Herajärven kierros Trail in Koli National Park area is around 60 km (38 miles) hiking trail in incredibly beautiful scenery. The Herajärven kierros Trail actually consists of two ring routes around Lake Herajärvi: a 35 km (21.7 miles) loop around the northern end and a 30 km (18.6 miles) loop around the southern end. On the Herajärven kierros Trail, you can enjoy varied nature, rugged hills, green forests and blue lakes.
Koli National Park
The rugged hills of Koli National Park in North Karelia are scenic in all seasons. The Koli region just received the award for the best outdoor destination in the Nordics at an international travel fair. The view from the peaks of Koli to Lake Pielinen is one of Finland's most loved national landscapes.
Koli has about 80 km (50 miles) of marked summer routes, the longest is the Herajärven kierros Trail. The most popular of the year-round routes is probably the Koli Peaks Trail, which I hiked with snowshoes in the winter. Perhaps the most beautiful landscapes open up from the Mäkrä Trail, where you can admire famous artist Järnefelt's painting place and the iconic pine tree.
There are numerous parking lots in the area of Koli National Park and there are also many starting points for the routes. The Herajärven kierros Trail is recommended to start from the Koli nature center in the north, from the parking area in the south end Eteläpää, or from Kiviniemi farm, the Herajärvi camping center.
Herajärven kierros Trail - ultra run
How hard can it be? Before Koli Herajärven kierros Trail, I had run only one ultra distance, which was also a very short ultra distance, 43 kilometers (26.7 miles). That ultra run was supposed to be a 50 km (31 miles) run, and it didn’t go too well.
But, I have always had this attitude to life, 'yeah, can do, let's go’. With the same mindset, I set off on the Herajärven kierros Trail. My only goal was to make it from the start to finish in one day. My little adventure took place in the middle of extremely hot June.
Planning of the Herajärven kierros Trail ultra run
The Herajärven kierros Trail ultra had to be planned in such a way that water would be easily available throughout the journey. In addition, the tent site had to be preferably along the route, so that I could head off to the trails right away in the morning. I took Vaarojen Marathon running route map to help planning. Lakkala Farm has a camping area on the shore of Lake Herajärvi, and that fit my needs best.
I arrived in Koli in the evening at the Eteläpää parking lot of Herajärven kierros Trail. The sun was shining and the air was thick with mosquitoes. I took a half-liter bottle of sports drink in to the bushes to wait for tomorrow's running trip.
Then I went to Kiviniemi Farm, where there would be a water tank, because I wanted to check it in advance. Next, I continued my journey to Ryläys, where I went to admire the evening sun and at the same time hid two half-liter sports drink bottles in the forest. The steep slopes of Räyläs seemed much steeper than I had thought.
I had to sleep early, so I skipped visiting the Koli Visitor Centre and the peaks, and drove to Lakkala's farm.
Camping at Lakkala Farm
From the Seppälä parking lot, it is about 900 meters to the Lakkala farm and the beach to the tent site. There are sheep in the field at Lakkala in the summer. The camping area goes down to the shore, there is a fire place in the yard and toilets next to the road. The water in the well is not drinkable, the nearest water spot is on the Seppälä Farm (only the well is free to use).
When I arrived, there were already six tents on the gentle slope. I ate dinner and went into my sleeping bag. I could heard loud talking and laughing from the nearby tent that lasted hours and hours, and I couldn’t get much sleep.
After the crap night, I made breakfast - croissants and blueberry soup - which hopefully would not upset my stomach. I packed the tent, put sports drinks in the backpack and walked to my car. I was on my way to the trail at 8:40 AM.
Herajärven kierros Trail route description
Lakkala Farm – Suopellon Laavu lean-to shelter
The trail immediately started to climb towards the green forest and an even steeper climb to Vesivaara hill. It took twenty sweaty minutes to climb to the top of Vesivaara - the heat was amazing right from the morning. The scenery of Lake Herajärvi looked so beautiful that it was a pity I didn’t have a camera.
