Rumakuru, Paratiisikuru, Pirunportti - gorges
The national park was established to protect Forest Lapland's and Southern Lapland's forest, mire and fell nature and to secure nature-based sources of livelihood, mainly reindeer husbandry, and the conditions for traditional hiking.
Urho Kekkonen National Park is Finland's second largest protected area. The northern parts of the national park are characterised by the Luttojoki, Suomujoki and Muorravaarakkajoki river-valleys.
The heart of the national park is formed by the continuous Raututunturi–Saariselkä fell area. It is an easily traversable fell area, shaped by the last Ice Age and typified by gorges, heaths and boulder fields. The Raututunturi–Saariselkä fell area is made of Lapland granulite, a rock material formed around 1,900 million years ago. The present-day fells were formed by block movements around 30–50 million years ago. The blocks' fracture lines formed today's river-valleys. The last Ice Age slowly retreated from the area around 9,500 years ago. It caused the formation of, among others, the earth's moraine-cover, gravel eskers, lateral drainage channels and the fells' gorges. The boulder fields have formed from rock which has slowly weathered after the Ice Age. In the park's south-east area are the lonely Naltiotunturi Fell and in the border zone, the mysterious Korvatunturi Fell.
The national park is a watershed area. Some of the rivers empty into the Arctic Ocean, some into the Gulf of Bothnia. The park's waterways consist mainly of rivers and brooks. The waterways that empty into the Arctic Ocean belong to the Tuulomajoki water system, the largest of these being the Suomujoki, Luttojoki, Muorravaarakkajoki, Anterijoki, Jaurujoki and Nuorttijoki rivers. The Kemijoki water system empties into the Gulf of Bothnia and includes the Luirojoki, Kopsusjoki and Repojoki rivers, as well as the Kemijoki River which originates in the national park. The south-eastern area of the park is cleaved by the imposing Nuorttijoki canyon.
Magic of the wilderness
Northern Coniferous Forests
Urho Kekkonen National Park is located in the Northern Boreal Forest zone. The national park area's vegetation is fairly nutrient-poor. There are relatively few plant species and demanding species only grow along the shores of brooks and rivers. Most of the national park's forests are dry pine forests which have a mix of dead standing trees and are easy to hike through. The northern limit of spruce growth crosses the Saariselkä Fell area. North to this line there are no homogenous spruce forests. The forests' ground and field layers include species such as fern moss, dwarf birch, blueberry, marsh tea, lichens, heather, lingonberry, crowberry and the arctic bearberry. Wide wilderness-like coniferous forests are typical in the national park. Small herb-rich forests dominate the stream banks, which grow Globe flowers (Trollius europaeus), Dwarf cornels (Cornus suecica), Melancholy thistles (Cirsium helenioides) and wood cranesbills (geranium sylvaticum).
The south of the park is typical forest wilderness with isolated fells, pine forests and thickly-mossed spruce forests. The area is inhabited by many animal species, which tend to live in old-growth forests.
Golden eagles in Urho Kekkonen National Park
In total 110 bird species have been sighted nesting in Urho Kekkonen National Park area, several of which are endangered like the Gyr Falcon (Falco rusticolus) and the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is Urho Kekkonen National Park's official emblem bird. About 70% of the birds sighted in the national park are migrating birds. The first of these to return after winter is the Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator), which arrives in late February-early March. The bird species which have the largest populations in the national park are the Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla), the Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), the Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis), the Redwing (Turdus iliacus) and the Redpoll (Acanthis flammea).
In the forested part of the national park hikers can often come across the Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus), the Siberian Tit (Parus cinctus) and the Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus), which are typical inhabitants of old-growth forests.
On the other hand the European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) and the Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus) thrive on the fell top and the waders such as the Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola), the Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) and the Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) inhabit the area's mires.
A fully grown golden eagle is a spectacular sight. The bird weighs four to five kilograms, and its length from the beak to the tip of its tail is 80 to 95 cm. The female is bigger than the male.
This large bird of prey can be spotted from a distance as a dark shadow against the sky. Adults are mainly dark in colour, with a lighter patch on the underside of the wing. In mature birds, the colour on the neck and top of the head varies from gold to light brown. Juveniles have visible white areas on their wings and tail.
