History of Lemmenjoki National Park

Vaskolompola open wilderness hut: A wood-burning stove is broken and not in use at the moment. Do not make fire now.

River valleys have been favoured places for settlements since the prehistoric times. Also at Lemmenjoki there are signs of human activities from hundreds of years ago. In the National Park area have been found about 1200 pitfalls, which were used for hunting the Wild Forest Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus) until the 1800s. Njurkulahti Nature Trail goes past a group of pitfalls.

A hiker walking along a path in a pine forest. There are ancient trapping pits in the sandy ground between the pines

As the Wild Forest Reindeer were getting few in numbers, and the Sámi people with their reindeer moved to the area in the 1800s, became reindeer herding more common in Lemmenjoki River Valley. At the same time, the first permanent settlements appeared. In the village of Njurkulahti, the main source of livelihood today is still reindeer herding, in addition to tourism. This can be clearly seen in the village scene and in different constructions. Most of the National Park area belongs to Sallivaara Local Reindeer Herding Co-operative, which has about 7500 reindeer.

Nowadays most of the people going to the park are hikers. Metsähallitus takes care of the constructions for hikers, guidance and supervision. The aim is to maintain the National Park as a wilderness-like conservation area also in the future.

The Grouds of Kaapin Jouni

The Grounds of Kaapin Jouni at the northern end of Lake Sotkajärvi in Lemmenjoki are a significant landmark in the area. It is the old homestead of a famous Sámi family. The most well-known man of the family, Jouni Aikio, better known as Kaapin Jouni (1875–1956), was the "reindeer lord" of his time, the head and patriarch of his family. Before Kaapin Jouni, the site was the home of the founder of the homestead known as Menes-Antti or Karhu-Antti ("Bear Antti"), Antti Juhaninpoika Morottaja (1853–1907). The homestead was established in the late 19th century and has remained occupied ever since. The last member of the founding family moved away from the homestead in the spring of 2004.

Five grey wooden buildings standing on a summery meadow. The homestead is surrounded by a pine forest. In the foreground a fence gate and in the background a river.

The building complex tells the story of the diverse Sámi way of life – particularly the phase when the people began to shift towards fixed dwellings. The Grounds of Kaapin Jouni are important to the Sámi people; the site is part of the Lemmenjoki area's Sámi cultural landscape. To date, there are very few protected Sámi cultural landscapes and architectural sites, which is why the site is also significant on a national scale.

The state purchased the Grounds of Kaapin Jouni in 2002, and the site is situated in its entirety in Lemmenjoki National Park. There are very few sites of cultural historical value in the vast Lemmenjoki National Park. Other historically valuable buildings in the park are found at the old Sallivaara reindeer round-up site, the gold-digging area and the small cottage on the Grounds of Matti Musta. The Grounds of Kaapin Jouni are a significant addition to the whole of Lemmenjoki National Park.

Six sheep walking in a row on a hilly meadow. There are three grey buildings on the meadow and a river flows in the background. There are forest and fells behind the river.

A maintenance team has been appointed to the site to manage the restoration, use and maintenance of the homestead and its buildings, with the objective of preserving the area's valuable Sámi cultural history and traditional landscape. The old items and artefacts preserved from the homestead have been inventoried. Under the supervision of the Sámi Museum, the items have been cleaned, photographed and listed as part of the museum's collection. Metsähallitus signed the homestead's inventory over to the Sámi Museum Foundation in the spring of 2008.

Plants in the meadow 

The old homestead grounds is mostly made up of dry and fresh hay and grass meadows as well as heath fields. The meadow types vary in mosaic fashion, as do the diverse species growing in the meadows. The field has been cleared and is mown each year. The field is now taken care of by sheep in the summer.

The meadow is home to the near-threatened common moonwort (Botrychium lunaria) and leathery grapefern (Botrychium multifidum). Plentiful species include the Arctic bramble (Rubus arcticus), common starwort (Stellaria graminea), garden speedwell (Veronica longifolia) and European golden-rod (Solidago virgaurea). Some of the more near-threatened species found here include the hoary whitlowgrass (Draba incana), Alpine bistort (Polygonum viviparum), globeflower (Trollius europaeus), tall Jacob's ladder (Polemonium acutiflorum) and Alpine cinquefoil (Potentilla crantzii). Fine-scented sweetgrass (Hierochloë hirta) also grows in the meadow.

