Time of the trip: July 2016
Length: ca. 40 km (Northern Herajärvi Trail)
Hello and welcome to my blog! This is going to be my first entry and it’s about my hike at the Northern Herajärvi Trail with my boyfriend in July 2016. I saw that there wasn’t many blog posts and reviews of the trail in English (although I did find a few good ones), so I decided to make my own one. If you have any questions, please ask me in the comments. I speak English, French and German and am happy to answer your questions!
The text has gotten a bit long, I tried to mark the important parts, so you can skim it for information on the places you’d like to know more about. At the end, I’ve included useful links.
What I liked about the hike
- it’s challenging
- it has very nice hiking areas
- …and views!
- the campsites with good facilities
- the weather!
- it’s definitely not boring
- it’s very easy to find your way with the blue marks on trees etc.
What I didn’t like
- That there aren’t many water spots (wells) and you have to plan your water consumption
BEFORE THE TRIP
We both had never been on a hiking/camping trip before. We’ve been on hiking trips and on camping trips, but never the two of them combined. I have been on something that combined both things in a way, but the difference was that we had our tents and other equipment in a van and only did day-trips when hiking.
On this trip, we would be carrying our equipment on our backs. We read a bit online about what to pack and went to two hiking stores in the centre of Helsinki before the trip. We decided to do the 40 km hike in three days. We packed more food than we needed in case we’d be much slower and it would end up being 4-5 instead of 3 days. We read that it could be very exhausting at times and, even with being relatively sporty, we didn’t exercise much the weeks before doing the trail. So we decided to be careful with choosing how much food we would bring. I’ve included our packing list at the end of this blog entry.
We arrived on Tuesday night by car at UKKO-KOLI, where the visitor centre was already closed (it was already almost 10 pm), so we decided to camp at the closest campsite and go there in the morning, we needed a map and information about the trail. The visitor centre is called Koli Nature Centre Ukko and located right at where we wanted to start our hike. There is also a coffee shop, a hotel and a small shop. After deciding to spend the night, we went up to see the view from the Ukko-Koli and take some nice pictures in the evening light.
We had found a smaller map on the Internet of the area and saw the campsite named ‘TURULA’ close by. We went back to the car (it was parked right where the elevator takes you up to the visitor centre) to get the stuff for the overnight stay at Turula. The elevator had stopped working after we went up the first time (its timetable said it would work until 10 pm), so we got a first impression how it would be to carry our backpacks on the trail by walking up the stairs next to the elevator. The backpacks were just a bit lighter then than they would be on the actual trail since we didn’t bring all of our food and just enough water to last overnight and for morning coffee.
If I remember correctly Turula was 1.7 km from the visitor’s centre and it took us 20 minutes to walk there, mostly downhill. We missed one sign because of the approaching night and at times felt like we were nowhere. But nights are still pretty bright in Finland (in comparison) and it had only gotten a bit darker by the time we arrived at the campsite. The campsite was very nice, it had dry toilets, a fireplace and a well (water spot) located close by at some farm houses. We sat with some other campers and talked about our upcoming trips. We were the only ones that would do the Northern Herajärven Kierros (Northern Herajärvi Trail), another group was going to a cottage on the trail and two girls were going by canoe down the Pielinen Lake.
Later I was walking alone to go the well to brush my teeth and I couldn’t find it a first, then stumbled upon a fence in front of a meadow with cows! But I guess that was only because I was very tired and not looking properly. The well is not at the house that’s right by the campsite (as I had assumed) but a bit further away, after walking a few hundred meters on a path.
We both hadn’t slept well the first night because of a guy that was snoring very loudly. On a campsite, you tend to hear everything that’s going on outside your tent. So we decided to take the first morning slow and start hiking when we’d feel like it.
We had breakfast: bread with ham and cheese – which weren’t easy to bring on the trail – and coffee. We just had instant coffee on the trail and it tasted like sugar. Instant coffee is a great thing for trips like these, but can’t they make a version of it that tastes less like sugar?
We packed up our tent and our belongings, marched back to the visitor centre (uphill this time!), where we arrived with red faces and covered in sweat. We joked later that the employee of the visitor centre might have thought: “These two will never make it through the trail!”
