Lemmenjoki River Canoe Route

 

The route could be called, for example, the Golden Route along the River Lemmenjoki, as the gold diggers travelled to the goldfields along this river before the Inari–Kittilä road was constructed at the end of the 1960s. Still today, the section between Njurkulahti and Kultahamina can only be made by boat or on foot. However, it is noteworthy that this route was important even before the gold find in the area in 1945. Roads were not constructed in Inari before the 1920s. Before that, people travelled along water routes, and along the ice of the lakes in winter.

The route does not require any special boating skills, unless it is very windy. However, the route is long, so it is necessary to have a fairly good physical and mental health. Wilderness skills are also required. Allow about one week for the trip, if you set off from Sikovuono. At its shortest (the section from Njurkulahti to Kultahamina and back), the trip takes two days. 

The parts of the route are very different from each other. The open lake areas, the hills with pine forests, and the fells behind them characterise Lake Muddusjärvi, Lake Solojärvi, and Lake Paadarjärvi.

The River Kettujoki, with its coves and lush shores, on which there are also some houses, represents a different kind of world. It appears to be more southern, whereas Ala-Lemmenjoki snakes in between the pine heaths and the eskers. The final section (i.e. the stretch from Njurkulahti to Kultahamina) first runs along long lakes and stretches of strongly flowing waters and then along a canyon lake that is bordered by rugged rock walls. 

There are also other variations along the route. In places, the route runs close to settlements, and then again in the wilderness. The route can also be carried out in sections. The possible starting points are Sikovuono of Lake Muddusjärvi, Riutula, Lake Solojärvi, and Njurkulahti. As the route’s ending point, Kultahamina, is located in the heart of the roadless national park, you must return to Njurkulahti along the same route as during the early part of your trip.

You can also travel to Lake Paadarjävi and further on to River Lemmenjoki along the wide, lake-like River Vaskojoki. In this case, start your trip from along the Inari–Angeli road, by the River Vaskojoki bridge. This option has only been possible since the end of the 1970s, when a road to Angeli was constructed. Consequently, the River Vaskojoki has never been part of the old Golden Route, but if this fact does not disturb you, the River Vaskojoki provides an alternative to River Kettujoki.

At its shortest, the trip is 40 kilometres long. In this case, the departure and the return take place at Njurkulahti. The route Lake Solojärvi – Njurkulahti – Kultahamina – Njurkulahti is 73 kilometres long, and the route Riutula – Lake Solojärvi – Njurkulahti – Kultahamina – Njurkulahti is 82 kilometres long. When setting off from Sikovuono and ending your trip at Njurkulahti, the length of your trip is 90 kilometres.

Directions by car

When arriving from the south, drive along Road no. 4 past Ivalo and the parish centre of Inari. Having driven past the River Juutuanjoki bridge and the Siida Northern Lapland Nature Centre, continue for 7.5 kilometres to the north, and turn towards a boat launch site (indicated by a signpost) that is located at Sikovuono (WGS84 lat 68.9616, lon 26.9583).

Riutula (WGS84 lat 68.9420, lon 26.8020) is also a possible starting point. In order to go to Riutula, drive from the parish centre of Inari 3 kilometres to the north, and turn left onto Road no. 9553 running to Angeli. Continue along this road for less than 7 kilometres to the Vasatokka Youth & Holiday Centre crossroads, and turn right onto a road that runs to the shore. The municipality's boat ramp is located at a distance of 150 metres from the crossroads. Slightly further away, you will see the Vasatokka Youth & Holiday Centre, where you can enquire about a parking space.

The third option for departure is to drive to the shore of Lake Solojärvi. In this option, from the parish centre of Inari, turn west onto Road no. 955 running to Kittilä. Drive along this road for 12.5 kilometres, and turn right onto a narrow gravel road that runs to the municipality's boat launch site (WGS84 lat 68.8345, lon 26.7975).

The fourth option is to drive straight to the border of the national park to the village of Njurkulahti. In this option, turn onto Road no. 955, which runs from the parish centre of Inari to Kittilä. Drive along it for 36 kilometres, and turn right onto Road no. 9551. After driving along this road for slightly more than ten kilometres, you will arrive at the yard of a tourism enterprise (WGS84 lat 68.7587, lon 26.2324), which is located on the shore of River Lemmenjoki. You can also set off for your trip from a public jetty at Njurkulahti, which is located about one kilometre before: when driving uphill, turn to the right. The road runs past an information shelter for the national park and the old nature information hut. Thereafter (before the wooden fence), the road turns to the left, towards the shore and the jetty. 

