Planning for this route wasn’t easy. There’s little information, either on the net or in print, and only little bits can be found in english. In the following lines, I’ll try to fill that gap from the (necessaryly limited) perspective of a one time hiker. Don’t expect a deep knowledge from the area. I’ll just try to provide all that info I couldn’t find easily, if at all, and I know now.
Accessing the start and end points on the trail is technically easy but may get time consuming so it deserves some comment.
There’s an amazingly dense network of public transport in Lapland, given the low population density. Train and bus may take you virtually anywhere but the connections may not be ideal given the remote locations of both start/finish. There are several options to get to/from there and there’s probably not a best one as it depends on a lot of factors. I’ll describe and reason my solution and will comment on the alternatives.
I chose my direction of travel and end point partly due to ease/difficulty of access. I went for the option that’d make it easiest to get back after trip end because by then I’d have a scheduled flight to take back home. Hiking southbound would put me closer to more populated areas as the trip progressed.
Nordkalottleden has two possible end points in the south: Kvikkjokk in Sweden and Sulitjelma in Norway. Both are tiny settlements at the end of a road in a mountain valley. The way out of Sulitjelma is much shorter than out of Kvikkjokk because in Norway the mountains are so much closer to the coast. They virtually merge in this narrow part of the country so it’s a short way out until the Sulitjelma road hits the main north-south route. In Sweden, the mountains give way to a wide, flat land strip. This means it takes a long way out of Kvikkjokk to hit a north-south route that could take you somewhere else. On the other hand, once you hit this north-south way, it’s flat and easy travel in Sweden while Norway is a nightmare (a very scenic one though) of mountains and fiords. I decided it’d be easier to travel on the swedish side so I chose Stockholm, the swedish capital, as my landing/taking off place for air travel. Once out of the mountains, it should be easy to find transport back to Stockholm.
Hiking southbound meant I had to start my hiking in Kautokeino so I’ll go with that first.
Kautokeino is a sizeable village in the far north. It’s in Norway, some 60 kms. north of the finnish border. It’s crossed by a north-south highway. I’d be coming from the south and the main problem here was that highway comes from Finland… and I’d be accessing it coming from Sweden. That is, I’d have to cross two international borders to get to Kautokeino. Not a problem as far as border crossing goes but because bus schedules across borders are somewhat sketchy.
The whole story went like this: from Stockholm, I took a train to get to Lapland. I left the train in Kiruna, the main village in northern Sweden. Then I needed 3 bus rides: first, from Kiruna to Karesuando, at the Sweden-Finland border. Walk across the border to Karesuvanto (finnish name of the same village). Actually, Karesuvanto is little more than a restaurant/petrol station. Second bus ride to Palojoensuu (tiny settlement; actually, I saw no buildings from the roadside bus stop). Third and last was the bus ride from here to Kautokeino but according to the news from the last bus driver the bus line that crossed the border had just stopped working for the season, the day before I was there! an odd end day for the season on 12th august… actually, this was a good thing to happen because it forced me to hitch-hike so I avoided the long connection time and arrived in Kautokeino several hours before the missing bus would have put me there.
It took me awfully long to get to Kautokeino. I took my flight after work on friday and I was in Stockholm on friday night. I arrived in Kautokeino on monday afternoon. There must be some better way and next time I’d do it differently.
It’s nice to be independent of car drivers’ goodwill and have a schedule to get to destination but the bus connections were not good. I arrived in Kiruna on sunday morning and basically had to spend the whole day there waiting for the evening bus to Karesuando, where I had to spend the night. Next bus wasn’t until mid-morning on monday and if I had waited for the third bus ride I’d have had to wait for a few more hours to eventually get to Kautokeino on monday evening. I appreciate the local public transport network which I find amazing but it took too long and it wasn’t worth the wait. Hitch-hiking proved more effective.
I asked some locals before getting to Kiruna about hitch-hiking in the area… they told me it wasn’t a usual thing to do and they would not recommend it. I still tried to get a ride out of Kiruna but nobody was stopping and it was cold and rainy and I was hungry so after an hour or two I decided to take it easy, go for lunch and wait for the bus. I think I could have had better luck going to the town limits at my road exit. There was regular traffic but maybe many of those were not going my direction.
In Palojoensuu there was very little traffic and quite a few drivers were tourists (you can’t expect those to stop) but it took less than 20 min. to get a ride from a local on his way to Enontekio. Same story at the Enontekio crossroads, were I had to leave this car and wondered if there’d ever be any non-tourist traffic on that road that went north forever. I was still some 80 km. far from Kautokeino, around 20 km. south of the border. Around 10 min. later, a Kautokeino resident stopped and took me all the way there.
