By Unnikrishnan S Kurup – Unni On The Move
Two Day Trips In Lapland – White Water Rafting For Kids and Hiking Pieni Karhunkierros
“To become good travelers, you need to travel, to explore and to experience new places and things. Traveling brings out the best in you. Let them start from a young age.” My wife Sreedevi and I used this ethic when we planned our various day trips in Lapland Finland.
With our seven-year-old son and our 10-year-old daughter, we made the long drive from the south of Finland up north to Lapland. All the while, the kids carefully watched for reindeer crossings. As we got closer to Lapland, their excitement grew for our two different day trips. One was white water rafting on the Kitkajoki River. The other was hiking through the Finnish taiga forest on the Pieni Karhunkierros (Little Bears Trail) in the Oulanka National Park.
Much to our delight, our trip was also punctuated with eating wild blueberries, drinking natural river water, and enjoying fresh brewed coffee on the banks of the rushing Kitkajoki. Our day trips in Lapland certainly allowed us all to explore and experience new things, and that is why we all came away with some incredible memories. If you have any questions/comments about any of this, leave them below.
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A Bit About Lapland, Finland
Lapland, Finland is a family holiday destination in the winter as well as in the summer. In fact, the Ruka Ski Resort in Ruka, Kuusamo is one of the most well known ski areas in Finland. This is the general area we were in. As Lapland is hailed as home to Santa Claus a.k.a Father Christmas (or Joulupukki as he is locally known), Lapland is particularly bustling in the winter time.
And, while there are tons of things to do in Lapland in the winter time, i.e. visiting Father Christmas, watching the Northern lights, riding on husky dogs sleds, snowmobiling, etc., this guide is about two summertime day trips in Lapland that you and your family will enjoy – white water rafting the Kitkajoki and hiking the Pieni Karhunkierros.
How To Get To Lapland For Your Day Trips
Ruka is about 850 km (530 mi) from the Finnish capital of Helsinki. It’s also about 45 km (28 mi) away from the Finnish-Russian border. So, if you want to travel to Russia with your kids, that could be a nice side trip either before or after your visit to Lapland. Just make sure you apply for visas well ahead of time.
As an aside, reindeer wander freely in this region. If you choose to get here by renting a car (more on that below), double check that reindeer and moose collisions are covered under your rental insurance.
Finland’s own airline, Finnair, has daily flights to Kuusamo. As winter is peak season for Kuusamo, the cost of this 1-hour flight during Finland’s colder months can be astronomical. Regardless, the Kuusamo Airport is just 30 minutes away from Ruka, so flying is a good choice if you and your family visit Lapland on a more strict timeline.
Another option is to rent a car and enjoy the 9-hour road trip from Helsinki to Kuusamo. There are many places along the way for outdoor family adventures such as the Nuuksio National Park, the Leivonmäki National Park, the Koli National Park and many others. As the Finnish government does a good job maintaining the roads, and as the country is pretty flat, the drive is quite easy.
Where To Stay For Enjoying Day Trips In Lapland
There are many ways to book accommodations in and around Ruka. During our visit to Lapland, we stayed in the Luppoaika Holiday Home. It was a quaint cottage, and had a very personal feel. This type of accommodation is common in Ruka, so when you and your family visit Lapland, you can enjoy a similar experience.
For a more upmarket accommodation, a hallmark of this region is the glass roof wilderness cottage. These are most popular in the winter months when you can view the Northern lights. However, they are nice in the summertime too when the prices are considerably lower.
Where To Eat In Lapland
There are great eateries all over Lapland. Two I can vouch for are the Porokirnu Cafe and the Hotel Riista.
The Porokirnu Cafe and souvenir shop, sells a wide range of local snacks and memorabilia made from reindeer antlers. Fortunately, the reindeer shed their antlers every year, so none of them suffer any harm in the making of the various souvenirs
Hotel Riista is quite well know in Ruka, and their specialty is serving local game meat. If you want to sample a Finnish delicacy – reindeer – Hotel Riista is the place to go. If you dare eat Bear, it’s also seasonally on offer here. People in this area sustainably hunt the reindeer and bears. When they sell the reindeer meat, antlers and hides, they are making a large contribution to the local economy.
Day Trip In Lapland #1: White Water Rafting For Kids
Finland is known as the ‘land of a thousand lakes,’ and with its approximately 188,000 lakes, the name is quite apt. Given all this water, there are many rivers, especially up north in Lapland, including the Kitkajoki. Since we were searching for day trips in Lapland suitable for the summer months, and since we were on a family holiday, we naturally looked for some white water rafting for kids.
