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Sweden's Kungsleden
King of the Arctic. By Peter Potterfield

Photo: Swedish Lapland
In the extreme north of Sweden, a hundred miles (160 kilometers) inside the Arctic Circle, hides the last remote wilderness in Western Europe. This is Lapland, and through it runs Kungsleden, the "King of Trails," a 275-mile (443-kilometer) route through an expansive landscape of birch forests, hidden glaciers, powerful rivers, and the highest mountains in Sweden. The sheer scale of the Kungsleden hits home when, at the end of a 16-mile (26-kilometer) day, you realize you've only traversed half of the undulating, glacier-carved valley that you dropped into that morning.

Kungsleden runs through four national parks and a nature reserve. While hiking its entire length requires a month or more, you can appreciate the highlights of the trek by taking a week to cover its northernmost 65 miles (105 kilometers). In addition to the Tjäktjavagge, Lapland's most majestic valley, this week-long section also takes in the Kebnekaise range, which includes Sweden's highest peak, Mount Kebne (6,926 feet, or 2,111 meters). But while the Arctic terrain is rugged, there's a certain civility to the Kungsleden. Sturdy suspension bridges span dangerous rivers, and comfortable huts welcome hikers at the conclusion of each day. At both ends of this 65-mile (105-kilometer) route lie two of Sweden's mountain stations, where hot showers and limb-warming spirits will bookend your stay in the wilderness.

Map: Sweden
INSIDER ADVICE: There are no restrictions on camping along the route: Bring a stove and bivvy bag to sleep out under the midnight sun.

WHEN TO GO: Mid-June to mid-September

LOGISTICS: The 65-mile (105-kilometer) sampler section starts at Abisko, the northern terminus of Kungsleden, and finishes at the Sami (ethnic Laplander) settlement of Nikkaluokta. Base your trek out of Kiruna, an old ore-mining town with excellent air connections to Stockholm (U.S. $347; www.scandinavian.net). In Kiruna, collect information about the trail from the Swedish Tourist Association (www.svenskaturistforeningen.se); they can also organize your bus transportation to either end of the route (U.S. $26). While it is possible to hike in either direction, it's best to travel from north to south—that keeps the sun warming your face, no small consideration in the Arctic.

Staging area: Kiruna, Sweden

Recommended distance: 65 miles (105 kilometers)

Total length: 275 miles (443 kilometers)

Trail time: 5-7 days

Total trip: Ten days

Difficulty (scale of 1 to 5, 5 most difficult): 3

Do It Yourself cost: U.S. $1,000-$1,200

Adapted from Classic Hikes of the World, copyright 2005, by Peter Potterfield. Published by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

For ten more unbeatable hikes—and all the how-to details to plan your trip—pick up the May issue.

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Photograph by Peter Potterfield

Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, May 2005

The World's Best Hikes: Author Peter Potterfield's top trail picks
Point, Shoot, and Know When to Run: NG photographer Carsten Peter's incredible life
Pelton's World: A modern-day Easy Rider lays down the rules of the road
"Life's an Adventure" Reader Photo Album: See readers' photos and submit your own


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Related Web Sites

Classic Hikes of the World
Peter Potterfield's new book features stunning photographs of 23 unforgettable backcountry adventures to the world's most enchanting trails—and how to do them right.

Trails Illustrated
Explore every inch of iconic America with topographic maps from National Geographic. Check out the complete line of maps for national parks, forests, national monuments, BLM lands, mountain bike areas, and paddle spots.

Navigate the globe from your desktop. The National Geographic MapMachine allows users to zoom in on any part of the planet and customize their own printable map.

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May 2005

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