Planning to experience a close encounter with untouched nature and wildlife while hiking in Sweden? Wanting to sleep under the stars or in a secluded cabin deep in the woods, feeling like a time traveler to epochs long gone by? Or wanting a reminder of the fantastic diversity of the natural environment we should do all in our power to conserve for coming generations?
There are 29 national parks in Sweden waiting for you, from well known Abisko in the high north to maritime landscapes in the south, all of them offering trails to follow, places to visit and landscapes you will never forget. All of them are specially protected environments, and all are unique. The may be singled out by their natural environment or by a preserved cultivated landscape from past epochs, by undisturbed rare animals, birds or plants. Some of them are as remote as it is possible, while others can be reached without problem from the nearest town.
Before you make your choice, you should know that in a national park, the unique Swedish “Everyman’s Right” (Allemansrätten) may be either restricted or expanded. This traditional right usually enables you to hike wherever you want in Sweden, private property or not. You can make camp for a night or two at the spot you choose, pick berries and mushrooms as much as you like and make a fire, provided the weather conditions permit it. Of course, you must not leave garbage; you must put out your fire properly and see to it that you do not disturb home owners in the area. A restriction means there may be special rules protecting the nature and wildlife of the national park, perhaps not allowing you to take a certain trail during an animal species breeding season, to make camp wherever you like, or to make a fire. An expanded right may for instance allow you to camp for several nights in the same spot. Usually this information is displayed on signs at the entrance of the park, or can be had at the nearest tourist office.
Before you start out, you should also go to the website of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency on the Internet (naturvardsverket.se, English website available) to check general information and special regulations for the park of your choice, and if unsure mail or telephone them to get the answers you need.
The experienced hiker who doesn’t mind carrying a heavy backpack for a long day out in the open, who enjoys difficult terrain and the occasional fording of a brook, and who is prepared for both rain and shine will find the northern national parks most challenging. Hiking in these national parks is demanding, and choosing a long trail will mean several nights away from all the comforts of civilization – all you need to eat, to bed down and to protect yourself from the cold and wet must be brought and carried along on your own back. There are plenty of parks to choose from – for instance, you could go to the most northerly and isolated national park, Vadvetjåkka, a small enclave in Sweden’s most remote corner, dominated by the mountain with the same name. Most of the park consists of bare mountain slopes above the tree limit, with a delta area to the south that is a bird watcher’s and botanist’s paradise, and there are caves to explore. There is a 12 kilometer long trail marked by stone mounds starting at Låktatjåkka train stop, but no other facilities. Another hiker is a rarity, and most likely a Sami reindeer owner. However, nearby you find Sweden’s most northerly mountain refuge, Björkliden, with some beds (book well in advance), good food and less demanding trails to explore – perhaps a good way to get up the courage for the solitude in the park?
Or what about Muddus, a huge tract with primal, untouched forest and marshlands? No spectacular mountain tops, but dramatic waterfalls, enormous old pines, deep ravines and wildlife left in peace since 1942 – all to be enjoyed hiking on a system of trails through about 50.000 hectares. The central part is off limits in spring and summer until 31 July, as the birds nesting there are rearing their young and shouldn’t be disturbed – but don’t worry, there is enough left to explore. Four cabins and two Sami huts for visitors are available for the hiker to stay overnight in (or by, since you might not be the first to arrive).
But you don’t have to toughen it out among the diehard hikers in the northern solitude to get an unforgettable nature experience at all. The national park of Tyresta is a large, untouched forest just 20 km south of Stockholm. Take a simple bus ride, and 50 km of trails are at your disposal. You’ll get to see beautiful lakes, huge areas where the ice cover of the latest ice age has smoothed down the cliffs, trees that are centuries old, all the plants and – with some luck – the animals of the forest. In the village of Tyresta, well worth seeing in its own right, you’ll find information not only about this park, but about all the national parks of Sweden. On the downside, you will be in the company of some other people with the same objects in mind.
The pearl among national parks is without doubt the small island of Gotska Sandön, north of Gotland. Gotland is a well known summer paradise with traditional architecture, a medieval walled city, fabulous beaches and lots of other things to see and do – but few visitors make it from there to the most isolated island of the Baltic. This is a place of stunning beauty with endless sandy beaches, windswept dunes, deep pine forests and sky meeting sea at the horizon. There are regular boats from Gotland during the summer, and you can either stay overnight in your own tent in the camping area, in a cabin or in a larger building with many beds. Here, in this most special of places, you cannot stay on your own where you choose, and you have to book a place in advance. Your walks will show you a sandy dune landscape with trees sculpted by the relentless wind and vestiges of the sheep farming that was once the livelihood of the inhabitants.
For visitors to the south of Sweden, the national park of Stenshuvud is within easy reach. It is centered on a mountain in a coastal setting in the east part of the landscape of Skåne. Deciduous forests, rolling hills, heaths and sea combine to form an imposing environment.
A visitor’s center with an exhibition will let you understand the biological diversity of the place and help lead you to the most spectacular views. The trails will take you past ancient remains from about 400 AD, and the magic quality of the sun filtering through the green canopy of beach leaves might let you hope you’ll see some of the trolls and fairies the forest is rumored to house.
Well, what about the other 24 national parks? They are every bit as interesting, challenging or easily accessible as these examples – combine a national park with your city vacation or drop out of civilization altogether for a week or two, the choice is yours…