A short walk to
The Pyhä-Luosto National Park, in Finnish Lapland, offers world-class hiking and scenery – and it's just a short stroll away from town
It was a glorious sunny day, and we found ourselves walking along a hiking trail of such outstanding natural beauty that it should have been teeming with people.
This was the Pyhä-Luosto National Park in northern Finland, a vast area of stunning fells, mires and forests – and there was plenty of space for everyone.
In any other country, the Isokuro Gorge would have been a honey pot for tourists. It wasn't at all remote – the gorge trail begins a little over one kilometer from the centre of the village of Pyhä – and yet, despite being the height of summer, we only encountered two other groups of walkers along the way.
Formed over 2,000 million years ago, Pyhä-Luosto's 35-km-long fell range is a remnant of one of the world's oldest mountain ranges. At 220m deep, Isokuro is Finland's deepest gorge, slicing through the fells. It's a magical place, with deep, clear pools reflecting blue sky and evergreen trees, and a sense of tranquility and wilderness that seems remarkable given the short walk to get here.
A boardwalk has been installed to protect the fragile environment. This makes for easy walking, and prevents erosion and damage to the trail. As we progressed along the boardwalk deeper into the gorge, the scenery became more and more enchanting – with each turn of the path revealing a new and glorious vista.
Budding geologists will find plenty of interest along the way, including many superb examples of ripple rocks. These rocks are marked with distinctive, wave-like patterns, like the ridges of sand you might see on a beach or riverbed – a result of flowing waters and waves eroding the ancient quartzite rocks.
At the far end of the gorge – around an hour's walk from town – is the Pyhänkasteenputous Waterfall. A deep lake has formed at the foot of the steep cliffs here, and the waterfall flows down from the ravine above.
In August, when we visited, the waterfall was fairly tame – in spring, after snowmelt, it has far more force. But it was still a beautiful spot – and it wasn't surprising to learn that Pyhänkasteenlampi Lake has special significance for the local Sámi people, including being historically used as a holy place of baptism.
The walk to Isokuro Gorge is part of the longer Pyhä-Luosto Hiking Trail – a 35km route that joins the fell resorts of Pyhä and Luosto and takes several days, staying and resting in huts along the way. We had passed one of these rest huts just outside Pyhä, at the beginning of our walk, and had taken a look inside. It was spacious and warm – a large fire pit in the centre could be used for cooking on, and firewood was provided in an adjacent woodstore.
These huts are a key feature of many of Finland's national parks. People don't just use them to shelter in overnight on a multi-day hike – they're also often used as a focal point for families heading out for the day to hike and collect berries. The huts are a great place to rest and eat lunch – and very useful if the weather turns cold and wet.
From Lake Pyhänkasteenlampi the trail continues – but we had other areas of interest to explore, so we turned around and made our way back to the beginning of the gorge. Here we followed signs to the start of the Tunturiaapa Nature Trail, an easy five kilometre-circuit that follows forest trails and duckboards across aapa mire – a type of large, complex wetland, found in cold climates – to a bird watching tower.
The aapa mire was created around 10,000 years ago, shortly after the continental ice sheet retreated. It's a fascinating region of pools, pines and peat, and is home to migrating wading birds and waterfowl during spring and summer.
We saw many more cloudberries – they love the damp, acidic conditions of the mire – as well as blueberries galore on the forest floor. And again, as we soaked up the peaceful forest atmosphere along the tracks that led us back to Pyhä, there was nobody else about.
Back in town, the Culture Centre Naava houses a fascinating nature exhibition on the wildlife, landscapes and cultural history of Pyhä-Luosto National Park – as well as a café serving tasty products from the local bakery. The extremely friendly and helpful staff members here are able to advise on hiking routes and other things to do in the area.
This is a fantastic area for foraging. As we walked through the forest towards the mire, we met a Finnish couple, who offered us a handful of cloudberries from the large bag of fruits they had gathered. Cloudberries are a prized delicacy in Finland, with family holidays often focusing on a foraging trip in the forest. The taste of the sticky yellow berries is hard to describe – the closest we could get was somewhere between pineapple and melon, with the texture of a large, soft blackberry.
We were told about a swimming spot at nearby Lake Pyhäjärvi, a beautiful lake just outside town. There's a scenic beach, hidden in a birch forest just off route 9621, with a basic changing room, wooden jetty jutting into the water, and swimming pool steps for ease of access. Swimming here is not for the faint-hearted – the water is very cold – but the experience of swimming in an Arctic lake, surrounded by wild beauty, is one that won't easily be forgotten!
Where to stay
Pyhähippu rents out a range of self-catering cabins and cottages that are ideal for families.
We stayed at Akanhippu, a one-bedroom cottage that sleeps six. There's a double bedroom, with four further single beds in a galleried sleeping loft. A spotlessly clean bathroom, separate loo (with washing machine) and sauna are situated down a spiral staircase on the lower ground floor. There's also a fully equipped kitchen, with microwave and dishwasher, and a comfortable lounge with wood-burning fireplace, TV, DVD and dining table that seats six.
What we enjoyed most about this cosy cottage was the wooden balcony. This offered pleasant fell and forest views – and was a great place to sip a morning coffee or evening glass of wine and look out for the resident reindeer that graze on the slopes nearby.
The cottage is just a short walk from the centre of Pyhä, with its well-stocked supermarket. And the trails into the national park start right from the front door – we were into the forest and on our way towards the Isokuro Gorge within minutes.
Green Adventures April 2018