Here I am sitting on the Arctic Circle train that will take us from Narvik, in the far north of Norway, to Stockholm in the south of Sweden (18 hours of non-stop scenery). I watch the already snow-covered landscapes of Swedish Lapland as I look back at these 3 incredible weeks that have just passed… 1 week of autonomous hiking on the Kungsleden shared with my sister Sabine and Marine a friend of Fabienne, followed by 10 days in the Lofoten! A dream come true.
However, I must say that we are damn happy to be back too because we haven’t had the comfort of a good bed for 20 days (we’ve always slept in tents or in the car)… But I think that’s also part of the pleasure of this kind of outdoor adventure. By leaving, we voluntarily give up our usual comfort to explore nature, bivouac, disconnect… but we are still damn happy when we get back to a hot shower and a good cozy bed 😉
As a result, I wanted to take advantage of these 18 hours of train ride with these magnificent landscapes of Lapland passing before my eyes, to give you my first impressions after 3 weeks backpacking in northern Sweden and Norway.
The nature with a big N
Swedish and Norwegian Lapland is one of the least populated areas on the planet. It is a land of mysteries where the sun shines endlessly in summer and fascinating lights dance in the sky in winter. After a quick visit to Finnish Lapland last winter, I only wanted one thing, to come back and discover more of the wonders that are hidden there. And I will not surprise you by telling you that these 3 weeks in this wild region of northern Europe did not disappoint me.
In 3 weeks we discovered the gigantic valleys between the highest Swedish mountains, we walked along rivers that meander freely at the bottom of these valleys, we drove along the Norwegian fjords to reach the steep peaks of the Lofoten, shaped by glaciers… We crossed landscapes that were simply magnificent! And frankly, any lover of nature and the great outdoors must come once to discover even a tiny part of this region of the world… judge these pics instead:
Orange like the blazing landscapes of Lapland in autumn
Basically, we decided to leave in September to avoid the high season on the Kungsleden and especially not to be eaten by mosquitoes or other voracious flies that prevail in Lapland in summer. But in fact we didn’t think we’d be treated to such colours in September already. On the Kungsleden, one had the impression of hiking in a giant painting with a full range of colours: from red to yellow and all shades of orange. Then we arrived in Norway and saw the landscapes change with the drop in temperatures to dress up in their beautiful autumn clothes as well. What a treat for our eyes!
Our very first Northern Lights
We secretly hoped to have the chance to see some once… but not three times!!!!! (2 times on the Kungsleden and our first night at the Lofoten) I will certainly remember all my life that moment when Marine and Sabine took us out of our tent to tell us that they saw strange lights in the sky 🙂 . The place was just perfect: a bivouac, the four of us alone in the middle of the Kungsleden and the lights dancing above our heads. You should have seen us 4 overexcited around our tents getting excited with every move. Like what, September was definitely a good idea to come to Lapland 😉
By the way, if you’re interested, I wrote a whole article about the Northern Lights, or when and how to see them and especially how to take pictures of them 😉
the true silence
This is something that is certainly impossible to find around here… In Switzerland as in France, wherever you are, you will necessarily hear an engine noise in the distance, an aircraft, animals. In Lapland, there were evenings when we were sitting next to our tents, we heard absolutely nothing… but really not a single noise… the absolute silence (obviously that supposed that we weren’t chatting while drinking arranged teas #TatrasTea 😉 ).
Pure water everywhere
If there is one thing that is not lacking in this region of the world, it is water! I would even say that we had a little too much during our 10 days spent in Lofoten 😉 #WeGotWet 😉 . No, but it’s impressive to see all these rivers flowing out from absolutely everywhere! To tell you about the Kungsleden most people simply hike with a small cup hanging from their backpack. When they are thirsty, they stop at the edge of the nearest watercourse and drink a small cup of crystal clear water. They don’t bother to wear a filter bottle, water pills or whatever… just a cup and that’s it!
Wild animals in abundance
We thought we wouldn’t necessarily see many wild animals with our pretty team of #ChattingHiking (we were clearly not the most discreet hikers)… In addition with my orange garbageman clothes (thanks Peter 😉 ), we were seen for miles around! And yet, despite all these bad predispositions, we have seen many reindeer, lemmings, kinds of partridges, eagles… Frankly, we just lacked the moose to make our collection of Lappish animals complete (the moose we only saw it on the signs by the Norwegian roads 😉 ).
Scandinavia, the paradise of wild camping
There is a law in Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden and Finland) that guarantees everyone’s access to nature. This free access to nature allows, among other things, everyone to pitch their tent anywhere, as long as the area is not cultivated and the person is within a reasonable distance of any habitation. This law is a blessing for hiking and nature lovers that we are. No need to hide or ask questions… we just had to find a flat place, if possible not too far from a stream to set up our camp.
