Natural Features of Koli National Park

Photo: Kirsi Hassinen

In Koli National Park, you will be wowed by rolling hills, old-growth forests, lush herb-rich woodlands and colourful meadows. You will see both natural ecosystems and traditional landscapes maintained by management.

Taking care of nature

Photo: Tiina Hakkarainen

Conservation by mowing

The valuable meadows of Koli are maintained by mowing.

Photo: Kirsti Hassinen

Busy grazers of summer pastures

Indigenous Finnish cows graze around heritage homesteads. In the summer, meadows and wooded pastures are bursting with flowers.

Birch forests on Koli’s slash-and-burn sites

Birch-dominated slash-and-burn forests, clearings and steep cliffs are examples of Koli's diverse natural features. If you venture to the forest, you will encounter dark, mysterious spruce forests on the eastern side of Lake Pielinen and lush herb-rich forests along the brooks. When snow covers the landscape in the winter, the spruces with crown snow loads create peculiar shapes on the hilltops. On the summits and western slopes you can also roam in rugged pine forests.

Photo: Tuuli Jansson

The natural features are also found in the Koli National Park emblem, symbolising the area's old and valuable slash-and-burn agriculture. In the emblem, white birches glow and slash-and-burn fires blaze against the backdrop of a black hill ("Hill with Black Slopes", or "Mustarintainen", was the old name for Ukko-Koli Hill).

Geology of Koli

Ancient upheavals

The cliffs of Koli provide visible and tangible examples of the movements of the ancient tectonic plates, formation of mountain chains and marks of the ice ages: huge boulders, boulder caves and rocks with ripple marks are all there for today's hikers to find, reminding us of Koli's eventful history.

Koli on an October morning. Photo: Tiina Hakkarainen.

The Koli hill chain is located on the border between two bedrock areas of different ages. The area east of the Koli hills has the oldest bedrock in Finland - more than 2.6 billion years - that is granite-gneiss for the most part. The area on the western side of the hill chain is younger slate, which at Koli mainly consists of hard quartzite. Pale quartzite rock is crossed by dark dikes of igneous rocks (mainly diabase) that are the hardened outlet channels for the lava from ancient volcanoes.

The bedrock in the Koli area went through a drastic folding process when the volcanic archipelago thrust onto the mainland about 1.9 billion years ago, creating the Karelides mountain range. Originally almost as high as the Himalayas, weathering has eroded the mountain range to its present dimensions, with only the hardest rock material, quartzite, remaining. On the top of Ukko-Koli Hill you can sit on almost pure white quartzite that emerged from the weathering process.

Traces of the Ice Age

The dominating soil type in the Koli area is till. In the vicinity of the national park you can also find examples of moraine formations, such as moraine ridges and drumlins. Koli's cliffs received their characteristic smooth, rounded shape due to the rather fierce touch by the ice age.

East of the national park, on Lake Pielinen, there is a 13-kilometre-long range of eskers that shows as islands formed in the melting phase of the last ice age at the bottom of the crevasse near the edge of the glacier. The esker formation, with its sandy shores, is a nationally significant site for protecting esker nature.

Pielinen - the Fifth Largest Lake in Finland

Part of the Vuoksi water body, Lake Pielinen's total length is 93 kilometres and average depth less than 10 metres. The deepest point, 61 metres, has been measured at the northern end of the lake. Lake Pielinen is the fifth largest lake in Finland that gathers its waters from a wide area, and its water level fluctuates substantially. Due to its extensive catchment area, Lake Pielinen's water level keeps rising from the snow melting time right up to Midsummer.

At the end of the ice age, the glacial lake of Pielinen covered a significantly larger area than the present lake. Around Koli, the oldest and highest shore line was about 30 metres above the current surface level of the lake. You can find several ancient shore landings and stony places in the national park.

Winter wonderland of the south

Koli's climate is different from that in the surrounding area. Adjacent to the hills, Lake Pielinen warms its surroundings, especially in the autumn, and in the summer the moisture rising from the lake condenses into fog and rain over the eastern hill slopes. As you climb up the hills, the temperature drops. Due to the cool climate, the northern forest types thrive in the summit areas, and in the winter you will see gorgeous crown snow loads on the trees.

