Oulanka National Park is considered the most beautiful and popular park in Finland. With its area of 270 km2 it is also the largest national park in the country. It was founded in 1956 and still maintains a beautiful and pristine Nordic nature.
Oulanka National Park lies near the Russian border and the Arctic Circle, in the regions of Kuusamo and Salla on the boundary of North Karelia and southern Lapland. In Russian Karelia it continues as the Paanajärvi National Park. The name Oulanka comes from old Laponian language and it is also a name of a river that flows through the area. So the National Park is formed by the Oulanka River, which flows into Lake Paanajärvi and then continues into the White Sea. Its tributaries are the rivers of Kitka, Savina, Aventa and Maaninka that are cutting into the rocks, and creating a canyon valley. At some places you can see massive rapids and waterfalls, such as Kiutaköngas, Taivalköngas or Jyrävä.
Nature in Oulanka National Park is absolutely unique, geographically it can be assigned to the southern Lapland. The vegetation is very diverse and varied, includes more than 500 plant species. The northern part of the park is rich of extensive marshes and peat bogs, and is not easily accessible, there are just a few routes. Tourists can get here only if the soil is frozen. However, you have to use snowmobiles or skis.
Oulanka National Park has been left in pristine conditions for more than 100 years. The result is a forest, where you cannot see any human action and nature has to solve all of the problems alone. Many species of plants and animals occur only in certain places, as they would have set their boundaries. Richer soils are covered with spruce or pine forests. High pine and mixed forests are mainly on the rocks. During a walk through the park you can collect strawberries, blackberries, blueberries or cloudberries.
Oulanka National Park is also very rich in animal species. You can find here over 30 species of mammals, such as wolf, lynx, numerous mustelidae as a polecat, weasel and ermine, as well as badgers, foxes and even Wolverine or brown bear. The traces of these large predators can come across quite often, but you have to be lucky to see some of them. Mostly because they are hidden deep in the woods outside of marked trails. There are also deer, elk and Siberian wild reindeer. The park has many rare species of nesting birds such as swallows, cuckoos, larks, kingfishers, Whooper Swan, robin, Siberian skylark, and many others. In the sky you can see large predators such as golden eagle and eagle owl. Rivers are full of salmon which expanded here by migration from the White Sea.
Hiking lovers should try the path Karhunkierros. Karhunkierros or “Bear’s Ring” is one of the oldest and best hiking trails in Finland, measuring an impressive 80 km. The trail leads to a large remote areas, hence you have to be properly prepared for this. The best time to visit Oulanka National Park is autumn when the surrounding countryside is playing with all colors. There is such a beautiful scenery!
Along the way you can see some natural huts that serve as a shelter for single overnight. All of them look almost the same and during the high season can be overcrowded. It is a good idea to bring your own tent with you. All routes are well-marked, therefore it is not necessary to have your map, sufficient is also the simple schedule that you can get at the information center. Much more important part of your outfit is insect repellent.
If walking is your real hobby, you can extend the trip by 22 km long stretch leading from Hautajärvi. From the town of Juuma you have the opportunity to go to “Little Bear’s ring” that is 12km long and leads to cascades Myllykoski and Jyrävänjäri. It is possible to make this circuit within five to six hours.
In the middle of the park it is established the Research base of the University of Oulu and the major information center for visitors.
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