How to See the Autumn Colours in Koli National Park

Visiting Koli in autumn should be at the top of any nature enthusiasts travel bucketlist. Seeing those awe-inspiring landscapes painted in warm autumn colours is a truly magical experience. But getting the timing right isn’t always easy. Here’s a blog post with all you need to know to plan your autumn visit to Koli!

Nature at Its Finest

Koli National Park
Autumn colours in Koli, Finland. This beautiful sea of birch trees is located along Räsävaarantie.

Koli is without a doubt one of Finland’s most beautiful destinations and this North Karelian gem is stunning to visit during any of the four seasons. Still, in my opinion there’s one season above all. And that’s autumn.

Autumn in Koli is so incredibly beautiful, it almost borders on surreal. The explosion of colour is breathtaking: rolling hills painted in every possible nuance of yellow, gold, orange and red.

Although Koli obviously isn’t the only place in Finland to see the autumn colours, these landscapes really bring out the best of this annual colour extravaganza. There are lots of high hills offering perfect panoramic views of the autumn magic and the area is dotted with different lakes. There’s something extra magical about admiring the colours reflected in the surface of the water.

Read more: Four Distinct Seasons – Picking the Best Time to Visit Koli in Finland

What and Where is Koli?

Best time to see fall foliage in Koli is the end of September and the beginning of October
Best time to see fall foliage in Koli is the end of September and the beginning of October. This photo is from the 1st of October 2017.

But before we dive into visiting Koli in autumn, here’s a quick introduction if you stumbled upon this blog post randomly and have never heard of this destination.

Koli is located in North Karelia, in the eastern part of Finland. The closest larger city is Joensuu, around 70 kilometres from Koli.

What Koli is most famous for is its nature and awe-inspiring landscapes. In fact, these landscapes are even called the Finnish National Landscapes.

Although the concept of tourism was new back then, Koli was one of the first proper travel destinations in Finland. It gained popularity as early as the 19th century, especially among some of Finland’s most famous artists, who were inspired by the views.

Today Koli receives a staggering 200.000 annual visitors. That’s a lot, at least when you compare it to the fact that only a few hundred people live here permanently. Most of Koli’s visitors arrive Koli during summer, with July as the peak month.

Koli is also home to one of Finland’s most famous national parks as well as Lake Pielinen – Finland’s fourth largest lake.

Why Visit Koli in Autumn?

As previously stated, Koli’s landscapes really make the autumn colours stand out. The large number of high peaks offers a remarkable selection of different viewpoints to admire the “ruska” magic (ruska is a Finnish word that refers to the season for when the fall foliage is at its best). 

The nature is varied, giving visitors plenty of different options. For example, you can admire the carpets of colourful leaves from above by climbing up to one of the peaks or stop by the shores of one of the many lakes to see the colours reflected in the water.

The air in Koli is incredibly clean and it gets extra fresh and crisp during autumn. Spending even a few days here during autumn always feels like the perfect detox for any city lungs.

The fourth reason for heading here during autumn is the temperatures (cool, but not too cold) and the absence of insects. Try hiking here during a particularly hot July and you’ll see what I mean. Getting eaten alive by some of Finland’s most bloodthirsty horseflies and mosquitoes is not particularly enjoyable…

When Should you Visit Koli to See the Colourful Autumn “Ruska” at its Best?

Autumn hiking the 19th of September 2020. Although the trees are still green, many shrubs – like the bilberry in this picture – have already turned colourful. Views along Mäkrän Kierto Trail.

The autumn season in Finland usually last from around the beginning of September to the end of October, but this varies a lot depending on region. The time to see the colourful “ruska” leaves at their best is much shorter, often only 1-2 weeks.

What’s more, it’s not always the same every year, since several factors influence how long the fall foliage lasts. This makes timing a trip to see the leaves at their most colourful a little bit tricky.

I’ve been tracking the start and end of “ruska” season in Koli for over five years now. Although there are slight variations from year to year, the peak usually occurs sometime during the very last week of September and lasts at least until the first few days of October. Head here during this time and you’re pretty much guaranteed colourful views.

With that said though, you can get some really nice first autumn colours as early as around the 20th of September (for example many shrubs and herbs turn red quite early). Powerful storms and heavy rains tear the leaves from the branches and end the season faster, but if weather allows, the glow can last further into October.