After descending, I chose to run on a road for a couple of kilometers instead of Hirvivaara and Ilokallio hills, because I didn't want to wade across River Herajoki. I could visit Rykiniemi's sandy beach on another day. My toes were taped and I didn't want to soak them in the river. What a great excuse to slip off a couple of climbs.
The road was boring to run, although it saved a little strength. After the crossroads, at Rekivaara hill, a merciless ascent and descent on narrow trails started. It felt like there was more uphill than downhill. I passed by the pretty Haaralampi pond. On Rekivaara, running was tough, but right after, on the Pajakallio hill, running felt like flying.
Suddenly there was a loud beeping sound from the side of the trail. A big brown bird (grouse) tried to make noise either to me or to the tiny bright yellow chicks that scattered around the moss.
The rugged landscapes turned into swamps and fields. I arrived at a sign that said 'Eteläpää 6.9'. There were people by the fire on Suopelto lean-to, the courtyard seemed really nice. After the that, it was nice to run on beautiful smooth rock surfaces. It was very hot, but I felt great.
In the logging area of Lähdesuo, I had to figure out how to pass the fallen trees on the trail. After the open field, a very steep climb to Kolinvaara hill began. Then Pesävaara, Takavaara and Moisseenvaara – hill after a hill. It was a lot of sweat.
Beautiful Lake Pielinen could be seen again from Moisseenvaara, and the slope down was as steep as up. Then followed a tough climb to Kiiesvaara hill, followed by a long descent. I saw a bench and had an energy bar under the trees. I admired the flowers and lush ferns. For a while there was a nice, relatively flat path and cooling shade.
It took an hour to survive this hilly stretch.
South end Eteläpää of Herajärven kierros Trail
I arrived in Eteläpää at 12 o'clock. The first hidden drink bottle was waiting in the bush, which I had to search for a long time. It was only a short distance from the Eteläpää parking lot to the lean-to shelter, where I took my first toilet break. Just then it rained a couple of drops, there was a bit of thunder in the air.
I ran next to the beautiful Kuikkipuro stream. There were more trails crossed and I had to look for the right one. There was also a logging area ahead. The trail turned to the northern shore of Lake Ahvenlampi. There were a couple of hikers at the wilderness hut. The scenery was so pretty that it would certainly be nice to spend the night in Ahvenlampi open wilderness hut.
Next, I had to cross a logging area again – there were quite a lot of them. After a while of the smooth and easy running stretch of Kivivuori, the more challenging and rocky trail up and down from Rautaportti began. The rugged Rautaportti is an impressive sight in the forest.
I arrived at the Huuhkajavaara campfire site at 2 pm. From there, beautiful landscapes opened down to Huuhkajalampi pond, surrounded by steep rock walls. After that, the trail continued more smoothly until Kiviniemi Farm. Running felt easier and I could keep up a good pace.
Kiviniemi Farm is the Herajärvi camping center that offers accommodation and program services. The fine main building was unfortunately just destroyed in a big fire a few weeks ago. The place with its meadows and summer flowers on the shore of Lake Herajärvi is like a postcard.
I found a huge water tank in the yard, from which I filled all my bottles. I also made more sports drink from the powder. The heat was mercilessly roasting, and after the break, I left to continue the journey in the shade of the trees.
Kolinvaara hill – Ryläys
The journey continued upwards from the Kiviniemi Farm up to the slopes of Heraniemenkoli and Kolinvaara (the second one) hills. The green landscapes rewarded the hard work. From Kolinvaara, the trail descended from the forest to an open space, with a signpost 'Kiviniemi' and 'Ryläys'. The crossing of the opening then continued through the forest, winding over River Pusonjoki.
The trail went through a forest, arriving at a road with sign 'Ryläys 7.2'. For some reason, I started to laugh, I think the run seemed too easy and I thought that once I had passed Ryläys, the rest would be easy. I ran along a meandering trail in the middle of ferns, sometimes on duckboards, sometimes on rocks.