In practice, we camped like that all over Kungsleden and one night in the Lofoten before the weather gods decided otherwise 😉 But well, respect to the Scandinavians for having a law that still allows people to have free access to nature… a law that only persists thanks to the following point:
The respect of nature
Frankly, we feel that Scandinavians have a great respect for nature. We saw very little waste on the ground, the places suitable for bivouacs were always immaculate… Even in more touristic places like the Lofotens we found that everything was super clean and that nature was respected. This shows that, here, guaranteeing people access to nature gives them a sense of responsibility (or maybe it’s the other way around). Honestly, it would be so cool if it could also work that way in our country.
capricious weather conditions
As you can see… everything was going well in Swedish Lapland on the Kungsleden and on our first day in Lofoten. So certainly we had been through some heavy rain and gusts but nothing that could disgust us from walking and wild camping.
Then the weather gods went wild on us and didn’t leave us alone until the end of our stay in Lofoten. We were treated to the whole range of what bad weather could offer us. Rain every day in abundance (those who have seen our stories on instagram know what we are talking about), big gusts of wind to demolish a tent, snow, hail, a few clearings here and there but never for more than 1-2 hours. We knew that the weather was capricious in the Lofotens (and we were prepared for it) but believe us, we didn’t expect to take a 1/4 of what we took on the head.
So when you are in a 100% natural destination like the Lofotens and the main objective is to discover these fantastic landscapes while hiking… this kind of weather is a little frustrating (even if you always try to keep smiling). So we tried one day to go hiking to bivouac on a beach… but after a night spent praying that the tent would withstand the gusts of wind and the storm that was falling on us (if we had looked at the weather before starting…), we thought it would be better to change our strategy. And now, well…
Thank God we had a big car
Yes! That was our big chance of the second part of our trip to the Lofotens. We decided to rent a car in Narvik because public transport in Lofoten is not very regular and is rather expensive. And since we intended to camp as much as possible, we rented the equivalent of a small car, which was more than enough for us to move easily between the islands. And then, by chance, at Hertz’s in Narvik, they unfortunately didn’t have any small car anymore… and they had to give us… a Nissan Qashqai 😉 (a rather spacious crossover).
We thought maybe we should spend a night in the car because of the weather… but we never thought we’d have to spend 9 of our 10 nights in the Lofotens sleeping in the trunk of the car (which would have been much more difficult if we’d had a smaller car lol). Now I can tell you that we blessed Hertz for the spacious car they gave us with foldable rear seats and a flat bottom! It was certainly less comfortable than in our tent but it saved us a lot of problems… and if there is one lesson we will keep for our next trip to the Lofoten it is this one: Rent a car large enough to sleep in… in case the weather gets wild (which seems to happen quite often up there)
Travel on a budget: difficult but not impossible
It is well known that the Nordic countries are not especially “backpackers friendly” because the cost of living is VERY high. So as usual, Fabienne will dedicate an entire article to our budget for this trip but know that by making some sacrifices, we still managed to travel 3 weeks in Swedish Lapland and Lofoten for a rather reasonable budget: 1100€ / person (flight tickets included).
Obviously, at this price you have to give up a lot of comfort (which can be quite difficult in case of bad weather) but :
if you travel to these parts of the world, it’s not to have good restaurants and sleep in hotels, is it?
The final word
So it is tired but happy that we are on our way back to Switzerland. We had a wonderful four-person adventure on the Kings trails before leaving to discover the harsh landscapes of the Lofoten. And even if the weather has not been kind to us in northern Norway, we must say that we now understand better why so many people dream of seeing these islands. In Lofoten, mountains are like sharp peaks that come straight out of the sea… and the landscapes from the peaks simply come from another world.
We come back from this trip with beautiful images in our minds (including those of our first northern lights 😉 ) but also with lots of ideas for our next trip in the north. On the Kungsleden, we met several people who praised the beauty of Sarek National Park and the stages of the Kungsleden which are located further south of Kebnekaise. As for the Lofotens, we obviously remain a little unsatisfied. But it’s only a matter of time and we’ll have other opportunities to do all the hikes and summits that we haven’t done this time.
But now, what we need above all is a good cozy bed and a good “shower / shaving / make-up” session because we look more like 2 vikings than 2 civilized humans ;)… But the essential was elsewhere during these 3 weeks and we are looking forward to sharing all these adventures with you in detail in our next articles 😉 .
Bonus : the Kungsleden video
And just for fun, here is a short video prepared by Fabienne on our one-week trek on the Kungsleden… Enjoy