Halti is the highest fell in Finland with the peak, Háldičohkka, at 1324 m above the sea level. It can be summitted from Finland or from Norway as the fell is located at the border between two countries. The trail to Halti from Kilpisjärvi, the Nordkalott Trail, is the most popular route to Halti from Finland. The Nordkalott Trail leads through the northern parts of Finland, Norway and Sweden, and a 70 km stretch runs through Northern Finland mainly in the Käsivarsi Wilderness area. The trail leg between Kilpisjärvi and Halti is around 55 km. Hiking to Halti is demanding due to wilderness and crossing rivers, although the trail is marked and there are many huts along the route. The duration of Halti adventure is 3-7 days.
Hiking the Arctic Trail and summitting Halti was one of my most well-planned and anticipated adventures. I hiked solo the Kilpisjärvi-Halti Trail in August 2021. My adventure to Halti was quite different from my return hike from Halti to Kilpisjärvi via Termisjärvi.
From Kilpisjärvi to Lake Tsahkaljärvi
The trailhead to Halti can be found at the North-East corner of the Kilpisjärvi Visitor Centre’s parking area. It was two minutes past midnight (I had a slightly longer trail run at Saana fell than what I had planned that day) when I left my car to the almost full (and free) parking area and headed into the dark birch forest. The first three kilometers ascend moderately to the Lake Tsahkaljärvi (Cáhkáljávri). The trail is marked with wooden poles painted with orange. It’s basically quite easy walking but consider the rocks on the trail as a sneak peek of what’s coming up later!
I spotted a nice small stream bubbling in the beam of light of my headlamp and had the first cup of fresh water of Lapland on my Halti tour. After an hour of walking, I reached the river on the east side of the lake where I had planned to camp. It had been a tad exhausting day, so I didn’t walk over the bridge but just pitched my tent to the first spot that looked even remotely smooth in the darkness. There are really nice tenting spots on the north side of the river, on the left just by the lake (and yeah, the best ones were already taken when I passed by in the morning light).
It was 2.30 AM when all my stuff was where it was supposed to be and I had eaten my very late dinner and finally closed my eyes. And maybe 4 AM when I woke up to some weird noise. Roaring, bleating and running sounds. And it continued until morning. My tent was quite close to a reindeer fence, and the reindeers were very close to my tent. They were drinking water from the river, and there was particularly this one lonely reindeer keeping up the loud sheepish voice – and keeping me up. Note to self: the ear plugs!
Although I was awake, I couldn’t get up early. And although I had fast breakfast (croissants and other no-cooking stuff) I couldn’t get moving before 8:40 AM. If you do photography yourself, you may know the feeling when you are going to a scenic place and you've pictured a perfect photo in your head in advance. Well, I didn’t get a photo of me camping by the beautiful Lake Tsahkaljärvi with a gorgeous view to the Saana fell, as I couldn’t even see the fell from the clouds. Nevermind, I took a photo of me packing my messy camp. It was going to be a sunny day and I was full of energy!
From Lake Tsahkaljärvi to Saarijärvi
Just after the bridge the trail splits up to the right to the Lake Termisjärvi and to the left and up to the Nordkalott Trail. Halti can be reached by both. I turned left to the Arctic Trail.
The first stretch of the trail from the Lake Tsahkaljärvi goes next to a reindeer fence and ascends moderately in a beautiful fell scenery. The clouds were slowly fading away and replaced by sunshine. When I looked back down to the Lake Tsahkaljärvi I could now see the distinct shape of the Saana fell. I was finally on my way to Halti, it was a T-shirt weather, my steps were light and I felt bubbles of joy.
After around 8 km walking the Nordkalott Trail runs almost two kilometers in Norway before coming back to the Finnish side. Norway had made more covid-restrictions during the summer, and I was not allowed to enter the country. I had tried to search for information on border crossing concerning this tiny spot, and while the information wasn’t very clear, my conclusion was that you shouldn’t enter Norway here either. So, I chose to evade the Norwegian stretch of the trail by summitting the Masetvarri fell and going round the Muurivaara fell.
There’s a visible path going up to Masetvarri (no signs but you can see the trailhead) when you have walked around 5.5 km from the Tsahkaljärvi sign. It added some length to the journey, but the summer weather was amazing, and the views were spectacular. There were also plenty of crowberries, and I started to like them. Additional bonus: not even a sign of anyone else anywhere! It would have been probably faster to summit also Muurivaara as there’s a clear four-wheeler path between Masetvarri and Muurivaara going all the way to the top and back to the Nordkalott trail, but I enjoyed walking in untouched wilderness. Between a small lake and Muurivaara there are some paths that start and stop suddenly (reindeer paths?) and someone had also marked the way with some branches closer to the Halti trail.
The next stretch of the trail was quite smooth going with some rocks before the first open wilderness hut Saarijärvi. Saarijärvi is not the best place for tenting because of the rocks, and the hut is quite small. There were people inside eating so I had my lunch behind the hut sitting on a log in sunshine. I don’t usually carry any excess food weight while trekking, but I had a can of vendace in chili tomato sauce to celebrate summitting Halti. I ate the fish sandwiches already at Saarijärvi to cut the weight of my backpack. Delicious at any time!