Hitch-hiking is as safe as it can be but the problem may be the lack of traffic. I’d still take public transport if available but I think hitch-hiking is a better option if connections are not good.
Getting to Kiruna from Stockholm would be faster by plane but also more expensive. The train is very convenient with two daily trains from downtown Stockholm but it’s slow (almost 12 hours to get to Kiruna) and not too scenic as you’re in a green tunnel most of the time. I think a plane ticket is around four times the price of the cheapest train fare (but that is travelling in a seat, which is not for everybody for a 12 hour, overnight ride; beds are more expensive). Another factor is Arlanda airport in Stockholm is very far from the city (around 45 km.); there’s excellent public transport between both but the price adds up. I think I’d take the train again but I’d consider the plane if can make a reasonable flight connection and I don’t have to go to Stockholm (if I don’t want to visit Stockholm).
Getting to Kautokeino would be much easier from the north: there’s a bus (a single bus ride!) from Alta in the norwegian far north and Alta has an airport. However, I found it was a pretty expensive flight and I had to go through Oslo, the norwegian capital, no direct flights from Stockholm. Additionally, it had to be a one way flight because returning to Alta from trail end didn’t look like a good idea. I considered forgetting about Stockholm and going through Oslo, flying north to Alta and getting back to Oslo from trail end by train, bus or another flight from Narvik. This could be a good option but I decided against: near trail end, scape routes abound on the swedish side but not so many on the norwegian side. If schedule or bad weather forced me out of the mountains, it’d be easier to go towards Sweden. I preferred to favor the come back trip even if it was at the expense of a more complicated access to trail start.
Long explanation, I know, but I said there were many factors.
Now, from trail end:
I didn’t go to Sulitjelma so I don’t know how to get out of there but the coast and the main road are not too far away and I’m sure it wouldn’t take long to find a way to get there. I bet there’s public transport but I never tried to find out.
Kvikkjokk is at the end of one of several routes that enter the swedish side of the mountains here and there. It’s not clear to me from the road maps if all of those are paved but the Kvikkjokk road certainly is. It’s a pretty level road which follows a long lake along a wide valley, getting narrower as you approach road end. Kvikkjokk itself is a tiny place with nice lodging, one of those fjallstations or mountain stations, we could say: a cozy hotel/hostel in a beautiful setting.
There’s bus service in and out of Kvikkjokk. There are a couple of bus rides a day but by the time I arrived there, on 5th september and near the end of the season, there was just one left running, leaving Kvikkjokk early in the morning (5.30 am, no less). Buses from Kvikkjokk take you to Jokkmokk, a sizeable village well off the mountains and just at the arctic circle line, if that means something, and the first major crossroads. Several bus lines and a railway line go through Jokkmokk. The trains are not on the Stockholm line so it’s better to take a bus ride to either Murjek or Alvsbyn where you can take the train to Stockholm. The morning bus out of Kvikkjokk has a decent connection with either of these. There are also buses to Kiruna if you need to take a plane from there.
Not too many options here so this is quite straightforward. I’ll comment on all the options in chronological order when hiking south. Out of all those, I ressuplied in Kilpisjarvi and Abisko plus a few items from some of the huts along the second half of the trip.
Kautokeino has a nice supermarket and a petrol station with a shop. It may have some more shopping places but I didn’t check the place out. I didn’t ressuply here as I was carrying supplies for my first leg from home. I’d say a full ressuply should be no problem but you won’t find backpacking specific stuff like freeze-dried meals.
Saraelv is a tiny place at the end of a road on the Reisadalen valley. It’s the northermost spot along Nordkalottleden. The environment here though is probably the milder you’ll find as it’s also the lowest spot on the whole trip, below 200 m. There’s only a few farm buildings, no public transport and no public telephone. The only service here is accomodation: there’s a farm with cabins for hire. You’ll need to be creative as the host (at the time I was through) only speaks norwegian but she was kind enough to let me hide from the rain for a while. It’s said in some literature the closest shop is in Storslett, some 40 km. away. Some worker in the area told me there’s a hostel in Suppen, just 15 km. from Saraelv, and they’ll come to pick you up if you can phone them (cell coverage was apparently sketchy but doable. I didn’t have a phone with me but this worker did and offered to phone for me if I wanted). They’d take you back to the trailhead too. In the short road stretch I had to hike before trail resume, I met only one vehicule and the driver asked me if I needed a ride. It doesn’t seem difficult to get help here. Very nice people.