The ascent of Sammakkouuro was tough, and the steep ascent of crossing the bog to Sammakkovaara was even tougher. At the top, it was 3:50 pm. It was a good moment to take a break in the scenery with a cheese croissant.
The trail went along the edges of the rock to Pitkälampi and back down into the forest. As I power hiked up the astonishingly steep Tanssikallio (Dance hill), I wondered why the trails had to go through every single bump. My legs felt as if I had been dancing samba for two days straight.
From Ikosenvaara, Ryläys ascent finally began, and it was quite steep. I was still surprised by the rather pleasant trail stretch. Although there was plenty of heat, it felt nice and chilly at this point. I arrived at the bird observation tower at 5 pm. From the tower you can see all the way to Joensuu.
Peiponpelto – Ikolanaho – Mäkrä Trail
From Ryläys, a long and in some places very steep and rooty path started to descend in a dense forest. Even in the forest, there were enough ascents and descents, steep stairs and a couple of duckboards. Great landscapes opened up from Mörkövaara.
Before reaching the road, I picked up two bottles of water from the bushes that I had hidden in the evening. Mörkövaara has a spring, but its water is not drinkable.
From the Ryläys trail, I turned sharply to the right to a road, along which it was easy to run a few hundred meters. The path continued climbing back to the rocks on the other side of the road. I crossed the campfire site of Myllypuro around 6 pm.
The trail around Myllyvaara was relatively flat and easy to run. I passed the Peiponpelto parking lot. Then began the terrible climb up the steep rocky path to Ikolanaho. On the slope, the mosquitoes attacked me like a black cloud, when my speed was not enough to keep them away.
Finally, the slope got gentler, but my speed did not increase much as my legs were so sore. Ikolanaho meadow was a great sight in the early summer evening. However, I got a little confused, because the paths crossed here and there, and I wasn't sure which way to go.
I headed for Mäkrä Trail past the Ikolanaho cabin between Mäkrä and Pieni-Mäkrä. At this point, the trail is flat and easy to run, although the climb seems to go on forever. After some time, the path reached a crossroads, Mäkrä's rocky trail started to climb to the left.
At the top of Mäkrävaara hill, the scenery with its pine trees on the calm Lake Pielinen was insanely beautiful and I had to stay for a while (or a long time) to admire them. Both Mäkrävaara and Koli peaks are at their most beautiful at sunrise. The trail from Mäkrä down towards Koli was really steep and the slope was difficult even when descending. I arrived at Purolanaho at 7:20 pm. And then towards Koli!
Ukko-Koli and Koli Peaks
From Purolanaho, the trail is relatively flat and comfortable to run all the way to Mäkränaho. Mäkränaho is one of the cultural-historical meadows in Koli National Park. In Mäkränaho, for example, you can find wonderful lily of the valley flowers and butterflies. Maybe that's why I'm such a slow runner - I spend so much time admiring flowers and butterflies.
From Mäkränaho, it is about a hundred meters to the intersection, from which several paths start, e.g. to Ukko-Koli and Akka-Koli. I decided to go around Koli Peaks counter-clockwise. The Vaarojen Marathon goes down to Rantatie and visits the port before going up to Ipatti hill and Koli. I skipped this part of the route from my own plan.
A good and flat trail led to Ukko-Koli with a gentle ascent through Kolinuuro, past Paha-Koli in the middle of the rocks. I arrived at the top of Ukko-Koli at 7:50 pm, 20 minutes after leaving Purolanaho. I decided to come the next day to admire the scenery from the peaks of Ukko-Koli and Paha-Koli, since it was already quite late. I descended the stairs to the nature center.
I found a tap in the wall, but the nature center's water tap is only open when the nature center is open, so I got water from Koli's hotel. The staff from the bar kindly filled both of my bottles. I took a little break in the hotel yard and ate chips to get some salt.
