View over Lake Pielinen. Visiting Koli National Park

Visiting Koli National Park at the Start of Winter

After starting my studies in Helsinki in August 2020, in November that year it was finally time to explore my first national park in Finland. So on Friday the 20th of November, my partner Anna and I visited Koli National Park, where we camped for 2 nights.

Experiencing Koli as a first national park in Finland directly sets a high standard. There are some national parks closer to the area of Helsinki, but due to the chaos that comes with moving to another country and starting a new studies, I didn’t get to see those yet. However, in November, when Anna was visiting me, it was about time to experience a national park. Since we had some time that weekend, I asked a Finnish friend for some tips, which led to us visiting one of the most spectaculair national parks in Finland: Koli.

Driving to Koli in snowy conditions

Since I did not own a car at that time and Koli is hard to reach with public transport, Anna and I rented a car at the end of the morning on Friday the 20th of November. That morning was the first morning with a (tiny) snowcover of the winter season in Helsinki, but as we drove away, some of the snow in Helsinki started to melt. On the way out of town, we went by Scandinavian outdoor, to pick up my sleeping bag, since I did not yet have a proper sleeping back to camp in winter temperatures.

As we drove several hundreds of kilometers to the northeast, it started to snow. It was the first time for me to drive in snowy conditions, as in my homecountry The Netherlands it rarely snows (and if it does, you try to avoid going on the road). Luckily, the car we drove had studded tires – like most of the cars in Finland in winter-, so driving was no problem. Already around 2 in the afternoon, it started to get quite dark due to the bad weather. At this time of the year, it gets dark in Finland very early, and even more so because we were further to the northeast. The sun sets this time of the year in Koli just before 3 PM.

Driving to Koli - Visiting Koli National Park - Camping in Koli
The route from Helsinki to Koli Source Google Maps

After having dinner along the way and a total trip of about 7 hours and driving 500 km, we arrived in Koli. It was quite a hassle finding the camping spot in the dark – unlike in the rest of Finland, where you can camp outside everywhere thanks to ‘everyman’s right‘, in national parks and nature reserves you can only camp in assigned areas. Eventually we found the spot and set up our tent for the upcoming two nights.

Map of Koli - Camping in Koli - Visiting Koli
Map of Koli National Park In the red circle is the assigned area where we camped Source <a href=httpswwwnationalparksfikolinpmaps target= blank rel=noreferrer noopener>nationalparksfi<a>

Waking up in temperatures of -6 and visiting Koli National Park

The next morning when we woke up, we could for the first time see the area in daylight. The surroundings of the area were very calm and beautiful. With temperatures of -6 degrees Celsius, the lake we camped next to started to freeze and a dusting of snow that fell the day before covered the land and trees. After enjoying the peaceful environment and having breakfast, we drove up to Luontokeskus Ukko, or the Ukko Visitor’s center.

  • Camping in Koli National Park
  • Camping next to lake Pielinen, Koli
  • Lake Pielinen - visiting Koli

After taking the funicular up, we climbed the stairs to get to the top of Koli, which is located at a height of 347 meters above sea level. On the top, there was more than 10 centimeters of snow, a lot more than next to the lake where we camped. It continues to amaze me what a few hundred meters of height can mean for the meteorological circumstances at a certain location.

On the top, we admired the surroundings from the viewing points Ukko- and Akka-Koli. The views were absolutely stunning. Due to the cloudiness and the fact that the sun was very low and was already almost setting again, it was somewhat dark. The blueish, darkish skies made the place look a bit mysterious and this is one of the ways how I pictured Finland in late autumn.

  • View over Lake Pielinen. Visiting Koli National Park
  • On top of Ukko Koli - Visiting Koli National Park
  • Panorama of the view - visiting Koli National Park
  • Snowy Koli
  • Sunset on top of Koli - Visiting Koli National Park

One more night of camping

After the sun set, we went back down and drove to our camping spot again. We made some food while hearing the ice on the lake crack and move: the winds picked up as a warm front was approaching. In the evening, just before we went to sleep, it started snowing and a nice fresh layer fell on top of the snow from the day before.

The next day, the mild air arrived, which took away a bit of the beauty of the scenery. The morning was less cold, but it was wet. We packed up and drove back home, and especially the first part of the way back the road conditions were very bad due to the slushy, wet snow residuals. This did however not take any fun of the trip away. We enjoyed the trip a lot and I was happy to finally see some more of Finland’s mighty nature. We will definitely visit more places like this.

More about travelling you can find here. More about Finland’s National Parks here.

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