The first time Nordkalottleden comes down from the mountains since Saraelv it does so in this northwestern tip of the Arm of Finland, that narrow strip of finnish territory in between Norway and Sweden. Kilpisjarvi is a touristy setting along the shores of the namesake lake. It’s not a real village but it’s got all the basics a hiker needs.
Kilpisjarvi has too sections. Beware of this because no info source I had access to mentioned it. They’re 5 km. apart so it’s no joke if you’re hiking. I only noticed when I checked the relevant topo map. Road maps show a single dot. Anywhere I checked, it only said “Kilpisjarvi”.
Coming down from the mountains, the trail leads to South Kilpisjarvi. To get to North Kilpisjarvi, you can walk on the road or take a trail that parallels it on the uphill side.
Of interest for the hiker: in South Kilpisjarvi, there’s the hotel (Hotel Kilpis), supermarket, restaurant and another shop with a postal service counter inside. The hotel has a restaurant too. In North Kilpisjarvi, there’s Kilpisjarvi Retkeilikeskus: a motel/hostel and a campground. The motel has a restaurant and a tiny shop. I went to North Kilpisjarvi because I was told the hostel was there.
Three km further up the road from North Kilpisjarvi, there’s the customs building. This place is important because here is where you can get the key for the norwegian huts, if you haven’t already (more comment on this on the huts section). Beware
the customs building is not at the actual border but much earlier within finnish land.
I’m not actually sure whether the motel room I got was a hostel room or there was something else… I arrived there late after a strenous day and I just asked for “a room”… to eventually pay the same price that I saw announced at the hotel (40 euro) with the sensible difference that at 9.00 pm the kitchen was already closed at Kilpisjarvi Retkeilikeskus. They tell me it’s open until 11.00 pm at the hotel but no way I was walking 5 km. back! I ate sandwiches.
Furthermore, the tiny shop at Retkeilikeskus was not enough for ressuplying. Next morning, I had to go to the supermarket, just in front of the Hotel Kilpis. Fortunately, I could use one of the bicycles they had for hire at Retkeilikeskus so the 5 km. were just a 10 min. ride. The only thing that was handier from Retkeilikeskus was the customs building, which I needed to visit to get the key for the norwegian huts. I used the bike for this too.
At Retkeilikeskus, the room was simple but nice. There was a sauna I didn’t use. There’s no laundry facilities. There’s no public telephone either but the reception staff let me use their phone and charged me a fair price, as did for the bicycle use. The reception staff were very nice and helpful.
Bottom line, unless I missed the real hostel rooms and they were considerably cheaper, I think the Hotel Kilpis, on the south section of Kilpisjarvi, was a better deal, if only for the supermarket and post office counter across the street. I don’t know if there were laundry facilities or public telephone at the Hotel.
Quite like Saraelv, Innset is a small settlement at the end of a road down in a valley. The headwaters of the valley are filled by a long, dammed lake. The road comes from down the valley up to the dam. Nordakalottleden comes down from the mountains and along the lake to cross over the dam and take up again. The southbound hiker will pass dozens of holiday homes in the few km. before reaching the dam but there’s nothing there but homes. Right besides the dam there seemed to be a campground (I could see lines of parked motorhomes but nobody on sight) and the actual hamlet is 3 km. further down the road.
I didn’t go to Innset. Abisko was just a day ahead. I don’t know if there’s a shop there but I think there isn’t. The only thing I do know that’s of interest to hikers is there’s hiker friendly accomodation in Innset.
As you approach the dam from both south and north you’ll find wooden boards with public information. One of the signs there belong to a guest house. I was told (by another hiker I met) the place is friendly and reasonably priced. You’ll find a phone number and they say they’ll come to pick you up and put you back on the trail when you leave but there’s no public telephone so you’d have to use your own. I didn’t have a cell phone so I couldn’t check but I guess there’ll be coverage as there seems to be pretty much everywhere near towns. Otherwise, it’s just 3 km. down the road.
Bjorkliden is just a few km. before Abisko so I didn’t stop here. Even though the trail seems to go right through it (from the maps) I didn’t because at that point I was hiking on the road for that last stretch before Abisko so I know really nothing from this place. It looks like a real village but it’ll be a tiny one and I don’t think there’ll be anything you cannot find in Abisko. The only thing I could think it could be more convenient is having everything all together (the supermarket in Abisko is 2 km. far from everything else, see below) but I don’t know if there is a shop at all.