Photo: Tiina Hakkarainen

Beautiful flowers and rare butterflies

There are numerous clearings within Koli National Park that came about during the time of slash-and-burn and meadow agriculture. They are nationally significant protected areas as they are important habitats for some rare plant and butterfly species. In the summer you can walk there and admire the unusual moonworts (Botrychium species) or the stiff-strawed mat-grass (Nardus stricta).

Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies (Nymphalis urticae) and bumblebees (Bombus). Photo: Miriam Pfähler

Each clearing has its typical species, slightly different from the others. In sunny clearings, such as Havukanaho, you can see the mountain everlasting (Antennaria dioica) and the mouse-ear hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum) for example. In the more humid Mustanaho Clearing you can find plants like the marsh thistle (Cirsium palustre) and the meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). Other clearings worth visiting include Mäkränaho, Purolanaho, Ikolanaho and Vaaralanaho. The demanding species of the clearings require annual mowing in order to survive.

On the whole, the vegetation in Koli National Park is rich and diverse. By climbing up and down the hill slopes you can see many types of habitats from lush herb-rich forests to rocky Cladina-type forests. In the herb-rich forests you might spot the rare, vanilla-smelling calypso (Calypso bulbosa). The Koli area is home to both northern and southern species, many of which grow there at the extreme edge of their range.

Flying squirrels and chirping woodland birds

Finch. Photo: Joonas Hirvonen.

The fauna of Koli includes species of the natural and cultural environment that find suitable habitats in the park's old-growth forests, slash-and-burn areas and clearings. In the old mixed forests you might be lucky enough to see a glimpse of the big-eyed Siberian flying squirrel (Pteromys volans). On your walk you may also spot the tracks of a lynx (Lynx lynx) or hear a beaver (Castor canadensis) splashing its tail. There are also a lot of elks (Alces alces) in the national park.

Forest birdlife is especially abundant in the northern parts of the park. The choir of small birds hold their lively concerts in the summer. Forests of varying ages are also favoured by capercaillies (Tetrao urogallus), black grouses (Tetrao tetrix) and hazel grouses (Tetrastes bonasia). Koli is home to many endangered invertebrates, such as the flat bug Aradus laeviusculus that thrives on burnt wood and the grey snail species Bulgarica cana whose only habitat in Finland is the Koli region.

Nurturing Nature

Birch stand. Photo: Maarit Similä.

The tradition of slash-and-burn agriculture is maintained in Koli National Park. Photo: Ismo Hyttinen.At Koli, clearings are mowed and slashing and burning is carried out every year. By felling spruces, the old forests that remind us of the era of slash-and-burn agriculture are preserved as forests dominated by deciduous trees. Animals also contribute to preserving the cultural landscape: summertime landscape maintenance in the park's heritage farms is done by both Finnish sheep and "kyyttö", the rare Eastern Finnish cattle breed.

Herb-rich forests dominated by deciduous trees are managed by removing shrub-layer and planted spruces to prevent the spruces from shading and acidifying the soil. In addition, some former commercial forests and drained mires located in the national park have been restored ( Ennallistajan polku (Nature restoration Trail), located in the southern part of the park, gives an introduction to the secrets of forest restoration.


Koli's Clearings and Pastures

Photo: Tiina Hakkarainen.

Protecting Open Landscapes and Declining Species

The hills of Koli were permanently settled in the mid-18th century. The men and women of that time worked hard and cleared forests into fields by slashing and burning. With mowing and cattle grazing, farms and tenant farms gradually became surrounded by slash-and-burn clearings, grazing lands and woodland pastures.

Many old farms at Koli were abandoned in the 20th century, and the open rural landscape started to become overgrown with trees. However, some of the clearings within the present national park have been managed by mowing right up to the present day, and some already overgrown areas have been cleared or re-introduced as pasture. These measures help preserve landscape diversity, maintain old methods of working and protect species that have become rare.

