Wilderness adventure in Laponia, in the Swedish Lapland
There are four national parks in Laponia:
- Stora Sjöfallet/Stuor Muorkke park
The northern region of Laponia traverses a number of northern countries, but is mainly associated with Sweden and Finland. It’s also home to the native Sami people, who continue a long tradition of herding reindeer.
The Sami are indigenous people with their own language, culture and customs. They have been living in this area, which they call Sápmi since prehistoric times. Laponia was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 1996 to protect its important combination of unique nature and cultural values. According to UNESCO, Laponia is one of the best-preserved examples of nomadic areas in Northern Scandinavia.
Northern Lights and Midnight Sun
It can take some effort to catch a glimpse of the magical Northern Lights, but that’s part of the excitement. The darker the skies and your surroundings, the better the conditions are for spotting this phenomenon caused by electrically-charged particles from the sun colliding with each other as they enter the earth’s atmosphere. The resulting colours of light often have a green tint and are visible in the late evening. Join a tour and head out on a husky or reindeer sleigh to enhance the Northern Lights experience. Your best chance of spotting it is from August to April.
While it can be dark all day long at the height of winter, it’s non-stop daylight in this region from around the end of May to the middle of July. Late nights get even longer when the Midnight Sun continues to shine long past midnight.
Explore nature and the wilderness of Laponia
Laponia is a sparsely populated wilderness area with old-growth forests, glaciers, mountains and enormous wetlands spread over a 9,400 square kilometre area. Ninety-five per cent of Laponia is protected as national parks or nature reserves. Before venturing into them, it’s important to be informed, well-equipped and prepared for nature’s elements. The Naturum Visitor Centre is a helpful place to get information and learn more about Laponia and the Sami way of life.
The climate in this region is extreme, with temperatures as low as -40°C in the winter and up to +30°C in the summer. The Sami have chosen to divide their year into eight seasons, according to changes in nature and the reindeer’s life cycle. For example, the migratory birds return in the spring-summer and reindeer herds begin moving to the summer grazing land. In the autumn-winter season, the first snow arrives.
Late summer and early autumn, when the mosquitoes have settled down and the berries and mushrooms are ready for picking, is the best time to hike. In the winter – the longest season up here – skiers can glide over the iced-over wetlands and warm up in winter cabins.
The national parks of Laponia
There are four national parks in Laponia: Sarek, Muddus/Muttos, Stora Sjöfallet/Stuor Muorkke park and Padjelanda/Badjelánnda.
Sarek National ParkA living Sami cultural landscape, the Sarek National Park has mountains higher than 2,000 metres and almost 100 glaciers. The park is void of any comfortable accommodations or hotels, so come prepared to pitch your tent or stay on the outskirts of the park at night.
MuddusMuddus or Muttos National park forms the eastern part of Laponia. Established in 1942, this park is ideal for day trips or longer overnight camping visits, with its summer trail system of approximately 50 kilometres.
Stora SjöfalletThere’s more varied mountain landscape and glaciers in the Stora Sjöfallet/Stuor Muorkke National Park, including the massif of Áhkká, with its 13 summits and 10 glaciers. It is also the park’s highest point at 2015 metres above sea level. The park, which includes part of Kungsleden, the King’s Trail, was inaugurated back in 1909.
PadjelantaReindeer have been migrating to the Padjelanta/Badjelánda National Park for thousands of years and are still attracted to the wide-open pastures. The Badjelánnda Trail is easy to hike and follows dry ridges and plateaus created by the inland ice cap.
Nutti Sámi Siida, close to the town of Jukkasjärvi, brings visitors and reindeer together in a remote location in the woods where visitors can feed them or go reindeer sledding in the winter. There is overnight accommodation in cabins and it’s a good place to learn more about Sami culture and taste the local food. Jukkasjärvi is also home to the world-renowned ICEHOTEL, which has been hosting visitors since 1989 (see below).
Time for the town
When you’re ready to take a break from hiking or skiing, you can visit the town of Jokkmokk. This is a great place for unique boutiques and accommodation ranging from exclusive hotels to tents. Pick up some locally produced food or Sami-designed handicrafts and jewellery – often made from silver and reindeer horn – or colourful embroidered garments and bags. There are also candleholders, cups and knives made of engraved reindeer horn, along with traditional reindeer skins.
If your timing is right, there’s the annual winter market in Jokkmokk, which has been held here for 400 years. Discover more about the Sami culture at the Ájtte Museum in Jokkmokk, which also has a shop and restaurant.
Lappish cuisine consists largely of seasonal ingredients from the area. Game and reindeer meat are naturally common staples here, usually served with mashed potatoes and fresh lingonberries. There’s also a wide variety of fish caught in Lapland’s pure waters. The forests offer an abundance of berries including the cloudberry, a local delicacy.