The Karhunkierros (Bear’s Circle) is one of the best hiking trips that you can do in Finland. It is located on the eastern border of Finland, near Kuusamo. It takes a day to get there by public transportation, but is worth the trip.
The trail is 80km (from Hautajärvi) or 70km (from Ristikallio) depending on where you start, and ends in Ruka (see a map with distances). You can do the trail in reverse, but it is easier to catch a bus back to Kuusamo from Ruka. We did the 70km trail, but we really wish that we did the 80km route. There are many ways to get to Kuusamo, which is the closest town to the trail. I suggest scanning Matkahuolto looking for a discount bus ticket to Oulu (I know it sounds strange, but sometimes there are bus deals that are really cheap to other cities). When you arrive in Oulu, you can either spend the night there and then take an early morning bus to Kuusamo, or take in the night life of Oulu before heading out for a 4-7 day hike. If you do go to Kuusamo (this is what we did), there is a campsite, which is not so expensive (Rantatropiikki), but you have to take a taxi to get there (it costs about 15) because you will be arriving very late in the evening. There is a trail bus that leaves from Kuusamo bus station and stops also at this campsite, and many other places where you can start the hike (e.g. Ristikallio or Hautajärvi). Alternatively, there is a taxi service to Ristikallio from Kuusamo bus station, but it costs 85 for 1-2 people, 95 for 3-4, and 100 for 5-6.
Before I start describing the trail, there is a guide already online that was very useful, and so was this map. You do not need to purchase a map because everything is marked. You can do the trail by jumping from hut to hut. We met a few hikers that were doing this, so a tent is not needed, but it can get crowded, so maybe bringing a tent along is a good idea. Also a small camping stove is useful, but once again not needed because each hut has a stove that you can use. I was told by someone hiking the trail that the water is drinkable, but I would still filter it just in case, so I recommend a water filter or some tablets. I also recommend a sleeping bag that is comfortable to sleep in at 0 degrees Celsius and a sleeping pad. When we hiked the trail the temps were around 0 on some nights. I could not believe that it was June and we were freezing.
Now we can begin the hike.
From the Ristikallio parking place to Taivalköngäs it was uneventful except for Ristikallio, which is a cliff with stunning views. We camped our first night at Runsulampi. It is a nice camp site along the river, and if it had been hot enough I would have jumped in it. They have a firepit, wood, and an outhouse. It was perfect. The only problem is that some Finns hike well into the late night hours. It is the land of the midnight sun, so be prepared to hear some drunken ramblings.
We left Runsulampi and got to Spring on the Hill of River Kitkajoki . I should mention that from Oulanka visitor Centre it was a very enjoyable hike. There were rapids and great views. It was the best part of the hike. There was also an interesting camp site Ansakämppä that we wished we had stayed at, but since it was only midday, we continued to push on. I should mention that it was really windy, so a rain coat or a windbreaker is also recommended for this hike. The reason that we stopped at Spring on the Hill was because we saw a reindeer in the river. We were very tired and my girlfriend started developing blisters on her feet. We are still figuring out how to prevent this, but foot powder helped. I think the next hike that we do we are going to tape those blister spots. It was very cold this night, but luckily some kind fishermen gave us some jaloviina. I will never go hiking again without it.
Finally the mosquitoes are out. We were wondering when the mosquiotes would come and they did come, but only in the morning. On the third day we made it to Iso Kuikkalampi. The Gloomy Gorge is not so gloomy as majestic. You walk along the river and you are constantly looking up at the views. After that you get to The Pieni Karhunkierros, which if you don’t want to do the full trail will give you a taste of what to expect on the long trail. This part was great. When you enter the Pieni Karhunkierros, you have to decide to go left or right. We went left to see the Jyrävä waterfall. I think the other way is shorter. After hiking through this section, it can get tedious. The area is logged and is just depressing to hike through, but keep pushing through because it will be worth it. We spent our last night on the trail in a lean-to-shelter. It was surprisingly warm and we were awoken by a reindeer peeping into our shelter – a little scary, but so cool at the same time.
The hardest day. From here to Ruka it is just up and down. There is only one water source along the way, and that is in Suolampi. It was also raining hard. Somewhere online I read that the last section to Ruka is boring, but I think that person never hiked it. If it wasn’t for the rain, the views would have been great. It was a long day and we needed to get to Ruka before 16:10 or we would have had to get a hotel. We started early and thought that this last section would be easy. We were very wrong. Sometimes the path was not very clearly marked, but we just keep looking for those markers. Since it was raining we started looking for a hut to get out of the rain and eat lunch. It wasn’t until Valtavaara that we were able to eat lunch. I have never been so happy to see a hut before. We opened the door and started eating. Just then a family of four walked in looking fresh. We thought that we had to be close and started out once again. It was about another hour and just when you think you are done, you have to go up a ski slope, but after this it is just downhill and you will welcome the sight of Ruka. When we were about to leave the trail, two fully equipped girls started out on their hike. They must have had second thoughts because of the way we looked. I could hear a little laugh as we passed them. I wish them luck, but god knows how we looked. Now it’s time to eat some pizza and drink some beer.
It was a great hike and I can see why this route is so popular in Finland. If you are into hiking this is a must.