At the visitor centre, we bought a map in a plastic folder. The employee told us that the water point close to Ryläys was out of order, which meant a longer stretch without water was ahead of us once we would reach that area.
Then we got the rest of the food from the parking space (we arranged everything on an old blanket and talked about what to take and what to leave) and took the elevator up again. I was very excited about leaving civilisation soon!
First, we sat down in the coffee shop next to the visitor centre, had coffee and planned our route. I have to say we didn’t put a lot of time into planning the trip before we came to Koli. We had checked out the length of the hike (35-40 km seemed fine) and the things we would need (tent, mattresses, food, cups, medicine, band-aids, etc., see above). Where exactly we would hike was planned in the coffee shop and often also on the route.
We decided to try to get to Kiviniemi campsite by nighttime. Kiviniemi was far (about 18.5 km if we would only stay on the trail), but it had running water at the nearby Kiviniemi Adventure Centre, a sauna and a fireplace at the lake! If we couldn’t make it we could always camp on the way, since this part of the trail didn’t go through the National Park. You aren’t allowed to put up a tent in areas that are not assigned to be campsites inside the National Park area.
Since we had seen the view from Ukko-Koli the night before, we chose to walk the other way around AKKA-KOLI and PAHA-KOLI to see something new. We walked up Paha-Koli without our backpacks and got a nice view. My boyfriend told me that the name meant “Evil Koli” or “Bad Koli” and I was sure it was because it was hard to get up there!
The backpacks, filled with food, clothes and ponderous camping equipment were already really heavy, but both of us (me not being a very strong girl) were able to lift and carry them.
It was about 1.6 km to get to the first stop on the map (Mäkranaho) and our first real stop was in IKOLANAHO 1.3 km further, where we had a small break with muesli bars and refilled our water bottles at the well. Ikolanaho was a nice looking meadow with a red Scandinavian looking renting hut and a fireplace. There was also a dry toilet, a bit further away.
A couple that we met there told us that it is very nice to swim in the water of the stream that we were about to cross next. It was the stream going from JERO LAKE to HERAJÄRVI LAKE. We walked there, not a very challenging part of the hike, but the path led us through nice forests. When we arrived at the stream we cooked our lunch (premade pasta Bolognese). It was a very beautiful spot and had a fireplace. We didn’t swim in the water, but we rested our feet in the cold stream. It was already past 1 pm and since we wanted to get to Kiviniemi by night, which was still about 14 km, we didn’t rest very long.
The path to Ryläys led us through forests and sometimes there were planks to walk on for a while.
We arrived at RYLÄYS, looked around a bit: there is a hut for staying overnight, a fireplace and dry toilets. Then we walked to the boulder that was marked as a sight nearby. It wasn’t that special, 30 meters wide, a wall of stones. If one is interested in stones it’s a nice thing to walk to, if not it’s not so great.
We talked a bit about staying in Ryläys (there is a nice hut nevertheless) but the lack of water drove us to at least get to the next well (it was probably like 6 km from Ryläys). Otherwise, we would have had to save a lot of water and have no coffee or soup (no coffee!!).
After Ryläys we walked further in the direction of Kiviniemi and got up a wooden tower that was also marked as a sight. We thought that the tower was once higher than the trees and that you then were able to see more of the lake. You could see far on the side not facing the lake, though. It is said that you can see Joensuu on good days (we couldn’t).
The way from Ryläys to Sammakkovaara (the next well) is nice and sometimes scenic. It goes up and down which we liked. It’s harder with the backpacks but not boring at least.
When we finally (it has been awaited for some time) arrived at the sign for the well of SAMMAKKOVAARA we were happy. It felt like a forever walk to the well (you had to pump water up, it wasn’t one with a bucket). There we sat down, drank and refilled our bottles. We did have some water left from before, but it’s always good to fill them up whenever you can. We talked about camping close to the well, but it was a too dark forest and we hadn’t met anyone after Ryläys, so it wasn’t the cosiest place on earth. The employee of the visitor centre had told us that we could camp everywhere, but we noticed that there wasn’t a lot of space where you actually could put a tent up on the way. Next to the well it would have been possible.