The Grounds of Matti Musta

The Grounds of Matti Musta are one of the Lemmenjoki National Park's valuable traditional landscape sites. Today, the early 20th-century cottage on the grounds serves as an open wilderness hut.
Matti Musta's Cottage is located by the north-east border of Lemmenjoki National Park, on the south-eastern shore of Lake Ylimmäinen Lankojärvi. The Grounds of Matti Musta are made up of dry meadow cleared of trees and bushes, which remained open as a result of pasturage, mowing and stamping. The small cottage was built in 1903–1905, and Matti Musta and his family lived in it all year round until 1917. At the time, the homestead also had a granary and barn, but they have disappeared over the years. Later on, the site served as a fishing base for the Musta family.

The Grounds of Matti Musta were attached to the Lemmenjoki National Park in 1981. Metsähallitus renovated the cottage into an open wilderness hut in 1994. The renovation was completed according to instructions by Matti Musta's son in order to preserve the cottage's original appearance. The grounds have been mowed since 1997, and birches and bushes have been cleared away from around them to maintain the open landscape. The hikers moving about on the grounds also help keep the field open.

Directions and Services

The closest you can get to the Grounds of Matti Musta by car is by driving along the Inari–Angeli road (no. 9553). Roughly 24 km from Inari, a forest road named Paadarskaidi turns off the main road towards Lake Paatari. From the forest road, you must continue to the hut on foot. The hike to the Grounds of Matti Musta from the forest road is some three kilometres. The trail is unmarked.

The Grounds of Matti Musta can be explored independently, and there are no guides or other personnel at the side. Matti Musta's Cottage serves hikers as an open wilderness hut. There is a campfire site, shed and dry toilet at the site. You can fish on Lake Ylimmäinen Lankojärvi with a fisheries management fee.

Reindeer Husbandry History 

In the 19th century, reindeer husbandry was the primary source of livelihood for the reindeer Sámi people, who led a fully nomadic life in the northern regions. When the border between Sweden and Norway and the then Russian Empire  was closed in 1852 and 1889, the reindeer Sámi people who remained on the Finnish side of the border moved their reindeer further inland. There the locals adopted their reindeer husbandry traditions as part of their own natural sources of livelihood.

In 1898, the Senate of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland  issued a decree stating that the right to pasturage on state lands required the establishment of reindeer herding cooperatives. A reindeer herding cooperative is a locally restricted reindeer husbandry unit formed by reindeer owners. The first Reindeer Husbandry Act of independent Finland was passed in 1932.  

Herds of Thousands of Reindeer

The round-up of all the reindeer for separation by the cooperative commenced in late September or early October. The men would travel the land on foot, and when the snow came, they rode reindeer-driven sleighs and skied. When there was no snow on the ground, the reindeer were moved from the edges of the co-operative's lands towards the centre. When the weather turned favourable, the reindeer were gathered into large herds. More herdsmen and good dogs would then arrive from the villages. When all the reindeer had been herded in, the reindeer master announced the time of the round-up.

At best, 7,000–8,000 reindeer were rounded up in a few separate herds which were driven one at a time from the fell country along the Sallivuoma valley to the separation pen. Driven by the herdsmen and the dogs, the herd would follow the leading reindeer that was tethered and led before them. 


Once in the pen, the reindeer were separated and listed by owner. Only the fat and fit reindeer were selected for selling at the round-up site. The buyer and seller evaluated the reindeer's weight, and the price was determined with each vendor separately. The reindeer bought for slaughter were taken to the roadside alive. At the same time as the round-up, the cooperative held their annual meeting, collected their dues from the shareholders and paid the workers' wages. After the round-up, the reindeer owners would herd their reindeer until the summer.

