Trail Running in Finland: Forests and National Parks

Trail Running in Finland: Forests and National Parks

The Finnish landscape is a trail runner’s dream come true, with all kinds of forests, moorland, untouched mires and bogs, rocky hills and magnificent steep-sided eskers, and majestic fells and boulder fields, and the cleanest waters in the world. It’s actually quite astonishing that I didn’t spot this fabulous outdoors sport until recently!

Nature has always been an important part of life for Finns. We have walked, wandered, jogged, camped, and picked berries in the woods from the beginning of our history. Even though running is probably more popular than ever, and people are increasingly heading into nature in their free time, spending time on trails is sort of a natural way of Finnish living. Trail running may sound even trendy, but the core thing is to enjoy the great outdoors and move. Getting your share of health and happiness doesn’t require any fancy equipment, although a pair of running shoes with a good grip will make it more fun!

Trail running in national parks and Finnish wilderness

Trail running doesn’t require either mountains. That’s great news for Finns since we don’t have any mountains. We have awesome fells in the North instead. And we have forests, lots and lots of amazing green pine and spruce and birch forests. And, of course, trails. Metsähallitus (The Finnish Forest Administration) maintains thousands of kilometers of signposted trails throughout the country, and the forests are also full of various unmarked paths. We’ve got 40 beautiful national parks, 12 wilderness areas in the Northern Finland, and 10 national urban parks.

We’ve got a lot of unbuilt areas in Finland. Even in the capital city Helsinki, you don’t have to take many steps for accessing nature. The Finnish landscape is a trail runner’s dream come true, with all kinds of forests, moorland, untouched mires and bogs, rocky hills and magnificent steep-sided eskers, and majestic fells and boulder fields, and the cleanest waters in the world. It’s actually quite astonishing that I didn’t spot this fabulous outdoors sport until recently!

Trail running in Southern Finland and Lakeland

I live in Southern Finland. I’ve got maybe ten steps from my front door to reach the closest tiny trail that is surrounded by spruces, but I usually run around 800m to get into the woods and my everyday trails. There are plenty of nature areas by the sea, and forestry national parks such as Nuuksio National Park and Sipoonkorpi National Park. The southern parks have varying terrain, from trails covered with roots and rocks meandering among thousands of trees to trails climbing up to hills with beautiful views to ponds and lakes. There are also boggy areas where you can run on duckboards, and some of the main trails are covered with crushed stone.

The Lakeland is amazing for trail running too. We’ve got over 188 000 lakes and around 180 000 islands, that are surrounded by forests and ridges. Running on eskers and ridges is so much fun, as the slopes are not usually very steep, but you get the experience of going up and down and the trails are often very running-friendly. Not to mention the scenic views when you’ve got blue lakes on both sides and just a narrow stretch of eskers running between them. Try trail running for example in Punkaharju or in Leivonmäki National Park. Or in the beautiful but a tad crowded Repovesi National Park.

A little bit more trail running challenges can be found on the eastern side of Finland, in the North Karelia region. There we’ve got Koli National Park and our beloved national landscape. And high hills, hills after hills. The 60 km Herajärvi Trail that goes around the Lake Herajärvi offers hard time for your muscles as well as scenic views to beautiful old forests and lakes.

Trail running in Finnish Lapland

Trail running in the Northern Finland is quite different from trail running in the Southern Finland. On the fells, you’ll get a real mountain running experience, and basically you can enjoy the true wilderness far away from civilization. The terrain is oftentimes more rugged, and instead of seeing deers while running, you’ll see a lot of reindeers. In the Kilpisjärvi area, you can find both old Finnish bedrock and geologically young Scandinavian Mountains’ bedrock, and the area has both alpine and arctic climate characteristics. The around 55 km (one direction) Kilpisjärvi-Halti trail, also known as part of the Nordkalott Trail, is a challenging but mostly runnable trail (I have run one stretch of it during my hiking journey). But there are other shorter and easier trails in the area as well, such as Saana loop and summit trail.

In the North-East Lapland we’ve got the huge Kaldoaivi wilderness area. There are some marked trails, the most known is the Sevettijärvi-Pulmanki Trail, that runs between Sevettijärvi village (also a lake) near the Lake Inarijärvi and the Lake Pulmankijärvi in Nuorgam. I made a running adventure through the 70 km trail in one day in the summer 2021. The trail doesn’t go much on top of the fells, but there are so many swamps, mires, hanging bogs and other wetland that wet feet will be guaranteed.

