Iso-Palonen – Maariansärkät Nature Reserve

The Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät Nature Reserve (4,031 ha), located in the eastern part of Kuhmo, is a tapestry of small lakes, numerous ponds, pine heaths and eskers.

Sandy lake shore.

The esker formation crossing the reserve has been an important area for the migration of the wild forest reindeer. Here, amidst the eskers, they have found a sheltered feeding and breeding ground. In this same environment, hikers can also find a place where they can break loose from their everyday routines, let their minds rest and enjoy the offerings of nature.

Wild Forest Reindeer behind the trees is looking towards the photographer.

Nature and Sights

The best attractions in Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät are the esker formations and the small and large water bodies intersecting them. Also, worth your attention are the traces left by humans during various epochs. The structure of the forests shows that humans have used them for a long time. You can see the bases of tar-burning pits and traces of human settlement dating from the Stone Age.

Path on the esker.

The Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät Nature Reserve includes some of the headwater lakes of the so-called Kalliojoki Route, strips of land connecting them, and esker formations. Nature in the area is stark. The landscape is characterised by an alternation of light-filled pine forests, mires and bodies of water.

Dry heath with pine trees. A lake can be seen in the background.

Most of the forests in Iso-Palonen are rather old, pine-dominated dry heaths. Almost all forests are managed and even-aged. Forest management measures were widely carried out as late as the end of the 1980s, just before the nature reserve was established.

The mires, of which there are not many, are mostly pine bogs and open mires.

Open mire behind the trees.

The most notable bodies of water are Lakes Iso-Palonen and Veräinen as well as the Viiksimonjoki River, which together make up the popular Kalliojoki Canoeing Route. There are also many kettle hole ponds, “suppa”, formed by retreating glaciers.

A kettle hole pond captured from the top of the hill. The pond is surrounded by pine forest.

Historic and prehistoric dwellings were usually located on lakeshores. There are so-called Lappish graves along the hiking trails, i.e., the remains of old wild forest reindeer hunting pits. Traditionally the hunting of wild forest reindeer has been an important additional livelihood in remote areas.

Pine forest on a reedy lake shore.

The area is home to mammals and birds, characteristic of the Kainuu Region. Your chances of seeing wild forest reindeer (suomenpeura.fi) in the Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät Nature Reserve are rather good. If you move quietly, you may see a female wild forest reindeer bring its fawn to a mire to feed, or male reindeer attack each other in autumn during the mating season. Wild forest reindeer are encountered in the area throughout the year.

Capercaillie.

Instructions and Rules

In Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät Nature Reserve, the following are

allowed

  • Walking, skiing, rowing and canoeing
  • Picking berries and edible mushrooms
  • Hook and line fishing and ice fishing.

Blueberry in autumn color.

restricted

  • Lighting campfires and camping are only allowed at sites marked for this purpose.
  • Part of the area is in the frontier zone, which you cannot enter without a permission from the Border Guard.
  • Fishing, except for hook and line fishing and ice-fishing
  • Hunting on state-owned lands is allowed for local residents in accordance with the hunting regulations and the valid rules and regulations of the area. Out-of-towners are not allowed to hunt in the area.

forbidden

  • Lighting campfires if the forest fire warning is in effect
  • Pets running at large
  • Taking or damaging trees, bushes, other plants or their parts, or mushrooms other than edible ones
  • Damaging soil or rock, and extraction of earth material or minerals
  • Killing, catching or disturbing wild vertebrates, or damaging their nests
  • Catching or collecting invertebrates
  • Driving motor vehicles, except on roads designated for motor vehicles
  • Leaving waste in the area, or damaging constructions

Twinflower in a close-up.

Trails and Services

Please, check the map of the area in Excursionmap.fi.

The Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät Nature Reserve offers a total of about 30 km of hiking trails. Most of the time they pass through light-filled pine heaths. There are several lean-to shelters and campfire sites along the trails. All the trails are rather easy to walk. Only in some places there are steeper and rockier parts. Duckboards have been built over wetlands.

Duckboards crossing a mire.

The starting points for the hiking trails are the Matokangas parking area on the western side of Lake Iso-Palonen and the Valkeiskangas parking area on the northeastern side of Lake Iso-Palonen. Both parking areas have information boards in Finnish, English and Russian.

Walking Routes

Iso-Palonen Trail, 13 km

  • The rather easy to walk trail, marked with blue paints, leads around Lake Iso-Palonen and gives you a good overview of the area. You can begin both from the Valkeiskangas or the Matokangas parking area. Along the trail you can see hunting pits, bases of tar-burning pits, and remains of trenches dug during the Second World War along the trail.

Small wooden bridge crossing a brook, which merges to the lake on the left.

Pikku-Palonen Trail, 5 km

  • The trail, marked with red paint, is a circular trail beginning from the Valkeiskangas parking area and leading around lake Pikku-Palonen. For the most parts it goes in light-filled pine heaths. It can be combined with the Iso-Palonen Trail to make a longer hike.

