We had reached the last full day of our trip to Finnish Lapland, and I was already dreading the thought of leaving.
For the past few days, we had been exploring the Inari-Saariselka region of northern Lapland, taking in activities that included hikes, mountain biking, traditional sauna sessions and gold panning. My body had just about become accustomed (ok, sort of) to the 24-hour daylight that occurs in this part of the world during summer. Or, at least, we had been embracing our lack of sleep by hiking well past midnight every evening.
Unsurprisingly, I was loving my Lapland experience, where the constant immersion in nature and being able to walk to my heart’s content formed a complete opposite to my work-driven city life in London. For me, summertime Lapland was my version of a perfect escape and I didn’t want it to end.
Luckily, something really special was waiting for us on our last day in Finland so I couldn’t dwell on my dread for too long.
For the majority of our time in Inari-Saariselka, we had been exploring Urho Kekkonen National Park. This park measures in at a massive 2,550 square kilometres, but we had done most of our activities in the area directly surrounding Kiilopaa Fell. For our next hike, however, we would be getting to see a different part of the national park.
As with the rest of Urho Kekkonen National Park, there are numerous hiking trails you can take near Pyha-Nattanen Fell, including a popular 7km circular route, which walkers can access from Sompiojarventie Road, located on the park’s western limits. We would be doing a simplified version of the walk, taking us straight up to the Pyha-Nattanen summit so that we could spend as much time as possible up there.
And it’s definitely a spot where you’ll want to have plenty of time.
Our hike began with the now-familiar wooden boardwalks found in other parts of the park. These boards protect the vegetation beneath them and, since this part of the park also has cultural significance, it’s doubly important that walkers don’t stray off the path. Throughout the hike, the trail is marked by wooden poles. As long as you follow these, you’ll be heading the right way.
Even a few minutes into the hike, I was already enjoying the hush brought on by the tall pine trees surrounding us. Since the wooden pathway was narrow, we started out in single file, and I was largely left to my own thoughts, allowing myself to take in all of the sights, smells and sounds of the forest.
If you’re lucky, you may even spot some blueberries along this part of the walk!
But it wasn’t long before the boards stopped and the path began to climb upwards. The trees grew sparser, replaced by low-lying vegetation, and we started to see more of the rocky terrain that would characterise the rest of the hike.
The summit of Pyha-Nattanen Fell is not a particularly tall peak, standing at an achievable 500 metres. Nor is this a difficult walk, but as you approach the summit, I would recommend caution. Although the route markers are still planted at regular intervals, the path all but disappears. Instead, we were left to traverse lichen-covered rocks at our own discretion and, since all of these are loosely stacked, I really wouldn’t rush this part of the hike. Instead, try to be sure of your footing, as it would be all too easy to roll an ankle on one of these rocks.
We successfully crossed over the rock field and, since it was safe to look up while walking again, we started to glimpse what we had come all this way to see.
Pyha-Nattanen’s summit is special for several reasons. Firstly, this is considered a sacred spot for the Sami people, the indigenous people of Lapland. Secondly (and the reason behind the first point), the summit has a very unique appearance.
Unlike many of the other fells in the region, the summit of Pyha-Nattanen is not flat. Instead, large rocky shapes define the landscape here. This is because Pyha-Nattanen is topped by five-metre-tall granite tors. These stacks of rock, with each looking as though it has been carefully layered, have been worshipped by the Sami people as the dwellings of mythical creatures. And considering their unusual appearance on top of the fell, it’s easy to see why these natural landmarks would have been imbued with cultural significance.
Although being at the top of Pyha-Nattanen Fell meant that we were exposed to the elements, I could have spent hours up here.
The tors may look too perfectly formed to be natural, but they are. We learned that these stacks of compressed rock were created during a period of glaciation (commonly called an ‘Ice Age’), where these tors are the remains of the hardest parts of granite that were able to resist years and years of erosive forces. Considering that most of the rock in the immediate area did disappear due to erosion, it’s incredible that these tors are still around for us to see.
And if the tors weren’t already interesting enough, the summit also rewarded us with far-reaching views over the national park. There were the shapes of countless fells on the horizon; some were so far away that we were only just able to make them out within a blue haze. Closer to our summit, we could see the pine forests just below us, as well a number of lakes. This only confirmed, yet again, that Urho Kekkonen is one of the most photogenic national parks I’ve visited anywhere in the world.
For those that want to linger, there is a day hut on Pyha-Nattanen Fell, which has a stove and gas cooker for anyone wanting to prepare a meal. Just remember to minimise your waste and – this applies to any hike – leave Pyha-Nattanen as you found it.
After eating our own packed lunch, it was time to leave the sacred tors of Pyha-Nattanen Fell. With one last look at those views, we made our way back over the rocks and, all too soon, found ourselves in the pine forest again.
Pyha-Nattanen was not the longest hike I’ve ever done, but it will remain in my memory for years to come. Its remarkable tors – the visual remnants of one of the region’s great glaciations – as well as their significance for Sami culture made this one of my favourite activities we did while in Inari-Saariselka.
If you’re planning on visiting Urho Kekkonen National Park, add Pyha-Nattanen to your hiking itinerary. For a region I had quickly fallen head over heels in love with, hiking Pyha-Nattanen, with its offerings for all of the senses, was the best goodbye I could have asked for.
Where to stay near Pyha-Nattanen Fell
Since we were doing quite a few different activities in the area, we stayed in the village of Saariselka. This village is popular in summer and winter since many tour companies have offices in the vicinity, and there is a small concentration of shops, restaurants and bars. The village also provides easy access to Urho Kekkonen National Park.
You can find a few hotels here too. We stayed at Holiday Club Saariselka, which is not only located in the heart of the village but is also home to an Angry Birds Activity Park (which I’m not ashamed to admit that I loved). The hotel also features a spa, parking and an on-site restaurant. My room had everything I needed for a comfortable stay – including all-important heavy curtains to block out the midnight sun – and I think it’s perfect as a base for exploring the Inari-Saariselka region.
Is Finnish Lapland on your travel bucket list? Do you have a favourite hike in Finland? Let me know in the comments below!
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