Kuusamo receives snow for over 200 days of the year, so it should come as no surprise that it’s home to one of the most popular ski resorts in Finland. What might be less obvious is the fact that you can experience plenty of adventure activities in Kuusamo in Autumn.
Based around Rukatunturi – a fell of almost 500 m – the Ruka Pedestrian Village, which opened in 2010, is a hub of activity all year round. When its 36 slopes are closed, there are hundreds of kilometres of track for hiking and cycling, as well as plenty of lakes and rivers for water-based fun.
For lovers of the great outdoors who find themselves in Kuusamo during the warmer months, here’s a rundown of some of the best tours on offer.
In the Summer and Autumn, Palosaari Reindeer and Fishing Farm is a great place to learn about bushcraft and wilderness survival.
You can collect berries in the forest and use a lure and line to fish for rainbow trout, whitefish, graylings and pike on the lake. The floating platforms are a bit unsteady, but even a novice should get the hang of casting after only a few attempts. Finding a bite is the bigger challenge.
Afterwards, enjoy your catch (or those prepared earlier) at a campfire.
On your way back to the house, you can visit the reindeer in a fenced paddock and feed them mushrooms. Most of them are being kept for their meat, which for those of us who were brought up on tales of Rudolph can be a little hard to stomach, but reindeer meat is actually very tasty and incredibly nutritious.
In the winter, you need to cut a hole in the ice to go fishing. They also offer guided snowmobiling and reindeer sledding experiences. With a touch of luck, it’s possible to get your ‘reindeer driving license’ under a display of Northern Lights.
WHITE WATER RAFTING
Rafting with Stella Polaris is an exhilarating experience involving grade III–IV rapids.
After meeting at Juuma Village, the staff kit you out in a waterproof jacket, over trousers and rubber boots. They also provide life vests and helmets, some of which are adorned with Viking horns and fake plaits of hair.
We were reliably informed that the chance of falling out was around one in 1000, but a safety briefing was delivered anyway.
A skipper rides in the raft with your group and talks you through the steering techniques before you reach the fast water.
The ‘Wild Route’ to Vattumutka takes about two hours and includes three large rapids on the Kitka River, one of which drops over 20 m in less than a kilometre. When you start to approach the fourth – Jyrävä – you have to bypass it on foot. From your vantage point on the other side, as you watch the empty raft being hammered by the force of the waterfall, it’s easy to see why.
From start to finish, river rafting is a feast for the senses. At times, intense waves come crashing overhead and you might wonder if you’re still in the boat, but as the force of the river fades, you can take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the gorge.
It’s possible you’ll end this tour feeling a little soggy, so my advice would be to plan a sauna straight afterwards. Failing that, a lot of the Finnish hotel rooms come with a massive drying chamber. Don’t assume it’s a fridge, as I did. Put all your clothes in there so they’ll be toasty warm when you get up the next morning.
If you don’t have a fear of heights, rock climbing is one of the popular adventure activities in Kuusamo in the warmer months, and Outdoor Passion is an experienced company offering beginner lessons beside lake Ruoppijärvi.
If conditions are a bit wet and the rocks are too slippery, an equally exciting alternative is to abseil from the top of the ski jump. A 40 m descent offers fantastic views of the resort and it’s also a great opportunity to discover how terrifyingly steep the ski jump is. Exposed to the elements, it can get quite cold and windy up there, so wrap up warm.
Once you’ve got to grips with the feeling of being high up, you can take on your friends in a game of crate stacking. Also at the top of the ski jump, a collection of around 30 plastic beer crates is available.
The aim of the game is to climb up the sides while catching and stacking as many crates as possible. The higher you go the less stable it becomes, until eventually it collapses like Jenga and you’re left suspended by a harness for a few seconds before being lowered to the ground.
Highest tower wins. It’s great for competitive types and just as entertaining for spectators.
