Urho Kekkonen – Sompio – Kemihaara

Urho Kekkonen National Park – Sompio Strict Nature Reserve – Kemihaara Wilderness Area, Finland

Finland’s second largest (2547 km2) national park Urho Kekkonen and the adjacent Sompio Strict Nature Reserve (179 km2) and Kemihaara Wilderness Area (302 km2) form one of Europe’s largest and greatest wildernesses (outside Russia). A large part of the area is above the forest limit but it also contains extensive almost untouched forests, altogether nearly 2000 km2, consisting of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), downy birch (Betula pubescens) and in the southern part also Siberian spruce (Picea obovata, photo below); there has been felling only in places in the southern parts of Urho Kekkonen and in Kemihaara1. The forests are low and open but the numerous grey dead trees both standing and fallen, gnarly pines and open vistas have their own beauty. Particularly the pine forests along the river Suomujoki are magnificent. Especially at higher elevations downy birch is mainly Arctic downy birch (var. pumila, see Boreal Region). The area is also used for reindeer grazing. The wild ancestor of reindeer, now extinct in Finland, was a part of the region’s natural fauna but nowadays the excessive size of the reindeer herds has decimated the lichen cover of the drier forests. Wolves (Canis lupus) are unfortunately shot even in the park because they cause losses for the reindeer industry. Consequently, any wolf is only a rare visitor from Russia. Altitude ranges from 113 metres to 718 metres; annual precipitation is 400–500 mm and average annual temperature at low altitudes approx. -1°C. Granulite is the most common rock1.

Siberian spruce forest on gentle south-facing slope at 330 m in Sompio Nature Reserve. Also Arctic downy birch and shrub-like alpine juniper (Juniprus communis subsp. nana). Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), lingonberry (V. vitis-idaea) and bog bilberry (V. uliginosum) on the forest floor

Urho Kekkonen National Park is a popular hiking destination but the wilderness is so large that in more remote parts it is possible to hike even for weeks without seeing other people. The hikers often stay particularly in the treeless fell region. Off-trail hiking is generally very easy, undergrowth being low subshrubs, forest sparse and slopes gentle. There are also plenty of marked hiking trails. In the southern part of Urho Kekkonen National Park there are large valuable2 and impenetrable aapa mires. In the national park there are also wild rivers that may be difficult to ford, at least in early summer. Free camping is allowed in more remote areas. There are also free wilderness huts. In Sompio, hiking is allowed only along two trails and camping only at Lake Sompiojärvi. In Kemihaara, there are no marked trails but hiking and camping is free. There are road connections to many place around the area (except to the east, which is Russia), with buses driving almost along the western boundary (try https://www.eskelisen.fi/en/).



  1. Urho Kekkosen kansallispuiston, Sompion luonnonpuiston, Kemihaaran erämaa-alueen sekä Vaaranaavan, Nalka-aavan ja Uura-aavan soidensuojelualueiden hoito- ja käyttösuunnitelma. 2016. Metsähallitus.
  2. Ruuhijärvi, R. (1980): Suoluontoa pohjoisesta etelään. In Havas, P. et al. (eds.): Suomen luonto 3: Suot. Kirjayhtymä.