Backpacking in Lapland in Autumn: Muotkatunturi Wilderness Area

Backpacking in Lapland in Autumn: Muotkatunturi Wilderness Area

River Peltojoki was slowly flowing and reflecting the orange and yellow autumn colors. The weather was amazing, just some light upper clouds, some sunshine, not windy and nicely warm. Absolutely my favorite hiking weather!

Muotkatunturi wilderness in Northern Lapland is the most wilderness-like area in Finland. The wilderness area is located in Utsjoki and Inari counties. There are around a hundred fells in Muotkatunturi, but the scenery is very open with gentle slopes in the horizon. The highest peak is Kuárvikozzâ (590 m). The area is roadless and there are no signposted trails, but you can find paths to the most popular destinations such as Peltoaivi fell and Lake Peltojärvi. I made a three-nights autumn hiking adventure in Muotkatunturi wilderness in September, right after my adventure in Kevo Strict Nature Reserve. This hike was my first adventure off trails in wilderness, if you don't count the short adventure off trails on my Halti hike. Is Muotkatunturi wilderness suitable for beginners? Read the story and find out!

Muotkatunturi wilderness area

When you are backpacking in Lapland, like in the Muotkatunturi wilderness area, you are hiking in reindeer husbandry area. Reindeer are grazing freely in nature and it's likely you'll see them while hiking. Remember not to disturb the animals, as it may cause them unnecessary stress. During the mating time in late autumn, the male reindeer can also become a bit aggressive if disturbed. If you see a herd crossing your way, stay still until the reindeer have passed. Before the road between Karigasniemi and Kaamanen there was only a post trail passing Muotkan Ruoktu on the north and crossing Lake Aksujärvi at the cape Huutoniemi (Shout cape). To cross the lake you had to shout for a boat to take you to the other side of Lake Aksujärvi. The cape got its name from that boat calling.

There are two open wilderness huts in Muotkatunturi wilderness area: Kurtojoki open wilderness hut and Stuorrávži open wilderness hut. In addition, by River Peltojoki there's a famous Lahtisen kämppä hut, which is more like a day hut. There's no waste management in the wilderness area, so you should remember not to leave any litter in nature.

Hiking from Muotkan Ruoktu to the fells

I started my backpacking journey from Muotkan Ruoktu fell village as I wanted to visit Lake Peltojärvi and go fishing in the evenings. There are not many lakes and ponds in the northern fell area and fishing in rivers and stream water areas is forbidden in mid-September. On the northern side of River Peltojoki there was a good trail going through the woods. The trail was also marked for a nature trail, to Jeageloaivi fell and to Lahtisen kämppä hut. Even a river crossing spot was marked and there were some planks over the stream. River Peltojoki was slowly flowing and reflecting the orange and yellow autumn colors. The weather was amazing, just some light upper clouds, some sunshine, not windy and nicely warm. Absolutely my favorite hiking weather!

There were lots of great camping spots and fireplaces along the riverbank, but I saw only one tent on my way to Lahtinen hut. Somebody had left a fire smouldering, I sat by the fireplace for a while to eat some snacks. The reindeer in the forests seemed really timid, mostly I could just hear them as they were rushing to the bushes. After around seven kilometers of hiking, there was an easy swamp to cross. Quite often, you could find something solid under your boot. The mire turned back to woods. Every now and then my heart jumped as I heard loud noise - the area is popular among hunters. I had a bright red sweater and an orange beanie on purpose.

It was late afternoon when I arrived at Lahtisen kämppä hut. The hut was built in 1949 by a teacher called Lahtinen, as a shelter for fishing trips. There are two benches and a stove in the hut, that is probably designed for very short people, as I couldn't stand straight (I'm not that tall myself). I saw cute wool socks hanging on a cord, and a book on a shelve for rainy days. The dry toilet in the backyard is a sight you have to experience. The hut is not officially maintained but Muotkan Ruoktu's association brings firewood there. If you use the wood, you should also pay for it. You shouldn't take wood for fire from living trees.

Soon a beautiful still lake scenery was in front of my eyes. It looked like heaven on earth. I pitched my tent on the shore cliffs, tossed my stuff to the grass and myself as well.
You can notice the uniqueness of fells (compared to e.g., mountains) right at the summit. You don't see any dramatic slopes or sharp lines, the scenery just seems like very open space, fading to eternity.

