Vätsäri – Øvre Pasvik

Vätsäri Wilderness Area, Finland – Øvre Pasvik National Park, Norway

Vätsäri Wilderness Area (1550 km2) is mainly located between Lake Inari and the Norwegian border, including also most of the enormous number of islands in the eastern part of the lake. The conservation area continues over the Norwegian border as Øvre Pasvik National Park (119 km2). Unlike many other large protected areas of northern Fennoscandia, the area has no high fells; elevation ranges from about 90 m to 353 m (“Rajapää”).

Slightly more than half of the area is covered by forest. Vätsäri – Øvre Pasvik (68.9–69.6°N) is a part of one of the northernmost forest regions on Earth; in North America no forest grows as far north1, but in Central and East Siberia there are regions where particularly larches (Larix spp.) form forests still further north2. Here, the open forests or woodlands are formed almost exclusively of only two tree species: Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Arctic downy birch (Betula pubescens var. pumila). The pine forest is quite low (photo below), the birch forest being still lower. The other, rare, tree species are Siberian spruce (Picea obovata), silver birch (Betula pendula var. lapponica), grey alder (Alnus incana subsp. kolaënsis), rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), bird cherry (Prunus padus subsp. borealis), common aspen (Populus tremula), goat willow (Salix caprea) and dark-leaved willow (Salix myrsinifolia subsp. borealis). Undergrowth is mostly subshrubs. The oldest pines are less than 400 years old3. The dominant trees of these pine forests of today have mostly regenerated in the mid-1700s when there was a long warm period and large forest fires were common3. Standing and fallen dead trees are abundant, though on the Lake Inari shores near much-used camping places they have been used for campfires. Birch stands and forests are less abundant. In the 1960s an outbreak of autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata), combined with cold summers, killed 80% of them3. In addition to the fairly regularly repeating moth outbreaks at approx. 10-year intervals4, reindeer grazing and fire prevention contribute to the further decrease of birch3. The northeastern portion of Vätsäri is almost treeless rocky upland3. Bogs are abundant, too, especially in the southern portion3. Annual precipitation is about 350–480 mm and average annual temperature about -1–1°C. The bedrock mainly consists of granites and gneisses3. The soils are poor.

Low pine forest

The forests of Øvre Pasvik and most of Vätsäri’s forests are unlogged – altogether there are more than 700 km2 of unlogged forest – but in the southern portion of Vätsäri (“Kessi”) the largest pines were logged in the 1920s, and “natural logging” (the term used by the administration) is still conducted there3. Øvre Pasvik is also Norway’s largest primeval forest. Factors contributing to the preservation of the wilderness are Lake Inari with its long fjords, the national borders (including Russia), relatively difficult terrain and the lack of roads3. Although most of the area is unlogged, man has influenced it. Fire prevention was introduced on the Finnish side in the 1920s, since when there have been no wildfires3. In Øvre Pasvik, the last major fire occurred in 1945. Formerly, the fire interval was approx. 100 years 3, though some of the fires were probably caused by man. The area is used for reindeer grazing3. The level of Lake Inari is regulated3 (but the lake is nevertheless very beautiful, photo below). On the shores of Lake Inari there are also some private properties with buildings3. Hunting is allowed but practised mostly near the shores of Lake Inari3.

Lake Inari. Island Koutukinsaari on the right

The area is excellent for canoeing and wilderness hiking. In Øvre Pasvik, there is a network of beautiful lakes where motor boats are prohibited. On Lake Inari there are motor boats but not in disturbing numbers. The forests and shores are very stony. Hiking and camping is allowed everywhere. A canoe or kayak can be rented for both lake systems; for Øvre Pasvik, try https://pasvikcamping.no/ (only canoes).



  1. Larsen, J. A. (1980): The Boreal Ecosystem. Academic Press.
  2. Hytteborn, H., Maslov, A. A., Nazimova, D. I. & Rysin, L. P. (2005): Boreal Forests of Eurasia. In Andersson, F.: Ecosystems of the World 6: Coniferous Forests. Elsevier.
  3. Vätsärin erämaan hoito- ja käyttösuunnitelma (2008). Metsähallitus.
  4. Neuvonen, V. M., Kosonen, P. & Vuokko, S. (ed.) 1989: Suomalainen luonto. Valitut palat.