One of the most beautiful trails in Finland is the 55 km Hetta-Pallas hiking trail. (I have left a piece of my heart in Muonio forever.) I have hiked the trail, but I’m dreaming of running it someday too. A bit similar scenic trail is the 63 km Kevo Trail in Kevo Strict Nature Reserve. Since I’ve seen both of these trails in their autumn colors, it could be nice to run them in the summer – to experience a new scenery, and to escape the mosquitos! On the southern border of Lapland, in Salla, is also the starting point to a popular hiking and running trail, the 82 km Bear’s Trail. There are several entry points for various distances, and the hardest climbing and scrambling are on the Ruka end of the trail. I think I have to run this trail too!

If you are going to Lapland and you’ve got fells near you, you can also do shorter top trail runs and get the great uphill training experience with stunning views. I usually pack trail running shoes to my hiking trips to Lapland just for this purpose.

Overall, the largest national parks and wilderness areas are in the Northern Finland, but the trails in all the national parks (on land) are great for running. And though there are many other visitors and hikers during the peak seasons, there’s plenty of room to go trail running. Sometimes a lot of people and a lot of duckboards in the same park means some queuing – or wet shoes.

Finland has four seasons

And you can run in all of them! In Lapland, there are even more seasons. Running on trails in the springtime gives so much energy after the dark season, when the amount of light slowly grows, birds start singing on the trees, and you begin to see tiny glimpses of green in nature. Summer is probably the most popular season for trail running (and perhaps the most popular season in general in Finland) because of the holidays, warm weather and green nature. My favorite season for trail running and hiking is autumn. I love the autumn palette of orange and red shades, the warm but dark nights, and that I can still go to the trails with light clothes, but the air is nice and cool for running. During the winter, snow and ice running give fantastic variation to trail running, and there are a lot of ploughed trails in the forests too. You can even try snow running in just wool socks!

Finnish freedom to roam

All Finnish people and everyone just visiting our country have the right to roam anywhere in nature regardless of land ownership. But ‘Everyman’s Right’ means also great responsibility of respecting nature, other people and property. It is important for any trail runner, hiker or other outdoor enthusiast to respect our nature, and to protect and preserve the unique treasures of nature also for future generations.

When trail running in Finland, you may run freely where you like except near private buildings or farm fields, pick and eat berries, and take a refreshing swim. National parks and other nature reserves have their own rules, which means that the Everyman’s Rights may be restricted or even forbidden either seasonally or year-round. You should always check the rules and restrictions for each of the national parks before heading to the trails.

When you go to the trails, you should not disturb people or damage their property, disturb animals such as reindeers, game, birds or their nests, damage trees or moss, or leave any rubbish into the forest.

Water supply for trail runners

Although Finland is the land of thousands of lakes and we have one of the cleanest water system and nature in the world, it’s not such a good idea to drink straight from a river or a creek except in the Northern Finland. It’s sometimes discouraged to drink straight from a creek even in Lapland, because ‘what if some reindeer just died upstream’. (Like what are the odds, really?) In general, the quality of the water varies according to location and temperature. Carry water in a running vest or backpack when trail running anywhere else than Lapland or pack a mini filter device.

If you run in the national parks, check the water sources along the trail from a map. Some (not all) of the national parks have one or several water wells, sometimes the well water is drinkable, sometimes it’s drinkable after boiling. Check in advance. For example, when I headed to the 60K Herajärvi Trail in Koli National Park in the summer heat, I had to drop a couple of water bottles into the bushes for my running day the night before, as I couldn’t carry enough water for all the stretches between water sources.

Races or no races

The main reasons for heading to the trails (at least for me as a trail runner!) are experiencing nature, health and happiness. Trail running can also be about challenging yourself, for example in races. There’s a small active group of more or less goal-oriented trail runners who participate in races in Finland. The number of races throughout the year is growing fast, and the competitions are often sold out in just hours or minutes. The trails go through the most beautiful sceneries in the country, from wilderness to more urban areas, and vary from short to ultradistances. Trail running events would be great for connecting with the community, but so far, I’ve been happy running just by myself and my own trails, and it has still been a journey that has truly challenged myself both physically and mentally. So, races or no races, great time awaits on trails!

Given the amazing unspoiled pure nature with the geological and seasonal variance and the freedom to roam, I think Finland is truly a trail runner’s paradise. I have explored only a microscopic fracture of all the available trails even in my homeland. How exciting to know that I’m not running out of trails any time soon!

Some sites about trail running in Finland:
Northern Ultra Trail Service - NUTS

Finland Trail running


My 2021 trail running recap & goals for 2022
Why do I trail run?