I recently traveled to area of Ruka and Kuusamo in northeast Finland just south of Lapland and bordering Russia. It was part of a pre-trip for the Nordic Blogger Experience which I was invited as a speaker to talk about YouTube videos in partnership with Finnair.
Kuusamo is a town and the name of the municipality within the Northern Ostrobothnia region. Ruka is considered to be the number one ski resort town in all of Finland.
The best way to get here is to take a 1 hour and 15 minute flight with Finnair. I wouldn’t recommend driving as it takes over 9 hours and there are certain stretches where you don’t see a soul for hours.
During winter the area is freezing! I visited in January when the average temperatures were around -10 C or 14 F on a daily basis. You will definitely have to wear thermal underwear and at least another four layers of clothing, plus a scarf, hat and gloves at all times!
There are so many things to do in Ruka and Kuusamo but here I am going to highlight what we did and add a short list of extra things I recommend you look into.
Skiing in Ruka
With over 200 days of snow a year, you basically can ski in Ruka from October until May. Its famous worldwide for being a ski resort where you can ski more than half of the year and it’s the only ski resort in Finland where you can do this. There are 32 slopes and 21 ski lifts across them with five of those being chair lifts.
If you have never skied or snow boarded before they do have ski school where they can teach you the basics. Also, you can rent all the gear you need here but I would recommend bringing ski pants.
They offer from a single run pass, a 1 – 10 days pass and even a season pass for people that return often to ski in the same season.
Overall I thought the slopes were amazing! I love skiing and these slopes weren’t difficult. One of my favorite parts was going skiing through trees that are completely covered in snow, it was truly magical.
Oh, and also after a few hours of skiing we visited a bar in the slopes to get a nice beer before heading out again!
In the resort town of Ruka, you can climb the Kuru Wall, a 35-meter ice wall in the Ski area. The idea is that you can challenge yourself to do something new while being in a safe winter environment and is great for adults and for children.
Everyone meets up in Ruka Village and return there after the program to share a hot drink and tales of their experience.
After meeting your guide and getting all your safety and climbing equipment. This includes how to use the proper safety equipment and all the climbing gear you receive so that you can climb with confidence.
After this, you will walk around 10 minutes to the wall. It’s well suited for beginners who are strong enough to use an axe on the ice and the experience lasts for around 3.5 to 4 hours.
This was actually one of my favorite activities. It’s a lot easier than rock climbing. You basically use your feet to get you up and the axes to keep you stable. Its 80% legs and 20% arms. Also your professional climbing instructor explains everything in detail and makes you feel safe.
We first started our Sauna tour experience at Lisakki’s Lakeside Sauna. This sauna is one of the first saunas to be awarded the Authentic Finnish Sauna Experience certification.
Your guide will talk to you about the Finnish sauna culture and why it’s such an important part of their daily life. Our guide actually showed us a bit of sauna yoga, then after I jumped into the icy lake to refresh my body!
Next up we went to the sacred sauna, where we experienced the different saunas – the ice sauna and the smoke sauna. The ice sauna is basically an igloo which they heat up, it’s a very unique experience but it is amazing!
Next, we visited the smoke sauna which is the original type of Finnish sauna. It does get really really hot so once you feel that you can’t take the heat anymore, you just head outside and take a dip into the icy lake.
I did this every chance I got, it really is something unique that you can’t explain until you try it!
Era-Susi Husky Farm
I was extremely excited for our visit to the Era-Susi Husky Farm. This husky farm has over 250 huskies! Each of them is packed with energy and ready to go running in the snow.
As well as huskies, they also have reindeer, sheep, goats, llamas, hens, ducks, geese, turkeys, bunnies and horses. They are open daily from 10 am to 3 pm.
The one thing you have to do when you visit is take a dog sled ride. If you are looking for a short ride, the farm offers a 2km (35 mins), 5km (60 mins) and a 10km (90 mins) ride.
They also offer 20 km (2 hours), 30 km (3 hours) and if you want to do something truly special you can take a 2 day or 5 day husky safari tour.
The dogs are beautiful and playful! When you walk out to the departure area you will notice the dogs getting excited to hit the snow. They love to run! Usually the female dogs will put their male partners in place with a lot of barking and staring them down.
Also, Susi Nordman or ‘The Wolf’ is an awesome guy! He gave us so much information about the dogs that I am truly contemplating doing a 5 day tour one day soon.
