Travel Diary: Reindeer and Ruska – Autumn Adventures in Koli and Kuusamo

Experiencing ruska – the colourful fall foliage – is one of the most magical things to enjoy in Finland. This year we managed to time our autumn holiday perfectly for ruska in Koli in North Karelia. In addition to ruska magic in Koli, we went hiking in Kuusamo. As if awe-inspiring national wonders weren’t enough we also got to see plenty of reindeer, which was certainly one of the highlights for me! Here’s a blog post about our autumn adventure.

Perfect Timing

Views from Ukko-Koli in Koli National Park. The sunset combined with autumn colours makes the landscape look almost like a painting.

Mother Nature provides us with some incredibly beautiful wonders. In addition to sunsets, ruska – the Finnish word for autumn coloured leaves – is one of my absolute favourites. How amazing isn’t it that once a year we get to see such an amazing colour spectacle?

I’ve always loved ruska. As the time the ruska peaks varies a little bit from year to year I started tracking when the best ruska occurs in different regions of Finland. So with data from around four years I knew how to time our visit to Koli in North Karelia just right.

Even though you time your visit right for ruska, that doesn’t mean you’ll get to enjoy it much. During autumn there’s often a thick fog that obstructs the views more or less completely if you’re extra unlucky. But this year we were super lucky, as we had some fantastic fall weather for our visit.

Enjoying the Views

Imagine waking up to this view! If you ever stay at this hotel it might be worth splurging a little extra on a superior room in order to enjoy looking out over Lake Pielinen from the comfort of your hotel bed.

We spent one night at my fiancé’s family’s place before checking in at the hotel on top of Koli’s highest hill. The hotel’s superior rooms have an absolutely amazing view over Lake Pielinen – it’s like looking at a piece of art. It’s also unique in the sense that it’s actually located within the national park.

On Sunday I climbed not one, but 5 of the highest hills to admire the stunning landscapes. The views are amazing all year round, but during the time for the fall foliage it’s something out of this world. As far as the eye can see the rolling hills are coloured in different nuances of yellow and orange mixed with green.

In addition to gaping at the views we relaxed at the spa and enjoyed some good food.

Reindeer Territory

Kitkajoki – one of the rivers hikers get to admire during the Karhunkierros Trail in Oulanka National Park.

From Koli we continued north crossing into reindeer territory. For anyone driving (or any reindeer enthusiasts like me) this means you have to keep an extra eye out for reindeer herds as they can suddenly cross the road.

Once in Ruka we left the car and got a taxi to the strating point of one of Finland’s most popular and most famous hiking trails: Karhunkierros (or the Bear’s Trail as its often referred to in English). Karhunkierros is – depending on where you start the trail – 82 or 71 kilometres long. We set off with the mission to walk for as long as it felt good.

I’m not going to lie. It was incredibly tough. The weather was bad and as a result of storms earlier the trail was at some points in pretty bad shape. I literally had to crawl on all fours under fallen trees at some points and the roots ans stones were slippery and wet.

But as tough as it was it was also extremely empowering. Every hill I climbed I kept thinking about how exactly one year ago I was in the hospital. I was so weak I could barely stand up and the thought of doing a several days long hike was absurd.

Yet here I was, just one year later carrying everything I needed to survive out in the wild on my back, conquering hill after hill and kilometre after kilometre! The human body is pretty amazing.

Best of Finland

For safety reasons you have to leave at least 10 metres of space between your fellow hikers when walking on the suspension bridges.

Although most of the colourful autumn leaves had fallen to the ground (the ruska starts earlier the further north you go and in October it’s almost completely over in Kuusamo), the landscapes and the trail itself were incredible.

Even though I’d seen pictures of the hanging bridges hundreds of times it can never match the feeling you get when you walk on one for the first time with the roaring waters underneath you. I lost count of how many we crossed so let’s just say there’s plenty of them along this trail.

The trail leads hikers through very varied terrain and some of Finland’s most amazing natural wonders – like racing rapids, steep cliffs, playful rivers and spectacular viewpoints.

Relaxing at Ruka

Sleeping in a glass villa or igloo is a great way to enjoy nature whilst still having all the luxuries of a hotel room.

We didn’t complete the whole hike. At Juuma we took a taxi back to Ruka and checked in at Iisakki Glass Village. I’ve dreamt about staying in a glass villa or igloo for years and was super excited. Unfortunately the weather gods weren’t on our side and as it rained or snowed most of the time we dind’t see any stars – let alone any Northern lights. But it was nevertheless a very cool experience!

I did some hiking in Ruka, walking the final kilometres of the Bear’s Trail. If you count these kilometres I hiked a total of around 60 kilometres, something I’m definitely proud of.

I had a two-day migraine, but I didn’t mind lying in bed in our little glass hut. The bed felt so incredibly comfy after sleeping three nights without a mattress and pillow.

We had some delicious food and recharged after the pretty tough, but oh-so-rewarding hiking days. On Sunday we woke up early and drove all the way from Ruka back to Espoo.


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