By Erick Widman
The Arctic Circle is home to Santa Claus, caribou, and the dwindling polar ice cap. A large part of it also consists of a region called Lapland—the northernmost part of Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
Bianca Schmidt got in touch with her Finnish relatives and used that as the launching point for a beautiful outdoor adventure by hiking in Swedish Lapland. She was intrigued to explore this vast, wild area filled with national parks.
Traveling From Stockholm to Abisko National Park
Bianca recommends starting a journey up to Swedish Laplan by way of an overnight train out of Stockholm. She recommends getting a couchette or sleeper car and taking the train all the way up to Kiruna, which is the northernmost city in Sweden. From there, Bianca hiked up to Abisko National Park.
Bianca spent most of her time hiking and camping, but also stayed in several Lapland hostels and mountain stations, including the excellent Abisko Backpacker’s Hostel. A huge plus to spending time at the hostel is that they raise and train sled dogs. Bianca was there in the summer so unfortunately there wasn’t any sledding yet, but she loved being surrounded by the puppies!
Wood Fired Saunas
Another perk of this hostel is that they had an incredible wood fired sauna. The Scandinavians in general love this tradition, a practice started by the Finns—the Swedes then happily incorporated saunas into their lifestyle as well. After a long day of hiking, the sauna is a great place to unwind, relax, talk, and meet other travelers.
There is also a hotel Bianca recommends that sits on a spectacular location, right on the Abisko river canyon. It has a utilitarian name—the Abisko Turiststation—but don’t let this dissuade you if you’re looking for a beautiful spot to relax after a long day hiking the trails! The Turiststation hotel is certainly “more deluxe” than the hostel and it also has a restaurant and a store for those looking to stock up on a few things.
Quality Time at the Abisko River Canyon
For those looking for gorgeous day hikes followed by hot showers, warm beds and clean sheets, Abisko won’t disappoint. In particular, Bianca says people absolutely need to spend time at the incredible Abisko River Canyon, which deserves a long visit even for those planning to go back-country. The River Canyon funnels an enormous amount of water from the highlands into Lake Abisko via a spectacular waterfall.
Another great hike in Abisko is the Lapporten mountain, whose name means the door to Lapland—and it literally does look like a door when you see it!
No Hiking Boots? No Problem.
Bianca originally intended to take part in more backcountry trips but ended up becoming a day hike expert after she mistakenly left her hiking boots in Finland. She accomplished all of these shorter treks, remarkably, in her chacos, which brought some comments and stares from those shod in more orthodox footwear.
If you visit Abisko in the winter, the same spectacular scenery awaits, but the activities change: skiing, snow-shoeing and dog sledding abound.
Bianca had a fun time meeting local Swedes and visitors alike. One day, she hiked with a Scottish man who was in fact sporting a kilt. In the evening they’d get together to share some”bevvies” while comparing notes on what kept them busy during the day.
Bianca’s Paramount Recommendation: Hike the Kungsleden
A phenomenal feature of Swedish Lapland that’s not to be missed is the 270-mile King’s Trail, or Kungsleden. Abisko is the northernmost point of this long Swedish hiking trail originally created back in the 19th century to encourage Swedes to appreciate the stunning beauty of their land. The southern starting point of the Kungsledden is the town of Hemavan.
To the great delight of hikers, mountain stations, or huts, have been built along the Trail every ten miles or so to provide shelter after a long day of trekking. This allows most hikers to travel without having to carry a tent, which allows you to carry more tasty reindeer jerkey, for example. These stations are primarily managed by the Swedish Tourist Association. Most of the huts do offer food, but Bianca notes it’s definitely a good idea to be suitably stocked and simply be prepared.
Summit Sweden’s Tallest Lapland Mountain—Kebnekaise
Since she didn’t have her hiking boots—but still was committed to hiking part of the Kungsleden—Bianca arranged a straightforward “out and back” trip to the tallest mountain in Sweden: Kebnekaise. This spot also has the borderline luxurious Kebnekaise mountain station. Bianca said there is an excellent, popular restaurant and bar here—this station also had a cornucopia of sleeping options: from hotel rooms to dorm rooms to even a teepee.
All the mountain stations are remote—and thankfully no cars are to be found—but some people do opt to take a helicopter tour of the beautiful Kebnekaise mountain, so this can disturb some of the purely tranquil reverie of your hike. This mountain region, however, is an excellent hike—and the area still feels incredibly wild, remote, and rugged.
For those wanting to summit Sweden’s Kebnekaise you’ll need to plan on a full day—with a solid 10 or 12 hours round-trip. Bianca reached the summit, which she described as alpine, with tons of snow even in July. She had a great time completing the hike with new friends from the mountain station and they all celebrated their achievement that evening back at their Kebnekaise base camp.
Refreshed and Reinvigorated
Overall, Bianca encourages intrepid folks to take four days to follow her itinerary: first, start in Kiruna and take a bus to Abisko. Then, hike to Kebnekaise in one day, and take another day to summit the big mountain. Then the fourth and final day will be to trek back to Kiruna. Even better would be to spend a week or more—as many Swedes do—hiking a longer portion of the Kungsledden. Though you may not see Santa Claus, you will come away invigorated and refreshed.
All images are Bianca’s!