Abisko is little more than a train station and a lodge but it’s got pretty much every basic a hiker needs and in a very compact package so it’s very convenient. There’s not much option anyway. Nordkalottleden goes right by the door. Abisko is also the northen terminus for the Kungsleden trail, with which Norkdalottleden shares tread for a lengthy stretch south from here. Like in Kilpisjarvi, there are two sections in Abisko and like in Kilpisjarvi, I found no advice about this in any information source I checked. I only knew the day I got there. Fortunately, the gap between the two is only 2 km. so you can walk that in half an hour or less.
Western Abisko is the first one the southbound hiker meets and it’s the one with most of the facilities the hiker needs: railway station, a lodge with hotel and hostel accomodation, restaurant, public telephone, laundry, shop and drying room. There’s a campground nearby too. The hostel rooms are in a separate building but reception is the same for everything. The restaurant is open all day with a rather tight schedule for breakfast, lunch and dinner and works as a bar the rest of the time. It bears mention dinner is either buffet (the same as breakfast and lunch) or a la carte. Buffet dinner guests go first (something like at 19.00 h.) and apparently you need to book your place in advance (like early in the day) but it seems you can dine a la carte if you just show up late (as I did). This is more expensive but I deserved it. You’ll deserve it by the time you get here.
The hostel rooms are standard. I shared a 6 bunk room and I guess most rooms are like that. Shower/toilet are common. The drying room is huge and you’d better be quick arranging your stuff… it’s warm in there! (and sauna is next door anyway). The shop is small but has a surprisingly spot-on selection for hikers. Half the shop is food stuff, the other half is gear. You can find butane/propane canister fuel, both Camping-gaz and standard, Lindal valve, screw-on canisters (coleman, primus and the like). I didn’t check alcohol fuel. The food is typical hiker food (pasta, breakfast cereal, bread, powder milk, powder mashed potatos… I was almost able to ressuply here even though I was getting food for almost two weeks! but I was missing some cheese or dry meat and a better selection on nuts so I went for the supermarket.
The Supermarket is on eastern Abisko, 2 km. further down the road. You can walk most (probably all) this distance on a side way among the trees so no need to walk the road itself, which has little traffic anyway. This side of Abisko, there’s a second railway station (they must be like 30 seconds apart when travelling on the train), a supermarket, another grocery store, a petrol station, a restaurant/cafe and a few resident homes. I guess you could use the train to get here from the other side but there must be only a few trains a day. The supermarket is of decent size and allows a full ressuply, no problem. It also has postal service inside. The other grocery store was quite useless (just some candy and little else).
The best thing about Abisko is it’s a place for hikers. Most guests there seem to be hikers of some kind. You’ll see packs against the hall walls the whole day. Reception staff knows about hiker needs. The shop is all about hiker stuff. There’s a hiker’s information counter where local rangers (or whatever they call them in Sweden) will answer your hiking questions. They publish a detailed weather forecast everyday. As I stated above, you can return your norwegian huts’ master key here if you have to but I didn’t ask if you can get one.
One potential problem for the thru-hiker in a hurry to leave is there seems to be just one washing machine for the whole place. I was lucky to be the only one using it that evening. No drying machine but you have the drying room. All my stuff was dry in the morning.
As usual and like all along the trail, very friendly atmosphere and helpful staff.
South of Abisko
There are no more towns south of Abisko. That’s approximately half the distance of the whole Nordkalottleden trail, around 400 km. On this long stretch, the southbound hiker meets a dirt road, a boat landing and a heliport. None of these are good ressuply options but there’s another way: on the swedish side of the mountains, some of the huts sell some supplies. The problem was I couldn’t rely on this as nobody would tell me for sure there would actually be something left when I went through. It was the end of the season. so I packed food for twelve days, planned on 13-14 to cover the distance and hoped I could buy at least a little something to cover the gap… or be hungry towards the end.
There’s a guidebook that lists all the huts and fjallstations in sweden with info on things like whether provisions are sold. You can check this book in Abisko but the info is very rough. It just states a yes or no (provisions are available) with no info about what’s actually on offer. I planned to be as self reliant as possible but 14 days of food was a bit too much for my pack (and my back, shoulders, etc.) so I started with supplies for 12 days and planned on re-stocking at Salka hut, 2/3 days into the section. I’d be on my own from there.
There were supplies in the following huts:
Alesjaure: big store with all a hiker might need for a full ressuply. I was there early on day 2 from Abisko so didn’t bring anything but took a good, second breakfast.
