I like hiking, though I’m not a Survivor-level flint and tinder type of hiker. Instead, I enjoy the walk-through-the-woods-and-admire-the-scenery type of hiking. So when my brother told me that the Nuuksio National Park, where I could see the natural beauty of Finland, was less than an hour from Helsinki, I was excited, but unprepared. I hadn’t packed for hiking. So I wore tennis shoes and jeans for my hike in the mud and the fens (peat marshes), for which Finland is named.
We caught the 85A bus at Espoo Train Station (be careful to double-check your departure time, as the schedule changes by season), and twenty minutes later pulled into our destination: a dirt-packed cul-de-sac surrounded by pines, cedars, moss, and ferns and shadowed by rocky mountains rising to one side. Serious hikers in water-resistant wind-breakers and sturdy boots disembarked and immediatly disappeared into the un-marked woods. Amateurs, like me, would do well to stick to the marked paths; a lesson I learned after wandering, jeans soaked, for at least an hour through the underbrush.
We hiked past the late-season mushroom-pickers, a white-bleached deer skeleton, and over the moss-coated rocks and through the white birch tree coves. It was absolutely beautiful. We hiked up steep hills away from the bogs and down slippery slopes while following meandering streams. We then cut across rivers and walked through open fields until we found a bridge that delivered us to a path of wooden planks that carried us over sole-sucking wetlands and ice-coated ponds. Wooden stairways then took us up the mountain sides.
Nuuksio National Park is the most extensive and ecologically important woodland area in southern Finland. In addition to a diverse collection of trees and plant life, Nuuksio is home to many endangered and threatened species of wildlife, including the Siberian Flying Squirrel, which the park has adopted for its signature emblem. If you fail to find any flying squirrels in the woods, you can definitely find pictures and information at the Haukkalampi Nature Hut located at the center of the park. The Hut also offers a great chance to re-stock water bottles, use the restrooms, and warm up. However, the Nature Hut does not sell food, so you should plan to bring a daypack with snacks and food for cooking.
Feeling hungry ourselves, we carried firewood from the park storage shed to the nearest cooking shelter, one of several wooden structures with seats, a roof, and a metal fireplace. More experienced hikers offered friendly advice on the best way to roast our hot dogs (over glowing coals instead of a roaring fire.) Hot dogs and sausages, roasted slowly, are the traditional Finnish hiking snack, to be accompanied by a mug of glögi (pronounced glurgee), a warm spiced black currant drink you can mix with water and heat by the fire.
The view was breathtaking. The lines and contrasting hues of a lake, the sky and various shades of green trees were crisp in the cold, clear air. Nuuksio is part of the Nuuksio lakelands, and the rocky park is dotted with clear-water lakes throughout its 45km square area. These lakes are often home to growths of sphagnum moss, a type of peat moss that can grow more than a meter thick and which is sturdy enough to form hiking trails on the surface of shallow lakes. Sphagnum moss trails provide a unique and beautiful view of the surrounding lake, but be careful crossing from shore to moss, as the gap is often bridged by nothing more than a few logs placed by fellow hikers. If you’re as unlucky or un-balanced as I was, the cooking shelters can double as a good location to dry out your socks and shoes, though it sometimes upsets other hikers who hoped to cook their dinner on the same grills.
If you’re up for adventure and don’t mind navigating the Finnish public transportation system, Nuuksio National Park provides hikers with a memorable visual experience of Finnish natural beauty that is well worth the hike.
Written by Anne Siders for EuropeUpClose.com