Saariselkä (Sámi: Suoločielgi) is a largish winter sports centre in the municipality of Inari high up in Finnish Lapland, some 250 km north of the Arctic Circle and nearly 1000 km away from the southern capital Helsinki.
Nestled in a valley, Saariselkä is a compact strip of a village with one gas station, one main supermarket, one liquor store and a slew of hotels, shops and restaurants, but it's quite manageable on foot and located only 30 km away from the town of Ivalo and its airport. The neighbouring fells of Kaunispää and Iisakkipää, both equipped with ski lifts, are the primary slopes for winter sports. The hiking trails, skiing tracks, biking routes and snowmobile tracks of Saariselkä also cover the villages of Laanila and Kakslauttanen (3 km and 10 km southward) and Kiilopää (6 km east from Kakslauttanen), which may be regarded as part of the same tourist resort.
A succession of ice ages and their glaciers scraping back and forth has reduced what were once mountains into gentle rounded fells (Finnish tunturi), barely reaching 500 m. The valleys between them are sparsely forested, but the exposed summits are treeless.
Aside from the occasional Sámi reindeer herder, there wasn't much human activity in these parts until Konrad Planting struck gold at the nearby Lutto River in 1865. The Finnish gold rush started soon thereafter and the first claim in Saariselkä was staked in 1871. Enough gold was found that by 1902 the mining company Prospektor set up its headquarters here and hacked a cart trail down to Sodankylä, some 100 km away.
The gold rush slowly faded away, but in the 1960s the area started to gradually develop into a tourist attraction. Hotels and restaurants were built, skiing lifts were put up, and in 1983 the region stretching from Saariselkä to the Russian border – favourite hunting grounds of former president Urho Kaleva Kekkonen – were turned into the Urho Kekkonen (UKK) National Park. Ten years later Hammastunturi Wilderness Area was established between Saariselkä and the older Lemmenjoki National Park to the west.
Saariselkä is part of the municipality of Inari, which has some 7,700 inhabitants (including some 2,200 Sámi) on 17,321 square kilometres of land, while Kakslauttanen and part of Kiilopää are in Sodankylä.
Saariselkä is at national road 4 (E75) from Helsinki to Nuorgam, with several buses daily from Rovaniemi. You could come by plane to Ivalo, Kittilä or Rovaniemi or by train to Rovaniemi, and continue by coach.
The easiest method to get here is to take a Finnair flight from Helsinki to Ivalo airport (1:40, price €100–250 depending on the season), and then a connecting 20-minute bus ride to Saariselkä. UK tourists may arrive at the airport of Kittilä, and take a three-hour road trip, via Sodankylä. The airport at Rovaniemi is likewise three hours away by coach.
Direct coaches from the south are cheaper than aeroplane, but involve a laborious 15 hr journey.
There are several connections daily between Rovaniemi and Inari, with stops in Saariselkä.
Saariselkä is quite well connected with northern Norway, with buses e.g. from Nordkapp, Karasjok, Vadsø and Tana bru, via Inari, Ivalo and Saariselkä to Rovaniemi. Some of these may drive only in summer.
An overnight train to Rovaniemi and a coach for the last three hours is a less painful but not particularly cheap alternative; the train is a viable option also if you want to bring your own car.
Once in Saariselkä, you can pretty much walk anywhere you want to, but if you have gear in tow just hop aboard the (all day ticket €4) Ski Bus, which shuttles between the village and the slopes approximately once an hour.
The coaches to and from Ivalo pass Saariselkä, Laanila and Kakslauttanen several times a day, a few coaches go via Kiilopää as well.
The landscape is scenic and many tourists come to Saariselkä to gawk at the aurora borealis. While they occur with a probability as high as 75% every night in season (November to March or so), they are all too often obscured behind a bank of clouds so don't count on it.
- 1 Kiehinen (Customer service point of Metsähallitus), Kelotie 1, Siula, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. M–F 9–17, in season also Sa–Su 9–16 or 10–17, closed 6.12 and 24–26.12. Free exhibition about the nature and hiking possibilities in Urho Kekkonen National Park and other nearby protected areas. Advice on hiking. Maps, bookings and keys, fishing and snowmobile track permits etc.