Path in a pine forest. A lake can be seen in the background.

Jäkäläsärkkä Trail, 3.5 km

  • On the western side of Iso-Palonen you’ll find a nice short circular trail, which in some places is a little more demanding. You can also combine it to the Iso-Palonen Trail. The closest parking area is in Matokangas. The trail is marked in the terrain with red paint. Along the trail, you can see, among other things, the base of a tar-burning pit and the remains of a cabin near the pit.

Hikers walking up the hill in a pine forest.

Kylmänsärkät Trail

A trail, marked with blue paintings, leads through the area from Kylmänsärkät via Iso-Tahkonen to Ryti-Palonen in the western part. The length depends of your choice. Continuing the trail to the south from Kylmänsärkät you have a connection to the Elimyssalo Nature Reserve.

Lean-to-shelter and a campfire ring. On the side of the shelter is a wooden plate with a text: Tahkosen Laavu.

Boating and Canoeing Routes

Lakes Iso-Palonen and Veräinen offer excellent possibilities for paddling. It is possible to canoe on calm lakes or you can choose a longer route along rivers and rapids, and continue to lake Lentua.

Two canoeists on the lake.

Kalliojoki Route, 40 km

  • A wilderness canoeing route flows along rivers and lakes and a succession of rapids. The route starts at Lake Iso-Palonen, where it is connected to the area's hiking trails. The rivers between the lakes are short and the rapids follow one after the other. It is as if you were descending the stairs. The drop between Lakes Iso-Palonen and Lentua is about 21 m. The total length of the route to the centre of Kuhmo is about 60 km, 40 km of which are part of the actual Kalliojoki Route.
    • The lakes along the route are Iso-Palonen, Pikku-Palonen, Veräinen, Alanne, Kaurojärvi, Juolunkajärvi and Kalliojärvi, as well as Lentua and Lammasjärvi, which connect to the main Tervareitti Route.
  • The rivers along the route are Saavanjoki, Juolunkajoki and Kalliojoki. The most notable rapids are Kalastonkoski, Lohikoski, Nurronkoski, Poronkoski, Törmäkoski, Pystykoski and Kattilakoski. The Tervareitti Route also includes the Lentuankoski Rapids.
  • Most of the time, the Kalliojoki Route traverses uninhabited areas. Habitation is found only in the small village of Kauronkylä and the region of Kattilakoski.
  • Cleared passages along the Kalliojoki Route were restored during the years 1978 - 1979 by placing rocks in the rapids. However, a two-to-three metre passage has been left open for boating.
  • The Kalliojoki Route is best suited for canoeing. There is a boat launch at the west end of Lake Iso-Palonen.
  • The difficulty of the rapids along the route is I-III (amc-dc.org) depending on the rapids (16 rapids before Lentua).

Viiksimonjoki Canoeing Route

Landscape captured from the canoe.You can also start paddling on Lake Viiksimonjärvi, continue along the Viiksimonjoki River and onwards via Pieni-Tahkonen to Veräinen, from where you can continue along the Kalliojoki Route. There are a few small rapids on the way that are so rocky at low water that you must walk past them.

Services

Along the trails there are three lean-to shelters with campfire sites in the Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät area: Tammalammenpuro, Saunaniemi and Iso-Tahkonen (Oikunniemi lean-to shelter will be removed in near future). 

There is also a campfire site at Papinsalmi in the eastern end of lake Iso-Palonen. In addition, there is a campfire site in Papinsalmi.

Two hikers at the lean-to-shelter. Front of the shelter is a campfire.

Along the trails there are also campfire sites in Nimetönlampi, Kuikkalahti and Määtänniemi, but these sites are no longer maintained, and they will be removed in near future.

Note:

Please, follow the outdoor etiquette.

Remember to take your rubbish back to an appropriate waste disposal point.

Don’t forget to take drinking water with you.

Directions and Maps

The Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät Nature Reserve is located in the northeastern part of Kuhmo near the Russian border. It cannot be reached by public transport.

By Car

  • From the centre of Kuhmo, take the Kuhmo - Suomussalmi road (No. 912) and drive for 35 km. Turn right (to the east) to a forest road leading to Iso-Palonen. Drive for about 8 km and you will find signposts to the parking areas of the hiking trails. The parking areas are the Matokangas parking area on the western side of Lake Iso-Palonen and the Valkeiskangas parking area on the northeastern side of Lake Iso-Palonen.
  • The forest road leading to Iso-Palonen is not ploughed in winter.
  • If you begin from the Kylmänsärkät, drive from the centre of Kuhmo on road Kuhmo - Suomussalmi (No. 912) for 30 km and turn right (to the east) to the road Viiksimontie (No. 9122). The starting point is found after about 25 km.

Maps

The Iso-Palonen - Maariansärkät Nature Reserve extends to the border between Finland and Russia. You are not allowed to enter the frontier zone without permission from the Border Guard. The zone is clearly marked on the maps of the area.