Finnish nature offers experiences all year round. Each season provides hikers with special nature moments. A cup of cocoa beside a cosy campfire on a freezing day, watching the starry sky and northern lights on a dark evening, and identifying animal tracks are just a few examples of winter nature experiences. Finland has plenty of suitable winter hiking destinations, so you don’t have to go far to find a winter adventure. There are winter activities for everyone – from tour skating to snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing to winter camping. Winter nature also provides peace and quiet for people who long for these experiences.
Where can you go on a winter hike?
Finland’s national parks, hiking areas and other nature conservation areas managed by Metsähallitus are great winter hiking destinations. You can find them easily using the destination search on the nationalparks.fi website. Some of the national parks provide unique winter sights, such as ice falls, crown snow and untouched snow. It’s also worth a visit just to see the nature and landscape during the winter. For example, the labyrinth of islands in Saimaa looks very different from a tour skating trail than it does in the summer.
Many summer hiking trails are also suitable for winter use with snowshoes or even good winter footwear if there’s not too much snow cover. When there’s a lot of snow, you can pull on a pair of sliding snowshoes equipped with climbing skins. Sliding across the snow is easy with snowshoes or sliding snowshoes, and they allow you to go places that are impassable in the summer due to the terrain or wet ground. You can ask about renting snowshoes, sliding snowshoes and other equipment from the national park’s partner entrepreneurs. Their contact information is listed on the website of each national park.
Some national parks have separately marked winter hiking trails that are perfect for walking or snowshoeing – or even riding a fatbike. You can also take your dog as long as it remains on a leash. Skiing tracks, on the other hand, are only meant for skiers. When planning a winter hike, familiarise yourself with the destination using the map and trail descriptions that are available on each national park’s website.
The maps also show the lean-to shelters, huts and other campfire sites where you can enjoy the highlight of winter hiking: snacks in front of a warm fire. Metsähallitus’ maintained campsites usually have a campfire site with firewood, a picnic table and a dry toilet. They are open for everyone all year round. Please note that you have to bring your own toilet paper and necessities for making a fire, and you should also be prepared to chop the firewood.
What should you take on a winter hike?
There is no single right way to hike or prepare for a hike. Some people carry a lot of conveniences in their backpack while others need less. However, everyone shares the desire to feel comfortable and safe, eat and drink well, and get a good sleep. This can be ensured by making the right equipment choices, also in the winter.
Staying warm is the most important issue for a winter hiker. A good starting point is to dress in layers with loose clothing. Your fingers, toes and head are most susceptible to the cold, so remember to protect them well with warm clothing. Good footwear makes for pleasant winter hiking, regardless of whether you’re walking, skiing or snowshoeing. An overnight stay in winter nature is pleasant and safe when your sleeping bag, sleeping pad and shelter - such as a tent or hammock – are designed for winter use.
The winter sun provides hikers with a lot less light than in the summer. During December, the sun sets in the early afternoon in southern Finland, while in Lapland the polar night keeps the days dusky for weeks. However, a lack of light is no reason to stay home. You can time your hike for the lightest hours, and a good headlamp helps you to see the terrain and map.
Anyone planning a winter hike should take a few safety points into consideration. It’s important to pack a paper map and compass and know how to use them. Smart phone batteries don’t last long in the cold and phone reception is not guaranteed in all areas. Hikers should also check the ice situation, especially when planning to walk on the sea or lake ice. Even on small lakes, the ice can be treacherous – especially early in the winter.
What to take?
Winter hiking activities
- Skiing is a good choice for people who like speed and enjoy seeing the landscape change quickly.
- Snowshoeing is suitable for people who want to move at a slower pace.
- Watching the stars is fun and easy on Finland’s dark winter nights. You might even see the northern lights at the same time!
- When natural ice is thick enough, there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy on ice! Always be extra careful though.