- 2 Magneettimäki. Memorial stones at the Magnetic Hill, 6 km north of Saariselkä. The national road 4 originally lead to Petsamo (Pechenga), with a winter harbour at the Barents Sea, especially important in 1940–1941. The steep originally 5 m wide gravel road was so hard for lorries, the drivers thought there must be some magnetics involved.
Saariselkä is more of a Do than a See destination.
In addition to the Northern Lights, there's plenty of standard Lappish tourist fare to keep you occupied during the day as well, ranging from husky safaris and reindeer-pulled sleighs to snowmobile and snowshoe treks through the countryside. There are quite a few operators to talk to. You could also e.g. go ice-fishing in one of the local lakes with a private guide, with a snack reindeer lunch cooked in a hunter/fisherman's cabin or spend the night on the treeless fells.
- Top Safaris, Revontulentie 1, ☏ . A safari company that offers a wide variety of safaris and is owned by the same people that run the Hotel Laanihovi.
The fells nearby are excellent terrain for cross-country skiing, sledding and hiking, but somewhat puny for downhill since the maximum differential is on the order of 300 meters. Alas, this is about as good as it gets in flat Finland... The ski lifts are one kilometre to north-east from the Saariselkä village, between the fells.
For extreme sledding, the legendary 1.5 km track down from Kaunispää can't be beat. Hold on tight and steer well!
For hiking, there are 200 km of marked paths, 250 km of skiing tracks and vast areas for backcountry hiking in and by the UKK national park. Most marked routes are near Saariselkä. For serious backcountry hikers, Tulppio near the south-east end of it is a hundred kilometres away, and to the north-west you can wander through Hammastunturi Wilderness Area, Lemmenjoki National Park and Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area to Øvre Anárjohka National Park of the Norwegian Finnmarksvidda, likewise a hundred kilometres away, with only two road crossings on all the journey.
- 1 Rumakuru. About 6 km from Saariselkä and from Laanila, by marked hiking routes or maintained skiing tracks. The steep and rocky Rumakuru is a product of the Ice Age. One of the two day huts in the Rumakuru valley is from about 1900, probably built by gold diggers. You can choose another route for returning.
- 2 Kaunispää. For general Arctic scenery, climb (or take the bus) up Kaunispää to take in the view. In clear weather Russian mountains 40 km away can be seen.
- 3 Iisakkipää. There is a nature trail (6 km) to the top of Iisakkipää (slightly higher, with a view less disturbed by ski resort structures) and back, telling about traces of the Ice Age. There is also a shorter variant (2,5 km), along the lower slopes. In winter the trails are marked as snowshoe trails.
- 4 Kiilopää. There are natural trails (1–6 km) and a trail to the fell top also at Kiilopää (546m; no lifts here), some 15 km south from Saariselkä.
- 5 Prospector's trail. Prospector was the gold mining firm. The trail leads to a mine and a mine hut near Laanila (1 km). The trail (skiing track in winter) continues to meet other trails in the national park (trail description, background story).
Food in Lapland is expensive and fairly unimaginative, although if you haven't tried reindeer meat yet, then this is your chance. For a more memorable experience, try a set dinner in a Lappish kota tent, offered by a number of hotels and tour operators.
- 1 Café-ravintola Kuukkeli, Saariseläntie 1. The little canteen inside offers one of the cheapest eats in town. Reindeer hash, cranberry jam and mashed potatoes will set you back €16,90.
- 2 Siulan Riista ja Kala, Kelotie 2. Game and Fish Delicatessen in the Siula shopping centre – including a café which offers one of the cheapest meals in town. Daily "Lounas" (lunch) €9.50 is excellent value.
- 3 Muossi Grill, Saariseläntie 5. Snack kiosk in the central square near Holiday Club Hotel. Hamburgers etc.
- 4 Kotipizza. Like the name reveals, pizza, in the Siula shopping centre.
- 5 Kaunispään Huippu (Atop Kaunispää), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 10:00–19:00. Offers panoramic views of the mountains around and is a good option for a lunch or just a hot drink. Try the reindeer fillet with peppercorns, worth taking a drive up for a meal.
- 6 Teerenpesä, Saariseläntie 5. Restaurant and pub, good value.
