Natural Features and History of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park

Four black and white Snow Buntings flying on grey sky.

 

On the fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, many southern species live on the northernmost limits of their range. Pahakuru marks the northernmost range of the spruce.
Taking Care of Nature

The Fells Enchant Visitors

The landscape of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is dominated by fells and the pristine forests and bogs that surround them. Lapland's landscapes are sure to enchant the visitor. Indeed, the silhouette of the Pallastunturi fells have been chosen as one of Finland's national landscapes.

Approximately 3 billion years ago, Finland was bisected by a folded mountain range similar to the modern-day Alps. The present fells are the worn down-bases of those mountains. The only remains of the ancient mountain range is the chain of fells and forested hills running from Western Lapland to North Karelia. 

Sunset seen from a fell.

Barren Bedrock

With the exception of the higher peaks in the Käsivarsi region, fells of Finland were formed from ancient, barren bedrock. This barren quality can be seen in the vegetation, which is considerably more modest than the vegetation found on the calcareous fells of Norway and Sweden.

The various rock types of the fells were formed before Lapland itself migrated north with the movement of tectonic plates. Hard quartzite was formed from sea floor sand deposits, which were subjected to the core heat of the Earth as the crust moved. Over time, the rock mass hardened again and were pushed up into mountains as tectonic plates collided with one another. 

Some of the rock types found in the fells were formed by ancient volcanoes. Traces of these appear in the Pallastunturi fells as dark, volcanic rock, otherwise known as amphibolites. They are packed with nutrients, thus contributing to the biodiversity of vegetation. Fell Lapland is also filled with remnants of the Last Ice Age in the form of wide-ranging moraine and sand formations, such as dunes, ridges and terminal moraines.  

Between the Maritime and continental climates

Vegetation zones affected by the sea do not follow the lines of latitude - they rise toward the northeast. The northern treeline for spruce runs from the Pahakuru Gorge at Ounastunturi in western Lapland to Ivalojoki River and Saariselkä in the northeast. This marks the northern boundary line of the spruce range and the beginning of Forest Lapland with light-filled pine stands. These are the areas where many animal and plant species are living in their northernmost habitats. On the other hand, many boreal species thrive in the coolness of the fell peaks farther south than their normal habitats. 

View of the northernmost spruce trees, with fells in the background.

Taiga Forests, Fell Heaths and Aapa Mires

In the EU, forests in the boreal forest zone, also known as taiga, only grow in Finland and Sweden. Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is internationally extremely important in terms of its natural value. The pristine old growth forests and aapa mires of the park are extremely precious. The sheltering, moist forests offer the only habitat for old growth forest mosses, lichens and fungi. Spruce and pine trees are covered with dark hair lichens, which are also indicators of clean air (i.e. indicator species).

Dwarf cornel and garden angelica 

The herb layer of heath forests is dominated by common berry plants blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea). The wood cranesbill (Geranium sylvaticum), northern oak fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) and dwarf cornel (Cornus suecica) thrive in moist, nutrient-rich patches. Lush, creekside groves are a surprising change after the barren felltop heaths. These groves can be found in Varkaankuru Gorge at Ylläs and along the banks of the Pyhäjoki River at Pallas. You can find downy currant (Ribes spicatum ssp. lapponicum), bird cherry (Prunus padus), mezereum (Daphne mezereum), wood stitchwort (Stellaria nemorum) and even the one-flowered wintergreen (Moneses uniflora) here. Exceptionally impressive grove plants include the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), garden angelica (Angelica archangelica) and Alpine blue-sow-thistle (Lactuca alpina).

The Ylläs and Aakenus area has a large number of springs, which create a microclimate that supports the growth of rare moss and plant species. Small slope fens, i.e. treeless slope bogs, are also found on the nutrient-rich slopes.  

The magic of mires

Beautiful aapa mires of Forest Lapland create variation in landscapes. Small tarns are characterised by Labrador tea (Rhododendron tomentosum), cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus), bog bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) and tussock cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum). Particularly plump cloudberries can be found at the edge of wilderness mires. The calcareous soil of the Ylläs-Aakenus area maintain the very finicky mire plants. Although rare orchids can be found at the edges of fens, wood cranesbill, melancholy thistle (Cirsium heterophyllum), Alpine bartsia (Bartsia alpina) and Alpine saw-wort (Saussurea alpina) are more commonly seen. Growing in mires and at the bottom of trenches, the fluffy white or reddish tufts of white cottongrass (Eriophorum scheuchzeri) and russet cottongrass (Eriophorum russeolum) give the impression of a peatland meadow strewn with cottonballs.

Windswept Pincushion Plants

A typical characteristic of fell vegetation is such that they grow close to the ground or in tight mats. Many plants have needle-like leaves, which protect them from below-freezing temperatures and drying winds. Fell flora bloom quickly when the weather gets warm. 

