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Vindelfjällen
Vindelfjällen nature reserve is one of Europe's biggest protected areas.
Photo credit: Håkan Stenlund/Swedish Lapland

The Blue Highway – a riverside road trip through northern Sweden

The Swedish stretch of the Blue Highway makes for an epic road trip. Set off any time of year, and you'll be immersed in the majestic nature and cultural heritage of Västerbotten and the southern part of Lapland.

One of the many options for anyone compelled to get behind the wheel and lose themselves in the splendour of Swedish nature is the Blue Highway. Also known as the Blue Road or its Swedish name, E12 Blå Vägen, the route winds from Norway through Sweden and Finland, covering some 1,800 kilometres. Of these, 460 kilometres traverse Sweden, making for a continuous drive of just under six hours.

The spectacular Swedish section runs from the Norwegian border at Högstaby, north of Hemavan, continuing south to Holmsund, which forms part of Umeå municipality on the east coast. The road's name derives from the abundance of water surrounding it, including the 470-kilometre-long Blue Ume River, which flows alongside it. You'll also get the chance to discover the nearby Vindel River and Vormforsen rapids.

There's plenty to see and do as you travel from Hemavan to Umeå and Holmsund – so much so that the road is popularly called 'the tourist route Blå Vägen'. You could comfortably complete your adventure in a day, but we suspect you'll want to extend the experience.

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Hiking, Hemavan

Summertime in Hemavan. Magnificent mountain views and dramatic nature - perfect for hiking, cycling, fishing, and paddling.

Photo: Hemavan Alpint AB

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Hiking, Hemavan

Photo: Hemavan Alpint AB

Cloudberries

Photo: Emmie Bolmstedt/Visit Sweden

Drinking water in nature

Photo: Moa Karlberg/imagebank.sweden.se

The mountainous charm of the Blue Highway's western end

Setting off from Högstaby, you'll travel through mountainous terrain – replete with marvellous views. Given the Blue Highway's water-rich nature, it's the ideal road trip for fishing enthusiasts. With a permit, you'll find opportunities to hook fish such as arctic char or salmon at numerous marked places. Hemavan Tärnaby Tourist Information Office has all the necessary information and permits.

Sweden's unique 'Right of Public Access' policy also invites you to stop for a spot of wild swimming or a therapeutic moment of 'forest bathing' anywhere. You're even allowed to pick berries and mushrooms. Look out for the plump, amber-hued cloudberry – a northern Swedish delicacy thriving in marshy terrain. To drink – help yourself to clean water straight from the river or mountain stream. Over half of Sweden's drinking water is sourced from naturally pure groundwater, with no treatment necessary before consumption – but avoid stagnant water when refilling your bottle in nature.

Wintertime, the Blue Highway is a paradise for skiers and snow-sport fans. The two major ski resorts, Hemavan and Tärnaby – named after the mountainous beauty spots they extend across – collectively offer several slopes and ski areas, along with restaurants and accommodation in the shape of comfortable cabins and a large hotel.

The Blue Highway – seasonal things to do

Spring: Spend time in nature, where a blanket of snow typically remains until late April, by setting off on a snowshoe hike followed by an outdoor 'fika'.

Summer: Take advantage of the long summer days and midnight sun by going wild swimming, kayaking, berry picking and trail riding – on a horse or bike. Summer's also a good time to join a moose safari.

Autumn: Go hiking or biking surrounded by colourful autumn leaves, or set off on a rafting excursion on one of the many spectacular rivers and lakes. Forest bathing is another ideal autumn activity and a therapeutic one at that.

Winter: Be dazzled by the snow-covered terrain of Västerbotten – on skis, snowmobiles, dog sledge or a stationary chair while ice-fishing.

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Sami with reindeer

About 20,000 Sami live in Sweden – with their own cultural heritage, language, flag and parliament.

Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se

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Sami with reindeer

Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se

Granö Beckasin, Västerbotten

Photo: Bea Holmberg/Granö Beckasin

Granö Beckasin

Photo: Bea Holmberg/imagebank.sweden.se

Storuman and Lycksele – havens for nature and Sámi culture

Heading east, you'll soon discover Storuman and its many gems. Pick a trail and set off on a hike through Vindelfjällen nature reserve – one of Europe's biggest protected areas. Don't miss the Alpine Botanical Garden or the Stensele Church – entirely built in wood and the largest of its kind in Sweden. Accommodation options in the area include Storuman's Camping, which offers both cabin and caravan sites, as well as all manner of outdoor activities.

Culture mavens have plenty of museums and compelling historical sites to look forward to. Learn about Västerbotten's history and Sámi heritage by visiting Gammplatsen in Lycksele. This former Sámi gathering place, idyllically situated on a peninsula in the Ume River, is studded with historical remnants, and you'll also find the inspiring Forest and Saami Museum here.

Accommodation-wise, Granö Beckasin in Västanå, some 54 kilometres from Lycksele, is a decidedly unique option – particularly its 'bird's nest' cabins, which will have you staying up in the treetops. If you prefer traditional camping, this is available here, too. Granö Beckasin's restaurant is an option worth considering, focusing on local, seasonal ingredients – elk meat occasionally included.

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Umeälven river, Umeå

Umeå is beautifully located next to Umeälven river.

Photo: Fredrik Larsson/Visit Umeå Content Bank

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Umeälven river, Umeå

Photo: Fredrik Larsson/Visit Umeå Content Bank

Umeå river

Photo: Philip Avesand / Visit Umeå Content Bank

Museum of modern art, Bildmuseet, Umeå

Photo: Henke Olofsson/Visit Umeå Content Bank

Stora Hotellet and U&Me Hotel in Umeå

Photo: Tina Stafrén/imagebank.sweden.se

Vännäs and Umeå – hiking and city life

Further east, you'll find Vännäs and Starrberget Nature Reserve. Set off on a hike along the trails, snaking through its varied terrain, where flatter areas give way to steep cliffs and a mountain top with sweeping views.

Next stop: Umeå. This vibrant city serves up a smorgasbord of cultural experiences. Head to Bildmuseet for a dose of international contemporary art or the renowned Norrlandsoperan if an opera or dance performance appeals. Väven is a multi-pronged local hub with a cinema, events venue and museum – The Museum of Women's History. Dining is also part of the mix, courtesy of Kajen, Duå and Kulturbageriet, among others. You can even stay at Väven, where you can choose from two stylish hotels – Stora Hotellet and U & Me.

Don't wrap up your Blue Highway road trip without visiting the much-loved Västerbotten Museum. Highlights include interactive, family-friendly exhibits like 'the port city of Umeå' and the open-air museum Gammlia. Open only in the summertime, it’ll take you back centuries via authentic environments and experiences – enlightening you further about the region you're likely to have fallen in love with during your unforgettable adventure.

Look out for reindeer

The Blue Highway runs through the southern parts of Lapland, and reindeer husbandry is a way of life for many in the Sámi community. Please drive carefully and with respect to passing reindeer – and, indeed, other wild animals. You're most likely to encounter reindeer in the mountainous areas, and roads are occasionally cordoned off for brief periods to aid these beautiful animals on their journey. It is a sight to behold.