- 7 Pirkon Pirtti, Honkapolku 2. Most famous restaurant in Saariselkä. Hard to find vacant table – delightful log fires and delicious traditional dishes, a great place to dine.
- Rakka, à la carte, Rosso Express, pizza and Houseburger, hamburgers at Holiday Club.
- 8 Ravintola Riekonlinna (former Restaurant Linnansali), Saariseläntie 13 (at Hotel Riekonlinna). Expensive and fine. Specialities cod tongue and king crab.
- 9 Petronella, Honkapolku 5. Specialities include reindeer fillet and Lake Inari whitefish. Excellent choice of wines. Also check the 'Petronella' house cocktail (for warming up in winter weather).
- 10 Siberia, Saariseläntie 3. Restaurant (and café) – fine dine in exotic Lapland.
There are quite a few possibilities for after-ski; all the hotels have restaurants and discos, and there is even a local microbrewery with a side line in distilled spirits. However, Saariselkä has a deserved reputation for catering to the middle-aged market, standard musical fare is melodramatic Finnish tango and even the food is all reindeer and snow grouse. Hip snowboarding youngsters tend to head for Levi or Ruka instead.
- 1 Saariselän Inn, Saariseläntie 10, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. rooms start at 38€ in the summer, 79€ in the high season.
- 2 Savottakahvila, Viskitie (in Laanila), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. "Loggers' café", also providing lodging.
- There are camping grounds in Saariselkä, where you can stay for a fee in a tent or caravan. Camping with a tent in the wilderness is free. In the nearby parts of the national park camping is restricted to campfire sites and the like.
- 3 Hotel Laanihovi, Viskitie 1 (in Laanila), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- 4 Vahtamapään Maja (in the center), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Sheets and cleaning not included. Kitchen etc. common with other guests. 390–500 €/week/room (=family/group), depending on season.
- 5 Hotel & Igloo Village Kakslauttanen, Kiilopääntie 9 (Kakslauttanen, about 10 km south of Saariselkä along Highway 4), ✉ email@example.com. Here rooms are available in cabins, snow igloos or glass igloos specially designed for Northern Lights observation.
- 6 Fell Centre Kiilopää, Kiilopääntie 620 (Kiilopää, 10 km south along Highway 4 and then 5 km east), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Hotel, youth hostel and holiday apartments and cabins operated by Suomen Latu, the cross-country skiing and hiking association.
- 7 Holiday Club Saariselkä, Saariseläntie 7, ☏ 0300 870 966 (premium). Europe's northernmost spa and the fanciest digs in town, featuring a large swimming pool/jacuzzi/waterfall/etc section. Still, this is more of a family resort than a romantic getaway, so expect to bump into hyperactive kids. Rooms start at €120 off season, €150 in high season.
- 8 Hotel Riekonlinna, Saariseläntie 13, ☏ . International conference hotel, many of rooms have even own sauna and internet connection. Nice view towards the fells from most of rooms. Rooms 87€ in the summer, 130-150€ in the high season..
- 9 Santa's Hotel Tunturi (former Hotel Gielas), Lutontie 3, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Four star hotel with 84 rooms. All rooms have own saunas, bath, balcony.
Summer hiking in Saariselkä is safe if you follow safety advice and know your own limits. Routes near Saariselkä village are well marked and require only sneakers and clothes accordant with current weather. It's recommended to purchase an inexpensive map from your hotel reception or local market. Don't go alone, at least without informing your hotel reception. Ask for safety advice from your hotel reception if you feel unsure. Don't forget to report to your hotel when you come back. Weather conditions can change a lot even if it's warm and sunny when you leave.
Cellphone networks may not cover many places in between the fells.
Tourists usually never meet any dangerous animals in Saariselkä. There are some bears in the eastern part of the national park, but bears would rather avoid humans if they can. It's recommended to indicate somehow to animals that you are roaming in the neighbourhood.
Crime figures for Saariselkä are very low.
Tap water is potable and of high quality.
In case of emergency call 112.
Postal code FI-99830 Saariselkä.
- Free internet at supermarket Kuukkeli 9:00–21:00
- All hotels offer internet to their guests
|Routes through Saariselkä|
|Vardø ← Ivalo ←||N S||→ Tankavaara → Rovaniemi|