After Sammakkovaara we kept on talking about being ‘in the sauna by 10 pm’, which meant walking with a steady pace to Kiviniemi. The way there was challenging at times (through a swampy area, uphill) but also rewarding with the views on the last peak before Kiviniemi named KOLINVAARA. We didn’t make it to Kiviniemi by 10 pm, but we arrived at half past 10 at the campsite, after walking a (seemingly) long road and almost missing the sign. I have no idea if the paths really were as long as I remember them. We were very tired and the backpacks were heavy, you have to remember that! 😉
KIVINIEMI campsite was amazing. The view of the lake so beautiful that I remember thinking that this was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to! There was a sauna, a few places to put up your tent, a fireplace and a woodshed. People were already cooking and heating up the sauna. They told us that there was a dry toilet close by a hut (to be used for free, both toilet and hut). We didn’t go to the Kiviniemi Adventure Centre that night, we decided to go there in the morning. We cooked our meals (I’ve never eaten better Pasta Carbonara!) and sat at the fireplace for a while.
Sauna wasn’t at 10 pm, but we went later and swam in the (cold) lake. It was great! The sauna is free to use.
We were very tired and a lot of body parts hurt, but we were happy to have arrived in Kiviniemi. It was about 20 km (we didn’t always stay on the path, went for sights and wells) and that was an achievement for us! We slept very well that night.
The next day we took it slow again (being tired from the long hike the day before), had coffee and oatmeal with cinnamon and sugar at the campsite, then went to the adventure centre, had more coffee there (there is a shop/café) and filled our water bottles. I tried to wash my clothes in the sink with some soap, but they didn’t really stop smelling! Then we had lunch at the other lakeside and continued our way to Lakkala, which would be our next stop.
There was a ferry close to Kiviniemi on the way and you had to stand on it and pull yourself over the water with a rope (boyfriend luckily did most of the work). We laughed about reading on the internet that ‘the ferry was always on the wrong side’, it was true for us, too.
Then the way continued, very flat and sometimes a bit swampy. Next to a private area, after a small bridge, we sat and had protein bars. They didn’t taste good but gave us energy.
LAKKALA, the next stop, was a very nice (and busy) campsite. We sat there (ate more) and took care of our aching feet. Cold water and gel plasters did miracles!
Our next stop was SEPPÄLÄ, another well, to refill our water bottles once again. Seppälä is a bit off the path and next to a rental hut. We left our backpacks by the path. In Kiviniemi we had to repack because one of the backpacks was broken. So one person always carried a way heavier backpack than the other. It wasn’t the best thing to have (the broken backpack) but it worked in the end. The backpack held our food (in a big plastic bag) and sleeping mats, the other one held the rest.
We had decided to stay overnight in YLÄ-MURHI, because after that there wouldn’t be campsites for a longer time and we were back in the National Park area. It wasn’t far to get there: we rested on a nice flower meadow, walked over planks and enjoyed the hike. Ylä-Murhi was a big campsite including a (free) hut, a rental hut, a woodshed, a fireplace, a dry toilet and plenty of space to put up tents. There was only one other tent, though. We put up our tent close to the rental hut and decided to see Pirunkirkko.
PIRUNKIRKKO means ‘devil’s church’ and is a cave. From Ylä-Murhi it’s about 1 km, mostly on a road. The sign at the entrance to the area told us it’s a cave shaped in the form of a Z and is over 30 meters long. We walked down the stairs to get there and looked at the entrance but didn’t go in. The entrance seemed very small and we were the only people there pretty late in the night, so we had no more information. Later we checked online that you can actually walk around in the cave and stand up straight after passing the small point. We would have gone in if we had known that. There is supposed to be a poem carved into the wall at some point and the name of the cave comes from the people’s belief that it’s the devil’s temple. After walking back we cooked and ate, just before it started to rain.
After breakfast (the usual: oatmeal and coffee) we walked past PITKÄLAMPI, a small lake with brown water. We took some water for cleaning our dishes. It is said that you can drink the water from the lakes if you cook it. Since we still had some water left we decided not to drink the brown water. Pitkälampi is supposed to have a fireplace, but we didn’t go there. It stopped raining after some time.
Our next stop was JAUHOLANVAARA, which offered a very nice view over Herajärvi Lake. I picked some blueberries on the way, it had said on the signs and flyers that you can pick and eat them.