The aim is to protect traditional landscapes (, in Finnish) to preserve their unique characteristics. Especially in the clearings, many plant species have become rare due to trees taking over the area. In addition, many butterflies, such as the scarce fritillary (Euphydryas maturna) and Clepsis lindebergi favour the vegetation found in the clearings.

Traditional clearing environment Mäkränaho. Photo: Markku Tano

Richness by Diverse Clearings

The nationally significant clearings in the Koli area that have been managed by mowing for a long time include Mäkränaho, Ikolanaho, Purolanaho and Havukanaho. You can still stroll in these places on a summer's day, tasting woodland strawberries (Fragaria vesca) and admiring moon daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) or the ever rarer fragrant orchids (Gymnadenia conopsea). At Havukanaho and Mäkränaho you will also find some rare dry meadows with the mountain everlasting (Antennaria dioica) and the maiden pink (Dianthus deltoides) in bloom.

Moist meadows are a speciality of their own. Located by Lake Pielinen, the Mustanniitty Meadow specialities include plants like the marsh hawksbeard (Crepis paludosa), the alpine bistort (Bistorta vivipara) and the marsh thistle (Cirsium palustre). Grazing lands and woodland pastures are traditional wooded landscapes that can be seen in the grounds of the Ollila, Mattila, Seppälä and Lakkala farms.

Mowing by Voluntary Workers and Grazing by Native Breeds

Traditional landscapes are maintained by mowing or animal grazing. Compared to grazing, mowing is better suited to preserving the survival of various plant species. This is why Koli's most valuable clearings are only managed by mowing that takes place towards the end of the summer, often by voluntary workers.

Sheep grazing at the Mattila farm. Photo: Kirsti Hassinen

Finnish sheep and the "kyyttö" cattle graze near the park's heritage farm grounds throughout the summer. One of the aims at Koli is to promote the continuity of these Finnish native breeds by making them better known. The "kyyttö" is an endangered Eastern Finnish cattle breed that is resilient and well-adapted to the conditions in Finland, identifiable by its light back and dark sides. The traditional pole fences keep the cattle at bay and add a nice touch to the scenery.

Animals in Koli National Park

Safe Haven for Animals

Within the national park beyond the reach of hunters the rabbit and hare (Leporidae) population sometimes grows too large. This benefits the lynx (Lynx lynx) that skulks among the boulders, which is why it is happy to stay in the park on a permanent basis. The managed clearings help the mole and mouse populations thrive, and this, in turn, ensures good conditions for small carnivores such as the pine marten (Martes martes) and the stoat (Mustela erminea). Rare small mammals are represented at Koli by the eastern species of the even-toothed shrew (Sorex isodon) and the wood lemming (Myopus schisticolor).

If you look up to the tree tops you might see the Siberian flying squirrel (Pteromys volans) - which is smaller than the ordinary squirrel - racing from tree to tree. The Siberian flying squirrel is classified as vulnerable and it needs an environment of old mixed forests that include aspens with their woodpecker holes.

Spread from the transplantations made outside the Koli area, the North American beaver (Castor canadensis) has settled into the small water bodies in the southern part of the national park.

The world of lizards is represented at Koli by the endangered great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) or its more common relative the smooth newt (Triturus vulgaris), which lives at the northern edge of its range in the Koli area.

Wings and Fins

The old-growth forest species found at Koli include the greenish warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides), the three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) and the wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). In deciduous forests you can hear the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) sing or the Arctic warbler (Phylloscopus borealis) chirp.

The most significant water birds living by Lake Pielinen are the black-throated diver (Gavia arctica) and the lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus). The area's largest colony of lesser black-backed gulls can be spotted on Sikosaari Island, located near the Koli National Park shore. Also, a large number of arctic waterfowl, such as geese and swans, annually migrate over Lake Pielinen.

