Scandinavia: Tri-Border Trail

Region: Northern Scandinavia 
Length: 60-80 miles

In August 2009 I completed a fantastic 70ish mile trek north of the Scandinavian Arctic Circle (circling around Norway, Sweden and Finland), and then tagged on normal tourist stops in Tromso, Narvik, and Oslo, Norway; Stockholm, Sweden; and Amsterdam, Netherlands. 

Two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, Norway, Sweden and Finland converge.  The site is unglamorously marked by a yellow concrete block in the middle of the lake, but its relative inaccessibility and lack of information in English served as sufficient inspiration for me to improvise a solo backpacking trip across the tri-border area.  For the trip, I became a card-carrying member of the Norwegian Trekking Association, which earned me a key to enter the well-appointed huts.  Portions of my route intersected with the 500-mile Nordkalotten trail, remnants of World War I and II history, and climate change scientist research stations.  Thanks to a mis-communication with a Norwegian fisherman, I missed the opportunity to wade through the hip-deep arctic streams of  Ice Valley on a 35 degree day, and instead decided to re-route towards a hand-built, wood-fired sauna in the Swedish wilderness.  Other highlights on the trail included a hail storm on the tundra within the first two hours hiking, stunning ridge walks and Arctic river crossings, blissfully blue skies, wild roaming reindeer, and conversations with Scandinavian outdoor enthusiasts.


Flights. I flew into Troms
ø, Norway. SAS and Norweigan Air service the airport. Norweigan Air usually has significantly cheaper flights.
  • Satellite phone rental. This trail is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and depending on the season you go, you may not see anyone.  Though there are pockets of reception (provided you have a mobile phone which uses the local network), your mom will sleep better if you rent a satellite phone.  I got one from World Communication Center which made me feel like a cameo in a back-to-the-80s movie highlighting prototypes of today's compact technologies (phone was length of my face)-- but it was relatively cheap. They'll mail you the phone to arrive the day before you leave and provide packaging for the return. Shop around for a model that works for you, and reserve in advance.
  • Maps.  I learned the hard way how grateful to be about having maps when you need to re-route in the wilderness.  You will need two different maps for this trail: “Turkart Bardu 1:100.000” covers most of the trail. For the area between Rostahytta and Kilpisjärvi in the North you will need the Swedish map “Lantmäteriets Fjällkarta BD1 Treriksröset-Råstojaure 1:100.000."  I was able to purchase both of these maps in the Norwegian Trekking Center office in Tromsø.
  • Food and Water.  There is no food supply on the trail, though the Norwegian and Swedish huts I stayed in did have stovetops, pots, and utensils. You can draw water from nearby streams; I used a UV pen to sterilize it before drinking. I also carried food sufficient for my entire trip-- brought dehydrated meals and fruits, as well as protein bars, from the US.
  • Lodging.  On the trails, you can stay in the cabins sponsored by the Norweigan Trekking Association and the Swedish government.  See the "More Information" section below for membership info.  When I arrived in Tromsø from the airport, I stayed in the clean and efficient Tromso Youth Hostel, an approximately 15 minute walk from the downtown (and home to university students during the academic year). At the other end of the trail, do not miss the complimentary steam sauna, free internet, raindeer pasta, and lots of lurking (domesticated) raindeer at Kilpisjärvi Retkeilykeskus (Hiking Center), which is the least expensive location in town (I rented a small cabin for 20 euros/night).  Kilpisjärvi population: 114.
  • Bus.  The approximately 2.5 hour bus route from Tromsø, Norway to the trailhead about 20 minutes before Kilpisjärvi, Finland is operated by Lapin Linjat. From the end of my hiking route in Kilpisjärvi, I took the bus back to  Tromsø, and then went on to Narvik.

  • More Information
    • Norweigan Trekking Association. The website provides maps and helpful information on the DNT's huts and trails in Norway.  Not only can you become a card-carrying member of the DNT, but you'll also qualify for discounts at their many huts through Norway, and feel less guilty when mining their polite and knowledgeable staff for advice via email. You will actually need membership to get a DNT key for the unstaffed huts on the trail.  You can buy membership online or at one of their offices in Norway; the annual membership lasts only for the calendar year.
    • Nordkalotten 365.  Lars Monsen, an Norwegian adventurer, spends 365 days alone in Northern Scandinavia, filming himself during his adventures. 

    Suggested Reading

    These books provided logistical direction ("Walking in Norway") and also helped to paint a dark, moody canvas for the Northern Scandinavia/Lapland experience.