Few plants are able to survive on a wintry fell without the protection provided by snow cover, with only exposed earth as a habitat. The pincushion plant (Diapensia lapponica) is a wonder of adaptation. It grows in tight clumps and its strong roots keep it firmly anchored on the windswept slopes of fells. The pincushion plant reproduces with seeds and attracts insect pollinators with its large white flowers. 

Fell vegetation zones

In the fells, growing conditions vary according to how far above sea level and how far north a given habitat is. A unique characteristic of the Fennoscandian peninsula is that the forest edge is not made up of conifers, but rather stands of fell birch. This is the same whether heading north or climbing a fell slope. 

In the fells of Western Lapland, coniferous forests extend to an elevation of approximately 400-500 metres. The fell birch stands just above them and soon give way to the treeless summit. Typical plants of the treeless summit include the mountain crowberry (Empetrum nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum), Alpine azalea (Kalmia procumbens), Alpine bearberry (Arctous alpina), blue heath (Phyllodoce caerulea), pincushion plant (Diapensia lapponica), highland rush (Juncus trifidus) and Alpine clubmoss (Diphasiastrum alpinum). The Alpine bearberry, bog bilberry and blueberry are responsible for the spectacular display of autumn red in Lapland. 

No two treeless summits are alike

The thickness and duration of snow cover and the wind all contribute to shaping the summit vegetation. Blueberry, blue heath and dwarf birch heaths are commonly found on the lower slopes of fells and in depression in areas with deep snow cover. Crowberry heaths are commonly found on the dry summit areas of fells. In some places, the wind is so hard on vegetation that wind heaths are formed.

Snow Bunting ushers in the Spring

In April, the snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), which is the emblem of the National Park, is one of the first migratory birds to arrive in Lapland. Its playfulness and chirpy birdsong happily usher in spring. Flocks of snow bunting shimmer black and white in flight. The summer plumage of the male is black and white, while the female has a varying amount of brown. Both the male and female have white spots on their wings and a white breast.

Snow buntings in flight.

The snow bunting nests in the tundra regions of Eurasia and North America, just like the ptarmigan. In Finland, they tend to be found in the Käsivarsi region and Northern Lapland. The Pallas-Yllästunturi area is one of their southernmost habitats. 

The jingly song of the snow bunting echoes through the fells at the beginning of June. It builds its nest out of moss and lichen in the depths of rock fields, lining it with hay and feathers. The female incubates the eggs and the fledglings are capable of flight by July. In August, the juvenile flocks gather along lush banks of creeks to feed, bringing a last rush of movement to the fell landscape as it begins to settle in for a long winter's sleep.

Forests

The forests of the fell chain are coniferous forest of the western Taiga biome. Their old-growth forests are of immense value in conservational terms. The natural features in the National Park are more diverse than in the surrounding areas as there are great changes in altitude and difference of rock type in the bedrock. The area includes all the northern forest types from Northern Finland spruce forest and Forest Lapland pine woodland to Fell Lapland birches and treeless fell tops. Animal species of the north are present in the area though it is south of their actual habitat.

The vegetation of heaths in the National Park is made up for the most part of familiar forest berries; blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea). In spots where the earth is damp and fertile more lush plants such as the Wood Crane's-bill (Geranium sylvaticum) and the Oak Fern (Lastrea dryopteris) are in abundance. Such plants as the Red Currant (Ribes spicatum), the European Bird Cherry (Prunus padus), the Mezereon (Daphne mezereum) and One-flowered Wintergreen (Moneses uniflora) grow in the park's herb-rich forests. Especially stunning are the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), the Angelica (Angelica archangelica) and the Alpine Sow Thistle (Cicerbita alpina) in brook-side herb-rich forests.

Birds of the north and south

The bird population of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is typical for Lapland wilderness, a mixture of northern and southern species. The fell birds at the southern edge of their range include the Eurasian dottrell (Eudromias morinellus) and rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), while species at the northern edge of their range include the common blackbird (Turdus merula) and wood warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix).  The population of old growth forest species is well represented.  Common forest species are the Eurasian three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus), pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator) and the ever sociable Siberian jay (Perisoreus infaustus).  

There are plenty of habitat for several birds of prey species in the area, and owls and hawks increase in number during good vole years. A lucky hiker might even catch a glimpse of the red-flanked bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus). Along the lush banks of creeks you might hear the talented voice of the bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) or the gentle refrain of a goldcrest (Regulus regulus). The white-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus) is a truly unique denizen of the riparian habitat. The swift grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) might pop up along the banks of running water. Two of the more populous birds found in wet mires are the wood sandpiper (Tringa glareola) and western yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava), and with a pair of binoculars and a little luck you might spot a red-necked phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus), jacksnipe (Lymnocryptes minimus), ruff (Philomachus pugnax) or spotted redshank (Tringa erythropus). 

Home turf of the Bear 

A brown bear (Ursus arctos) and a lynx (Lynx lynx) are the only permanent large carnivores of the National Park. Both are nocturnal, and it is hard to see even traces of their presence.  Nevertheless, their habitat covers the entire National Park.