Speaking of weather. Autumn weather is always unpredictable. Sometimes we get the timing just right, but then the thick autumn fog obstructs the view.

Things to Do in Koli in Autumn

View from Ukko-Koli peak in Koli National Park the 3rd of October 2021.

The first and obvious thing to do in Koli during the autumn season is of course to enjoy the ruska (autumn-coloured leaves). And what better way to do this than to go hiking?

Autumn Hiking in Koli

Koli can boast with over 80 km of excellent hiking trails. Many of these offer absolutely breathtakingly beautiful views over the autumn-coloured landscapes.

My number one favourite hike to do is located within Koli National Park and features plenty of eye-candy for “ruska lovers”. At 7-8 km Mäkrän Kierto Trail is the perfect half-day hike.

If this sounds like too much, at least walk Koli’s most famous hike: Huippujen Kierros Trail (Trail of the Tops), that allows to you admire the autumn views from Koli’s highest peaks. This trail is only 1,4 km long and takes you to the most famous viewpoints.

See Northern Lights

One of the most unforgettable experiences you can have in Finland is watching the northern lights, or the aurora borealis. Seeing the blazing colours – often different hues of green or pink – in the dark sky is something truly magical.

Although the best places in Finland for viewing northern lights, might be located further north, you can see them in other areas of Finland as well. Autumn means it’s dark enough to see them and in Koli there’s not a lot of light pollution that might get in the way.

I got super lucky in Koli in 2018 since my dog woke me up (the lights must have seemed a bit creepy to him) to see the northern lights. But in case you don’t have a northern lights alerting dog with you, there are some good websites, like this one, that predict auroral activity. Kind of like a weather forecast, but for northern lights (select Mekrijärvi magnetometer station, it’s the one closest to Koli).

Enjoy Fantastic Views

Many people who come to Koli head only to Ukko-Koli to enjoy the autumn views. However, there are plenty of other great spots to enjoy the ruska magic from as well. One great alternative is Räsävaara Observation Tower, that offers uninterrupted 360 degree panoramic views over Koli and Lake Pielinen.

  • Räsävaara observation tower
  • Räsävaara observation tower
  • Räsävaara observation tower
  • Räsävaara observation tower

Here are some other great activities for the autumn season in Koli:

  • Fatbiking or mountain biking along the trails. You can rent bikes and other equipment at Loma-Koli for example.
  • Horseback riding on Icelandic horses in the forest. This activity is available at Paimentupa.
  • Participate in one of Finland’s most popular trail running events: Marathon of Dangers. This annual race has several different categories, but the longest is a staggering 130 km.
  • Enjoy the colourful autumn views from the comfort of a jacuzzi at Koli Relax Spa at Break Sokos Hotel Koli.
  • Listen to great live blues music at Koli Ruska Blues. This annual event features some of Finland’s best blues artists.
  • Head for a drive along Kolintie and beyond. The road is incredibly beautiful in autumn.

Where to Stay in Koli

View from hotel room in Koli
Enjoying the sunset views over Lake Pielinen from one of the superior rooms in Break Sokos Hotel Koli.

There are plenty of different options when it comes to accommodation in Koli. You’ll find everything from hotels and bed&breakfasts to holiday cottages and cabins.

But here are a few of my absolute favourites:

  1. Those looking for something eco-friendly and down to earth might enjoy Kolin Keidas. Kolin Keidas is a lovely, eco-friendly bed&breakfast with amazing vegetarian food. They arrange lots of different wellness activities, like retreats, yoga, relaxation with Tibetan bowls etc.
  2. Breaks Sokos Hotel Koli is the obvious choice for those who want to stay within Koli National Park and are looking for a more luxurious experience with fantastic views. Splurging on one of the superior rooms is definitely worth it, as the views are unparalleled (if the weather is nice – autumn fog can sometimes block the view). Don’t forget to check out the spa – if you ask me, this is one of the best spas in Finland.

An important tip though:

You won’t be the only one who wants to enjoy the beautiful autumn coloured leaves. Make sure you book your room months in advance, at least if you’re planning on visiting during the best “ruska” time. Especially weekends are popular and the best autumn weekends can get fully booked almost a year in advance.

Koli’s many lakes offer some nice spots to enjoy the autumn colours reflected in the water. You’ll find this little gem, Lake Savijärvi, along Kolintie, between Kolinportti and Koli village.

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