The Finnish Lakeland (Finnish: Järvi-Suomi) is the largest lake district in Europe. Nature-made labyrinth of 168’000 crystal-clear lakes and countless number of islands covered by unspoiled forest.
The fabulous landscapes of National Parks Linnansaari, Kolovesi and Nature Reserve Joutenvesi offer a paradise for paddlers. There is only one way to explore this area the right way – by kayak or canoe. Finnish Lakeland is also a home to the endangered freshwater Saimaa ringed seal. It is the only place in the world where they live.
After weeks of planning and studying the Middle Saimaa map I decided to start our trip in Kolovesi National Park, paddle through Joutenvesi Nature Reserve and finish in Linnansaari National Park. Our trip started in Saint Petersburg, Russia where we decided to spend 3 days after coming back from our canoe trip in Finland (I will dedicate a separate post from our stay in Russia later). Driving in Russia could be quite challenging so I decided to arrange taxi service from Saint Petersburg to Oravi in Finland and return trip to Saint Petersburg 8 days later with meetmetaxi. This worked very well and was even cheaper than renting a car.
Packing for a 7-days canoe trip
We arrived to Oravi in the evening, just on time to watch Euro 2016 final France-Portugal in Restaurant Ruukinranta. Oravi is a small idyllic village with a small harbour situated along the boat route from Savonlinna to Kuopio. Oravi has a permanent population of only 150! When we arrived the kitchen was already closed but the owner was very helpful and opened the shop for us so we could buy some groceries.
SaimaaHoliday Oravi provides all sorts of accommodation (cottages, cabins, hotel rooms and campsite) and nature activities in the area. We slept in the Hotel Oravi which we booked before. This was our last night in civilization. Next day it was time to go wild 🙂 We were driven by car about 35km to Kirkkoranta in Kolovesi National Park. Our canoe was already waiting for us. Canoe fully loaded: 2 adults, 2 kids and lots of baggage. Live vests on! Let’s go!
Minutes after leaving Kirkkoranta. Let the adventure begin! The wild is calling…
Every paddler loves the moment when you push canoe away from the shore and start paddling, all is quite around, no hustle anymore, just the nature in front of you… Weeks or months of planning and the long journey to get to this starting point, everything is now forgotten.
George Orwell ones said:
“Time doesn’t run any faster than before, but we pass it by more quickly.”
So now it is time to paddle end enjoy those timeless moments… Let the time pass by a little bit slower…
Lapinniemi service area. There is camp-fire place and wooden hut wich was used to store timber
Our tent at Lapinniemi
The are strict regulations with regards to all national parks in Finland. Everyone planning a trip to those areas should first get familiar with these regulations. The regulations may be different depending on the area you are going to visit. Kolovesi Retkeily Canoe Outfitters provide very useful information on their webpage (Tips for trip planning). Camping inside protected areas of Lake Saimaa such as Kolovesi National Park and Linnansaari National Park is allowed only on designated campsites or rental huts. Places on these campsites are also limited so it could get quite crowded in the high season. Kermajärvi and Joutenvesi are not national parks and therefore there are no restriction regarding camping. Outside the protected areas the traditional Finnish legal concept known as Everyman’s Right applies.
Our first stop was at Lapinniemi where we decided to spend our first night in Kolovesi. We liked it so much that we stayed there for 2 nights. The campsite is located in a small bay with beautiful scenery around it and lots of berries in the forest. There are wooden platforms provided for tents.It comes quite handy when you have anthill next to your tent :). I was hoping for a pike for dinner but didn’t catch any pike during our whole stay in Kolovesi Park. The seabed is very rocky with not much vegetation so there are not that many fishes there. Joutenvesi and Linnansaari are much better for fishing. We only catch some small fishes which was lots of fun for our kids. The price for the first catch went to my younger son who caught a fish using a wooden stick which I prepared for him. He was so proud!
Who will get his first catch this evening ? Angling at Pyylinoja jetty
Last photo at Lapinniemi before heading to Pyylinoja
Shelter and fireplace at Pyylinoja with our tent behind
Pyylinoja – “Land of the Ants”. This is how we called Pyylinoja campsite. It was our enemy no.1, millions of them … I have seen at least 3 ants hills at the campsite. This is where the wooden platforms become very practical. Ants very rarely climb on these platforms. Platforms are ants-free zone :).