We eventually settled on a rafting trip down the Kitkajoki River, and the experience exceeded our expectations. The reason our excursion was specifically white water rafting for kids is because in Finland families are only allowed on rapids up to class-3. Don’t worry however, we found even the class-1, class-2 and class-3 rapids quite thrilling!
Our trip covered approximately 15 km of the magnificent Kitkajoki River. We paddled through six different rapids, and white water rafting ultimately made our visit to Lapland extremely memorable. If you’re ever looking for summertime day trips in Lapland, white water rafting for kids should certainly be on your list.
Our Route Down The Kitkajoki River
The river Kitkajoki (joki means river in Finnish) flows all the way from Finland into Russia. While we didn’t cross the border into Russia, but we did paddle through six rapids, one of which was an intense yet exciting class-3 rapid.
Our rafting route is the blue line. The red line is the hike we took (details below).
Our paddling trip started off with a class-1 rapid. If you decided to not do any white water rafting for kids, but you still want to see some of the action, there is a pretty famous cafe named Leena’s Koskitupa you should check out. It’s right next to the rapids, and it offers a spectacular view of the river. You can also do some fly fishing here.
Of the many things to do in Lapland while white water rafting, or rather while taking a break from rafting, one such thing is trekking through the forest to gather wild blueberries.
Our tour provider was quite thoughtful about our wants and needs. Thus, after paddling through the first five rapids, since we were all a bit tired and a little cold, we took a nice long break at a traditional Finnish Cottage (Mökki) where they served us hot drinks and some Finnish snacks.
With a bit of warmth back in our bodies, we got back in the boats and paddled through the class-3 rapid, the largest one on our trip.
We reached the end of our route eager for the next time we’d go white water rafting. Even though we all got a bit wet, this was definitely one of those travel experiences that brought out the best in all of us. And ultimately, we felt very pleased we had made this one of our day trips in Lapland.
What To Bring White Water Rafting
White water rafting in Ruka begins each spring, right after the snow and ice melts. If you go rafting in the beginning of the season, make sure to bring a few warm layers to wear under your rubber suits. Also bring some wool socks to wear under your rubber boots. If you go later in the season, you will not need any additional layers, and you may not even want to wear a rubber suit at all.
However, regardless of when you go white water rafting on the Kitkajoki you are going to get wet. To this end, make sure you bring a change of clothes for when you get back to the rafting center.
The tour operator we used had helmets with Go-Pro mounts right on top. It was convenient to simply attach our camera to our helmets, so make sure to ask your tour operator about the features of their helmets. And, while you could bring your mobile phone to use as a camera (if it’s waterproof of course), there is a high risk it may fall into the river. If you do bring your phone, make sure you securely attach it to yourself or keep it in your guide’s dry box until the break spot.
Day Trip In Lapland #2: Family Friendly Hiking In Finland
Arguably, one of the best day trips in Lapland is a good old-fashioned family hike! There are tons of trails for hiking in Lapland, so why not start with the hiking trails in the Oulanka National Park? As we were visiting Lapland with our seven-year-old son and our 10-year-old daughter, we chose to trek the Pieni Karhunkierros Trail (detailed trail guide here), also located in the Oulanka National Park (general park map here).
Due to the length of the Pieni Karhunkierros Trail – 12 km (7.5 mi) – this trail is most suitable for kids who are used to hiking. If this is your first family hike, consider something shorter such as the Rytikönkään reissu Trail.
Even though the terrain on the Pieni Karhunkierros Trail is a bit rocky and hilly, along the route you’ll see rushing rivers, steep cliffs, a veritable forest sanctuary and lots of wild animal and plant species, including wild strawberries if you’re lucky!
We set aside an entire day for this outdoor family adventure, and we were glad we did so since it took us about 7-hours in total.
If you are visiting Lapland with older kids, and you want to do some more serious hiking in Finland, or rather backpacking, consider Oulanka’s most famous trail, the 82 km Karhunkierros (Bear Trail). You’ll need to make sure you have the proper backpacking gear, but if you do, this will certainly be a memorable outdoor family adventure.
Pieni Karhunkierros Route Map
NOTE: If you visit Lapland when the ground is not frozen, do this loop clockwise. Otherwise, do it counterclockwise.
For us, the highlight of this trail was the three suspension bridges hanging over the rushing water below. If you are afraid of heights these sections might be a bit scary.
The park rangers have marked the Karhunkierros with green paint. Along the route there are three resting/camping points – one approximately every 4 km (2.5 mi). When you reach “Kallioportti,” plan on taking a long rest here, as the views are amazing.
