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Despite being one of the largest canyons in Europe, Alta Canyon is one of the best kept secrets of Northern Norway!
Located in remote area to the south of Alta, it’s a fantastic day adventure, albeit not exactly easily accessible. However, take my word for it – visiting Alta Canyon Norway is well worth the effort!
Planning your visit to Alta Canyon
The Canyon is an important landmark in Finnmark region. Its northern end is open and relatively easily accessible. Southern end, however, is a closed, protected area due to a dam raised on river Alta; the Alta dam is of great significance (unauthorised access is prohibited) and you need to arrange a guided tour to access it.
Guided Alta Canyon tours can be arranged from Alta. During such tour you’ll be transported 45 km south of Alta to Tutteberget, and further by private road to the dam and viewpoint over the canyon. However if you’re an independent traveller, just like us, you’ll long to see it your own way and pace…
Self-guided hike to Alta Canyon
Having heard great things about Alta Canyon, we were eager to see it! However, we were set to visit it on a self-guided hike, rather than guided tour. It proved to be challenging, but eventually we found a way of seeing Alta Canyon just by ourselves. Continue reading to find out how to visit Alta Canyon on a self-guided hike!
How to visit Alta Canyon on a self-guided hike, fact sheet
- Heighest point: 420 masl
- Total time: 3 hours
- Total distance: 8 km
- Parking: car park at Gargia Fjellstua (directions)
- Level of difficulty: 1/5 – easy walk, mostly flat. Norwegian standards: GREEN – easy.
- Gargia weather: Gargia weather forecast
How to get to Alta Canyon trailhead
Self guided hike to Alta Canyon starts at the small car park past village Gargia, approximately 25 km south of Alta. As easy as it sounds, you need to keep in mind that this is a very remote car park. It is reached by a very rough single track with some steep sections; the paved road ends in Gargia. One thing for sure – driving the 4.5 km track from Gargia to Alta Canyon trail head was an adventure itself!
Don’t let this discourage you from visiting Alta Canyon thou! Remember, we drove the track in a front wheel drive camper (VW Transporter), so you’ll probably be OK too, just drive slowly and carefully.
The most prominent feature in the area is Gargia Fjellstua, hence there are numerous signposts to its dedicated car parks; trail to Alta Canyon viewpoint begins at one of them (exact location). Also, keep in mind that the car park is located on a large flat-ish slab of rock – this was a total surprise to me and I was hesitant to drive over it, totally needlessly.
Hiking trail to Alta Canyon Norway
Having arrived to Gargia Fjellstua, we checked how much daylight we had left, and without hesitation, decided to spend the remaining 3 hours hiking to Alta Canyon (and back).
Trail to Alta Canyon is very easy. It follows a well defined track and is signposted & marked. Along the way, we passed couple of beautiful small lakes, glistening in afternoon sun.
Gargia Fjellstua and trail to Alta Canyon landscape
Before arriving to Alta, we have travelled thru Norway for almost 2 months. We love mountains, therefore when planning our visit, we mostly focused on hill walking and hiking remote peaks (we enjoyed some fantastic beaches too!). Apart from spectacular mountain ranges, we were also looking forward to explore Finnmark – at the end of the world.
We can definitely say that crossing region’s border to Finnmark, we instantly knew we left Troms area. Landscape has dramatically changed; it was no longer mountainous and rugged, but we entered the world of gentle rough hills. We loved Finnmark at first sight; its vast spaces, feeling of escape to the end of the world. We didn’t even notice when the lush greens and tall trees disappeared, giving space to dwarfed birches and colourful carpets of tundra.
Gargia Fjellstua and trail to Alta Canyon were no exception. We hiked thru gentle bumps covered by orange foliage, the view was spectacular – totally different to other parts of Norway. Hill walkers or not, rough landscape of Finnmark amazed us, and instantly found way to our hearts.
If you think it’s boring, think twice! White trunks of dwarfed birches, their leaves already golden; low berry bushes already in red, autumn attire; patches of orange and green grass… all this made an incredibly atmospheric, picturesque view.
One thing we can say for sure: autumn in Finnmark is breathtaking! If you ever have a chance to visit Finnmark in September, don’t hesitate! This is something else, out of this world.
Alta Canyon viewpoint
On the contrary to Gargia Fjellstua, bottom of Alta Canyon seemed to be completely covered by low trees.
Having finally arrived to the viewpoint at canyon’s edge, we saw a totally different landscape, again. And different colours.
Alta Canyon is a relatively narrow corridor, with Alta river at its bottom. Canyon’s walls are made of grey stone and countless ravines; the greys totally contrasted with yellow trees. What a beautiful and weird view, we thought!
Looking north, Alta Canyon seemed to be wider and more open, however towards the south, canyon’s edges were sharper and rougher. You can imagine how surprised we were to spot couple of tiny lodges just at the river, far away!
Hiking back to the car park
We really enjoyed the view to Alta river, its small islands and rapids. Having them pictured, we retraced our steps to the car park.
Sun was already setting, colours of foliage and dwarfed trees were so vivid we couldn’t take our eyes of them! When we reached the car park, colours around us calmed, it was evening already. Hiking back, we decided to spend the night at the car park, it was so remote and quiet, a perfect spot for an overnight stay!
After a quick re-parking the van at flat-ish ground and Linnea pitching her tent, we were ready to have a small, late meal. All of us were hopeful to see Aurora Borealis again that night as sky was partially clear. We had a good chance, especially that previous nights we witnessed some spectacular shows of northern lights. Unfortunately, clouds covered whole sky before it got dark enough, significantly decreasing our chances. However, at night solar activity was so strong that we actually saw northern lights despite cloud cover!
Wild camping near Alta Canyon and nearest campsites
Wild camping is allowed and widely accepted in Norway. By law, everyone is allowed to stay overnight at any spot at least 150 metres from nearby buildings. Generally speaking, Finnmark is extremely sparsely populated, therefore it’s very easy to find a suitable wild camping spot for a camper van or a tent – even along the road.
We stayed overnight at one of Gargia Fjellstua car parks – they are a perfect overnight stay spots; you’ll struggle to find a quieter and remoter place to spend the night. Also, as they’re relatively high, the horizon stretches far, far away and they’re perfect for watching northern lights.
Hiking to Alta Canyon viewpoint map
What we loved about exploring Gargia Fjellstua and hiking to Alta Canyon Norway
We feel that Finnmark as a region is greatly underrated, and so is Alta Canyon. It is, however, an area of great beauty, perfect to visit in autumn when foliage lives up with reds and yellows. We loved it for its peaceful atmosphere – far from madding crowds of Lofoten and southern Norway, loved the breath-taking colourful tundra; I discovered that I have a very soft spot for dwarfed birch trees! A very, very soft one! Hiking to viewpoint over Alta Canyon was a relaxing and easy introduction to Finnmark, one we greatly recommend.
For a change, we had a company when hiking to Alta Canyon viewpoint – earlier that day (while spotting reindeer!) we met Linnéa, a Swiss solo-traveller and she joined us for the hike, and next couple of days.
*Level of difficulty explained: 1– easy walk, mostly flat 2-easy hillwalk, good path 3-moderate, possible some steep sections 4-long hillwalk, possibly some scrambling involved, possibly pathless 5-difficult, possibly pathless, long, requires technical skills
NORWEGIAN DIFFICULTY LEVEL EXPLAINED: GREEN – easy , BLUE -moderate, RED – demanding, BLACK -expert