This bird of prey hunts hares, fowls and reindeer calves. Should the luck of the hunt be on their side, on rare occasions they can also attack a fully grown reindeer. Other items on the menu include foxes, squirrels, snakes and voles.
The range of the golden eagle extends across the entire northern hemisphere. It favours areas as little disturbed by humans as possible. In most cases, the golden eagle’s nest is found many kilometres away from houses and other human activity. Urho Kekkonen National Park with its peaceful wilderness areas is ideal for golden eagles.
Golden eagles build their nests in sturdy pine trees and occasionally also spruces or deciduous trees. In suitable areas, a golden eagle nest may be found on a rock. While the nest may be up to 1.5 metres in height and weigh hundreds of kilograms, it is well hidden and difficult to spot.
Some twenty pairs nest in Urho Kekkonen National Park. The total number of nesting pairs in Finland is estimated at 350 to 450, some 90% of which are found in the reindeer herding area.
Lapland's flowers waste no time
Vegetation on open fell tops is low; the plants have adapted to the barren earth and the severe climate. Some of the most common plants on fell tops are the Black Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum subs. hermaphroditum) and the Black Bearberry (Arctostaphylos alpina). The area's fell slopes are also coloured by blooming Blue Heath (Phyllodoce caerulea), Alpine Azalea (Loiseleuria procumbens) and Diapensia (Diapensia lapponica). When leaves turn beautiful colours in autumn, the arctic bearberry glows a vivid red on the fellsides. At Saariselkä it is possible to come across very rare and protected Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala). In places where the snow melts slowly you can find e.g. matted cassiope. On the highest fell tops vegetation is unable to grow on the rocky terrain; only lichen can be found there. The most common lichens of the boulder fields are the map lichen and the Lecanora (Aspicilia) lichen.
Rough Sompio Aapa Mires
The mires in the southern part of the national park are full of damp flarks and dryer strips of land which criss-cross the flarks. This is typical of aapa bogs in this region. Lamminaapa, Repoaapa and Pajuaapa are broad open mires in the national park near the Rivers Luirojoki and Repojoki. These open mires are important nesting sites for the area's birds. The mires in the centre and northern parts of the national park are characteristically quite small and have thin turf layers Forest Lapland's Aapa Bogs.
Before the Lokka Reservoir was built there, Sompio's mire areas were much more extensive. The largest aapa mire to be covered by the reservoir was Posoaapa. It was Finland's largest single aapa mire, 16 km long with a surface area of some 7,000 hectares. Only small traces remain of the former Posoaapa mire.
The structure and amount of nutrients in an aapa mire determine the mire's vegetation and its establishment. The mires are covered with sedges and moss. Different plants from the Sundew and Eriophorum families thrive in the area's mires. Rannoch-rush (Scheuchzeria palustris) and Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) thrive in the flarks while such plants as the Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) are common in dryer spots. Other common hummock species are the cloudberry, marsh tea and bog whortleberry. The dwarf birches, pines and spruces enliven the scenery of the open aapa mires.
Large Predators and Other Mammals
Twenty-one different mammals have been encountered in the national park, amongst them Finland´s large predators the bear (Ursus arctos), the wolverine (Gulo gulo), the wolf (Canis lupus) and the lynx (Lynx lynx). These predators however are rarely seen by hikers. It is more common for visitors to encounter reindeer, hares, moose and foxes. The shrew and moles as well as the pine-marten, the stoat and the weasel are also inhabitants of the area. Near shorelines you may spot footprints an otter has left behind during a fishing trip.
Other Animal Species
The Freshwater Pearl Mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera), which is an endangered species, inhabits a few of the national park's rivers. Another valuable species in the area's rivers is the Trout (Salmo trutta). Finland's only poisonous snake, the Viper, can be encountered in Sompio Strict Nature Reserve, but not north of the Saariselkä Fells.
Toughing it out on the fell slopes
A narrow belt of fell birch forest separates the coniferous forest from the open treeless fell tops. The broadest fell birch forests are in the west part of the national park. On the slopes of Kiilopää Fell there is quite a large group of trees. This species of tree is known as a cross between a fell birch and a dwarf birch and is called Kiilopää birch.