Fishing and Northern lights by the lake

I had decided to camp by Lake Alempi Harrijärvi. I'd hiked 24 kilometers and there would be a couple of hours relaxing time before dark. The trail to the lake started from the hut backyard. The evening sun was shining bright in the sky. Soon a beautiful still lake scenery was in front of my eyes. It looked like heaven on earth. I pitched my tent on the shore cliffs, tossed my stuff to the grass and myself as well. I could have just sit there for the rest of the night for once (I prefer to be on the move), but the fish were waiting!

The Lake Harrijärvi was veeery shallow and rocky near the shoreline, there was absolutely no visible life in the still water for the whole evening. But I didn't mind. The golden sunset in the middle of the fell lake scenery and a peaceful night was everything I could have wished for at that very moment. I collected dry branches for making a fire. I found some disgusting litter in the bushes (please folks, take all your litter, especially plastic with you when hiking in Finland!). I sat by the fire and enjoyed the scent of it. Eventually, the set down behind the fells and it became dark fast. I had dinner while gazing at the mist dancing above the still lake. It was so beautiful that I got emotional.

At midnight, I opened my tent zipper and looked out. There were thousands of bright stars in the sky and some light northern lights above the lake. When I hiked in Kevo, the aurora borealis had been deep green and covered the whole sky, now the lights were weak and more blueish. My fingers were totally frozen and I couldn't get any nice pics, so I didn't wait if the lights got stronger but went back sleeping.

Summitting Peltotunturi (Bealdoaivi) fell

The ground was still a bit frosty when I woke up in the morning. I picked my mug full of bilberries for the breakfast oats. My planned day hike to Lake Peltojärvi was under 20 kilometers, and I spent some time just sitting by the lake and thinking to myself.

I was soon back at Lahtisen kämppä hut and continued my hike on the trail along River Peltojoki. After around two kilometers, the trail turned to the right and up to a nameless fell lake. There were some small streams that you could cross by hopping on rocks. The slope to the fell lake was grassy, and framed by bright orange reddish rowanberries. There were several deep trails going up, the lake was probably a popular place to visit. Then I saw a guy with a dog going camping by the lake.

No wonder the nameless lake was a popular camping place: the fell lake rested at the root of Peltotunturi fell and fine sand dunes, pretty autumn colored trees framing the shoreline. The fine sand dunes seemed like an exotic arctic beach. I climbed up the dunes and from there up to Peltoaivi fell summit. The slopes were covered with small rocks and vegetation, very pleasant and easy to walk. The gentle slopes scenery continued far to the horizon. It was so peaceful.

At the Peltotunturi fell summit (567 m) there was a large pile of rocks. You can notice the uniqueness of fells (compared to e.g., mountains) right at the summit. You don't see any dramatic slopes or sharp lines, the scenery just seems like very open space, fading to eternity. The slopes and fells were of various shades of dark red and the sky was painted in pale pink. I could spot a couple of other hikers far away in the silence.

Hiking to the Lake Peltojärvi paradise wilderness beach

I had heard there was a magical beach in the middle of wilderness, but I didn't know the exact location or the route there. Based on the map, I headed to the South-East of Vuomalahti. The cliffs on the northern shore of Lake Peltojärvi looked very steep, and I took a route going around the wetlands and across the fell slopes to Oravamorosto forest area.

Kuárvikozzâ fell was standing against the sky, and it was like somebody had put down a red carpet to walk toward it. I found several beautiful reindeer antlers. Most of them were covered with green moss, but one pair was in good shape. I decided to leave for the next hiker to admire, as I thought they belonged to northern wilderness.

The fell birch forest of Oravamorosto looked like some apple tree garden from a far. The bog between Oravamorosto and River Vuomajoki was easy to cross jumping from a turf tuft to another. I walked along the river to find a wading spot, and soon found a good one, quite exactly where I had put it on my map. I changed my hiking boots to sandals and stepped into ice-cold water. I wasn't very experienced in wading, and I got a bit excited to cross a river solo. But the wading was easy, there was water to my calf and the bottom of the river was quite even.

