open river. Then we were treated to some excellent scenery of Lapland
First real river of the walk


Lapland Region - Salla District

Rupakivi viewpoint (12km)

It was easy forest tracks, the weather was fair and not too hot for July (15c). Finland can actually get really warm in the summer and despite the latitude, can often see 25c in the month of July. In addition, there was the benefit of the polar summer, when there is no real darkness at night.

Savilampi came and went with still no real places to pitch the tent or have any facilities. We pushed on toward Taivalköngas (19km) where, surely, there will be somewhere that would take our fancy :roll:
Taivalköngas overnight Tupa (close to bothy)

Inside the Taivalköngas Tupa

Taivalköngas bridge and open fireplace

There was nice facilities, fireplace, water, a overnight hut (Tupa) but no flat ground for our tents. So we made the decision at this point to continue forward. We decided that we would head for the campsite at the Oulanka Visitor Centre, if we did not find anything suitable in the route.

On leaving the Taivalköngas location, we can across the first real rapids of the trip and a series of water crossings by means of the wire bridges and well constructed steps.
First rapids

Typical Finnish lake scene

We pushed on and came across a nice wild camping place at the top of a ridge, overlooking a river. There were no facilities but quite ideal location. The trouble was that there were already several tents pitched around the best spots and plenty families with kids (but it was really the wee yappy dugs that killed it for me :lol: )
Another bridge and example of the investing in the walking paths in the middle of Lapland

As the evening was pushing on and we had been walking pretty much for 7 hours, we came to the campsite. Heikki checked if there was a pitch available and there were plenty to choose from. We were lucky that the reception closed at 20:30 and we arrived just at 20:00. As we arrived right at the door, the heavens opened up with the first real rain of the day. What a spot of luck :clap:

What could we do for the 30 minutes reception was still open but it was bucketing down with rain :roll: Heikki solved the problem. He purchased 2 cans of the local brew each. They were ice cold and really went down a treat after the long walk.

The rain eased off a bit as we went to find the best place to pitch.
Campsite pitch for the first night


There are great facilities here for those that like camp-site tenting. I like the quiet of the wild camping but have to admit the shower at the end of the long day is just bliss. We had our showers, made out dinners on the inside cooker tops and sat at the tables inside the log cabins.
The eating huts and the showers

After cleaning up and eating, it was now time for bed. It took some time to fall asleep as there was the normal campsite loud discussions and people arriving with car headlights in the wee small hours but still I managed about 6 hours complete sleep as a result of all the fresh air :shock:

Total for the day 27.1km - 7hr:20min - 417m ascent

Day 2

In the morning, the process was a little reversed, we got a quick wash, ate a good breakfast and took the tents down as they dried in the morning sunshine.

During breakfast we discussed (Heikki mostly in Finnish) with a couple in the eating cabins. They had some experience if the trail and told us that there were some potential camping places around 20km into the journey as we got near the major river of Kitkajoki. There was to be 1 Kota and 2 Laavu (pictures later to show the types).

So we set out thinking this would be 7km shorter than yesterday and with a full day to do it...……….easy :roll:

So we loaded the bags and set on our way.

So confident of the short distance and long northern summer days, we took our first stop after 1km. There was the Oulanka National Park visitor centre and ………….café. Surely one more coffee and another cinnamon bun would be great for the walk :lol:
Pulla !

Another 1km further up the well defined day-walk route, there is the scenic rapids of Kiutaköngas. A place I have visited a few times on the day trail and enjoyed very much. We stopped for another break and a few pictures before heading on our way again.
Visitor centre start to the southern part of Karhunkierros


Well-maintained trail for this part

Red stone rapids at Kiutaköngas


For the next 8km the forest track followed a ridge line alongside the Oulanka River. The walking was very pleasant, easy and overhead conditions were clear and sunny.
From the forest track along the ridge line

After a couple of hours walking, we came to Ansakämppä (36km). This is a beautiful overnight spot about 100m of the track, down toward the river. This area is quite typical of the bigger stops along the route, open fireplace, overnight hut (Tupa). These are the same idea as our Scottish bothies. However, they are a bit warmer :lol: It is interesting to note that they do not suffer from the mis-use or littering but then again, they are maintained by the national park and not the volunteer (angels) of the MBA.
Open fire and overnight cabin in the background

We stopped here for a spot of lunch and quite a long break in the sun. I sat on the beach for a while and watched some of the people that had arrived by canoe for their lunch, setting off down the river again.
Canoe travellers packing after lunch

Back on the trail and looking down on Oulanka River

The next part of the journey was going well. Up until lunch, we had only done about 9km for the day. We felt that the 20km total target would leave us 2 reasonable days to finish the journey, so there was still not hurry.

Quite soon, we came to the halfway point (41km) as the tracks were still in excellent condition and the going was pretty flat.
The halfway point (still mosquitoes)

Flat tracks through dense forest

To Be Continued...……………………….. Part 2 ==> https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=102470

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Karhunkierros ( The Bears' Trail) Ruka - Finland (Part - 2)

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User avatar
Location: Lempäälä - Finland
Activity: Hill Bagger
Pub: Clachaig
Mountain: So far - East Mamores
Place: Assynt
Gear: My walking poles
Camera: Sony something. Compact
Ideal day out: Easy ascent and nice ridge walk with wide open views
Ambition: Torridon and Assynt
Walk wishlist

Munros: 128
Tops: 46
Corbetts: 3
Sub 2000: 2
Islands: 3
Long Distance routes: West Highland Way   

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