More people were coming to the hut. I filled a small water bottle straight from the river while some guys were using filters nearby. I think I’m done with my filter for good in Lapland after this trip, I was lazy and drank straight from every stream I could find.
From Saarijärvi to Kuonjarjoki
I continued hiking and crossed the bridge. On the northern side of Saarijärvi begins the Käsivarsi wilderness area. The trail starts ascending and it is a bit boggy. But as it hadn't been raining much, the trail was mostly dry. Dry and rocky. I managed to take some extra meters as I started following a four-wheeler trail instead of the marked hiking trail, and suddenly it was much further from the main trail instead of coming together with it. I scrambled through the vegetation and rocks and small streams to get back on the right trail.
The last stretch of this trail section descends to a valley with breathtaking views to the swirling River Kuonjarjoki (Guonjarjohka). You can also see the scenic steep cliffs and boulders, with over 200m of vertical walls rising to the sky. The river crossing comes quite soon after descending to the valley. Waterline was low and I could jump from a rock to a rock without getting my boots wet in the wide river. Some dark clouds were forming into the sky, creating a dramatic contrast to the scenery that was bathing in golden sunshine.
Then the trail comes to the second open wilderness hut Kuonjarjoki. I saw one tent down by the river, and when I entered the hut there was a woman with a small dog. We had a really nice chat about hiking, the weather forecast and the trails near Termisjärvi and going round the Norway border. Apparently, there was a rumor that the signs of crossing the border had been taken away. I shared my tips for Masetvarri and she told me I could easily find the trailhead in Termisjärvi on my way back as she had walked that route (with a tiny dog, can’t be too hard!).
Kuonjarjoki is a nice place for camping: lots of great tent spots by the river and a beautiful scenery. The wilderness hut is also quite large with two table sets and bunks for ten persons. One of my favorites!
From Kuonjarjoki to Meekonjärvi
I continued my hike from Kuonjarjoki after sitting on the terrace bench for a while, enjoying the scenic views and eating a chocolate bar. I had decided to reach the Lake Meekonjärvi that day in order to summit Halti before the rain and clouds that were arriving the next day around 2 PM. So, it was the last stretch ahead, and probably the nicest stretch on the whole Halti trail!
I just loved the trail between Kuonjarjoki and Meekonjärvi. It’s only moderately ascending and descending (more the latter than the former when you go that direction) and the trail is also mostly rock-free and swamp-free. The most challenging part of the trail stretch comes after a couple of kilometers when you have to cross two rivers: River Siktagurajohka and River Kahperusjoki (Gahperusjohka). The River Kahperusjoki is famous for easily flooding and the stream can be strong. I had prepared for taking my hiking boots off and wading, but the water was so low that I could again walk on rocks in the river, sometimes just a couple of centimeters of water above the rock. No wet boots here!
The evening sun goldened the scenery. Reindeers were slowly walking nearby. I could see the distinct shape of Saivaara fell from a far. Then the massive Meekonvaara fell and its steep wall. It’s funny how far the objects actually are in the wilderness when you see them. (I made up a new saying for me: “Further than you would think.”) I had already earlier ditched the idea of summitting Guonjarvarri fell because I didn’t have enough time, but I decided to climb up to Saivaara on my way back from Halti.
Finally, the day’s hike was coming to its end as I arrived at the bridge of the beautiful River Bierfejohka and its rapids and falls before the Lake Meekonjärvi. A few days ago, a dead reindeer was found at the shores of the Lake Bierfejohka and there was a high recommendation to boil all the water along the trail. I thought I’d just leave that particular river in peace, as it shouldn’t affect other water sources.
The trail to the open wilderness hut goes to the right before the lake, and it’s around 1.5 km to the side from the main trail. My plan was to go tenting so I headed straight to the lake near the rental huts where you can also use the dry toilets. I had thought of camping at the northern part of the lake, but I didn’t feel like hiking the two kilometers across the boulder field anymore – 31.44 km for the day should be enough. I pitched my tent next to the lake to the southern side instead where it seemed to be no wind exposure.
I had a cozy dinner, cashew rice and hot chocolate, and I enjoyed the last rays of the evening sun. Then I packed my small 20L backpack for the Halti day trip. At this point, it was obvious that I’d never make it to the summit before the bad weather if I just hiked with the trekking backpack. I had waited my trip for the whole summer, and I really really wanted to see the views from the highest point of Finland. And so, I decided to go a bit faster, changing to trail running shoes for a day.
From Meekonjärvi to Pihtsusjärvi
I was excited in the morning. It was the Halti day! When I looked at the sunrise outside of my tent, I couldn’t believe it was going to rain soon. I put most of my stuff inside my sleeping bag and the trekking backpack next to that. Like someone was sleeping there. Then I put my hiking boots and river crossing Crocs in the vestibule. Like there really was someone inside. I knew I was going to be back late in the evening, so I didn’t want my tent to look like abandoned. Lastly, I checked that the six pegs were deep in the ground and the tent was securely pitched. Check, check, check, and go!
