Photograph by Peter Essick, National Geographic
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The aurora borealis illuminates the sky above Finland’s Oulanka National Park.

Photograph by Peter Essick, National Geographic

Oulanka National Park, Finland

Name: Oulanka National Park
Location: Finland
Date Established: 1956
Size: 104 square miles (270 square kilometers)

Did You Know?

• Far North Forest A vast boreal forest of Scotch pines, spruces, and silver birches, Oulanka contains a striking biodiversity despite its northerly location near the Arctic Circle. Under the canopy the forest is thick with heather and lingonberry bushes and lichens, and, in autumn, plentiful mushrooms.

• Ant Architects Notable among the 7,000 insect species in the park are wood ants, which build tall nests some three feet (one meter) high and can be seen at work everywhere on the forest floor.

• Magic Ingredient The secret to Oulanka’s rich growth is its soil, but the soil’s secret is the limestone beneath. This rock, rather unusual in Scandinavia, neutralizes acids in local soils and helps provides nutrients that boost plant growth.

• Ice Age Effects The glacial era that ended some 11,000 years ago left a major, enduring mark on the Oulanka landscape. Waterways like the Oulankajoki River carved canyons and crevices, and melting ice punched out “kettle hole” basins.

• Animal Denizens The park’s reindeer population is semidomesticated; look for their identifying ear tags. Local herders have grazing rights in the park, and their animals wander freely, browsing on greens, lichens, and mushrooms during the warmer months. The animals are herded up in fall and spend the winter in corrals.

• Arctic Orchids Two magnificent orchids can be found here near the Arctic Circle. The lady’s slipper grows in the marshlands, and the calypso serves as the symbol of the park itself. Calypso is in bloom from the end of May to mid-June.

How to Get There

Oulanka National Park is in a rather remote upland region of North Ostrobothnia and Eastern Lapland, along the Russian border. Buses run from Salla and Kuusamo, which is also the closest airport to Oulanka. Kuusamo is about 37 miles (60 kilometers) from the visitor center in the middle of the park.

When to Visit

Boating, either on calm waters or the park’s notable rapids, is a warm-weather activity. But Finns also love to ski, and groomed trails are available for those longing to explore a quieter park cloaked in the white of winter.

How to Visit

The Karhunkierros (Bear's Ring) Trail is a popular hiking trail; a three- to four-day wander takes walkers through many of the park's wonders, including gorges crossed by suspension bridges, from the Hautajärvi Visitor Center to the village of Ruka. Shelters and huts dot the route for overnight accommodation. The Little Bear’s Ring (7.5 miles/12 kilometers) is a shorter, but still scenic, loop that takes in waterfalls in the Juuma vicinity.