Urho Kekkosen Kansallispuisto
Measuring 2,538 square meters, Urho Kekkonen National Park is the second largest national park of Finland (after Lemmenjoki National Park). It is located up north, in Finnish Lapland near the Russian border and is crossed by the Suomujoki river. The vast area of the park covers broad mires, magnificent fells and backwoods, making it an inviting place for visitors to hike during all seasons.
Urho Kekkonen National Park is one of the most favourite spots for those who want to see the famous Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). Named after the Roman goddess of the dawn Aurora and the Greek name of the wind Boreas, the Northern Lights appear at night as a beautiful green and red glow. They are best visible during the two yearly equinoxes, around March 20th and September 23rd, but usually you can see a glimpse of them throughout the year. The highest point in the park is the Sokosti mountain (717 meters).
The park is one of Finland's most popular places for hiking. Around 180,000 hikers visit it each year. The western side of the park has marked trails, which are very suitable for inexperienced hikers. Advanced hikers are welcome to make long and demanding hikes in the park's wilderness zones. If you want to go on some hiking trails, Saariselkä is where you can start. Watch a short Saariselkä video here.
There are 42 huts inside the Urho Kekkonen National Park. Most of them are free and open, so you can take them when you find them unoccupied. Some of them are closed and need to be booked. Reservations are handled by the Koilliskaira Visitor Center.
Most hikes start from one of the two visitor's centers, Koilliskaira Visitor Center in Tankavaara or Savukoski Visitor Center in Savukoski. Both have a permanent exhibition about all aspects of the park, and of course they are great places to get more information about things to do.
The park has 200 km of maintained ski trails, making it great for ski trips that can last up to 2 weeks if you can manage to bring enough food, water and equipment with you. In Saariselkä is a popular ski and sports center, considered to be the most northern holiday resort of the EU.
Urho Kekkonen National Park has some 110 bird species so it attracts quite some bird watchers. Apart from the park's signature bird that can be seen circling the sky, the golden eagle, common birds to see are the brambling, the willow warbler and the common redpoll. Good trails to take for bird watching are the 6 km Kuukkeli nature trail and the 1 km Urpiainen nature trail, including its observation towers.
There are many opportunities for fishing in the park, but you'll need a permit for this. The permit system is quite complicated, so it's best to check with the Koilliskaira Visitor Center in Tankavaara.
The history of Urho Kekkonen National Park goes back thousands of years. The shores of the Kemijoki River have been populated since the end of the last Ice Age. The Sami people have been living in this area for many centuries. Reindeer herding is still one of their main sources of income.
Saariselkä is 30 kilometers south of Ivalo, Inari. Get to Saariselkä (road 4) via E75. Address: Kiehinen Customer Service, Kelotie 1, 99830 Saariselkä(town), Inari(area), Finland. Here are driving directions from the Helsinki-Vantaa airport provided by Michelin or type in your own point of departure.