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Koli National Park is one of the most unique protected areas in Finland. It’s a place where not only the beautiful nature is conserved, but also the old, traditional ways of agriculture are preserved. The park has a rich cultural heritage, its bare hilltops overlooking Pielinen (5th largest lake in Finland) have been a mecca for poets and painters and have been recognised as a National Landscape.
We were intrigued by Kolin Kansallispuisto (as it’s called in Finnish) and set off to explore this small, but incredibly interesting piece of Finland. We simply love to discover places offering good views, a nice walk and have a bit of history!
In this post we’re going to share some insight to Koli NP and its unique history, as well as hiking trails thru its magnificent hilltops, spruce and birch forests, secret meadows and well forgotten remains of 18th century farms.
HOW TO GET TO KOLI NATIONAL PARK
Koli National Park is located approx 70 km north from Joensuu, the largest town in the region. The close proximity and good public transport connection makes Joensuu the best base to explore the surrounding area. As the park is mostly surrounded by water (lake Pielinen, Jero and Herajarvi) the official gate to Kolin Kansallispuisto is village Koli (at the northern end of the national park), with dedicated infrastructure – car parks, accommodation, tourist information etc.
The nearest airport and summer train station is in Joensuu; in winter it’s also possible to take train to Vuonislahti Bay, and cross lake Pielinen to Koli over the ice road.
There is a regular shuttle bus running between Joensuu and Koli; please keep in mind that it has to be booked in advance! More information on the shuttle service (and taxi) can be found HERE.
In summer, there also is a boat service between Koli and Lieksa, more information can be found HERE.
HOW WE EXPLORED KOLI NATIONAL PARK – A LOVELY HALF DAY TRIP ON A WARM, AUTUMN AFTERNOON
Knowing that the national park is quite small and it’s perfect for a relaxed afternoon visit, we arrived to Koli in early afternoon. We ensured, however, to have sufficient time to visit the tourist information office to grab some maps and get local information.
To our surprise, the information point was deserted and we quickly learned that not very much is happening in Koli outside of high season (summer and winter). Visiting the tourist office felt like travelling in time, it reminded us of late 70s with its decor and ambience. Also, we were made to pay for a simple national park trails & paths maps! These simple maps were free of charge in all other national parks and towns in Finland, but in Koli we were charged 2 EUR! Nonetheless, we needed some kind of a map to guide us, especially that we always enjoy exploring side trails and like to mix/combine them up into our own route.
Having left the information office we still felt a bit bitter after being charged for a xero-copied map, but the prospect of exploring new area lifted our spirits! Soon, we arrived to the large, dedicated car park for Koli National Park visitors (directions) which was free of charge.
Eager to finally set our feet on the Kolin Kansallispuisto trails, we left the car park and headed a little further along the paved road, to the first destination – the Nature Centre. It’s a home to an exhibition about the area, a cafe and souvenir shop; it’s also a perfect starting point for exploration of the park.
We picked numerous points of interest on the map and headed to the first and most spectacular viewpoint in Koli National Park – Ukko-Koli Hill. It can be reached either by steep steps or alternatively by well made, gentle trail, therefore everyone can enjoy the iconic view over lake Pielinen, no matter how fit they are!
We picked climbing Ukko-Koli Hill by steps and we got to the top within minutes. The view (and the stairs) took our breath away, and we can confirm that getting to the top of Ukko-Koli is well worth the effort!
Let’s have a look at some of these views, shall we?
Standing on the top of Ukko-Koli Hill, we had a fantastic overview of the area! Most importantly, in front of us was the magnificent lake Pielinen, with its small islands and islets. We took the time to fully appreciate the scenery, spot the smallest of the islands – some of them so tiny, with enough space for only a tree or two… each island of different shape. Pielinen seemed to be as endless as the sea, but we knew that it’s not even the largest of Finland’s lakes! We totally appreciated why this view is one of the most iconic National Landscapes in Finland.
Worth a mention is age of hill ridge of Koli National Park. It’s hard to imagine, but these rugged small mountains are 2.6 billion years old, this makes them the oldest bedrock in Finland!
Excited, we continued to explore the trails in Koli National Park. Our next destination, Paha-Koli Hill was only a couple of hundred metres away. Similarly to Ukko-Koli, Paha-Koli is a gentle hill topped with large, smooth slabs of rock, with tree-free areas making great viewpoints. Paha-Koli, however, faces towards west, which means from its top we could see endless forests spreading over the horizon.
Later, we also hiked to the top of Akka-Koli, a hill with lovely look-out over the forests and lakes. Akka-Koli is a very popular wedding destination (!) with the unique Temple of Silence.
The next destination on our list was Makra. Located further along the hill ridge, Makra can be reached by a brisk 45 minutes walk from Paha-Koli, with final ascent somewhat testing the legs! But again, all our efforts were well rewarded by picturesque vistas which we enjoyed all by ourselves.
