Flying in to Kuusamo, the landscape is white with small black pin prick trees. Lakes are expanses of white while rivers are dark, snaking through the trees linking the lakes. The sun is barely clipping the horizon, perpetual sunset and inky darkness are the only two states that this landscape sees in the deep winter months.
Passing the ski resort of Ruka, the road passess into a dark forested area. The surface is compacted ice and the trees hang heavy with snow. Twilight is soon accelerating and as we arrive at the small cabins on the shore of the lake darkness engulfs the forest for another night.
This landscape couldn’t be further from the neon lit ski slopes just 25km to the south west.
Finnish Lapland is a vast area in the north of Finland, bordered by Russia in the east, Sweden to the west and Norway in the far north. Home to 190000 reindeer, many roaming free it is a wilderness that is easy to reach but hard to leave.
From Kuusamo there are two national parks that are completely different, but beautiful in their own right - Oulanka National Park and Riisitunturi National Park.
Oulanka National Park is composed of woodlands and lakes with raging rivers following the path of the ancient glaciers. Some of the highest waterfalls in Finland are found in Oulanka crossed by hanging bridges and small tracks. An experience when surrounded by steaming water and iced pathways.
Riisitunturi National Park is high with exposed fells, vast skies and far reaching views. The snow-crowned spruce trees of Riisitunturi are unique and distinctive, a result of the condensed frost building up on the trees over the winter months. The spruce trees bow under the weight of the snow and frost taking on surreal shapes and patterns that remain until the spring melts arrive.
What to do and photograph in a weekend in Oulanka National Park and Riisitunturi National Park
Snowshoe and Cross Country Ski in Oulanka National Park
Oulanka National Park has well laid out trails for exploring the woodland and lakes with either snowshoes or on skis once the snows arrive. They are clearly marked from the visitors centre and you are instantly taken into a Narnia like world. There is a range of routes that vary from easy to technical. There really is something for everyone. After a day out in the forest there is nothing better than returning to a sauna and hot tub under the stars.
Visit Myllykoski Mill and the Rapids
A short walk through the forest from Basecamp Oulanka is Myllykoski Mill. This mill sits on the edge of the rapids as the river thunders by. A suspension bridge crosses the river just downstream from the mill and gives stunning views of the mill, steaming in the rising mist of the river. This mill is well known, an iconic landmark of Finland. Despite this it is quiet and there is time to explore the surrounding forest trails and paths.
Walk to Castle Rocks and Jyrävä
Within the relatively short daylight hours it is possible to hike out to one of the highest waterfalls in Finland, Jyrävä. The route takes you through the woodland where the tracks of moose, reindeer and hares can be seen. The waterfall is frozen in the winter months, a jumble of ice and snow where the rocks and water should be.
Drive huskies onto the high fells of Riisitunturi National Park
A short distance south west of Oulanka National Park is Riisitunturi National Park. This area starts as woodland but as the trails heads upward, the trees thin and you find yourself on the high fells. These have spruce trees bending under the weight of their snow, known as tykky and far reaching views. Driving a team of dogs is a fantastic way to explore this unique almost martian landscape.
Visit a Traditional Reindeer Farm
Near to Ruka is Palosaari Reindeer Farm. This is a traditional farm, run by a Sami family who use traditional methods to farm these docile and gentle creatures. Spending time with the family, seeing how they care for these animals and the multiple uses for them is a true insight into the local area. Warming up around a fire eating sausages is a magical end to a day with the herdsmen.
See the Northern Lights
Whilst the aurora borealis is not the main reason for visiting this remote landscape, it certainly is an added bonus. In the winter months when the sky is dark there is a chance that the northern lights will appear over Oulanka National Park and Riisitunturi National Park. Finding an open space with clear views of the sky and waiting can provide amazing memories of the winter nights. If you are feeling brave you can spend the day building a quincy, a snow dome and spend a night under the stars tucked up in reindeer skins as the lights dance above you.
Photography in Finnish Lapland
This area of Lapland is stunning and even when you are busy with activities, making memories is possible. The landscape, as well as more intimate details convey the beauty of this area and the people who make it their home.
When you are taking photographs in this harsh landscape you do need to look after yourself and your camera. Keeping batteries warm and ensuring you allow your camera and lenses time to warm up after being outside is essential to prevent damage. Making sure you have enough layers when out in the sub-zero temperatures is essential. After just a few minutes you will feel the cold, especially if you are out at night waiting for the northern lights to appear.
Getting to Oulanka National Park and Riisitunturi National Park
These two national parks can be reached by road from Kuusamo airport via the ski resort of Ruka. There are regular buses or transfers can be arranged by Basecamp Oulanka if you are staying with them.
Staying at Basecamp Oulanka
There are a number of options for staying in these national parks but we loved the convenience and atmosphere of Basecamp Oulanka. Situated just under 25km from Ruka and accessed by road it is an easy and convenient base for exploring the area. You can book direct or book an inclusive package with Exodus, an adventure company based in the UK.
Inspiration for visiting Oulanka National Park and Riisitunturi National Park
Oulanka National Park and Riisitunturi National Park are both ideal as an escape to a winter wonderland. They are not commercialised in any way. You need to be self sufficient and plan ahead to make the most of your time in this wilderness, but the planning will pay off with surreal landscapes and magical memories.