The Ruka ski resort has the perfect terrain for mountain biking. Gravel roads and trails give you the chance to test your limits. In the summer, it’s possible to cycle the steep slopes underneath the chair lifts, and when there’s snow you can rent a fat bike for the ultimate thrill.
For those with less experience, the guides provide exceptional instructions, teaching you which gears to use and when, and making sure you have the best posture to keep your balance on uneven ground.
There are plenty of well-marked routes covering 500 km across Kuusamo.
Keep an eye out for professional cross-country skiers training on the fell with wheeled skis.
Oulanka National Park is one of 40 official parks in the country, and it’s often voted the best. With 170,000 visitors a year, you’d think it would get busy, but there’s plenty of nature to go around – 190 km² to be exact. In the Autumn, it becomes a mesmerising collage of warm hues.
The Karhunkierros route has been open since 1955 and is the most popular hiking trail in the country. Finnish for ‘Bear’s Round’, this 80 km riverside path is open mid-July to late September, with wilderness huts and campsites along the way.
Your chances of actually spotting a bear are slim to none as any sign of human activity will scare them away, but there’s plenty of wildlife to marvel at. This part of Finland is especially popular with bird watchers, who come to admire the Siberian jay, hawk owl and two-barred crossbill, among others.
There’s a great visitor’s centre with information on the flora and fauna of Kuusamo, and signs alongside the track go into more detail about specific species. If you go one step further and hire a guide, they’ll tell you which berries, mushrooms and even lichens are edible, and you can taste them as you walk.
If you’re short on time, a 12 km loop called the Pieni Karhunkierros (or Little Bear’s Round) can be completed in one day.
One of the unmissable adventure activities in Kuusamo is paddling a dug-out two-seater wooden canoe through the maze of waterways in Oulanka National Park. The available routes cover over 350 km, but a typical trip will last a few hours, covering a distance of 8 to 10 km.
Rukapalvelu is a family-run, professional outfitter with experienced guides to show you the way and offer handy tips on steering. At first the canoes feel a bit unsteady, but with a few minutes’ practice on calmer water it’s easy to get the hang of it. They’re also a lot more comfortable than the plastic moulded variety.
Half way through your adventure, they typically arrange a break so you can warm up with a hot beverage and cook a sausage over the campfire. If you hold breadcrumbs in the air, sometimes the jays will swoop down and perch on your hand.
If there’s anything else of interest en route, the guides will be sure to point it out. We took a short detour to visit the carcase of a reindeer that had become a bear’s dinner.
MORE ADVENTURE ACTIVITIES IN KUUSAMO
As winter approaches, the lakes and rivers freeze over and everything is blanketed in snow. If you’ve missed out on the aforementioned activities, then fear not. There are so many more adventure activities in Kuusamo you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Cross-country skiing, piste skiing and ski jumping are right on your doorstep. Why not take a safari with a husky sled or reindeer sleigh, or race your friends on snowmobiles, ice carts or rally cars over frozen lakes.
If you feel like a break from being so active, Santa’s official home, Rovaniemi, is about one hour’s drive. Alternatively, you could watch bears from a hide, gaze into the night’s sky in the hope of witnessing the spectacular Northern Lights, or relax in one the luxurious Kuusamo saunas.
Ruka Pedestrian Village is accessible via Kuusamo or Rovaniemi airport. Flying is by far the most efficient way to reach the north of the country, but if you don’t mind the 800 km road from Helsinki, a night bus or train might be significantly cheaper.
Once you’re in the region, there’s a reliable network of buses and taxis, and most tours offer pick ups. The village has over 1000 rooms ranging from budget hotels to private chalets and log cottages. Camping and hostels are also available, although they tend to be further away from the centre. Staying within the village means you have easy access to shops, restaurants, tour-booking offices, and even a bowling alley and karaoke bar.
My trip to Ruka Kuusamo was arranged by Visit Finland, the country’s official tourism board. They did not request a favourable review and all of the opinions expressed are my own.