The Piilola Trail is a historical wilderness trail in the boreal coniferous forest zone. This 35-km-long summer hiking trail connects Norway's Øvre Pasvik National Park and Finland's Vätsäri Wilderness Area. The trail is best suited to experienced hikers.
The landscape along the hiking trail chiefly consists of pine-dominated rocky heaths. The old-growth forests, the medium-sized clear lakes as well as the small rivers and mires bring open space and variety to the forest landscape. Although nature does not recognise State borders, there are differences in the natural scenery (such as landforms) in Norway and Finland.
In the wilderness, observant hikers will see signs of wilderness animals and the cycle of nature. There is a row of holes on the side of a pine at the spot where a three-toed woodpecker has looked for food under the pine bark. The wilderness is also home to bears – the crushed anthills are evidence of their presence. As the boreal coniferous forest zone undergoes various stages of development, forest fires and storms contribute greatly to its regeneration. The fire scars on the sides of the large pines tell a story of the forest fires that raged in the area long ago. The tree trunks that have fallen in one direction in a specific area reveal the course of a powerful storm.
The Piilola Trail is also a cultural route on which you can catch a glimpse of how life in the wilderness was in the past. Life at the wilderness farms on the shores of lakes rich in fish was based on self-sufficiency. The inhabitants kept a few cows and reindeer, they fished and hunted and led, from a modern perspective, a simple life far away from the population centres. The hiking trail runs along the old routes between the wilderness farms and the villages of Nellim in Finland and Vaggetem in Norway. The carved markings on the sides of old pines are signs of a route used in the past. The depopulation of the Vätsäri wilderness farms began in the 1970s. Today, Vätsäri is a quiet wilderness area where the locals carry out reindeer husbandry and go hunting and fishing.
The international atmosphere of the Piilola Trail adds to its uniqueness. The Piilola Trail was created as a result of nature conservation and nature-based tourism cooperation between Norway, Russia and Finland. The hiking trail runs through the Pasvik-Inari Trilateral Park (pasvik-inari.net), which is located in Norwegian, Russian and Finnish territory.
- The closest airport (www.avinor.no) is located in Kirkenes. In summer, there is a daily coach connection (www.matkahuolto.fi) from Ivalo to Näätämö. From Näätämö to Norweigian side Neiden there is no public connection, the dictance is about 13 km.
- From Kirkenes, there is a coach connection (Kirkenes-Vaggetem) to the village of Vaggetem and to a point that is located at a distance of about 11 kilometres from the Piilola Trail's starting point. Timetables (www.boreal.no, in Norweigian)
- The trail's southern starting point is located at the distance of about 14.5 km from the village of Nellim. From Nellim, drive along road no. 969 for 3 km towards Virtaniemi and then turn onto Kessintie (no. 9696). Drive along Kessintie for 11.5 km and you will arrive at the trail's starting point, where there is a parking area as well as an information board and a signpost.
- The trail's northern starting point is located 11 km southwest of the village of Vaggetem. From Vaggetem, continue along road no. 885 for 2 km to the south. There is a forest road branching off by the information board about Øvre Pasvik National Park. Drive along the forest road for 9 km and you will arrive at the trail's starting point on the shores of Lake Sortbrysttjern.
Local taxi and programme service entrepreneurs provide the necessary transport services in Finland and in Norway (www.kirkenesinfo.no, in Norwegian and English). By road, the geographical distance between the trail's starting points is about 290 km. The distance from Neiden to the shores of Lake Sorbrysttjern is about 47 km and 13 km from Neiden to Näätämö.
Instructions for Exploring the Piilola Trail
The trail on the Finnish side is in the area of Vätsäri Wilderness Area and in Norway the trail goes in the Øvre Pasvik National Park.
Crossing the Finnish–Norwegian Border
- Citizens of the Schengen countries and those citizens of a third country who have a residence permit or a visa for a Schengen country may walk freely across the Finnish-Norwegian border as long as they have nothing to declare. If required, you must be able to prove your identity, so take an identity card (such as a passport) with you.
On the Finnish side camping is free and also along the trail in Norwegian side.
Campfires in Finland:
- Lighting campfires is completely forbidden when a forest fire warning is in effect. It is recommended that you use the official campfire sites by the lean-to shelters and open wilderness huts or, at least, that you use the campfire bases when you find one. That way you are able to reduce the erosion of the terrain.
- Making open fires is always prohibited at both marked campfire sites and when fires are permitted by the land owner if a forest fire warning has been issued for the area (ilmatieteenlaitos.fi).
- This prohibition does not apply to cooking shelters or other fireplaces with a flue.
Campfires in Norway:
- In the Øvre Pasvik National Park, lighting a campfire is only allowed using dry branches and twigs at the official campfire sites. Lighting campfires is generally forbidden in the woodlands between 15 April and 15 September.
Level of Difficulty
The Piilola Trail is demanding because of its wilderness-like character. Hikers must have prior hiking experience as well as good wilderness and navigation skills. There are only few duckboards and bridges along the trail, and the rivers are mainly crossed by wading or by walking on the stones. The duckboards are in a bad shape. On the Finnish side of the border, the trail has been marked with wooden poles and on the Norwegian side with paint marks on the sides of trees and stones, in addition to safety reflectors hanging from trees.
There is relatively little variation in altitude but the rocky ground makes walking slow. The estimated hiking time for the Piilola Trail is 3–4 days. The best time for walking the trail is between mid-June and the end of September, i.e. the period after the spring floods and before the first snowfall. It is advisable to ask about terrain conditions in advance at Ivalo Customer Service or the Siida Nature Centre. The trail is not suitable for the disabled.
Camping and Lean-to Shelters
- Camping is allowed on the Finnish side of the Piilola Trail in the Vätsäri Wilderness Area in accordance with the everyman's rights (www.ym.fi).
- It is recommended that you camp in the vicinity of the open wilderness huts or the lean-to shelters, as they also boast a campfire site and a dry toilet.
- In Øvre Pasvik National Park on the Norwegian side, camping is freely allowed by the Piilola Trail.
- There are two lean-to shelters by the Piilola Trail:
- The Nuottamajärvi lean-to shelter is located on the southwestern shore of Lake Nuottamajärvi, at a distance of about 14 km from the trail's southern starting point.
- The other (and the most northern) lean-to shelter by the trail is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Svarbrysttjørna at a distance of about 2 km from the starting point located on the Norwegian side of the border.
The huts are located in the following order when walking along the Piilola Trail from south to north:
- Piilola, open wilderness hut
- Piilolaporten, open wilderness hut
- Ellenvannskoia, open wilderness hut