The Sallivaara separation pen was originally built for winter round-ups. Later on, it was also used for the summertime earmarking of calves. For this purpose, the direction of the fences has been changed slightly from the original configuration. Reindeer round-ups were held at Sallivaara up until 1964. After that, the practice moved to the roadside of the newly built Inari–Kittilä road in Hirvassalmi, where a slaughterhouse had also been built.  

Life at the Fence 

The round-ups were held in December and January on a full moon, and lasted from one to two weeks. The round-up was one of the highlights of the year. In addition to the reindeer owners and their families, buyers, representatives from neighbouring reindeer herding cooperatives, cooks, merchants, officials and workmen would arrive for the occasion. Alongside the work, people met with their friends and traded goods. In the 1950s, life at the round-up site was especially colourful. The work brought the people together, and the long winter nights were spent at happy social gatherings.

During the round-up, the people used to stay in lean-to shelters. Gradually, cabins and huts were also built on the site. The oldest log cabin dates back to 1897. When the new pen was built in the 1930s, there were three cabins on the site. Building work picked up after the Second World War and continued up until the early 1960s. At most, there were 15 cabins and huts in Sallivaara.

Sámi Cultural History 

Metsähallitus and the National Board of Antiquities restored the pen structures and buildings in the late 1980s. The newest pen was built, for the most part, in 1933. At the time, the reindeer herding cooperative erected 368 new sections of fence with posts spaced four metres apart. The "offices," or private holding pens, were built by individual reindeer owners. The previous round-up pen had been built in 1896.

The old Sallivaara round-up site is a cultural landscape area where visitors can familiarise themselves with the recent history of reindeer husbandry. Sallivaara is included in Lapland's traditional landscapes, and the pen structures and nine cabins and huts are protected as items of cultural-historical value. Metsähallitus is in charge of maintaining the open wilderness huts and other equipment supporting hiking.

Huts and Cabins in Sallivaara round-up site

A total of 15 log cabins and two "kota" huts or pole tents have been built at Sallivaara. Eleven of these have been preserved.

1. Kaapi Aikio and Teuvo Lehtola's hut, also known as "Pirula." Information hut, with the trail to the top of Sallivaara starting next to it.
2. Antti Magga and Pentti Jomppanen's hut.
3. Policemen's hut. Open wilderness hut, with a campfire and camping site next to it.
4. Benjamin Kuru's, or "Benkko's," hut.
5. Maarit "Maija" Länsman's hut.
6. Antti Näkkäläjärvi's, or "Jussan Antti's," hut.
7. Sauna.
8. Iisko Näkkäläjärvi's hut.
9. Kirsti Pokka and Jouni Jomppanen's hut, or "Hilponen's coffee house," which used to be a bar.
10. Takalon Mikko's hut, coffee house. Day-use hut.
11. The Lapland Reindeer Husbandry Cooperative's (from Sodankylä) hut; used by park personnel as a maintenance base.

Reindeer Husbandry Structures and Vocabulary 

Etto – The process of locating and herding the reindeer for the round-up.

Lean-to shelter – A temporary dwelling built by stretching a canvas across 7–12 poles.

Laitistaa – To lead the herd into a pen with the aid of another reindeer.

The count – the counting and listing of the reindeer by owner.

Vieropaliskunta (foreign cooperative) – other than the local reindeer herding cooperative.

Siula – A leading fence used for leading the reindeer into the pen.

Pijätys (holding pen) – When necessary, the non-separated reindeer were brought to a holding pen to feed and rest before the separation.

Pienempi pijätys (smaller holding pen) – The reindeer were kept in the smaller holding pen if all of the rounded-up animals could not be driven to the lassoing pen at once. During summer earmarking, the pen was used to review the calves, i.e. to see which female each calf followed.

Kaarre (lassoing pen) – During the separation process, the reindeer were caught with lassos and led from the lassoing pen to the "office". During summer earmarking, only the calves were caught: first for numbering and then, after the review, for cutting the earmark.

Konttori ("the Office") – The bigger reindeer owners and groups formed by smaller owners as well as the reindeer buyers and other reindeer herding cooperatives used their own smaller pens, or offices, surrounding the lassoing pen. The reindeer that were separated into the "offices" were taken out to pasture in the evenings.

