4 Days in Saariselkä – Skiing in Lapland Urho Kekkonen National Park
A 4 days getaway in Saariselkä, the northernmost ski resort in Finland is an utmost relaxing experience. Saariselkä is known especially for Urho Kekkonen National Park and the skiing tracks in the breathtaking scenery of Finland Lapland. The location is 250 km / 155 mi north of the Arctic Circle. The cross-country skiing season in Saariselkä is long, often starting already in October and lasting at least till late April.
Our second visit to Saariselkä was at Easter time in mid-April. The previous visit four years earlier in the beginning of January was our very first visit to Lapland. What a huge difference – in April the days were long with sunlight from 5 am till 9 pm, temperatures over +10 degrees Celcius while in January the sun didn’t practically rise at all and the temperatures were freezing at around -25 degrees Celcius. On the first visit my daughter was 5 years old and learning to ski while this time around she was already 9 years old seasoned skier.
We’ve become huge fans of skiing holidays in Lapland! So far we’ve visited Ylläs, Pallas and Ylläs-Pallastunturi Nationalpark, Salla, Ruka (great skiing although not technically in Lapland as it’s located south of the Arctic Circle). Next on the list to visit are Levi and Pyhä though there’s a high chance that we’ll be returning to Saariselkä again too.
Best of Saariselkä: Skiing Tracks and Wilderness Huts
There are around 200 km / 125 mi cross-country ski trails, 34 km / 21 mi with illumination (making it possible to ski even in the middle of the winter when the daylight hours are short). There are over 40 day trip huts and open wilderness huts around Saariselkä area and Urho Kekkonen National Park. The huts are usually simple but are open for everyone to use: have a break and warm up by the fireplace, eat your snacks, barbecue sausages, etc. There’s also usually an outhouse toilet available in the hut’s vicinity.
Although Finns stereotypically are introvert (for example don’t be offended if you’re not greeted by strangers in cities, hotel or office lifts etc), it’s usual to say hello to fellow cross-country skiers in Lapland – a short “Hey” or nodding is fine when you encounter someone. Also asking for directions and about the skiing conditions is welcome and people are usually very helpful. Huts and fireplaces are shared with everyone and are great places to exchange experiences with other outdoors-loving people.
A good reason to learn a bit of Finnish are the quite funny names of the places in this region.
Day 1: Rumakuru (Ugly Gorge)
Length: 12 km / 7,5 mi
Mostly flat and easy track in the beautiful nature of Urho Kekkonen National Park.
The Rumakuru hut was a great place to take a break and enjoy some snacks.
Day 2: Kaunispää and Palo-oja (Beautiful Head and Burning Ditch)
Length: 12 km / 7,5 mi (circle route)
Difficulty: Medium – includes long climb up to Kaunispää but the route back is a nice and easy track through Urho Kekkonen National Park.
Restaurant: Kaunispää Skiing Resort Café on top of the downhill skiing slope
Palo-oja Hut is a lovely place to stop and barbecue sausages
In the end we passed Kummituskämppä, an outdoor fireplace that looked like the perfect place to visit with the very little ones just learning to ski.
Day 3: Piispanoja (Bishop’s Ditch)
Length: 11 km / 6,8 mi
Restaurants: Savotta Cafe
After-ski: Laanila ski-boot dance “monotanssit” in the afternoon
The Saariselkä skiing track map online is an excellent resource to plan your adventure. The cafes along the skiing tracks. Information about the huts and trails.
Day 4: Other Fun Winter Activities
After three days of skiing you might feel like doing something else for a change. Here’s a few ideas what else you can do in Saariselkä in the winter.
Try the Longest Toboggan Run in Finland (some say longest in Europe)
1,8 km / 1,1 mi long toboggan run starting from the top of Kaunispää fell at 438 m / 1437 ft from sea level. Bring your own toboggan or rent one from your hotel. You can reach the top of Kaunispää by walking, skiing, driving, taking the ski bus or taking the chairlift at Ski Saariselkä.
A great option for especially families with smaller kids is to enjoy the bottom part of the toboggan run close to the village. You don’t need to go all the way to the top, you can also walk as far up as feels good for you – this is what we did when my daughter was 5 years old. This time round we didn’t have time to go tobogganing, but it looked like a lot of fun when we skied up to Kaunispää alongside the slope.
Fees: The toboggan run is free. Toboggan rent at Holiday Club 5 euros per day. Chairlift 6 euros for a single ride.
Relaxing at the Spa
Saariselkä Spa is the northernmost spa in Europe. My daughter loved the counter-current swimming pool and the water slide. Thre were different saunas: Finnish sauna, aromatherapy sauna (pressing the button on the wall released water to the stove and a nice eucalyptus scent) and a steam sauna (for all genders so you might want to wrap into a towel before entering!). Bring your own towels (or rent one).