The Kitkajoki River flows through the national park. While we were hiking we saw a class-6 rapid which was essentially a roaring waterfall. At that point we were glad our rafting trip didn’t take us down that section of the river.
Pieni Karhunkierros Trail Sections
There are lots of ways to hike the Pieni Karhunkierros, however, we did it in four parts. Below are the details on each section. If you’re looking for day trips in Lapland, but you don’t want to do the entire loop, you could simply go out and then back on one smaller section, but the choice is yours.
Section 1: The Start To Myllykoski
If you do want to do a shorter out-and-back family hike, this is the section to do. From the start, it’s only about 0.5 km (0.3 mi) to the first suspension bridge. Be careful to not trip on all the tree roots on the way there.
Then we hiked another 1.6 km (1.0 mi). At that point we saw what we considered to be some of the most dramatic views on the whole loop – Myllykoski.
Myllykoski used to be an old mill. Now, it simply looks like a wooden shed next to the river. Make sure to sign the visitors book here. If you’re doing the out-and-back option, this is the place to turn back. Some people have a barbecue or picnic here before heading back.
Section 2: To Harrisuvanto For Lunch
It was another 4 km (2.5 mi) to Harrisuvanto – our lunch spot. This part of the hike was the most demanding due to the uphill sections and of course the downhill sections too.
Along this section of trail, make sure to save some time for Kallioportti, as it offers some amazing views of the pine forrest that blankets Oulanka National Park.
Eventually we arrived at Harrisuvanto. We used one of the two fireplaces to cook our lunch, and we took advantage of the two dry toilets at this site. Keep in mind however, whatever you pack-in you must also pack-out, since there are no rubbish bins anywhere along the trail.
Section 3: Harrisuvanto To Myllykoski
The third and final suspension bridge is immediately after you depart from Harrisuvanto. This was almost certainly the longest of the three.
After crossing the bridge, there is a bit of an uphill section, but afterwards the trail offers beautiful views of the Kitkajoki River flowing down below. The name of this section is Kalliosaari, and it was another one of our favorite spots on the Pieni Karhunkierros.
Section 4: Completing The Loop
One of the highlights in the final leg is the Jyrävä Waterfall. It’s a class-6 rapid, and again, we were glad we only saw it from the shore and not from a white water rafting boat.
Siilasmaja is the name of the campsite right next to the waterfall. It’s similar to Harrisuvanto in that it has many fireplaces for cooking lunch etc. A point to note is that, right after passing this spectacular waterfall, there is a very steep climb, so prepare yourself mentally.
Ultimately, we made our way back to the starting point. We all felt exhausted, but we also felt very accomplished.
What To Bring When Hiking Pieni Karhunkierros
Generally speaking, you’re going to want your basic day hiking gear. Think snacks, water, bug spray, some basic first aid, etc. Since there is no drinking water along the way, bring some sort of water filter so that you can safely drink from the stream. Alternatively, you can try to carry all the water you will drink, but that will likely be quite heavy.
In addition to these items, make sure you have study hiking shoes or boots if you need extra ankle support. If you want to spend the night, or even just take a nap along the way, consider bringing a lightweight tent.
As for food, you can of course bring cooked food with you. However, you can also utilize the various fireplaces to cook something out on the trail.
If you plan to pick blueberries, and there are a lot of them in July and August, you will want to bring a small container with you.
Other Day Trips In Lapland
Both in summer and in winter there are a ton of things to do in Lapland, Finland. These two day trips in Lapland are just a small sampling of what this area has to offer. As mentioned above, if you really like hiking, the 82 km Karhunkierros (Bear Trail) is a great option for older kids.
Also in this area is a working reindeer farm. You can pay a visit here in both summer and winter. If you visit in the winter you will also be able to enjoy a husky ride and snowmobile safari.
Another outdoor adventure in this area, and one we didn’t have time to do, is a bear watching safari. If you have small children this might not be a good choice, as it requires them to be nearly silent for a long period of time.
Ultimately, if you visit Laplan, Finland, whether you do some white water rafting for kids or even some family friendly hiking, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for outdoor family adventures. If you have any comments/questions, leave them below, and then enjoy your family adventure in Lapland!
Unni (short for Unnikrishnan Sreedhara Kurup) started traveling and has been writing about his travels and thoughts since 2010. He is an entrepreneur, software engineer, traveler, blogger, scuba diver, a family-man and a father of two. In his writing, he focuses not only on his travels and experience, but also about why it is important for every one to take “that trip,” to be on the move both physically and emotionally and to experience more things in life. You can check out more of his content at Unni On The Move