Norway's first national park offers superb mountain hiking, spectacular vistas and a wealth of wildlife. By Penny Bunting
Offering some of the finest Alpine hiking in Norway, Rondane National Park encompasses 963 square kilometers of wild, unspoilt mountain environment. Situated to the north and east of the small riverside town of Otta, Rondane is Norway's first national park and was established in 1962. The park supports an impressive variety of wildlife, with 28 mammal species – including one of Norway's last wild reindeer herds – and more than 120 different types of bird.
Many people visit Rondane for the superb hiking the park has to offer. With much of the terrain at over 1400m – and 10 peaks rising over 2000m – it's a fantastic destination for experienced walkers. But there are plenty of family-friendly hikes to tackle too.
Hoping to try out some of these trails, we based ourselves at the warm and welcoming Putten Seter, on the western edge of the national park. This collection of good value cabins and apartments can be found around 4km along the gated toll road that leads into the National Park near Høvringen. It's in an area of outstanding beauty, a wild and open landscape surrounded by mighty mountain ranges.
Above: cosy cabins at Putten Seter
The accommodation has the atmosphere of a ski lodge – our cosy, terraced one-bedroom cabin had wooden floors, woven rugs, wood-panelled walls and bunk beds in the bedroom to sleep a family of four. There was also a spacious lounge/dining room, fully-equipped kitchenette and private shower room with plenty of hot water.
There are numerous trails leading straight from the gate, including the short but scenic 1km walk to the Utsikten viewpoint, for stunning views across the valley. For a longer walk, many choose the ascent of Formokampen, a 1428m peak that takes two hours to reach from Putten Seter. The panorama from the summit takes in Rondane and neighbouring National Parks, Jotunheimen and Dovrefjell – with as many as 40 mountain peaks visible on clear days.
Above top: crowberry; heather. Bottom: reindeer lichen; dwarf birch
Amongst the heather, dwarf birch and crowberries were pillowy mounds of creamy-white reindeer lichens – giving the appearance, from a distance, of a light dusting of snow across the mountains. Reindeer lichen is one of the main food sources for the wild reindeer that roam the national park.
At a junction of paths we followed a succession of blue dots painted on the rocks – and were soon scrambling up to a towering cairn on the exposed summit of Karihaugen. Although, at 1277m, Karihaugen isn't the highest peak in the region, it's high enough to give the feeling of being on the top of the world – surrounded on all sides by mountain peaks and plateaus stretching as far as the eye can see.
After a brief snack stop we continued along a high, rocky path, following the blue waymarks towards a trio of tall cairns, clearly visible on the near horizon.
From here the trail took us along a high ridge to the smaller summit of Anaripiggen – an exhilarating walk with wonderful 360° views that took in the Rondane mountains as well as the huge, snow-capped peaks of the Jotunheimen National Park away to the south. As we walked, a band of snow blew in from the north, temporarily surrounding us with swirling snowflakes – and this was August!
Above, from top: three tall cairns mark the route; the ridge path to Anaripiggen; Anaripiggen summit
The descent from Anaripiggen was a steep, rocky scramble, requiring some concentration. Then we followed a level path that veered left towards a series of small lakes.
This part of the walk was wet underfoot, with stepping stones through marshy areas and spongy sphagnum moss squelching under our feet. The sun had come out, lighting up the landscape in glorious shades of green, white and blue.
On the top of the
The final stretch took us down into a small, sheltered valley. The path meandered through woods and meadows and over streams. Sheep scampered across the hillsides, their bells ringing. The sunshine warmed our backs and created a golden glow across the meadows – quite a contrast to the drama of the cold but spectacular scenery we had encountered higher up the mountainside.
Above: the route to Formokampen
We opted for a slightly easier – but no less rewarding – circuit that encompasses the summits of Karihaugen and Anaripiggen. The route is around 10km long and takes three to four hours, walking at a steady pace with plenty of pauses to enjoy the scenery.
We started by heading out of the gate at Putten Seter, and turned left along a clear, rocky path, climbing steadily through birch woods carpeted with purple heather and bilberry bushes. As we climbed above the tree line, we emerged into an extraordinary landscape of low-growing vegetation punctuated by lichen-coated rocky outcrops.
Back at Putten Seter there were plenty of post-hike activities to enjoy. Nearby is a tiny, picturesque chapel. This is Rossbu chapel – seating 50 people, it can be rented for weddings and Christenings.
Just a few minutes walk from the chapel is a beautiful river, Skjerungåa, with a natural bathing pool. It's a tranquil spot, and the brave can swim in the cold water. We were not so courageous, but instead relaxed on a rock and dabbled our bare feet in the river pool – which quickly cooled us down after our exertion in the mountains.
Hungry hikers can head for Putten Seter's mountain café to replenish all those burned calories with freshly baked waffles and hot chocolate. Or just pour a glass of wine, sit outside at one of the picnic tables and enjoy the glorious views and fresh mountain air.
There are endless opportunities for both exhilaration and relaxation in Rondane National Park. We wished we could have stayed for longer – so if you plan to visit, allow plenty of time to experience all that this wild and beautiful region has to offer.
Green Adventures November 2016