Maakuntaveräjä – the main entrance to the pens for people.

Lemmenjoki's Deer Pits

Early Deer Hunting Methods

In ancient times, the wild reindeer was the most important game and food source for the people of Lemmenjoki. In the early Stone Age, deer were mainly hunted with spears as well as bows and arrows. The earliest hunting methods usually rested on cornering the animals into places where the stalkers could shoot them effectively. The Lemmenjoki area's terrain with its heath forests and steep riversides lent itself well to deer hunting. Hunting with a bow and arrow continued throughout the prehistoric era and was also practised later on alongside other hunting methods.

Some 8,000 years ago, the climate warmed and the area's flora and fauna became more diverse. The increasing amounts of available food also enabled population growth in the Inari area. More efficient hunting methods were developed to meet the needs of the growing population, and the technique of hunting deer with the aid of fences was adopted. The deer were driven to enclosures where they were killed with spears. It is possible that a technique where the deer were driven into the river and then hunted down in the water with spears and bows was also used in Lemmenjoki.

Pit Traps

The earliest recorded pit traps in Finland date back to the early Stone Age, but pit traps played a very important role in the lives of arctic communities particularly in the late Stone Age and early Metal Age (approx. 3000 BC–200 AD). By the Iron Age, pit trap hunting gradually began to dwindle. In addition to digging single pit traps, the traps could be dug in groupings of dozens, if not hundreds of pits. Pit trap chains were often dug by the edges of forests, along the migration routes that the deer used to move from summer pastures to the winter pastures in pine heaths. Leading fences were also often erected to herd the deer towards the pit chain. Fences were also built between the pits to stop the deer from escaping the traps. The deer were driven towards the pits along a route running parallel to the pit chain then frightened from the sides to run towards the pits. The pit traps could also be dug on a spit or across a neck of land, crosswise to the direction the deer would travel. With this method, the kill remained limited as the deer running at the end of the herd could cross the pits safely as they filled up. In chase hunting, the deer would fall into the pits, not being able to get up quickly enough or at all. The chasers killed the deer that had fallen into the pits with spears.

Between Lake Härkäjärvi and Lake Sotkäjärvi in Lemmenjoki lies one of Finland's largest pit trap systems. The trap chain includes 261 pits, measuring just over three kilometres long. To the north of the Härkäkoski Rapids, in the immediate vicinity of the Härkäkoski Rental Hut, there is a roughly 500-metre-long trap chain. The other trap chains in the area are significantly shorter. In Lemmenjoki, there are 31 separate trap chains, with a combined 1200 pits.

Halinen, P. 2004. Ihminen Lemmenjoella. Esi- ja varhaishistoria. In L. Kajala (Ed.) 2004. Lemmenjoki – Suomen suurin kansallispuisto. Vantaa: Metsähallitus 335 pages.

The History of Gold in Lemmenjoki

Gold digging in Lemmenjoki

The first gold fever attracted diggers to Lemmenjoki already in the beginning of the last century. The actual gold rush, however, was after the war in 1940s, when at the best time there were more than hundred claims in the area. Mechanical gold digging was tried for the first time in the beginning of the 1950s. Today there are roughly as many diggers as during the gold rush, but the use of digging machines has changed the process. The marked trail from Ravadasjärvi via Jäkälä-äytsi to Kultahamina goes through claims of different ages.

There are still 30 claims and 25 mining patents. There are about a hundred people during the summer digging gold in the area. Read more about areas' gold history below.

The First Gold Rush at River Ivalojoki

The history of gold in Inari dates back to the mid-19th century, when an expedition sent by the Senate of the then Grand Duchy of Finland  made the first strikes at the Luttojoki and Ivalojoki rivers in the southern reaches of the Inari municipality. In the summer of 1869, two sailors, Jakob Ervast from Oulu and Nils Lepistö from Raahe, arrived at River Ivalojoki. In the course of a few weeks, the men panned two kilogrammes of gold from the river. This strike led to the first gold rush in Inari – during the peak years in 1871–1872, an estimated 500–600 persons stayed at River Ivalojoki for the purposes of prospecting for gold. The epicentre of gold prospecting was the Kultala Gold Village on the north shore of the Saariporttikoski Rapids, a Crown Station originally built to serve as a base for Crown officials. The Crown Station stayed in operation from 1870 to 1900. Some of its buildings have been restored, and the main building is open to visitors.

