You won’t really know what “wild wilderness” means until you have set foot, or rather snowshoe, in Finland’s Wild Taiga. Located in the east of the country on the border with Russia, this region is centered around Kuhmo, Suomussalmi, and Kajaani. The latter is in Kainuu but not in the Wild Taiga proper. Kuhmo calls itself the “town of wilderness and culture,” and for good reason.
The river Pajakkajoki flows with untamed rapids through the center of town. Timber is the main construction material that comes from the surrounding area, mostly uninhabited taiga and ancient dense boreal woods. In the summer, you can kayak along many waterways. In the winter, you can ride sleds, go on husky safaris, cross country ski, and snowshoe. As for wildlife, you are likely to see wolves and wolverines.
The Jumineko information center provides insight into the Kalevala epic and culture that form a great part of the history and culture of Finland’s wild taiga. Music is important too as represented by the well-known Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival that takes place in the summer.
Around Suomussalmi are many other, smaller villages, and it is the second southernmost part of the reindeer herding region.
Kajaani is a larger town and the best starting point to explore the wild taiga because it has an airport, served by Finnair from Helsinki, only an hour’s flight away. Connections by train and bus are also available. If you prefer, you can hire a car and drive because roads and motorways in Finland are well maintained.
Finland’s Wild Taiga conveys a feeling of wide openness and freedom that is intoxicating. Even I, who am basically a city person, was enthralled.
1. Snowshoeing In The Taiga Forest
If you are fit enough for a brisk hike, you are fit enough for snowshoeing – even if you have never done it before. On this guided tour, you are provided with the necessary equipment and taught how to put them on and how to move forward. Just think bigger steps and remember that it’s an activity where you will build up a good sweat, so don’t dress too warmly (but do keep spare clothes in your backpack). The excitement of this tour is that you explore the gorgeous taiga forest while observing wildlife like the rare wolverines. You may even encounter some wolves, but fear not: you are led by experienced guides.
The tour (1-6 people) is conducted from December to April. It starts from Kuhmo, then you are driven to Lentiira about 30 minutes away where you are instructed in the use of snowshoes before the adventure starts. Your guide leads you through the taiga forest following the trials of wolverines, elks, and hares. You learn how these animals survive in the harsh conditions of the Finnish winter. You then reach an observation platform known as the Wolverine Hut where you will remain 1.5 to 3 hours to watch and take in the atmosphere in silence. Hot drinks and a picnic are served in the hut before you return by car to Kuhmo. You will never forget the thrill when you spot your first wolverine, or, as I did, an elk in the distance. You will get very good exercise as well.
2. A 4-Day Husky Adventure
Have you ever dreamt of driving your own husky team through the deepest Finnish wilderness, staying in the most rustic cabin, making a campfire, and experiencing nature as close and personal as possible? Well, here is your chance for an adventure of a lifetime.
The Wilderness Husky Adventure takes you on 4 days of just that. On the first day, you arrive at Kuusamo airport and are driven to the husky farm. When you check in, you are greeted by your guide and are served dinner. On the next day, you meet the dogs, are instructed on how to care for them, how to harness them to the sled, and how to drive it. After lunch, it’s time to put what you have learned into practice. Teams are formed, and off you go on a 6.5 miles test ride through the snow-covered forest. After your return, you can relax or, far more enjoyable, spend time with the dogs and feed them. You will make new best canine friends in no time.
The next day is when the true safari starts. Your belongings will be packed on your sled and you are underway on an approximately 30-mile ride through old forests, over frozen lakes and swamps, enjoying the utter beauty of nature and the cold wind on your face. The dogs are very well trained and are used to being driven by people other than their owners. You will already have got the hang of it from the previous day’s training and, rest assured that they are cleverer than you.
At the halfway point, lunch is prepared at a campfire. Afterward, you continue until you arrive at your overnight stay: a log cabin in the wilderness on a small river. There is neither electricity nor running water, but the cabin is heated by a wood-burning stove. Wash your hand and face in the river if you dare. Dinner is prepared communally and eaten by candlelight. There is one luxury though: no Finnish home, rustic as it may be, is without a sauna, and there is one here too that is even heated for you. You won’t believe how good and deep sleep can be until you have had this adventure.
The next day you are on your way back to the husky farm, pausing for another campfire lunch, then after arrival, care for and feed the dogs, then say goodbye. On the following morning, you are driven back to the airport.
Pro Tip: Your husky team consists of 3-6 dogs. You don’t need prior experience but do need a good sense of balance or you might fall off the sled. You must also be able to bear the cold and to be outdoors for hours. This is not a suitable adventure for persons with any disability. If the overnight trip is too much for you, there are other husky tours available, like a 2-hour husky tour from the Hotel Kalevala.
3. Be Fascinated By Kalevala And Karelian Culture
Unforgettable experiences in Finland’s Wild Taiga are not only to be had outdoors but indoors as well. The history and culture of this part of the country are as fascinating as the wildlife and countryside. There is no better place to start exploring than the Jumineko Information Center in the heart of Kuhmo. The beautiful wooden building will hold your attention not only with exhibits of the Kalevala and Karelian culture, but also with videos and lectures. They also arrange culture trips to the Karelian of the White Sea. Karelia is also known as the land of lakes because it contains some 60,000 lakes, among them the two largest lakes of Europe. The area stretches from The White Lake to the Gulf of Finland and is divided between Russia and Finland. Inhabited villages on the Finnish side are Rimpi, Kuivajarvi, and Hietajarvi. The most important cultural heritage is the runosong, sung poems that are transmitted from generation to generation for approximately 2,000 years and are extensively practiced by the Karelian. The song is accompanied by a five-string kantele, made from a hollowed-out single piece of wood. The Institute has valuable recordings of runosong but also organizes tours to the villages, an opportunity that should not be missed for a unique musical experience.
The Kalevala is considered the national epic of Finland. It’s an 18th-century compilation, in poetic form, of oral folklore and mythology that tells the legends of the creation of the earth, the many antagonists and heroes, and the creation and robbery of the mystic wealth-making machine Sampo. The work was compiled by Elias Lönnrot.
From February 21-28, a Kalevala Week will be organized in the Jumineko Center, explaining the mythological background of the Kalevala. This event takes place for the third year running in collaboration with UNESCO. On the last day, Kalevala Day is celebrated, a unique opportunity to watch traditional Finnish dances.
4. Berry Picking
So far, we have shown you unforgettable winter experiences, but the wild taiga is exciting in the summer too.
A fun event for young and old is to venture into the woods between July and September from the Arola Farm near Suomussalmi and go berry picking to your heart’s content.
5. Glamping In A Haybarn
Could there be a more fun adventure in the Finnish summer (when it doesn’t get dark, anyway), than to climb up to the loft of a hay barn, burrow into your own ‘hole’ in the sweet-smelling hay, and hunker down in your sleeping bag or cuddle up in your blankets to sweet dreams? This particular barn is located in the Kainuu region and sleeps 10 people. In the morning, you are served proper coffee and pancakes made over an open fire.
Pro Tip: Just make sure you are not allergic to hay.
From all these unforgettable winter wilderness experiences, you can clearly see why Kuhmo is called the “town of wilderness and culture.”