Salka: nice shop, good enough for a full but limited in choices ressuply. Pasta, rice, powder milk, powder instant potatos, tea, coffe, breakfast cereal, nuts, energy bars, cheese plus many other things I wouldn’t take with me like canned stuff (meat and/or vegetable meals, pineapple, etc.). I spent night 2 out of Abisko in Salka. Had a huge dinner with stuff from the shop and got some additional pasta, milk and instant potatos to complement what I already had.
Vajsaluokta: no supplies but the warden offered me left-overs from previous hikers. I also spent a night here and had dinner and breakfast from those.
Staloluokta: there was a shop there but I didn’t even check.
Pieskehaure: by the very end of the season, only a handful of things available but they were so welcome when I was starting to cut on rations to make it to the end. Typical stuff: pasta, instant potatos, biscuits (I took some with me) and some canned meals I had dinner from. They had literally a dozen (total) items left.
Tarrekaise: I was told there were supplies here too but didn’t check. Just a few hours to go anyway.
Some of the huts on the Padjelantaleden section offered smoked fish and bread. These huts are owned and run by the local Sami. They go fishing during the day and smoke it in the evening so they can sell it to hut guests for dinner. I had the chance to try it in Laddejakka but I guess you can’t rely on this.
There are huts along Nordkalottleden. It seems to me there’s no hut scheme for the entire trail though which is not surprising as Nordkalottleden was routed along previously existing trails. The huts were probably already there too. Yet, they’re quite evenly spaced and they’re usually a traditional backpacker’s day walk apart except for a 50+ km. void stretch.
The hut scheme is slightly different for each country Nordkalottleden goes through but they have many things in common. All huts I saw were wooden buildings and all had a fireplace. All were in good condition. None of them provide meals but a few of the swedish huts in the more popular routes sell some food. Some huts are very small and basic and they may have nothing but a fireplace and sleeping platforms. Most huts, however, have quite a few more facilities. Huts are for everybody to use but access conditions vary. Water is always nearby but this is no news: water is always nearby anywhere in Lapland. A brief description of the hut system for each country follows.
Finnish huts are either free access or reservable. There’s usually both types at each location either in separate buildings or different sections of the same building. Reservable huts are locked and I didn’t use them. Free huts are open for everybody to use. The only one I stayed at had a single room with a fireplace, a propane gas stove, a table, chairs and two rows of wooden platforms that would sleep 10 or 12 people. I guess most are like that. The free access huts are first come, first served but I guess nobody is turned down. Propane gas and wood are provided. An outhouse is available. Huts are a dense network in the finnish section of Nordkalottleden. All I checked were in excellent condition.
Swedish huts have a warden and there’s a fee for using them. There are also some free access, basic huts. These latter are sometimes meant as an emergency hut in some key spots. The regular huts are usually big and/or have several buildings in each location. There’s a warden in charge during the summer season (july to mid september) and the winter season (I think it goes from march to may; they call it “winter” but it’s more like spring). At other times, there’s at least a room open for emergency use.
The usual configuration is a staying room with fireplace, tables, chairs, propane gas burners and kitchen utensils. It’s usually more like a full kitchen but without running water. Then, there’s the sleeping rooms which usually have 2 to 6 bunks each. They have a matress. There were also blankets but you need to provide sheets or a sleeping bag liner (I didn’t have either so I just used my sleeping bag). Some huts have a dedicated drying room, others have some arrangement over the fireplace to hang the wet stuff. There are petrol lamps in some huts. There’s an emergency telephone.
The warden will assist with any problem and collect the fees. You have to cook your own meals, clean the dishes afterwards and you’re welcome to comunal tasks such as bringing in fresh water, taking out dish water, chopping wood, keeping the fireplace going and obviously cleaning everything after you.
Wood and propane bottles are brought in at the beginning of the season. Wood is usually stored in a separate shed. There’s an outhouse. There are also trash cans where you can leave your litter.
Swedish huts are not cheap: around 20 euro per night for members of the STF (Svenska Turistforeningen) or equivalent organization in your country of origin. This equivalence applies easily to norwegian and finnish hikers as there seems to be a similar organization in those countries but I don’t know how it would for other countries. What I do know is YHI (Youth Hostelling International) membership is acknowledged. I was lucky I had this membership on, don’t forget to get it if you plan on using the swedish or norwegian huts.
An interesting option is camping besides the huts. You can still use all the facilities except the sleeping rooms. You can cook and stay indoors and use the drying room or drying racks and then you go to sleep in your tent. This is damn cheap, around a half euro.