When we arrived at Pyylinoja, there was only one tent at the campsite but soon more people arrived and there was not enough platforms for everybody (There are only 3 or 4 platforms). These who came late pitched their tents just at the shore or in the forest. Pyylinoja campsite (similar as Pitkäsaari Island) is located at the Heinävesi-Route so the visitors rate in the summer may be higher than at some other campsites located within Kolovesi National Park.
There is shelter, fireplace and a firewood shed at the campsite. From what I have read this firewood shed is being regularly filled with firewood by the local authorities.
Breakfast at Pyylinoja jetty – cereal with freshly collected berries
After delicious breakfast – cereal with freshly collected berries – we left Pyylinoja and headed south through the narrow waters of Kerma and Ruokovirta. By leaving Kolovesi National Park we begun the second stage of our journey. We were entering now the Nature Reserve Lake Joutenvesi which is not a protected area and there are no restriction regarding camping. Here the Everyman’s Right rules apply. Having no restrictions gives you a great feeling of freedom which was limited in the national park. You can literally pitch your tent at every island you see unless it is not a private property. And there is lots of them here! So we were paddling south towards Ruunavesi, not knowing where we will sleep that night.
Leaving Kolovesi through Kerma, Ruokovirta and heading south towards Ruokosalmi
The beauty of Joutenvesi Nature Reserve
Family meets family. A family of goosanders (mergansers)
Paddling from Kolovesi to Joutenvesi was one of the nicest parts of our journey. The water was calm and easy to paddle with beautiful landscape around. After entering Ruunavesi we had some strong wind and waves which slowed us down a lot. It took us some time and energy to pass Ruunavesi and the bridge over Hyvasalmi. After passing the bridge it became quite again and we started to search for a good place for a tent. The first island on the way Iso-Sinkko which had a perfect landing spot at south side with place for a tent. This was the best campsite we had during our journey. Well hidden behind rocks, literally in the forest, with flat rocky shore and lots of fishes hiding in nearby water- and shoreplants! Not only I had my first big catch but kids catch plenty of fishes from the shore. It was fun for the whole family. The situation changed dramatically after my boys saw me killing the pike … They didn’t want to do the fishing any more …
We spent great time on the island. Weather was good, we were swimming in the lake, paddling around the island, catching fishes, collecting berries, enjoying the views and beautiful white night, telling stories in the tent. We were really sad when we were leaving the island next day and watching our campsite disappearing behind us.
Outdoor kitchen – cooking pancakes
Who is the most dangerous predator? The winner is: human
View from our camp at Iso-Sinkko
White night in the finnish wilderness
Our journey continued through Pyttyvesi where navigation was a bit more difficult than in Kolovesi. I was generally using only map and compass but at the end of the day I always did a check with maps.me application in order to verify our location on map and answer the fundamental question: “Am I really where I think I am?“. The app maps.me is very handy because it works offline and does not require any network.
We had a stop-over at island Iso-Nainen which we called “the island of the pikes”. With a flat rocky shore and ring of stones for open fire it was a perfect place for picnic. After second throw I had already a pike hanging on the hook but it was fighting hard for his life and unhooked himself after a second jump from the water. I was bit angry that I lost it but It didn’t take long till I had another one on the hook. That one was not that lucky and ended up on our fire.