The brown bear has adapted to the long winter by hibernating for the duration of snow cover. It retreats to its winter den in September-November and emerges from its months-long slumber in April-May. Males have an extensive territory and can migrate hundreds of kilometres in a relatively short period of time. Forest and fell regions in Sweden fall within the summer territory of male bears in Western Lapland. Females live with their cubs in a smaller area.

Research with Long Traditions

The diverse nature of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park offers outstanding opportunities for research. Indeed, the park currently has over 100 research projects underway, a majority of them are related to the monitoring of international air quality. Other key projects focus on treeline forests, the environmental impact of tourism and the ecology and population fluctuations of voles. The national park has an exceptionally wide range of small mammals, and the long-term research projects on vole population are internationally important.

Air quality measurement station on a fell.

The Cleanest Air in the World 

Breathe in the fresh, pure air of Finnish Lapland as you enjoy the literally breath-taking scenery of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. This part of Finland has the cleanest air anywhere in the world, according to scientists who have studied air samples taken at a local air quality research station.

Breathing pristine, unpolluted air is a rare pleasure today. Most people – especially those of us who live in cities and towns – are routinely exposed to a wide range of air pollutants that can cause problems such as asthma and respiratory diseases.

Lapland is a great place to give your lungs a detox treat. It's also a region free of noise and light pollution, so you can also enjoy other unforgettable experiences here such as absolute silence and night skies dotted with millions of stars.

Two hikers on a fell looking at a rainbow.

Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park's other natural attractions include superb pristine landscapes. Climb up the park's high treeless fells to get fantastic views over Lapland's vast forests and lovely lakes.  Because the air is so clean, you can see for miles and miles in every direction, and experience the feeling of being in the heart of Europe's last great wilderness. 

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Both Sámi and Finnish Culture

The fells are located in a culturally interesting border zone. The region has been inhabited since the Stone Age, mainly by the Sámi. As the centuries have passed, the hunters and fishers of Kemi and Tornio Regions have sought the rich hunting lands and lakes at the head waters of the region's rivers. Over time new Finnish settlements were established along the river shores. In some parts, Finns and Lapps lived separately practising their own livelihoods, in other regions they lived side by side and yet in others their cultures melted together. 

Reindeer and reindeer husbandry play an important role in the National Park, as the Local Herding Co-operatives of Alakylä, Kyrö, Muonio and Näkkälä use the area as a grazing and breeding area. There are also many structures and historical sites in the National Park related to reindeer husbandry.

History of the National Park

The idea for a National Park was brought up in a report by the management committee for protected forests in 1910. The committee suggested that National Parks be established at the Pallastunturi Fells and at Pyhätunturi Fell in Pelkosenniemi. Metsähallitus, then, at the government's request, proposed that protected areas be separated from state-owned lands. A report was written by Professor of Botany Kaarlo Linkola, based on his 1925 trips into the field. Linkola thought that the Pallas-Ounastunturi Fells were an exceptional piece of state-owned land, which offered a true picture of Lapland in all its splendour; with magnificent fells and seemingly endless woodlands.

At the 1928 Parliamentary Days a proposal to name the Pallas-Ounastunturi Fells a protected area was approved, but the law was never ratified due to an incomplete general parcelling out of land. It took another ten years and many reports and proposals, before Finland's first National Parks were established in 1938. Pallas-Ounastunturi was one of these first two.

At the beginning of 2005 the National Park experienced vast changes, when Ylläs-Aakenus Nature Reserve was joined to the old National Park and a new one called Pallas-Ylläs National Park was established. The National Park is now double the size it used to be.

A black and white photo of a man on a fell looking at the forests and lakes below.

History of Outdoor Recreation

The natural features and landscape of the fells have always enchanted hikers. The Pallas-Ounastunturi region had already developed into a popular tourist resort in the 1930's. A hotel was opened on the slopes of Pallastunturi two weeks before the National Park was established. The hiking route from Pallas to Hetta was marked as early as in 1934.

Suomen Naisten liikuntaliitto (Finland's women's sports organisation) was a forerunner in winter sports. They arranged the first fell-skiing courses at Pallastunturi in the mid 1930's. The organisations recreation centre was destroyed during the war and a new one was built at Ylläs.

Names of the Places

Most of the Finnish dialects spoken in Lapland are of the Northern Finnish dialect group, which are also spoken in Sweden and northern Norway. The Sámi language has had a great influence on the vocabulary of these dialects.

Sámi words have been loaned for depicting nature, reindeer husbandry and northern living conditions. There have often not been suitable words in Finnish for certain phenomenon of northern nature. Many local place names in the region are of Sámi origin and have through the years changed into names that are easier for Finns pronounce. Some examples of words like these are: kaltio, kero, lompolo, mella, vuoma and vuontis.

Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park

  • Established 2005
  • Area 1020 km²

The drawn of emblem of Pallas-Yllästunturi national park. Depicted on the oval emblem are three snow buntings. Circling the outer rim of the emblem are the words Pallas-Yllästunturi kansallispuisto nationalpark.

The Emblem of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is Snow Bunting.