The huts are owned by the STF except in the Padjelanta section of Nordkalottleden, where they’re owned by the local Sami. These huts had propane heaters instead of a fireplace; other than that, they were pretty much like the others.
Norwegian huts are very similar to Swedish huts but instead of a warden, there’s a key. There’s no warden in the huts but they’re locked. They all use the same key which you can get before departure and return when you’re done. If you don’t have the key, you can still use the huts if you find them open (because there’s already somebody there)
The huts themselves are quite similar to the Swedish ones so refer above for a full description. I’d just add they’re probably a bit smaller in Norway and drying was always on the racks above the fireplace. All the huts I checked or stayed at were in pristine condition.
Norwegian huts are owned by DNT (Den Norske Turistforening). There’s a fee for using them, around 10 euro per night for DNT members. I think it was around twice that price for non members. As in Swedish huts, membership in a similar organization in your country of origin counts. In my case, YHI (Youth Hostelling International) membership is what I used. Payment is self-serve: there’s a form you fill where you state your data: full name, address, number of nights, membership, if applicable and your credit card data. Put this in a box where someone collects it so the DNT will charge you later. I remember there were other means of payment other than credit card but I can’t remember exactly which…
Getting the key for the norwegian huts
This didn’t look straightforward so I didn’t for the first leg of the trip. After trying the northern mountain weather, I decided it’d feel safer to have it with me so I got one. It should be easy but anyway I’ll talk about what I know:
Literature used to address me to some central offices in Narvik, Tromso or even Oslo, way out of my reach. This is not necessary. I think you can get the key in any tourist office, at least in those close to hiking areas with huts. That was the case in Kautokeino. I didn’t try to get it there but I talked to some other hikers who did. They eventually couldn’t because of some odd procedure along which they had to make a payment (for a deposit) on the internet… odd because they were already there… why couldn’t they pay cash, I don’t know, neither did they… but internet access was not working that day. Anyway, bottom line is you should be able to get your key in Kautokeino if you start your hike there.
I got my key in Kilpisjarvi, oddly enough as Kilpisjarvi is in Finland (and this is a norwegian key) but they have copies (at least, one) at the customs building in the finnish side. The customs building is 3 km. down the road from North Kilpisjarvi and around 5 km. before the actual border. The officer there didn’t speak much english and communication was kind of tricky. He seemed to not know what I was talking about until he asked another colleague. I was asked for my membership documentation (YHI card in my case) and had to pay a 10 euro deposit and I got the key for the medieval castle:
Being a deposit, it’s supposed to be refundable when you return the key but it wasn’t evident how to get the money back. The officer told me I could claim it back at that same office (where an annotation was made) but obviously that was not an option for me. As stated above, communication was not too fluent so I decided to leave it there and consider my 10 euro lost. An investment in peace of mind for the rest of my trip. A money well spent, I must say.
I would hike into Norway but I wouldn’t get to civilization on the norwegian side so returning the key was not so straightforward. I’m sure it’s possible to send it by mail wherever they take care of them. That’s in fact what I did. In Kvikkjokk, my end point, there was no place to return the key, neither in Jokkmokk, the first sizable village I got to. In my way through Abisko, I had verified they get the returned keys (despite being in Sweden) and they accept them on the mail. The tourist office in Jokkmokk got the key and sent it to Abisko for me.
There’s no custom set for hiking Nordkalottleden. Additionally, the route goes through 3 different countries so the list of maps is spread across different map series in different scales, sizes, rendering and languages. There’s also no single supplier that has them all, as far as I know. There’s not much choice though so the list of necessary maps is quite straightforward. I’ll show the list of maps I used grouped by map series and ordered from north to south with comments on each. Then I’ll comment on where and how to get them.
Statens Kartverk Norge 1:50.000 (Norway)
- 1832 I – Siebe
- 1833 II – Guovdageaidnu
- 1833 III – Raisjavri
- 1733 I – Mollesjohka
- 1733 II – Cierte
- 1733 IV – Raisduottarhaldi
These look like the typical map series from some governmental organization that cover the whole country. They stop at the borders, not showing what’s beyond. They’re good quality but they lack recreational focus. These means sheets are organized in a grid with no geographical meaning other than covering the whole territory. Hiking trails may not be there at all and you can’t really trust the route of those that are.
These maps are the only ones available for the northernmost section of Nordkalottleden. I guess the arctic tundra is not prime hiking country so it seems no specific recreational maps have been made. They’re good maps with a good representation of the topography but a bit excessive in scale for a land with not many features. While I’d never take any less than 1:50.000 in really mountainous terrain (and I usually feel more comfortable with 1:25.000), here a 1:100.000 scale would be enough.