Today’s main course – pike on open fire
Our plan was to paddle south, enter Nauvunselkä between Nauvunsaari and Mäntysaari, and than paddle south between Mäntysaari and Jänissalo. Somehow we missed the narrow passage Mäntysaari / Jänissalo and ended up paddling around Jänissalo island and entering Joutenvesi lake which welcomed us with strong wind, rain and unpleasant waves. It was still fine when we paddled behind Pieni Jänissalo but when we entered the open waters of Joutenvesi the weather was getting worse and waves became dangerous. We optioned for “emergency landing” on first possible spot on Jänissalo. We have quickly set up the tent in the forest, left our kids inside and went outside to secure the tent, canoe and gear. The situation was quite scary for everybody. The tent was only 4 meters from the shore, wind was blowing as mad from Joutenvesi and waves were crushing loudly onto the shore. After pulling the canoe inside the forest and securing the tent with stones which I picked up from the lake, we went inside the tent to see how the kids are doing. They were sitting inside only in underpants, playing cards and having good time! No stress at all… It was only us – parents being scared and having hard time with the hell outside…
We didn’t sleep much that night. It was a long, noisy night with the sounds of mad nature outside…
Emergency landing at island Jänissalo
Early next day we headed west, away from lake Joutenvesi, to a more hospitable waters… We entered the passage between Jänissalo/Hankasalo and paddled south. After a long, wet day of paddling we came back to civilization – to Oravi village. It is somehow sad to be back in civilization because you suddenly realize that your wilderness adventure is over… After pulling the canoe on the shore and placing our gear on land we went straight to the Restaurant Ruukinranta and had “fat” dinner. We were wet and exhausted. We needed food and a table in warm corner to relax and “cool down”. You can only guess how good the food was. I had a delicious cream of wild mushroom soup and my favourite Pizza Hirvi with minced Elk meat.
Burger, cream of wild mushroom soup and Pizza Hirvi with minced Elk meat.
We came to Oravi 1 day earlier then previously planned which gave us the opportunity to explore the area and spend some relaxing time on the Oravi campsite. We decided to set up a tent on Oravi campsite instead of staying in their hotel. The campsite has all the facilities needed such as showers, washing machine, sauna etc. and is also much cheaper than hotel. Next day we did small paddle trip to Linnansaari National Park. After spending 7 days paddling through the finish Lakeland we were not expecting any troubles during this trip. It turned out that our assumption was completely wrong… Never underestimate finnish Lakeland! When we left Oravi canal direction south we have encountered strong wind and large waves. Instead of turning immediately right after the canal and paddle along the shore behind the Issakka island we headed straight on the open lake. The Issakka island would shield us from the wind and allow us to get to Sammakkoniemi through much calmer waters. Unfortunately we didn’t know that this is the route which should be taken when strong wind are blowing from the lake. We were also unlucky that the wind was very strong on that day. we ended up on in the middle of the lake but somehow managed to turn right and paddle parallel to the waves to islands Satulat and from there we got to Sammakkoniemi. While cooking dinner on an open fire at Sammakkoniemi we were thinking about one thing only: What is the best route back to Oravi ?. Paddling back to Oravi was the hardest and most scary part of our whole paddling adventure in Finland. The waves on the lake near the entrance to Oravi canal were in the order of 50cm but they were building up to almost 1 metre at the canal entrance. We were fighting hard to keep the canoe perpendicular to waves and not get flipped. How happy we were when we finally got through and entered the calm water of the canal! Back on the shore we have seen other people coming back from Linnansaari. You could immediately see that they have just gone through the same hell as we did. Some of the were literally walking on all fours, happy to be on land…
Large waves to be expected here! Oravi canal at lake Haukivesi
Playing football with my boys at Oravi campsite
Cooking dinner at Sammakkoniemi, Linnansaari National Park
Saimaa is the only place in the world where the endangered Saima ringed seal can be found. The population is descended from ringed seals that were separated from the rest when the land rose after the last ice age. The estimated population of these animals is only about 320 individuals (January 2013). Unfortunately we have not seen any Saimaa ringed seal during our trip. But I do not regret it …. The less we-humans see them, the longer they survive…
Saimaa ringed seal (photo: http://www.wwf.fi)
Our 64km long canoe trip marked on the middle Saimaa map
www.nationalparks.fi – information on the national parks and other destinations
www.outdoors.fi – information about Kolovesi National Park
www.outdoors.fi – information about Linnansaari National Park
www.dlc.fi – Edible and non-edible berries in Finland
meetmetaxi.com – Taxi Service Russia-Finland
Accomodation & Canoe Rental
www.oravivillage.com – SaimaaHoliday Oravi
www.sealtrail.com – Kolovesi Retkeily Canoe Outfitters
www.romanoffdom.ru – Dom Romanovykh Mini-Hotel in Saint Petersburg, Russia
Map of our trip on Google Maps Engine
www.retkikartta.fi – interactive online map of Finland
Oravivillage online shop – Middle Saimaa map 1:50000 (Keskinen Saimaa 1:50000)
maps.me – mobile offline app for GPS positioning