Sweden has an extensive network of long-distance hiking trails that span the length of the country, traversing rolling pastoral landscapes, thick evergreen forests punctuated by clear lakes, and vast tracts of mountain wilderness in the north.
With the onset of summer, thousands of Swedes will soon be throwing on their rucksacks and migrating along the nation’s much loved trails. The numerous possibilities for hiking and trekking are also luring a growing number of foreign tourists in search of greater solitude.
At a length of 150 kilometre in the far northwest corner of Sweden, between the villages of Kvikkjokk and Ritsem, this is both one of Sweden’s most beautiful trails and a unique cultural experience.
The name Padjelanta means “highland” in the local Sami language, and the trail passes through several summer settlements of the Sami people and the grazing grounds of their reindeer.
Highlights include tasting the smoked arctic char – a delicacy that abounds in the lakes up here – as well as a visit to the turf church in the Sami village of Staloluokta, complete with wooden altar and reindeer hides instead of pews.
If you come in early July, you might even be lucky enough to witness the age-old tradition of the marking of the reindeer calves under the midnight sun. Count on ten days to complete the trail, or, if you’re pressed for time, take a helicopter to Staloluokta and hike out in 4-5 days to the trailhead. While it may be possible to buy some very basic foodstuffs en route, it’s better to carry your own supplies.
Sweden’s most famous trail, and a knee-jarring 440-km long, much of the Kungsleden ('The Royal Trail') lies above the Arctic Circle. The most popular section lies between the villages of Abisko and Nikkaluokta, with many hikers also opting to summit Sweden’s highest peak, Kebnekaise (2,117 metres) as part of a week-long route.
However, a beautiful, shorter section, is the 81-km stretch between Saltoluokta and Kvikkjokk, which takes 4-5 days. A good option en route is spending two nights in the small settlement of Aktse, where the Swedish Tourist Association operates overnight cabins.
It’s a wonderfully soothing place on the edge of Sarek national park – often cited as Western Europe’s last wilderness. Another must do is a walk up to the prominent cliff-like peak of Skierffe. From the summit, the south face plummets precipitously into a river delta, with the bird’s eye view being one of the most breathtaking anywhere in Scandinavia.
If you’re looking for fewer trekkers, the 166-km stretch heading south from Kvikkjokk is well off the beaten track. Some of the larger huts on the trail stock food provisions, but they tend to be expensive and there is a limited selection as everything has to be helicoptered in.
Sweden’s only long-distance coastal trail passes through a land that is still rising: getting higher by nearly one centimetre per year – the land here has risen some 300 metres since the ice age. As such, the 'High Coast' in the County of Västernorrland is one of the world’s most prominent examples of land uplift.
Skuleskogen national park is arguably the jewel along the Höga Kusten trail’s 130-km length. Extensively shaped by glaciation, the park is characterised by stony peaks rising out of the Gulf of Bothnia, separated by ravines. The park also boasts a 40-metre high narrow rock canyon.
The trail starts in Hornöberget in the south and stretches to Örnsköldsvik in the north. It’s possible to hike the trail in a week or to complete it in sections. Located close to the E4 highway, it’s also easy to access by car.
While most associate Sweden’s best trekking with the north of the country, the south also has plenty to offer. Collectively known as Skåneleden and located in Sweden’s southernmost county, the trail actually consists of four designated routes that total over 1,000 km in length.
Criss-crossing Skåne from coast to coast as well as from north to south, the trails can be divided into many smaller day trips or week-long treks. Close to the city of Lund, the southern part of the North-South trail passes Skåne’s oldest national park, Dalby Söderskog, which is famed for its deciduous forests and rich birdlife.
The Upplandsleden is situated close to Stockholm and Uppsala and is perfect for day getaways as well as staying overnight in cabins. About 400 kilometres long, the trail passes predominantly through pine-scented forests, but also through sleepy bucolic villages and farms complete with windmills.
Look out for snakes in the spring and early summer basking on rocks on the forest floor after months of hibernation. (Your author once encountered an adder arched up hissing at him in the forest of Lunsentorpet near Uppsala!) You may well also see deer, elk as well as the black woodpecker – Europe’s largest species.
What to take/advice
A tent gives greater flexibility and solitude for those seeking more of a wilderness experience. Otherwise all the trails above have either rustic shelters or serviced overnight cabins available, though distances may be long between them.
The above trails can be walked in either direction. Stout waterproof shoes are essential. Many Swedes prefer wooden-soled Wellingtons for the more northerly trails or boots made by companies like Lundhags. Otherwise normal hiking boots will suffice.
The trekking season lasts from June to September, with the season being a couple of months longer in the south of the country. In June, there will still be a lot of snow on the Padjelanta trail and Kungsleden, but trekkers will be few and far between.
Mosquitoes reign in much of the north until mid-August with early summer being the worst. Late August until mid-September is a beautiful time with the autumn colours and crisp nights; the little critters tend also to be less of a nuisance.