Fees: 20 euros for adults, 15 euros for children, towel rent 6 euros each.
Saariselkä Angry Birds Park
Saariselkä Angry Birds Park is a great place to spend a few hours if the weather isn’t inviting or if you and especially the kids feel that it’s time to take a break from outdoor activities. We visited on our previous trip when my daughter was 5 years old and she loved it! It was lots of fun exercise also for the parent.
A small building next to Holiday Club claims to be Santa’s office. In practice it’s Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort’s office but kids enjoy thinking about what Santa and the elves would do in their office 🙂
Renting Skiing Equipment
It is possible to rent cross-country skis in Saariselkä for example at the Ski Shop at the Holiday Club. They will ask your height, weight and shoe size to give the right sized equipment for you. No reservations in advance.
Fees: Classic style skis and boots 15 euros per day, skating style set 20 euros per day.
Where to Eat
We cooked our breakfasts and most of our dinners at the apartment which was very convenient. We also prepared a snack lunch for each skiing day. Saariselän Kuukkeli K-Market had a good selection of supplies. We stopped at cafes for coffee breaks, had one lunch and one dinner at restaurants.
Snack lunch: Sandwich, sausages (ketchup and/or mustard if you prefer), banana, apple, snack bars, coffee/tea in thermos, chocolate and licorice. Pack along matches, tissue, plastic bag (to pack the trash and take home with you).
Cafe Porotupa: Idyllic little café right next to Holiday Club main building. Only a couple of tables inside but on a warm and sunny spring day the tables outside were the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon coffee. They also had oat milk available. Pancakes looked too good!
Kaunispään Huippu: The café at the top of Kaunispää fell offers lunch and a wide range of homemade cakes. The doughnuts were fresh and delicious.
Muossi Grilli: this fast-food place offers a wide range of burgers. We tried cheese burger, double burger and reindeer burger and can give thumbs up to all with fries. They offer also gluten free buns.
Pirkon Pirtti: On our last night in Saariselka we wanted to have dinner at a restaurant and had a tough choice between Pirkon Pirtti and Petronella. The latter was offering only 3 course menus at that time, so we opted for Pirkon Pirtti for the wider selection including local specialties, kids list and pizzas. Don’t let the exterior of the building fool you, the interior of the restaurant is nice and idyllic.
Where to Stay
We can recommend the Holiday Club Saariselkä apartments that are well equipped with linen and all needed kitchen equipment. We’ve stayed at both Riekonraito and Siulasekä apartments. Both have 1 bedroom, 2 beds on the mezzanine loft, fireplace, sauna. Ideal for 2-4 persons although you can fit up to 6 persons if the sofa-bed is taken into use.
Riekonraito’s central location at just across the street from the Holiday Club main building with reception and spa, a few hundred meters from the grocery store. The location was ideal for us as we were travelling with public transportation and didn’t have a car.
Previously we stayed at Holiday Club apartments Siulaselka that are located a bit further from the main building. It was possible to get to some ski tracks directly from the door which was great with a child practicing to ski. It’s a good location if you are visiting Saariselkä by car, have a rented vehicle or don’t mind walking a kilometer to get to the grocery store and other services in Saariselkä village.
How to Get There
The great thing about Saariselkä is that it’s easy to access with public transportation and about everything in the village is within walking distance so a car really isn’t needed. There’s a ski bus connection running about every 30 minutes between the village and the downhill skiing resort.
The most convenient and fast way to get to Saariselka from Helsink is by air. There are daily flights by Finnair and Norwegian from Helsinki to Ivalo. The flights often fly via another Lapland destination Kittilä, so watch out which flight you book. You’ll notice it from the flight time – a direct Helsinki-Ivalo flight takes 1h40m while the flight via Kittilä takes almost an hour longer. Sometimes the latter flight option may be less expensive though.
There is a convenient bus connection between Ivalo airport and Saariselkä village. It’s very easy to find the right bus at the airport: just exit the airport and you should see it about 100 meters to the left. The price for adult was 10 euros and children under 12 years old 5 euros.
Other options to travel to Saariselkä are by train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi and taking a bus to Saariselkä.
Three days was way too short to experience everything that Saariselka has to offer. There are numerous excellent reasons to return for another visit:
- Glass igloo hotels and resorts near Saariselkä to stay and sleep under the open sky and see the Northern Lights from a bed.
- Downhill skiing
- The Old Gold Mine “Prospektorin kaivos”
- Husky Bar /Mehtä-baari
- Sauna at Laanila
- Kiilopää Fell Center
- Huts in the Urho Kekkonen National Park
Have you visited Saariselkä? What did you enjoy the most? Please share your tips with us, we’d love to hear from you.
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