The greatest advantage of venturing further and exploring smaller trails is meeting less and less people. This was very apparent in Koli National Park; most visitors were satisfied with climbing Ukko-Koli Hill (for the National Landscape) and did not venture further into the park. Hence, we rarely met other visitors and enjoyed Koli’s trails in solitude.
Makra was the furthest point we hiked to in Koli National Park. On our way back to the car park, we ensured to take different paths and visit some of the agricultural heritage sites.
As we mentioned in the introduction, Koli National Park was established to protect nature as well as traditional ways of agriculture.
Along the way back we came across several meadows which are still cultivated in traditional way, with annual grass harvesting by hand rather than machinery. We found old farm buildings and sheds ‘hidden’ in the forest. Nowadays they are perfect spots to have a picnic, catch the breath or just sit for a moment, listen to the wind playing high in the trees, or bird songs.
One of the most beautiful places along our way was Ikolanaho, where we found a lovely birch woodland. The trees were already tall and mature, its leaves in autumn attire of yellows and oranges; a very beautiful view indeed!
And so we’re coming to another interesting fact about Koli NP! While roaming thru Kolin Kansallispuisto, we noticed large birch woodlands; their white trunks and yellow leaves stood out from spruces and pines of the hills. We learned that these autumnal oasis were another unique feature, closely related to old ways of cultivating the soil!
In ‘olden days’, large farming areas were gained by ‘slash-and-burn’ method. What was it all about? It’s very simple: land which was originally taken by a forest was cleared by cutting all vegetation to the ground first, then the area was purified by burning, and finally it was ready for farming. Large ‘slash-and-burn’ sites can be found in Koli National Park, and are protected as cultural and agricultural heritage. However, these areas aren’t marked by black-burned ground anymore, rather by monogamous birch woodlands which were planted when the ground became infertile.
But slash-and-burn still occurs in Koli NP (every two years), treated as a connection to historic times, worth preserving. To have a closer look at more recent slash-and-burn sites in the area, you can visit Ollila or Mattila farms.
Our visit to the national park was not only plentiful in outstanding views, but also rich in interesting historical insights. We felt that despite the lack of feeling of wilderness and remoteness, Koli National Park is worth a visit and recommend including it in your Finnish travel plans!
HIKING TRAILS IN KOLI NATIONAL PARK
We were pleased to find out that Koli National Park is extremely easy to explore, as it has dozens of marked hiking trails with various level of difficulty. Hence every visitor can pick a suitable route, no matter whether they’re elderly, or visiting with children, or having only a couple of hours to spare…
Below we listed some examples of marked trails in Koli National Park:
- Huippujen kierros trail – runs along the park’s highest ridge, but is accessible even for prams! Length 1.4 km, time approx 40 mins
- Ukko-Koli trail – to the summit and back, via steps or gravel path. Length 1 km, time approx 30 mins
- Paha-Koli trail – to the summit and back, via steps or gravel path. Length 1 km, time approx 30 mins
- Makran Polku Trail – to the summit of Makra, via Koli ridge, birch woodlands and meadows. Length 7.5 km, time approx 3,5 hours
- Herajarvi Trail – runs along the entire national park and visits its most recommended sites. Length up to 60 km, time approx 2-3 days.
WHAT WE LOVED ABOUT KOLI NATIONAL PARK IN FINLAND
We found Koli National Park very easy to explore, with its numerous marked trails and well trodden paths. Hills along the highest Koli ridge provided beautiful views to sea-like lake Pielinen, its islands and forest covered shores. We tremendously enjoyed visiting the park in autumn – there is no better season to admire colourful leaves! The autumnal colours even have its own, special name in Finnish – Ruska, and we believe it’s one of the best times to visit Koli National Park.
IF YOU FANCY STAYING IN THE HEART OF KOLI NATIONAL PARK IN FINLAND…
… why not check-in at Break Sokos Hotel Koli? This 4 star hotel is perfectly located in the centre of it all! Love hiking? Break Sokos Hotel is only a step away from Ukko-Koli trailhead! Thinking about skiing holidays? The best Koli ski slopes are only a ‘swiiiiish’ away! Just looking for a relaxing break? Enjoy view over lake Pielinen while dining!
WILD CAMPING NEAR KOLI NATIONAL PARK AND NEAREST CAMPSITES
Finland has a very liberal outdoor legislation and wild camping in nature is allowed, actually encouraged (assuming respectful behaviour). Wild camping (tent) in national parks is allowed, except in restricted areas, for up to 3 nights. For those who wish to spend more time exploring the Koli National Park and picked a longer hiking route, there are open wilderness huts provided for shelter and overnight stay (exact locations are marked on the map available at the tourist information office in Koli, see preview HERE)
Overnight stay off grid in a camper van near Koli National Park is relatively tricky as the area is densely populated. Unfortunately, overnight stay is forbidden along the shores of lake Pielinen as it’s a part of the national park.
During our visit to Koli we stayed at the Koli Freetime campsite (the only campsite in the area which was open in low season!), located only a couple of minutes drive from the national park; we can recommend this camping ground, it was reasonably priced, the facilities were clean.