Abisko National Park: Hiking in the Winter
I LOVE National Parks, and while I’m trying to visit all of the now 61 National Parks in the United States, it’s not often that I have time to really traverse a National Park located in another country. While on the hunt for Northern Lights in Abisko, Sweden (which we never saw…curse you clouds), we decided to stay at the Abisko Turistation, a hotel and hostel conveniently located within Abisko National Park. While most people who visit this area of Swedish Lapland, near the Arctic Circle, are busy at night hunting for the Aurora Borealis, hiking Abisko National Park is the perfect way to spend the limited hours of daylight. Plus, it’s free! (let’s be honest here, Sweden can get VERY expensive) We spent an afternoon hiking through the more accessible trails of Abisko National Park and loved every minute of it. If you’re there to photograph, don’t be discouraged if a thick blanket of clouds is present as you start your trek. As I spent the afternoon outside, the clouds parted in short bursts roughly every half hour revealing bits of blue sky and the sun peeking through. I was that crazy person running around to get all the shots I wanted in the 2 minute increments I had some better natural light...not an easy task with a couple inches of snow on the ground. The snow is also what makes Abisko National Park winter hiking so amazing. Seeing the magic of a crisp and clean layer of untouched snow (the exact opposite of the muddy slush we get here in Chicago) is unparalleled.
Where is Abisko National Park
Abisko National Park is Sweden’s most northern National Park, l;ocated within the Arctic Circle. Whether you’re staying at the Abisko Turistation Hotel and Hostel (located within the park) or in the nearby town of Kiruna, the park is the perfect place for hiking trails and scenic views. The entrance to the park conveniently lies only several hundred feet from the front door of the Turistation, whose front desk has free trail maps for tourist use. After passing through the entrance to the Kungsleden, or King’s Trail, you’ll have a multitude of different routes you can choose from, each easily labeled on sign-posts with a corresponding colored hexagon. The King’s Trail is the most famous hiking route in Sweden. This trek will take you over 270 miles from Abisko to Hemavan further south and in the winter, turns into a ski-route of the same length. This trail is often on the bucket list of experienced multi-day hiker, providing beautiful mountain scenery and passing by crystal clear lakes along the way.
Witness the Gorgeous Abisko Canyon
The easiest trail that also provides the perfect warm-up for the day is the Canyon Trail (30 mins-1 hr), which is marked on signs as a yellow hexagon with two black dots. The path takes you along the outer rim of the Abiskojakka Canyon (or Abisko Canyon), with lookout spots and picnic areas along the way. Looking down on the canyon is stunning in any season but in winter, the stream at the center of the canyon as well as the waterfalls that crash down the cliffs are all frozen with ice. These waterfalls become the perfect spot for ice climbing excursions in Abisko and make for amazing winter photos. Part of this trail is wheelchair accessible while there are other smaller paths along both sides of the stream that wind further down. Always practice caution when hiking in the winter, especially when near frozen water.
Make Your Way to Lake Torneträsk
As the Canyon Trail loops back towards the Abisko Turistation and over the canyon river, you can continue on following the Shore Trail via the green hexagons with six white dots. This route will take you up close to Lake Torneträsk, Sweden’s seventh largest lake, which is covered in a layer of ice from December to June. With the Scandinavian Mountain Range in the distance, the lake views really are unparalleled. You may even see people skiing and ice fishing on the frozen water! As you near the water’s edge, the Shore Trail will lead you to a building that looks somewhat like a log cabin. This is the Wood-Heated Sauna, operated by the Swedish Tourist Association. Making reservations online will give you access to the sauna for a block of the afternoon, plus towels and snacks for everyone joining you. With its easy access to the outdoor elements, you can take advantage of warming up in the sauna and then running outside and rolling in the snow. Continuing this cycle two or three times is customary in the saunas of the North, helping to simulate blood flow. The Swedish Tourist Association will even cut an ice-hole for you in winter if you want the real Swedish sauna experience. I’ve had a similar sauna experience at the Siberia Station Spa in Quebec City, but being out in the silence and tranquility of a National Park in the Arctic is even more special.
Other popular winter trails within Abisko National Park include the Orange Njakajaure Trail and the purple Karsafallen Trail, which start from the opposite side of the train tracks near the Abisko Turistation. These hikes are also much longer (2 hrs - 4 hours) and require a bit more preparation to tackle in the cold winter months. However, the Canyon Trail and Shore Trail take the perfect amount of time for an afternoon excursion, and ended up leaving us with just enough sunlight to get us back to the Turistation for something to eat.
No matter where you travel in the Swedish Lapland in the winter, you be surrounded by dream-like snow covered views. Hiking is definitely the best way to take them all in at your own pace, and Abisko National Park provides hiking trails for all levels of experience.