At the turn of the century, gold prospecting in Inari concentrated on the branches of River Ivalojoki and Laanila. At the time, River Lemmenjoki was still uncharted territory for gold prospectors with the exception of a few odd ones, but in the early years of the 20th century, rumours of big strikes began to attract more prospectors to the area. In 1902, more than 70 claims were established by the river. The strikes remained sparse, however, and the prospectors soon lost interest. Lemmenjoki was left in peace for another few decades.

Gold Fever Rising at Lemmenjoki

In the summer of 1945, three brothers from the Ranttila farm by River Inarijoki – Niilo, Uula and Veikko Ranttila – set out towards Lemmenjoki to find gold. Following the advice given by the "reindeer lord" Kaapin Jouni (aka Jouni Aikio), the brothers focussed their search on the lower reaches of River Morgamoja, right by the mouth of River Vaijoki. They did find a fair amount of gold, and more prospectors arrived at River Lemmenjoki the following summer. Rumours of big strikes escalated, and the discoveries were publicised in the papers – the production company Suomi Filmi even made a short film about gold panning that was distributed to cinemas around Finland. Interviewed in the late 1940s, Niilo Ranttila reported the following:

Seven men stand in front of the log building, some in the background. Black and white, old photo.

"I didn't have to do much in winter, as there was plenty of gold. In the best weeks of 1948, I panned a couple of kilos a week. But it's not as if we were left in peace, as the rumours and the stories in the papers kept drawing men to Lemmenjoki."

The flurry of activity at Lemmenjoki increased, and as the 1940s drew to a close, the number of claims by the river approached one hundred. At the end of the decade, Heikki KokkoMatti Kullervo KorhonenJaakko Isola and Jukka Pellinen, amongst others, settled by River Lemmenjoki, later becoming some of Lemmenjoki's most legendary gold prospectors. Prospecting for gold spread from the Morgamoja tributary to its environs and smaller branches of Lemmenjoki: to Ruittuäytsi, Jäkälä-äytsi and Miessijoki.

A small airplane waiting in an open area. Two men and a woman standing next to the airplane, a backpack is lying on the ground. A windsock shows the wind direction.

In 1949, the Gold Prospectors' Association of Finnish Lapland was established at the Pellinen Hut (i.e. the Morgamoja Kultala Hut) to advocate the interests of Lemmenjoki's gold prospectors. The need for cooperation between the prospectors was obvious, and bringing order to a community ridden with problems and disputes was welcomed. The joining fee was two grammes of gold, and the annual membership fees were also collected in gold. The association managed to improve the connections in the Lemmenjoki area – for instance, two air fields for the transport of goods were cleared in the area, and regular boat traffic on River Lemmenjoki commenced. To this day, the association remains an important advocate for Lapland's gold prospectors.

The National Park Is Established and the Excavators Start Rolling In

The 1950s brought about changes that would have long-lasting effects on gold prospecting at Lemmenjoki. Up until the 50s, gold had been dug by the man-and-spade method, but in 1951, Kullervo Korhonen brought the first digging machine to Lemmenjoki's gold fields. The world market price for gold plummeted in the early 1950s and the experiment proved short-lived. As a reminder, Korhonen was left with considerable debt. But the machines had come to Lemmenjoki to stay. Another significant change was the establishing of Lemmenjoki National Park in 1956. The gold area was not included in the national park but was surrounded by it. The Gold Prospectors' Association was not opposed to the national park as long as it did not hinder prospecting. Life by River Lemmenjoki in the early 1950s was hectic, but not all prospectors struck it rich.

Two men working with shovels in a riverbed. The riverbanks are steep and rocky. There is a long wooden trough running in the direction of the riverbed. A man just emptied his shovel in the trough.

