The enchanted forest on Stockholm’s doorstep

Sweden might be covered in trees, but Tyresta National Park is a forest with a difference. Alec Forss explores a primeval landscape a stone's throw from the capital.

Pondering what to do on a sunny summer weekend in Stockholm, I watch enviously as a flotilla of boats speed out to the archipelago. Instead, I find myself firmly land-bound, taking a bus towards the city’s southern suburbs past unsightly high-rise blocks. Yet here, just twenty kilometres from the city centre, lies Tyresta National Park, one of Sweden’s most unspoilt landscapes.

Thickly covered by pine, spruce and birch, Tyresta superficially resembles any other forest in Sweden. In fact, it belongs to a rare breed. A short nature trail at the park’s entrance divulges more. All around lie trees in various stages of growth and decay – a hallmark of a primeval forest. Having been scarcely influenced by man, old gnarly pines grow – some at seemingly improbable angles – atop the deeply fissured bedrock, having taken root around the time the Vasa ship was being built nearly 400 years ago.

As dusk falls, I settle down on the shore of a lake at one of the park’s designated fireplaces. A young roe deer eyes me quizzically before scampering off. I light a fire: the wood spits and hisses. Looking across to the dead trees on the other side of the lake, it is a reminder of the forest’s combustibility. In 1999, a huge fire devastated 10% of the park’s area. The arboreal carnage resembles the aftermath of an atomic explosion; it will take over one hundred years before the forest restores itself. Closer inspection, however, reveals an attractive littering of pinecones dusted in silver ash amidst a mosaic of brilliant green mosses, while vigorous pine saplings have started their long skyward journey, fire being part and parcel of the forest’s natural regeneration cycle.

I wake up in the early morning chill before sunrise. Mist rolls over the glassy lake, with bats flittering just above my head. The silence is palpable, and it is hard to imagine that the capital is so near. I ascend a jumble of rocks, high above the lake, where the stonewall remains of an old fort testify to early human habitation. It is easy to picture warriors in the mist rallying to arms up here. Back in the national park house, meanwhile, a park official explains that coins from Afghanistan dating back to the eighth century have been uncovered in the park’s burial mounds.

Together with the adjoining nature reserve, Tyresta covers an area of nearly 50 square kilometres, stretching to the Baltic coast in the east. Suitable for short walks, it is also possible to lose oneself for two or three days on the numerous trails dissecting the park. It could all have been very different. Extensive cutting plans were laid in the 1930s, until the people of Stockholm woke up to the area’s natural and recreational value. Fortunately, that foresightedness has rendered Tyresta as unique in Europe, in that a primeval forest is situated on the doorstep of a capital city.

Back in town, I pick up a leaflet detailing “Stockholm’s Top 10” tourist destinations. Tyresta is not among them. Perhaps it is better that it remains one of the city’s best kept secrets.

Getting there:

Tyresta National Park is situated in the municipalities of Tyresö and Haninge.

Public transport: the main way of getting to the park is by taking the metro to Gullmarsplan. From there, take bus 807 or 809 to Svartbäcken; it is then a couple of kilometres on a marked trail to the village of Tyresta. Some buses, however, go all the way to the village. Alternatively, you can also approach the park from the north by taking bus 873 from Gullmarsplan to Nyfors.

By car to Tyresta village: follow Nynäsvägen and take the exit towards Brandbergen, then follow signs to the “Nationalpark”.

Further Information:

The National Park House is located in the village of Tyresta. Here you can obtain a free map of the area, ask for information about routes, as well as view an exhibition on Sweden’s national parks. Nature trips into the park are also regularly organised.

Swedish Environmental Protection Agency:

Tyresta Forest Foundation:

Alec Forss