For some of these maps, only a small part is actually needed. You could do a good job of cutting the rest off.
Genimap Ulkoilukartta 1:50.000 (Finland)
- Halti – Kilpisjarvi
In contrast with the previous, adjacent section in Norway, this stretch is prime hiking country in Finland so there’s recreational cartography available. The 1:50.000 scale is more appreciated in this mountainous but not too complicated terrain. Topography representation and rendering are good and hiking trails are clearly and accurately marked, together with huts locations and distances in between them. A single map covers the whole area Nordkalottleden goes through.
Statens Kartverk Norge 1:100.000 (Norway)
- Turkart Indre Troms
Once in the mountains, we can find recreational cartography in Norway too so no need for the Statens Kartverk series. This map is a terrific deal as it’s positioned around Nordkalottleden and it’s printed on both sides so it covers a considerable length of the route in a very compact and lightweight package. The scale may seem lacking after all the previous, more detailed maps but I think 1:100.000 is usually enough in the scandinavian mountains because the terrain is not too complicated.
This map has a somewhat spartan look that’s not so easy to read. The topography is accurately represented but the rendering is a bit lacking so you need to pay attention. It’s not the kind of map you read at first sight but the info is there. Trail representation is almost excessive and stands out in brilliant red over the almost black & white & blue (for the water bodies) on the rest. It covers some swedish terrain too with the same quality.
Lantmateriet Fjallkartan 1:100.000 (Sweden)
- BD1 Treriksroset – Rastojaure
- BD 6 Abisko – Kebnekaise – Narvik
- BD7 Sitasjaure – Ritsem
- BD9 Padjelanta – Sulitelma
- BD10 Sareks Nationalpark
This maps belong to a series specific for the swedish mountains with a definite recreational focus. I find the scale adequate for hiking (it may be lacking for technical mountaineering routes though). Topographical reprensentation and rendering are very good so I found these maps very convenient and easy to use. All the hiking trails are there in a region where there’s usually several of them (unlike farther north). There’s specific mention to the main hiking routes (Nordkalottleden, kungsleden and Padjelantaleden) so you can see which trail is yours. Being recreational, they’ve got relevant info like huts and bridges that I found to be remarkably spot on. These maps are swedish but they don’t stop at the borders which is key for Nordkalottleden hikers as the route is constantly going back and forth between Sweden and Norway.
The 1734 III – Reisadalen sheet in the Statens Kartverk Norge 1:50.000 series appears on every list I checked, including the one in the only guidebook for Nordkalottleden. It is not needed. It seems someone made a mistake and all the rest just copied from there.
The finnish map Enontekio – Lapland 1:100.000 is listed in some sources. It’s not needed if you have the other finnish map. This 1:100.000 is not even adequate for hiking: it lacks detail and it’s a huge map that weights a ton and covers plenty of terrain you don’t need.
The swedish BD1 map would be used before the norwegian Indre Troms as you come north to south but I’ve put it after in the list so it’s listed together with the rest of maps from the same swedish series so the presentation is simpler and clearer.
Maps BD9 and BD10 overlap almost completely. BD9 covers a narrow strip to the west that’s not on BD10 and vice-versa on the east side. However, this is small difference is important for the Nordkalottleden hiker: Kvikkjokk is only on BD10; Sulitjelma only appears on BD9. You’d only need one of them depending on your end/starting point in the south but I’d recommend taking both (or cutting and pasting from both) to cover both trailheads, just in case. I was actually close to choose to head down to Sulitjelma (instead of the planned Kvikkjokk) because of an upcoming big storm that would hit the area before I had time to get out on the swedish side.
Where to get these maps
- Statens Kartverk Norge 1:50.000 and 1:100.000 (Norway)
It took a while to realize why the relevant website (Kartbutiken) was only in Norwegian. After finding my way through the ordering pages, I saw they only ship withing Norway. No way.
I eventually got all the norwegian maps through Mapsworldwide. They’re based on the UK but they have them all. Easy browsing, good service, quick shipping.
Our target maps can be found under Norway -> Topographic Maps -> 1:50.000 Maps. They’ve got a graphic index (not interactive). For the 1:100.000 map, look under Norway -> Tourist Maps where, on the second page, you’ll find it: Turkart Indre Troms.
