I love hiking. The fresh air. The little paths creating a web of possible journeys around the forest. The peace of mind. So many things to love.
I used to hike a lot when I was young. In scouts I used to roam the forests of Northern Finland regularly. When I moved abroad my hiking hobby was replaced by urban adventures around little cities. This is why I was excited to get back to hiking and what better place to start than from the Small Bear’s Trail (Pieni Karhunkierros) in Oulanka National Park, a beatiful national park up north of Finland, in Kuusamo. I have a life long dream to one day conquer the big brother of this route, The Large Bear’s Trail, but as the Small Bear’s Trail is a day hike it was a good starting point. The Small Bear’s Trail is part of its larger brother and a good day hike for those who wish to see the beautiful scenery in Oulanka.
How to prepare for Small Bear’s Trail
- Take good shoes, as whilst the trail is easy to walk it is still 12 kilometres so Converse are not the shoes for this journey.
- Take snacks or sausage, as 12 kilometres takes time. Most Finnish hiking routes have huts and fire places where you can grill sausages.
- Decide which way around you walk ahead of time. The Small Bear’s Trail is a loop so you can either hike it clock-wise or counter-clock-wise. Whilst being an easy hike there is a 250 + 50 stairs at one point so depending on your knee health you can either go it down or up. My girlfriend struggles going downstairs so we decided go the route the “wrong” way so we climbed the steps.
- Be patient. Small Bear’s Trail is a popular hiking route so you might meet a lot of people on small trails. Preparing for this mentally will help you enjoy the experience.
There is a lot of nature in Finland to hike around
Hiking in Finland is easy as there is a lot of nature to choose from. Our location, Kuusamo is located in the north-eastern Finland, near the Russian border. Oulanka National Park is on the side of the city. We drove from the city of Oulu to Kuusamo, which is a 200 kilometre drive. Kuusamo can be accessed from other parts of Finland as well but one should plan the drive if coming from southern Finland as the drive may turn into a long one. Once you have reached Kuusamo and head to the national park should you stop at Riipisen cafe. The cafe has really good service, tasty donuts and roughly 1000 different northern items to buy as a souvenir for family and friends.
You can run into reindeer when hiking in northern Finland
Kuusamo is located on the northern side of the river Kiiminki (Kiiminkijoki) which is known as the border for reindeer herding lands in Finland. This means that you are driving in the region where reindeers roam freely. Reindeers in Finland are owned property of the herders but they are free animals that are only gathered few times a year by their owners. If you have rented a car and decide to drive to Kuusamo and Oulanka National Park please sleep your night well before the drive. Reindeers are like cows in certain parts of the world. They walk aimlessly and care very little about the passing cars. Reindeers also camouflage to their surroundings well which makes them almost impossible to spot before they are only metres away from you. Reindeers are not incredibly fast in their movements, but can still appear in front of your car if you are not paying attention.
Good shoes help when hiking in Oulanka National Park
The Small Bear’s Trail can at times be a challenging hike. Even though it is over 50 kilometres shorter than its big brother it does still provide some difficult paths along the route. This is why it is important to have good shoes to walk with. You can easily survive with your trainers, but we had purchased 25 euro hiking boots from Lidl. The cheap price did not make the shoes bad to walk on and these hiking boots were an extremely pleasant surprise. In addition they were warm which is a good thing if we ever wish to hike in colder times of the year.
As you enter Oulanka National Park and the Small Bear’s Trail you will find out it is a circle route so you can walk it to either direction. After the beginning’s straight path you encounter a crossroad in which you can decide if you walk the route “the right way” or reverse. At the crossroad you should evaluate your fitness and injuries. There is a 250 + 50 stair path at one point of the hike. You can choose whether you wish to climb the stairs or walk them down. I and my hiking pair both struggle with our knees which is why coming down that many stairs would have been painful which is why we chose to do the “reverse” route. At the crossroad, which is by a rapid, you choose to not go towards the cable bridge rather than the way which says “Karhunkierros(The Large Bear’s Trail)” rather than “Pieni karhunkierros (The Small Bear’s Trail)”. There are some steps in the beginning which will make you think you have gone the wrong way but keep walking, you will realise the 300 steps when they come.
Oulanka National Park has great views for photography
The Small Bear’s Trail moves along a river which provides some amazing opportunities for photography. There are multiple rapids, rocks, riverbends, and swamplakes that one can take a photo of.
The swampy areas are often accompanied with mosquitos. A mosquito spray is an important companion during the hike.
Happy attitude is the key
Finnish people may be known for silence and avoiding communication with stranger but in the forest the stereotypes do not apply. A part of the hiking culture is to say hi to people you encounter. This might sound normal to some, but if you have ever walked in a Finnish city you know it is rare to have a stranger greet you. The Small Bear’s Trail and its big brother are popular hiking routes which means you may encounter a lot of hikers. Just smile and say “hei” or “moi” to them and keep going. A happy attitude might be needed if you end up behind a long line of people at a cable bridge. The trail is still long so if you are not hiking during peak times you will be fine.
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