"The distribution of luck and skill took a heavy toll on the number of Lemmenjoki's gold diggers. For many hopefuls, the mean living earned by this backbreaking labour was not enough to afford the very necessities of life. They left the gold fields disappointed. Yrjö Hummarkoski and Arvi Koivisto left a sign at Puskuoja, saying, 'The funfair has left town. You may keep whatever you find.' Today, the Tivoli Hut serves as a reminder of this comment." (Tivoli = Finnish for funfair)

Serving Life Sentences

The gold areas were attached to Lemmenjoki National Park when the park was expanded in 1971. During the same decade, automated gold mining gathered new speed despite the area's national park status. Large droves of prospectors had left Lemmenjoki during the 1950s, but the toughest prospectors, the so-called Lemmenjoki "lifers", had hung on.

Tree med standing between rocks, two of the men have shovels and the third have a pick in his hand. Behind the men is a tall wooden trough.

"Jaakko Isola became a hermit at Miessi after his mates had vanished from around him; the second chairman of the Gold Prospectors' Association, Jukka Pellinen, was killed in a gun fight; Heikki Kokko ended up getting married; Niilo Raumala stuck it out at Pusku; Heikki Pihlajamäki was busy creating his own reign at Miessi; Veikko Nevalainen took to growing lettuce and rhubarb at his claim by Jäkälä-äytsi; Matti Kullervo Korhonen escaped his excavator debt and hopped across the ocean; and Yrjö Korhonen marched up to Lemmenjoki along the excavator tracks and became a new legend."

In addition to these well-known lifers, a few odd gold prospectors were scouting Lemmenjoki's gold brooks, but the quiet years would go on for a long time. The era of lifers at Lemmenjoki came to an end in the 1980s when, one after the other, the first-generation gold prospectors left the gold fields – some retiring to rest at home and some at the prospectors' lot on the Inari churchyard.

Gold Mining at Lemmenjoki Today

The arrival of a new generation of gold prospectors at Lemmenjoki was witnessed in the 1980s and 1990s. At the time, prospecting had received a lot of media coverage, and gold digging contests were a popular sport. Global economic trends were once again pointing to a sharp rise in the price of gold on world markets, making prospecting more profitable. At this stage, the nature of the game had already changed, and automated mining had broken through for good. The mechanisation of gold mining led to conflict between gold prospectors and the values of nature conservation. The 1990s saw many disputes and court cases related to the Nature Conservation Act and the Mining Act; at times, the prospectors were up against nature conservationists and, at others, Metsähallitus.

Today, there are 25 mining concessions as well as some thirty spade diggers' claims and panning permits in the Lemmenjoki area. Automated gold mining produces a good twenty kilogrammes and spade digging just over a kilogramme of gold per year. During the summer season, roughly one hundred people stay at Lemmenjoki to prospect for gold.

The current Mining Act came into force in 2011. The act puts an end to automated gold mining in Lemmenjoki National Park. The prospectors working with excavators have to clean and landscape the digging site. In 2020, another chapter will close in Lemmenjoki's gold-hunting history with the end of automated mining. Man-and-spade prospectors will keep going.

Quotations from the book "Lemmenjoki – The largest national park in Finland".
The photos are from Viljo Mäkipuro and Jukka Pellinen, Gold Museum collections.


Kajala, L. (Ed.) 2004. Lemmenjoki – Suomen suurin kansallispuisto / The largest national park in Finland.  Vantaa: Metsähallitus.

Kummala, S. & Ärrälä, I. (Eds.) 2011. Onnen hippuja. Aikalaiskuvaa Lemmenjoen kultamailta. Helsinki: Törmä-Ärrälä Oy.

Stigzelius, H. 1987. Kultakuume. Lapin kullan historia. Suomen matkailuliitto. Jyväskylä: Gummerus.

Lemmenjoki National Park

  • Established 1956
  • Area 2858 km²

The drawn emblem of Lemmenjoki national park. A wolverine is depicted inside the oval symbol. The text Lemmenjoki - kansallispuisto - national park wraps around the outer edge of the emblem.

The Emblem of Lemmenjoki National Park is Wolverine