- Genimap Ulkoilukartta 1:50.000 (Finland)
Karttakeskus has an english version, easy browsing and they ship abroad but it wasn’t so straightforward: there was a problem at the time of charging my card. I never knew what the problem was but my bank told me it should be on their side. The only solution the provider would come up with was trying again. It took a while and many failed attempts to convince them we needed a way around but I had to insist. I’d have gladly shoped somewhere else but didn’t find this map available so eventually suggested a bank transfer which they accepted. Once payment was cleared, shipping was ok.
Our map is found under Maps of Finland -> Outdoor Maps (beware, not Topographical Maps) and there it is: Halti – Kilpisjarvi
- Lantmateriet Fjallkartan 1:100.000 (Sweden)
Lantmateriet has an english version, decent search facilities and they do ship abroad. I got the maps quick, no hassle.
From the home page, follow National Map Series -> Fjallkartan
Fjall stands for “mountain”; Kartan must stand for “map”.
Finally, let me suggest you get a wide area map, useful for the planning stages as well as to take with you during the hike for contingency plans. Planning was tricky until I got familiar with the area and particularly the local names. Until then, the only apparent difference between Kautokeino and Kvikkjokk was that one had lots of k’s and the other… much more. I suggest Michelin no. 711, Scandinavia and Finland in a 1:1.500.000 scale. Other different, more detailed road maps I found only covered one of the three countries and didn’t really have any more relevant information.
I already described the different options to get to and from the trailheads in the Access section above. Here I’ll go about the different companies that cover the routes I took and how to find out about schedules and buy tickets.
As stated above, my trip plan went as follows: I took a return flight to Stockholm. I got to Lapland from Stockholm (and back there) by train. On my way in, from the relevant railway station (Kiruna) I took a series of bus rides to get to the northern trailhead in Kautokeino. Back from the southern trailhead in Kvikkjokk, again, a couple of bus rides to meet the railway line in Alvsbyn.
I won’t comment on the flight except to point out Arlanda airport is more than 40 km. away from downtown Stockholm. There’s excellent public transport between the two though. The high speed train, the Arlanda Express, is the quickest (just 20 min.) but it’s expensive. It runs 4 to 6 times per hour. Flygbussarna buses are roughly half the price, twice the time and run similarly, every 10 to 15 minutes. Both bus and train leave you in the same place in downtown Stockholm. There are another two airports near Stockholm: Broma and Skavsta. I know nothing about these but I think Skavsta gets low cost airline flights. Flygbussarna covers both.
The only ticket I got in advance was the train ticket from Stockholm to Kiruna. I was told it can sell out.
As per my understanding, swedish transport is run by private companies, including railway lines which are usually state owned in many european countries. Travel agents sell tickets for different transport companies and you can also get a combined ticket for going from A to B using different means of transport.
The relevant website here is Connex. At the time of my planning, the website was in both swedish and english but as I write this the english version seems gone. There is yet some english content found by following the Norrlandstaget link but the page is almost empty. You can still find a link to the Bokatag booking service. Bokatag has a working english version. You can buy tickets and there’s a search engine for connections.
In Bokatag you can search for connections for virtually any destination in Sweden but since searches are from A to B the output may hide interesting options because you can’t see the complete schedule for each line in your connection. It may be useful to research these complete schedules so you can find your own connection. The one from the search engine may not be the best for your needs.
Connex has pdf files with the complete schedule for the Lapland trains. I had to apply that lost bit of innocence and intuition to browse through the swedish pages to find them. Here they are:
The complete listing of pdfs is accesible from the Connex website in the following sequence: Norrlandstaget -> Tidtabeller -> Tidtabeller for alla tag i Sverige. This brings you to a Bokatag page also accesible from the Bokatag homepage by following Tagtidtabeller. I swear it makes sense if you try. I can’t guarantee the links will be working if you try them from here as I see they’ve changed since I first used them.
For the swedish and finnish lapp buses, you can buy the tickets in Bokatag but I don’t think it’s worth it. You can just show up and pay the driver. It seems there’s always room.
Kiruna – Karesuando
Lanstrafiken Norrbotten, good news here as they just got an english version working but as I write this (january, 2008) it’s not a full version of the swedish website. You can use the search engine from the english homepage but the most useful list of lines is only available through the already familiar Tidtabeller link (which must mean something like timetable). We look for number 50: Karesuando – Vittangi – Kiruna.
Karesuvanto – Kautokeino
note: Karesuvanto and Karesuando are basically the same thing. The former is the finnish name and the latter the swedish version for a small village that spreads on both sides of the border. Actually, on the finnish side there’s little more than a restaurant and a petrol station.