How to get there
The Koli National Park is in Eastern Finland, about an hour drive away from Joensuu. It’s the closest national park to the city. On Saturdays there is a very cheap ski bus (5-15 €), price changes during the years), so we could reach it without a car easily. Few times we were hitchhiking, because, on other days, it is kind of impossible to approach by public transport. Yes, that is Finland. But hitchhiking always works, and was necessary for our multi-day hikes.
Where to stay
Do you plan an overnight stay in the park? For the brave ones, we can recommend one of the free shelters. But make sure you have a proper sleeping bag and you know how to make fire (and have tools for it). If you prefer a warm and cozy place to stay, on the top of Ukko Koli, there is the Sokos Hotel with spa (yay!). You can admire the views, eat your dinner in the restaurant and spent a relaxing day in the national park. Check the prices here.
Snow in Koli
We go to the National Park often. It is a perfect spot all year round to explore nature and spend time outdoors, and during the snowy part of the year, it is REALLY snowy. Its special micro-climate makes sure it is full of snow. In January, you can easily have a meter, while a couple of kilometers from here you have half of it. And that amount of snow is a unique view on the top of the granite rocks and trees. No wonder that it is an iconic place in Finland.
Activities – What to do in winter
In winter time we often do downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or ice fishing. You can also ride a snowmobile. It a more costly option, but I think once worth to try! We have done it in Lapland only, not here in North Karelia.
In case you want to rest more, just have a short but spectacular walk, that’s also possible. You can visit by a 30 min walk the 3 closest ‘peaks’ (let’s call them rocks) in Ukko Koli. You don’t need any special equipment, only proper clothing, and your camera 😉 After exploring outside, you can get a coffee or beer and visit the exhibition and the shop in the national park headquarters.
Skiing in Koli
Kind of ‘funny’ to call it downhill skiing center if you have ever been in the Alps, Rockies, or in any mountains. The whole national park is small, about 30 square km. Its highest point is Ukko-Koli, only 347 meters above sea level, but the longest ski slopes reach 1.5 km length, so you can easily spend a day skiing in the two separate locations where the slopes are. I am not a big fan of downhill skiing and haven’t tried snowboarding yet, so I usually choose other activity, even if others wanna stay on the slopes.
You can also go cross-country skiing if you have your own equipment it is for free, but you can rent skis is you need. There are over 50 km of trails if they are maintained. In most days only 20-30 km are ready for skiing. I prefer that! My personal favorite is skiing from Ukko-Koli to Loma-Koli, it is about 15 km and has a nice downhill in the beginning. After that small hills, up and down, all the way to Loma-Koli. Also, trails on the lake are open when the ice is safe. You can ski over the other side of lake Pielinen easily.
Snowshoeing and campfire in the national park
If you are not so comfortable with skiing, you can take a walk by snowshoes (those tennis-rocket-like things you step on), so you won’t sink in the snow. Most of the people go only to the peaks around Ukko-Koli, but it is definitely worth to visit Mäkrävaara, or even go further. There are several fireplaces with supplied wood, so you can make fire and bake your sausages or veggies there while resting.
Gorgeous views all the time
Do you still wonder why is the place so popular? Besides the variety of activities you can do, it has great views from the top of the hills and rock over the lake Pielinen. And in winter time the trees are totally covered by snow. Every time I go there, I feel like I am in wonderland 🙂
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