There were more camping spots here, as well as good places for swimming. After two kilometers walk, I should have turned left toward Kuárvikozzâ fell. I could only see thick fog. Kuárvikozzâ had disappeared into the white.

After wading River Vuomajoki, I navigated in a forest toward Vuomalahti trying to avoid wetlands. The forest was a bit dense, and I climped up a cliff to get faster to the beach. It was rather steep and required scrambling too. The lovely evening sun was shining to the cliffs, too bad the beach was on the other side. Soon I saw the big Lake Peltojärvi and found a trail that eventually led to the beach. I admired the long fine sandy beach and decided to go swimming before dark.

I pitched quickly my tent and put on bikinis. It was finally a great spot to take a nice cold water swimming photo. I stood there in the icy water and wondered what the heck, the light on my camera is not flashing. The battery had run out! From 3/4 to zero. At this point I thought how stupid of me to buy a cheap battery instead of Canon's own, but what can you do in the middle of wilderness. I took some mobile photos and videos during the rest of my adventure, but there's absolutely nothing to see in them, as in the night, it started raining and the rain and fog lasted for the rest of my journey.

So, I decided to forget about my camera and go fishing. I couldn't find any suitable place for fishing, the shallow sandy beach continued forever. Then I made a short but refreshing cold swim. There's an interesting pile of stones on the beach that works as a sauna if you got the right equipment and know how to use it. There was also quite a lot of litter, plastic, half-burned wood and a towel hanging from a tree. I set up fire on a fireplace near my tent and enjoyed the coziness until it was dark.

Kuárvikozzâ fell in fog

I woke up to the sounds of raining around 4 AM, and continued sleeping. In the morning there was a short break in raining and I could pack my stuff. When I left the beach to hike Kuárvikozzâ fell, it was raining again. I found a good trail going along the shore and decided not to take 'a shortcut' up the cliffs. There were more camping spots here, as well as good places for swimming. After two kilometers walk, I should have turned left toward Kuárvikozzâ fell. I could only see thick fog. Kuárvikozzâ had disappeared into the white. I stood there a while to think about my route options. I decided it was not worth trying to find Kuárvikozzâ fell and Piekanaäytsi ravine in the fog, because I didn't have a camera and there would be nothing to photograph anyway. I should go back to Peltotunturi fell and go fishing to some lake.

Peltotunturi fell in fog

I walked a long way along River Vuomajoki to find a good wading spot. I ended up going for the same wading spot as yesterday. Oravamorosto forest looked spooky in the fog, and made me thinking about bears and wolves. I went around the fell on the right side and climbed above the treeline where it was easier to walk. Soon I was back on the route I walked yesterday above the wetlands, in total whiteness.

I didn't see Peltoaivi fell. I didn't see anything else either, just about ten meters to any direction. I looked my compass and I looked my mobile to be able to walk to the right direction. Moving was slow. I finally reached the saddle between Peltoaivi fell's higher and lower summits. Plan A had been to hike from Kuárvikozzâ to Lake Honkavuoman Latvajärvi and from there to Luolikkokuru gorge. Plan B had been hiking through Peltoaivi fell's lower summit to Luolikkokuru gorge. Plan C was born spontaneously there as the humidity had reached my underwear during the day. I started hiking back to Peltotunturi summit to the nameless lake and the Lahtinen hut, where I thought to dry my clothes and have a shelter to make dinner.

I was wandering on the slopes of Peltoaivi fell, but managed to find my way back to the sand dunes and to the trail that led to the Lahtinen hut. I had been carrying a few dry firewood in my backpack saving them for a rainy day, and I found one thin branch outside of the hut that I put into the stove. A small fire was enough to warm up the hut so that it was nice to sit there and dry most of my clothes. A couple of hikers walked by and I invited them inside, but they continued their trip to Lake Peltojärvi. The night was getting dark and the hut was getting cold, I collected my stuff and went into my tent that I had pitched nearby. The Lahtinen hut is so tiny that you couldn't probably sleep there with your legs straight.