The fifth option is to set off from the side of the River Vaskojoki bridge (WGS84 lat 68.94924, lon 26.66359). In order to drive to this site, drive 3 kilometres north of the parish centre of Inari, and then turn left onto a road that runs to Angeli. Drive along this road for 15 kilometres, and you will see the River Vaskojoki. Cross the bridge and turn to the left. The road runs to the shore.

Route descriptions

On your trip, you can do the following sections, for example. In the first option, the departure takes place from Sikovuono, in the second option from Lake Solojärvi, and in the third option, from the side of the River Vaskojoki bridge.

First Option,Starting Point Sikovuono

  • Sikovuono – Riutula 7 km
  • Riutula – Ailivaara (a rocky peninsula) of Lake Paadarjärvi 20 km. (when choosing the route along the southern shore: Riutula – the Lehutniemi peninsula of Lake Paadarjärvi 25 km)
  • Ailivaara – the Ala-Lemmenjoki rest spot 14 km. (the route along the southern shore: the Lehutniemi peninsula – the Ala-Lemmenjoki rest spot 11 km)
  • The Ala-Lemmenjoki rest spot – Njurkulahti, 12 km
  • Njurkulahti –  Kultahamina 20 km
  • Kultahamina – Njurkulahti 20 km
  • In total 93-95 km

Second Option, Starting Point Solojärvi

  • Solojärvi–Ailivaara of Lake Paadarjärvi 11 km. (the route along the southern shore: Solojärvi – the Lehutniemi peninsula of Lake Paadarjärvi 12 km)
  • Ailivaara – the Ala-Lemmenjoki rest spot 14 km. (the route along the southern shore: the Lehutniemi peninsula – the Ala-Lemmenjoki rest spot 11 km)
  • The Ala-Lemmenjoki rest spot – Njurkulahti, 12 km
  • Njurkulahti –  Kultahamina 20 km
  • Kultahamina – Njurkulahti 20 km
  • In total 75-77 km

Thrid Option, the Bridge of the Vaskojoki-river

  • The Bridge of the Vaskojoki -river–Ailivaara 10 km, and continue in the same way as in the other options.
  • In total about 76 km

Sikovuono as a Starting Point

Sikovuono-Riutula

At Sikovuono, there is a municipal boat launch site and a parking area next to it. This section runs through lake scenery towards the Leutolahti Bay of Lake Muddusjärvi. Leutolahti is almost like a lake on its own, as only narrow straits connect it to the large, wildernesslike Lake Muddusjärvi. There are some islands along this section, but these islands will not provide any shelter in windy weather.

Almost all shores and water areas of the Leutolahti Bay are privately owned. There are old farms on the southern shore, and on the northern shore, there are some summer cottages.

The Syrminiemi peninsula on the northern shore – which is now, in fact, an island (since a narrow canal was dug between Sikovuono and Hyljelahti) – is an impressive sight. It is difficult to walk in the area because of its steep wooded hills, rock walls, and ravines. Syrminiemi has therefore remained fairly pristine.

Riutula is famous for the world's northernmost orphanage, which used to operate in the area. It was opened in 1903 (at first, it also functioned as an old people's home), and it ceased its activities in 1978. Currently, the Vasatokka Youth & Holiday Centre operates in the building. Vasatokka organises nature-themed camp schools for young people, but it is also open for other people: it provides accommodation, and restaurant services by request.

Riutula – Paatari (Ailivaara tai Lehutniemi)

When setting off from Riutula, Tuorisjänkä, which is a wide aapa mire, remains on the right-hand side. After the mire, there is some ascending terrain, and after three kilometres, you will arrive at the River Kettujoki bridge. Almost immediately after the bridge, you will arrive at the fast-flowing rapids of Kettukoski. For bypassing the rapids, use the 100-metre-long boat trail running along the right-hand riverbank.

After the Kettukoski Rapids, the River Kettujoki flows tranquilly, without any rapids. Over the course of time, the river has eroded a snaking channel in the low-lying shores. In two places (next to the current channel), the old channel is still visible in the shape of "roundabouts" ‒ the river has sieged the land and has turned it into islands. The dense birch forests cover the riverbanks in many places, and there are also some spruces amongst the birches. The northernmost line for spruce forests is located roughly 40 kilometres south of this location. The willow, the dwarf birch, the marsh Labrador tea, and other shrubs cover the mires.

The River Kettujoki is tranquil because of the small altitude difference. It is only 1.6 metres between Riutula and Lake Paatari, and a significant amount of it is to be found in the Kettukoski Rapids, which are the only rapids in this section.
There are more birds in the Kettujoki area than in the other parts of Inari. Waterfowl, in particular, and small birds favouring shrubby habitats thrive here. The River Kettujoki belongs to the Waterfowl Habitats Conservation Programme (ym.fi).