I continued my journey at 8:15 pm. I had thought that from Koli I would just run down the downhill slopes to Lakkala, and I felt great again. But yes, there was a lot of work at the end of the trip as well. However, the worst of the heat finally started to subside and the bright summer evening was just wonderfully warm for running.
I ran on the slopes of Akka-Koli gazing at the scenery. Akka-Koli's Temple of Silence invites you to take a short meditation break, even if you are on a trail run. I made a mysterious loop looking for the right path and ended up with the fact that I had been going the right way all along. From Akka-Koli, I could run quickly down the forest trails.
I didn't go up to Mäkrävaara again, but ran the trail south of the hill to Ikolanaho, and then the path between Mäkrä and Pieni-Mäkrä to the intersection, where I turned right in the direction of Lakkala. The trail went up steeply almost immediately to Pieni-Mäkrä and then started a gentle descent all the way to the road.
There was a quite long road stretch up to Havukanaho. I hoped I hadn't missed some path in the forest. Before Havukanaho, I went back into the forest and up to the hills, Murhivaara and Rieskaniemenvaara. At Kelosuo, the trail branched off and I crossed the stream on the right side.
At these points, the terrain was relatively nice and runnable often. Surprisingly, running was also going quite well. At the same time, the insanely tough climb to Jauholanvaara began, which I only survived by thinking: the last hill, Lakkala is approaching.
After descending from Jauholanavaara, the rest of the journey to Lakkala was easy to run, as the biggest ups and downs were behind. I still had to walk sometimes when I started to feel a little nauseous from running. I arrived at the shore of Lakkala at 11:09 pm.
There was only one tent standing in the Lakkala camping area. There was still the last 900 meters to the starting point, to the Seppälä parking lot. Which took 20 minutes as I walked slowly.
I was too tired to drive and go camping in Rykiniemi as planned, so I threw my gear on my back and headed back to Lakkala to set up my tent. A delicious outdoor dinner was ready at 1 am in the morning.
The statistics from the sports watch showed the following: total time 14:45 (14:25 without the night walk from Lakkala to my car), time on the move 11:25, 2200 m of ascent. I was satisfied with the result compared to my previous running experience. Above all, I was glad that my stomach worked and that I survived those tough hills in general.
The next day it was nice to have a day of rest by visiting Rykiniemi, Pirunkirkko, the Koli Peaks, again at Mäkrä and camping at the Turula Farm – and I also hiked the Ipatti slope to Koli.
Experiences from the Herajärven kierros Trail
- The route is very challenging due to the numerous ascents and descents to the hills, it doesn't matter if you run or hike. For example, the ten kilometer longer but boggy Sevettijärvi-Pulmanki hiking trail somehow felt lighter to run even with a heavier backpack.
- If you don't have a lot of experience in power hiking or trail running in terrain with large variation in elevation, the Herajärven kierros Trail is pretty tough for your legs. Poles are absolutely a must-have here.
- The trail is also very rooty and rocky in places, and it requires good technique to keep a reasonable pace. When running alone, I'm perhaps too careful not to accidentally sprain my ankle.
- On a self-supported trip (at least when running), there are quite few water points on some sections. The Herajärven kierros Trail should be planned especially with water supply in mind.
- There are several great camping spots along the route, such as Lakkala Farm, Rykiniemi and Turula Farm.
- I definitely wouldn't have gone around Lake Herajärvi a second time right after (even though the Vaarojen Ultra has sometimes crossed my mind). But there are such great landscapes on the Herajärven kierros Trail, that I will definitely do it again sometime. Maybe next time less than 12 hours - or even more casually in a few days!
Herajärven kierros Trail
- Destination: Koli, North Karelia, Finland
- Distance: 60-65 km
- Difficulty: challenging (lot of variation in elevation, rocky and rooted trails)
- When to go: from June to August for a summer adventure
- Where to stay: camping in tent, lean-to shelters, rental huts or hotel accommodation
- Mobile network coverage: good