It was earlier possible to observe the spawn of the lake-spawning salmonids near the Lake Pielinen esker islands that belong to the Koli National Park. Wild landlocked salmon (Salmo salar m. sebago), brown trout (Salmo trutta) and grayling (Thymallus thymallus) have, however, disappeared from Lake Pielinen and their populations depend on stocking. The vendace (Coregonus albula), the whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus), the pike (Esox lucius) and the zander (Sander lucioperca) are the major species to catch in Lake Pielinen.

True Flies and Butterflies

Due to efficient forest fire prevention, the species that favour burnt wood have become rare in Finland. Koli's slash-and-burn areas and forests restored by burning have become new havens for species that benefit from forest fires, such as Aradus laeviusculus, a flat bug that was thought to have disappeared from Finland when it was found in a Koli slash-and-burn area in 1996.

Sturdy old aspens are extremely important for many species, such as Bulgarica cana, a grey snail species classified as endangered. This gastropod lives on the trunks of huge aspens and its only Finnish occurrence is in the Koli area. Old aspens or the polypores living on them are also favoured by other rare species, such as Xylomya czekanowskii (true fly) and Cis fissicornis (beetle).

The park's old-growth forests are home to many rare and peculiar insect species, including Pachyneura fasciata (true fly) and Peltis grossa (beetle). Rare beauty is also represented by the scarce fritillary (Euphydryas maturna) and the silvery argus (Aricia nicias) and the most common the scarce copper (Lycaena virgaureae) and the common blue (Polyommatus icarus) fluttering by in the clearings.The common blue (Polyommatus icarus). Photo: Metsähallitus

Cows, Sheep and Horses Graze in Koli National Park

The presence of farm animals keeps the rural landscape open and alive. There are more than ten hectares of grazing ground in the national park. The pasture season lasts from May to September. Eastern, Northern and Western Finncattle, Finnsheep and Grey Finnsheep as well as thoroughbred and Finnish horse foals graze on the old farmyards.

Finnish horse. Photo: Kirsti Hassinen

Ollila Offers the Best Possibilities for Getting to Know Native Breeds

Cows are summer guests on the pastures of Ollila. Sheep graze in Ollila, Mattila, Lakkala and Seppälä. There are several sizes and colours of sheep grazing at the farms. The little fluffy lambs in particular steal the hearts of visitors; it is easy to forget that the animals are actually there to work as groundskeepers!

Eastern Finncattle Photo: Kirsti Hassinen

The Kolin kotiseutuyhdistys (www.kolinkotiseutu, in Finnish) association is helping with the daily care of the cattle in Ollila. In Seppälä and Lakkala the sheep receive luxury treatment, for shepherds have been hired to care for them during the summer.

Shepherding Is a Wool-Scented Adventure Holiday

In the summer, the Seppälä smallholding in Koli National Park, managed by Metsähallitus, has visiting shepherds tending to the daily requirements of the sheep that have been placed there to manage the land by grazing. The shepherds have such tasks such as changing drinking water, monitoring the general condition of the sheep and moving the sheep on to the next pasture when the grass has been eaten in one section. The sheep must also be counted every day so that the possible runaways can be caught. Besides looking after the sheep, the shepherds also have time for hiking. From the yard of the Seppälä house, you can go directly on the Herajärven kierros Trail, for example. Photo: Kirsti Hassinen

Participation in the shepherding weeks is chargeable. The fee covers some of the farm's maintenance costs and nature management costs. A week-long shepherding contract has been made for each of these jobs. As well as the main building, the herder has the use of the smoke sauna located on the grounds. And, of course, he or she has a chance to try unlimited wool therapy in the company of the sheep craving for a scratch.

Metsähallitus staff orientate the new shepherds to their tasks at the beginning of each week, so you will not need any prior experience in tending sheep. Shepherds are welcome to participate in other park management tasks, too, if they wish.

Next summer's shepherding weeks can be reserved in January when more specific instructions for bookings will be given on => ajankohtaista (in Finnish).

Koli National Park

  • Established 1991
  • Area 30 km²

The Emblem of Koli National Park - Slash-and-burn land birch forest



The Emblem of Koli National Park is Slash-and-burn land birch forest

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