Floating in the Rapids
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little nervous about this part of the experience! The idea of floating along on a river of ice sounds somewhat unappealing and very cold. But the reality is that you use a special dry suit that keeps 99% of the water away from your skin. This means you don’t get cold in the way I thought and the experience ends up being really quite relaxing.
When you arrive, there is a guide who explained how to float and how to get in and out of the water. You are supplied with thermal overalls as well as wool socks, gloves, boots and also balaclavas and snowmobiling helmets so you don’t need to worry about bringing specialist equipment.
Group sizes are for a minimum four adults and children under the age of four are free of charge as long as they are more than 160cm in height. And don’t worry about brushing up on your Finnish, the guides also speak English.
Once everyone is confident about what they are doing, the group moves to the head of the stream to begin. You have two 15 minutes’ sessions of floating on the river and the key is to relax when you are in the water, almost to the point of falling asleep. It is definitely worth trying this experience if you are visiting the area.
Snowshoeing in the Oulanka National Park
When a place is on the top ten national parks to visit in Europe according to Lonely Planet, then you know this is a place worth visiting. The park is the classic unspoiled winter wonderland with snow everywhere and is visited by tourists all year round to experience its unique ice and snow coated wildness.
The park is accessible by car and public transport and offers something for everyone at all times of the year. As well as snowshoeing and hiking, you can also go canoeing to see different views of the amazing scenery. Watch out for the rapids and waterfalls as well as a number of rare animal and bird species.
We used snowshoes to get around the park as in areas of heavy snow, it is a lot easier to walk and not end up slipping and falling. The snowshoes are great to anchor you and meant you could walk down the river along the Pieni Karkunkierros trail, which is around 12km in length.
Along the length, we saw an open wilderness hut called the Myllykoski Day Trip Hut before crossing the suspension bridge where there were some epic spots to get some photos – here I took my favorite pictures of the whole area.
Wild Food Dinners
We ate wild food dinners every night! The first place we ate at and also stayed was Isokenkäisten Klubi, a hotel about 2 km from the Russian border. They served us a mix of reindeer and salmon as well as mushroom soup
Here we also did smoke sauna and jumped in the icy lake! They have beautiful log cabins where you can stay the night in an authentic Arctic-style property and is a great place to use as a base to check out more of the activities around the area.
One of the big things in Finland is that everyone has the right to pick berries and mushrooms that you find in the forest and there are plenty to choose from including blueberries, raspberries, and lingonberries.
Then there is the local’s favorite the cloudberry, known as ‘the marsh gold’. Added to that are the rivers filled with fish such as trout, vendace and white fish that often are caught by locals and served for their evening meal.
For a touch of the really authentic Finnish cuisine you can try meat products that are cold smoked including beef and reindeer. You can also get reindeer kebab and wild boar as well as locally tinned venison.
Away from the meat section, there are a range of spruce sprout products that include syrups and vinegar as well as marmalades made from the berries locals collect.
Most of the plants are smaller than in other parts of the world due to the limited time to grow but what they lack in size, they more than make up for with flavor!
The last night in Kuusamo after the sauna tour we did a wild food dinner in Kultana Ruka Salonki with Tapio Kangas the chef. The restaurant was located in the small house that was covered in snow.
The food started with a delicious vegetable soup and the main course was salmon that was cooked on the fire served with potatoes, vegetables and a creamy sauce. It was so good!
Two of the three nights, I stayed in the Ski Inn in Ruka. They offer a number of different villas so there is accommodation to suit all different sized groups including children.
All of the apartments or rental cottages have their own private sauna and also a balcony or terrace with great views across the area. Free Wi-Fi is included with all the rooms so you can keep up to date with friends and family.
As its name suggests, the Inn is also very much designed to cater to ski fans. There is a ski locker and maintenance room that residents have access to as well as a drying cabinet.
There are also dishwasher and microwave facilities for those quick, warm you up snacks when you come back from the slopes. The Inn is only a short walk from the lifts and trails as well as being in the village so you can enjoy the places to eat and drink that Ruka has to offer.
Ruka and Kuusamo surpassed my expectations! Everything I did on this trip I did for the first time and I enjoyed everything! If I was going to Ruka and Kuusamo on a vacation or holiday I would say you need 7 – 10 full days to do it right.
You can ski every morning and then head out for a different activity every day. The two things I would love to have done which I recommend you add to this list is snowmobiling and winter fishing.
I worked with the Matka Nordic Blogger Experience, Victorinox, Nobis and Finnair on this trip. Also a huge thanks to my new best travel buddies, Nathaniel, Tara, Derek, Marcos, Hendrik and Su for making my trip extra special. All opinions are my own!