In the first stretch of River Kettujoki, there is a considerable amount of private lands and settlements. After Keskimukka, most of the lands are state-owned. As the shores are usually shallow, wet, and covered by a thick peat layer, there is a lack of good rest spots. Due to this fact and in order to protect the nesting birds, it is a good idea to continue to the River Matkajoki, and further onwards to Lake Paatari. The River Matkajoki connects Lake Paatari to Lake Solojärvi.

When arriving at Lake Paatari, you must decide along which shore you will proceed. If the wind blows from the south or the east, the southern shore is more sheltered. Correspondingly, if the wind blows from the north or the west, the northern shore is a safer option.

Paatari is a large lake. It only has two islands of a considerable size: Pekan Iisakin saari and Isosaari. Next to Isosaari, there is an islet where the willow thrives. In summer, the islet is a home for Arctic terns and little gulls. The impacts of the open lake areas can be seen as bare ground on the tips of the peninsulas: in the fierce melting of the ice, the wind forces ice onto the shores and across the peninsulas, so that the roots of shrubs and seedlings come off from the ground, making the ground bare.  



Paatari is an impressive lake: due to its width, it is so spacious that it reminds of a sea. The green hills and the fells behind the hills rise far in the horizon. The many fine sandy beaches and the grass on the shores adequately soften the character of the lake. But variations in the weather conditions change the atmosphere in next to no time. On a warm summer's day, the place reminds you of the Riviera – except that there are no other people around. However, when the wind turns to the Arctic Ocean, the weather suddenly becomes arctic, and you will not find the place similar to the Riviera any more. Then, you will need a sweater under your jacket.

Metsähallitus does not have many services in the Paatari area. However, there are two good camping sites. One of them, Ailivaara, is located on a small, rocky peninsula on the northern shore of the lake. At the base of this peninsula, on the western side, you will find a sheltered sandy cove where beaching is easy. The camping site on the lake's southern shore is located on the Lehutniemi peninsula, which has sandy shores. Please note that the lake's southern shore (except for Lehutniemi) is privately owned.

Paatari – Njurkulahti

Lake Paadarjävi, Paadar, Paatari ‒ the lake has many names ‒ is a traditional dwelling area of Inari Sámi. They are a small Sámi group, a minority within a minority that is formed by the Sámi groups. Inari Sámis have their own language. It has been in danger of disappearing, but the hard work carried out in recent years in order to preserve the language, and the language baths for children, in particular, have had encouraging results.  
There are old Sámi settlements at the eastern end of the lake at Junnas, at Lusmaniemi, and at the south-western end of the lake. There are many summer cottages amongst these old settlements. Lake Paadar is also connected to more recent history: a story goes that Tapio Wirkkala, Designer, came up with his "Frozen Ice" idea for the Finlandia Vodka bottle when looking at the melting of the ice of Lake Paadar. It is not known whether this story is true.



The nature of the trip changes completely when you continue from Lake Paadar and move upstream along Ala-Lemmenjoki. The river snakes through a sandy heath landscape. The steep, exposed riverbanks that are eroded by water in flood periods, in particular, make the outer bends of the channel glitter. The deepest channel is usually located at the outer bends. The inner bend of the channel consists of a shallow, sandy riverbed and sandbanks.

After canoeing for four kilometres, you will see a border sign of the Lemmenjoki National Park. From the border, there are still two kilometres to the Ala-Lemmenjoki rest spot.

When setting off from the rest spot, the river continues unchanged: the bottom of the wriggling channel is sandy and the channel is about twenty metres wide. There are no rapids or edgy stones. The counter-current is fair. The altitude difference between Lake Paadarjävi and Lake Juurakkojärvi (Njurkulahti) is 5.8 metres.

After travelling for less than six kilometres, you will arrive at Lake Äivihjärvi. Right after arriving at the lake, there is a resort village on the left side. A road runs (parallel to the river) to the resort village from the Njurkulahti road.
 
The eastern shore of Lake Äivihjärvi is private land, and the western shore belongs to the national park. The route up the river begins from the eastern shore, soon after the mid-part of the lake. In this place, there is also a tip of a long peninsula that extends from the south-west.

Next, you will arrive at Lake Taivaljärvi. Its eastern shore is privately owned. When continuing from Lake Taivaljärvi, a narrow stretch of strongly flowing waters runs between the eskers. At this spot, you must pull your boat, canoe, or kayak by rope past the rapids for less than 200 metres. The stones on the shore and the trees growing on the shoreline will make pulling difficult.