Before HAVUKANAHO (another fireplace) the trail went up and down but only slightly. It was still exhausting for us, after two days of hiking and with saving water. The next well was either back in Ikolanaho (we would pass it on the way back again) or at the visitor centre at the end of our hike. At Havukanaho we had lunch, chatted with fellow hikers and then carried on. I was talking about the cake at the coffee shop in the visitor centre (I had smelled it when we had coffee at the start of the hike, but then I was too full to take some) but all in all, I enjoyed the hike a lot. The absence of internet, making (and carrying) your food and equipment, I loved it all.
The last part of the hike (after Havukanaho) was challenging for us, mostly because it was the third day already and we didn’t drink as much water as we wanted to drink. After the rain, there also were plenty of mosquitos and we – smelling of sweat – were a great target for them. There were nice views from MÄKRÄ and we took some breaks to take pictures.
We decided to hike all the way back to Ukko-Koli and not walk to Ikolanaho, even though we would have enjoyed the water from the well. It was under 1 km there, but we said we would make it fast to Ukko-Koli. It certainly didn’t feel fast at all in the end! There were many day-hikers and awesome views.
We often stopped to take pictures (and to rest!). It went down and then up again and it felt as if Ukko-Koli was unreachable. But in the end, we reached the place, didn’t take many pictures since we already were there on the first night, and went to the Café to get cake and tea. The cake tasted great! It was a perfect ending to the trip.
I highly recommend doing this trail, we enjoyed it very much! It was hard at times, but so rewarding with its views. The only thing is that I would have wanted an extra hydration bladder, so we wouldn’t have had to save water on the way from Ylä-Murhi to Ukko-Koli (the berries only helped so much!).
WHAT WE HAD (AND CARRIED!)
2 Backpacks, sleeping mats, sleeping bags
1 Rain cover for one of the backpacks
2 Fast-drying microfiber towels
1 Tube of sunscreen
2 Head nets against mosquitos
Muscle gel against pain
Vaseline for feet
1 Mosquito spray
1 Mosquito deodorant
1 Pack of bandages
1 Pack of gel plasters against blisters (very helpful!)
1 Pack of Band-Aids
1 Roll of tape
1 Bottle of antiseptic solution
1 Pack of disinfection wipes
1 Stick against itchiness of mosquito bites
1 Pack of painkillers
1 Pack of pills against bites of poisonous snakes
2 Deodorants (for each person one)
2 Small shampoos and 2 small conditioners (freebies!)
2 Toilet paper rolls
Me: One pair of hiking boots, a raincoat, one fleece hoodie, one pair of flip-flops, three pants and three shirts, socks etc.
Boyfriend: One pair of running shoes, a raincoat, one pair of rain pants, one hoodie, three pants and three shirts, socks etc.
1 Portable stove with 3 pans
2 Sporfs (spoon and fork hybrids)
2 Plastic plates
6 Protein bars (we ate 4 of them, each day in the afternoon one, and one extra)
10 Muesli bars
4 Soups (in small packages, to just add water)
9 Packages of premade pasta (also add water)
About 50 pieces of crisp bread (knäckebröd)
4 Small salami sausages
1 Big salami sausage
Small packs of salt, pepper, sugar and cinnamon
About 8 one-portion bags of instant coffee
1 Pack of regular sausage and 1 pack of cheese (to be eaten on the first day, otherwise it would have gone bad)
500g of Oatmeal
Water bottles that held 5.5 litres altogether
Map of the trail
Paper and small pencils
2 Books: “1984” and “The Word for World is Forest”
2 Phones (most of the time switched off to save battery)
1 Sponge (very helpful for cleaning the pans)
1 Small pair of scissors
Things we wished we had on the trip but didn’t
- A bottle of hand sanitizer (would have been nicer than the wipes we had)
- Lighter equipment (we decided to not spend money on that)
- A tripod would have been nice, but also heavy to carry (the better camera alone was about 800g)
- A water bag or hydration bladder (I have always felt like I had to save water on the trip and I’ve seen a girl having one so I got really excited about them)
The website of Koli National Park is very helpful and I also recommend going to the visitor centre for up to date information on the trail. Booking rental huts can make it easier but the campsites are also very nice.