The sceneries of Tuanganuaivi fell

I carried my stuff inside the hut, and got my tent inside last as well to dry it with a cloth a little. I had my morning oats and headed to Lake Alempi Harrijärvi once again. There was a trail going up north on the map and a weak trail continued some time toward Bealdoaivvás fell. I walked along a stream and turned evntually toward Tuanganuaivi fell. There were quite good trails too. The fog was hanging low covering the fell summits. I climbed up the slope to a narrow fell lake on the northern side of the summit. There was a long and narrow rocky ravine and a lake in the middle of the summit of Tuanganuaivi fell. This would have been a beautiful and scenic route when the weather was nice.

I walked forward, going around the western slope of the fell. The ground was amazingly red everywhere. I descended from the northernmost peak a rocky slope through junipers to a trail that led to Jeageloaivi Lappish hut or shelter. I guess the shelter belongs to the Muotkan Ruoktu association. There were two hunters having coffee and a dog. I went inside as well to have a snack. When I was leaving and sitting on the ground to put my heavy backpack to my back, the dog got all excited and jumped against me and pushed my to the ground on my back. The guys were really sorry but I was just laughing, hilarious!

From the Jeageloaivi shelter, the trail continued up the slope to Jeageloaivi fell. I saw two hikers wandering on the rocks in the fog, but decided to pass summitting the fell because of the poor visibility (and camera). I hiked through the autumn colours near the lower peak and walked down to Lake Veajetláttu. Fishing wise, I should probably have continued for example to Lake Antaraslammit, but perhaps the weather (and camera) had caused me some kind of adventure fatigue.

Last night in Muotkatunturi wilderness

There were many nice tenting spots and old fireplaces on the eastern shore of the small lake. I pitched my tent next to a tiny cape and a fireplace with a wooden plank for sitting by the fire. I didn't have any dry firewood in my backpack, and everything would be wet on the ground after two days of raining. But I still decided to pick up some branches and try to make a fire as it had finally stopped raining.

I managed to set up a fire, only small flames and not that long lasting, but some joy and warmth and the awesome scent of burning wood. The lake was completely still, but I went fishing. After trying a few spots without any luck, I thought it was time to have those mashed potatoes with just onions. I left my wet clothes hanging on a cord outside and crawled to my sleeping bag early.

In the morning it was a few kilometers of trail down to River Peltojoki and through a forest to Muotkan Ruoktu for a morning coffee while waiting for the bus. During the journey back to Ivalo I had time to think about my autumn hikes in Kevo Strict Nature Reserve and in Muotkatunturi wilderness. Amazing how two destinations so close to each other could be so different!

My experience of backpacking in Muotkatunturi wilderness in a nutshell

  • If you want to get into the fell highland fast, you should start your trip from the Northern side of the wilderness area, such as from Muotkan Ruoktu or Kiellatupa. There are good bus connections to Karigasniementie road from Ivalo.
  • I fell in love with Muotkatunturi, despite of the rainy and foggy weather for two days.
  • Hiking in Muotkatunturi wilderness is easy, also off trails through fell vegetation. The mires and wetlands are not that deep or you can go around them (unlike in Kaldoaivi).
  • Crossing streams is easy: there are rocks in the smaller streams and the rivers are shallow / you can find a shallow wading spot.
  • The open fell scenery continues as long as you can see. It feels very peaceful.
  • The fine sand beach of Lake Peltojärvi is unique. Camping by the beach is like being on a paradise island. There's a 'suna' by the beach, you just have to know how to use it.
  • Remember to take all your litter with you and leave nothing to wilderness.
  • Muotkatunturi wilderness is well suited as the first destination to hike off trails.
  • In Muotkatunturi you are backpacking in the reindeer husbandry area. Do not disturb or approach freely grazing reindeer, and remember to close any fence gates.
  • I really want to come back to Muotkatunturi wilderness one day, maybe during the autumn colors or perhaps for a winter adventure!

Muotkatunturi wilderness area

  • Destination: Inari and Utsjoki, Lapland, Finland
  • Difficulty: advanced because of wilderness, includes river crossings
  • When to go: in September for an autumn hike 
  • Duration: suitable for day trips and multi-day adventures
  • Where to stay: camping in tent, two open wilderness huts, Lahtinen hut and a Lappish shelter for day shelters

Finland Inari Muotkatunturi wilderness Backpacking Solo Backpacking Fells Autumn Autumn colors Multi-day adventure Aurora Borealis Fishing River Crossing


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