After Lake Taivaljärvi, there is a pool of quiet waters, and then you will arrive at Njurkulahti, from where a regular boat service (in the summer peak season) operates to Kultahamina. The distance from the overnight spot on the shore of Lake Paadarjärvi is about 24 kilometres. At Njurkulahti, you will find accommodation enterprises and restaurant services.

When setting off from Njurkulahti, there is a narrow, six-kilometre-long lake section. First, you will arrive at Lake Juurakkojärvi and then at Lake Sotkajärvi.

On the northern shore of Lake Sotkajärvi, you will see the Grounds of Kaapin Jouni. Metsähallitus restored the building complex in 2008‒2010. Kaapin Jouni (1875‒1956) was a "reindeer lord" of his time, a widely known and highly esteemed man. The Grounds of Kaapin Jouni present the housing and life of Sámi in the early 20th century, when the reindeer-herding Sámi moved to permanent dwellings. Entrepreneurs operating in the Lemmenjoki area organise, at request, guided tours to the grounds. You may visit the yard and the unlocked buildings independently.

When continuing the trip from the Grounds of Kaapin Jouni, the first rest spot and camping site will be just before the south-western end of Lake Sotkajärvi. The distance from Njurkulahti to this place is five kilometres.

A nature trail onto the summit of Joenkielinen Fell runs by the rest spot. If you wish to see fell wildlife, rocks, and open views, climb onto the summit. The ascent is three kilometres long, and the altitude difference is 383 metres. Joenkielinen Fell is 534.6 metres high and one of the most remarkable fells in the Inari area.

After Lake Sotkajärvi, the route continues along the wriggling river. When the water packs into a narrow channel, its flow rate increases. Here you must paddle as the counter-current is moderate. After travelling three more kilometres, you will arrive at the next rest spot, which is called Seäritniva. There are campfire sites on both sides of the river. The camping site is located on the northern side of the river.

When continuing the trip, there will be rest spots and camping sites at short distances. From Seäritniva, travel for a bit more than two kilometres, and you will arrive at the next rest spot, which is located on the shore of a bay south of Lake Härkäjärvi. And from there, proceed for two and half kilometres, and you will arrive at the rest spot by the Härkäkoski Rapids. Before that, you must travel up the Härkäkoski Rapids, which are a 200-metre-long stretch of rather strongly flowing waters.

On the shores of the River Lemmenjoki, there are many jetties owned by Metsähallitus. They are usually located above or below stretches of strongly flowing waters. Tourism entrepreneurs use these jetties when taking people onto their narrow riverboats and when people go off from these boats. The sections of strongly flowing waters often have so little water that the boats cannot run along them with a full load ‒ i.e. the travellers will have to walk to above the section concerned. Those travelling on their own boats must take this into account: the other side of the jetties must be kept free. It is easiest to pull the canoes, the kayaks, and the rowboats straight to the shore.

The Härkäkoski rental hut is located by the Härkäkoski Rapids. It is managed by Metsähallitus. If you intend to stay overnight at this hut, it is advisable to make a reservation in the preceding winter, as it will probably be too late to book it in the peak season.

The long canyon-like Lake Ravadasjärvi begins from the Härkäkoski Rapids. The southern riverbank, in particular, rises steeply from the lake. The rock walls and the boulder fields make the landscape rugged and austere. It is softened by the lush herb-rich forest by the mouth or the River Ravadasjoki.

The Ravadasjärvi open wilderness hut, including a rest spot and a camping site, provides a place for taking a break on the northern shore of the lake. From there, there is only half a kilometre to the Ravadasköngäs Waterfall, which is perhaps the most famous sight in the Lemmenjoki National Park. The Ravadasköngäs Waterfall rushes vertically down, along its rocky pass, into the River Lemmenjoki. Lake Ravadasjärvi is six kilometres long. The Pitkäniemi rest spot is located on the northern shore of Lake Ravadasjärvi, and the Morgamniva rest spot is to be found at the lake's south-western end.

After having travelled up the short Morgamniva stretch of strongly flowing waters, there is another stretch of strongly flowing waters, and then you will arrive at Lake MorgamjärviKultahamina, the destination of the trip, is located at its western end. The distance from Njurkulahti is 20 kilometres, and the altitude different is only 2.2 metres. Kultahamina has versatile facilities.

If you are interested in taking a look at the gold digging history of the Lemmenjoki area and the national park in general, you must do that on foot. The trail to the goldfields is known as "the hill of short of breath", as the ascent to the fell uplands requires a good condition. Morgamojan Kultala (open wilderness hut / rental hut), at a distance of 4.6 kilometres, is a good rest spot and site for overnight stays. There is an information board on gold digging history by the hut.