Getting to the other side of the Lake Meekonjärvi means scrambling a long boulder field. There are some wooden planks that help with the biggest stones but it’s still slow moving. When I saw the cape and the nice tenting spots with fireplaces, I almost wished I had scrambled the boulder field last night. Next time then!
The bridge over the River Vuomakasjoki had been broken by the early summer flood, and there was a marked route for wading around 1.5 km before the bridge. Like always before crossing a river, I was a bit nervous, especially as on a website, the River Vuomakasjoki crossing was described as challenging and having possibly high water. But to my relief, the route had been marked extremely well, and the water was so low, that I could cross the whole river by moving on the rocks. Just like the nice woman in the Kuonjarjoki hut had said.
After the crossing there was a marked trail on the other side of the river. The trail was a bit rocky but sort of runnable. I was slow because I couldn’t stop eating bilberries that were all around!
Soon the trail comes to one of the most beautiful sights of the route, the Pihtsusköngäs falls that have been called the Finnish Niagara’s falls. And for reason. I had to spend some time just watching the roaring water and listening the mighty sounds in the sunrise, alone in the wilderness. Just those moments that you remember after twenty years, maybe sitting in a bus and staring out of the window with a big smile on your face.
The trail goes next to the River Pihtsusjoki (Bihcosjohka) for a couple of kilometers before arriving at the Lake Pihtsusjärvi (Bihcosjavri). The trail is somewhat rocky and the shores of the lake bare and windy. I had not made a proper breakfast in the morning to speed up things, so by the time I arrived at the open wilderness hut, I was starving. The break was anyway a good idea to get energy levels up for the Halti summitting.
There were a lot of tents and a lot of people in their morning tasks. (I had been surprised how quiet the trail had been as I thought it was very popular.) I made some tomato and goat cheese soup with bread, and a cup of butter coffee (a great discovery for this trip!). I tried not to make a number of my trail running outfit but explained when I was asked about it. That I do have a heavy backpack and proper hiking boots as well. That I just wanted to reach Halti before the rain. But that I have done some trail ultras so 40 km is not a big deal. And I like long day distances. But overall, it was just a nice chat.
From the Pihtsusjärvi wilderness hut the trail runs next to a river, and the trail is mostly rock-free and fast. There are some small hanging bogs but oftentimes you can find a rock or a tuft to put your feet on. I was stupid enough to take several pics of a wrong fell, the Small Halti (Etu-Halti or Pikku-Halti) before I saw the real Halti in the horizon and checked up the map. It’s further than you would think.
When the trail comes to the Lake Haldijavri, it splits in two: turning to the left leads you to the Halti open wilderness hut and the rent hut, continuing straight forward leads to the summit of Halti. From here the trail starts ascending more steeply and you have to tackle more rocks. It’s still quite easy walking.
The hardest part is the last two kilometers. The trail becomes more or less bare rock, scree and loose gravel with some steep sections. The zones of rock change from beautiful grey and black to various shades of orange and red colors. At this point, I could say without a mobile coverage that the clouds will be at the summit before me, so I quickly enjoyed the views all the way to the top. The wind was blowing harder and it was getting really cold. I put on a thermo sweater and a merino tube scarf.
Ten minutes before I reached the summit everything was turning white around me, and all the views were gone by the time I touched the pile of gold-painted rocks and saw the Finland’s flag swirling in the wind on the top. It was 1 PM, the rain forecast had been 2-5 PM. I took the ‘Hey look I’m at the summit’ pics and right after that it started dripping. Then suddenly, a group of Polish men arrived out of the blue (or should I say white) from the Norwegian side of the fell and asked me to take a picture of them. They had been on a tour to summit all the highest mountains in the Nordic countries. Apparently, it had been hard to find any from Denmark, but Finland’s Halti seemed to be great!
I put on my raincoat and wrote my name to the guest book in a steel mailbox. I don’t do that very often, but this was Halti, the highest point of my homeland. Finland was amazing, and the 37 hours of getting to the top had been worth all the sweat and toe pain. The journey back to Kilpisjärvi was a whole another story!
Käsivarsi Wilderness Area
Kilpisjärvi - Halti hiking info
- Destination: Kilpisjärvi and Käsivarsi Wilderness, Lapland, Finland
- Distance: 55 km (one direction)
- Difficulty: advanced, includes river crossings
- When to go: from July to September for a summer and autumn hike
- Duration: 4-7 days
- Where to stay: camping in tent, wilderness huts, or rental huts
Equipment for Halti hike
Good shoes: hiking boots etc., shoes (e.g., Crocs) for river crossings
Hiking clothes (trousers/tights + shirt + jacket + hat + gloves)
Windproof and water-resistant outerwear (jacket and pants)
Change clothes (a warm coat (e.g., light down jacket), set of long underwear, merino wool shirt, socks etc.; enough warm clothes)
Trekking poles (helpful for river crossing, climbing the fells)
Food & waterbottle(s) according to needs (water sources along the trail, no services)
Trekking stove & gas & matches (cooking is possible in the huts)
Tent (the huts may be full especially during the peak season and on rainy days)
Sleeping bag and pad
First aid kit
Map & compass
Mosquito spray, headnet (summer)