Rock walls covered by vegetation and other signs of gold digging history can be seen at Morgamoja and at Jäkälä-äytsi. Today, there are man-and-spade prospectors working on their claims at Ruihtuäytsi, for example. You can see digging with machines at the mining concession of Jäkälä-äytsi (a walking route runs by this concession) or at the concession located at the headwaters of River Miessijoki, on the southern side of Jäkäläpää Fell. Please note that the prospectors are working here and perhaps do not want to be disturbed.

Lake Solojärvi as a Starting Point

Lake Solojärvi ‒ Lake Paadar ‒ Njurkulahti ‒ Kultahamina

Along with Sikovuono, another traditional starting point to the goldfields of the River Lemmenjoki is Lake Solojärvi. The road from the parish centre of Inari to Lake Solojärvi was constructed by German troops in the Second World War.

The boat launch site is located by the Neivalahti Bay of Lake Solojärvi. A signpost will guide you to the shore, to a boat launch site of the Inari municipality. You can park your car in the adjacent parking area. Lake Solojärvi only has one island, in the middle of the lake. Solojärvi has been named after this island ("solo"). In fact, the precise Finnish translation of this Sámi name would be Saarijärvi ("saari"/"island" is "suolu" in North Sámi). The southern shore of the lake is privately owned, and the northern shore is state-owned.

The River Matkajoki, which runs from Lake Paadarjärvi, empties its waters into the western end of Lake Solojärvi. Having travelled up this lazily flowing river for about two kilometres, you will arrive at the mouth of the River Kettujoki. At this point, this route joins the route that comes from Sikovuono and Riutula. The distance from the point of departure to the mouth of River Kettujoki is a bit over 5 km.

Difficulty

The River Lemmenjoki water route is demanding. However, it is also suitable for families who travel along water routes as their pastime and are able to adapt to difficult conditions. It depends on the weather conditions what kind of trip you will have. For example, the open waters of Lake Paadarjärvi, Lake Solojärvi, and the Leutolahti Bay of Lake Muddusjärvi are exposed to storms. On a long trip, the weather often changes many times. The weather may be cold, or hot, or it may be rainy and windy, or calm. Mosquitoes and blackflies may harass you at places where you stay overnight. When boating, they will not disturb you, not, at least, on lakes.

The Route has not been marked

You will need reasonable wilderness skills as you cannot purchase any services along the route, but you will have to cook and take care of the accommodation yourself. You will have to navigate on the route's lake sections, so you must be able read a map. As there is so much variation along the route, there is no single vehicle that would be suitable for each section. A sea kayak may be the best option. You can do the route by rowboat, but you must be in a good form and you must have a strong back. You take a risk if you set off for the trip on an open canoe (Indian canoe). The large Lake Paadarjärvi, in particular, is often so windy that you cannot cross it on an open canoe.

Local people usually travel by motorboat or on long and narrow riverboats. Please note that you are not allowed to go motorboating in the Lemmenjoki National Park. You must, therefore, row the final stretch starting from the south-western end of Lake Paadarjärvi. Only a few tourism entrepreneurs have a permit for transporting tourists in the park by motorboat. It is also noteworthy that the Kettukoski boat trail sets limits for the size of a motorboat.  

Most of the sections can be done in either direction. If you intend to do the entire route from Sikovuono to Njurkulahti, the route includes both downstream and upstream stretches, as well as long lake sections.

When setting off from Sikovuono, you will arrive (after the Leutolahti Bay) at the River Kettujoki. The river gently moves forward. After crossing Lake Paadarjärvi, you will have to paddle upstream. The current in Ala-Lemmenjoki is not very strong, nor is it weak, either, so this stretch requires a good condition. Before the village of Njurkulahti, you will arrive at fairly long, stony rapids. You must bypass these rapids by walking along the left shore and pulling your boat or canoe by rope close to the shore. Between Njurkulahti and Kultahamina, there are three or four short and shallow stretches of strongly flowing waters, where, when going upstream, you will perhaps have to walk along the shore and pull your boat by rope close to the shore. When going downstream, the stretches of strongly flowing waters will provide variation by giving your boat or canoe a nice speed. The altitude difference from Sikovuono to Kultahamina is only 9.6 metres.

It is advisable that inexperienced boaters and those who are not sure of their physical condition choose the shortest option, i.e. Njurkulahti–Kultahamina–Njurkulahti. Thereafter, if you still have time and you want to continue your trip, you can run along Ala-Lemmenjoki downstream to Lake Paadarjärvi and further on to a boat ramp on the shore of Lake Solojärvi, where you can end your excursion.