Hiking the Arctic Kungsleden in Swedish Lapland
If you are looking to venture into the outstanding world of Arctic hiking, you would do well to look to Northern Scandinavia. In particular, a couple of hops on a plane to Kiruna in Swedish Lapland would have you just a short train journey from Abisko and the sharp end of the Arctic Kungsleden.
The Kungsleden (King’s Trail) is well covered by others here on the t’interweb, we’d recommend a bit of googling, but not yet! We haven’t finished with our inaugural post…
We want to tell you of the wonders and expanse of the Arctic Kungsleden. This is the northernmost section of the trail and it covers around 65-70 miles (100-110km) of the Kungsleden proper.
What's it like?
The Arctic Kungsleden will take you through stunted birch, dwarf willow, blueberry and juniper. It’s a perfect introduction to hiking in the Arctic. It’s a very tame trail, easily navigated and dotted with ever-so-well-placed stugans – Lapland mountain huts operated by the Swedish Tourist Association or ‘STF’ (https://www.swedishtouristassociation.com) – where you can rest your weary head, restock your pack, and warm the cockles of your heart. The surroundings range from wide, post-glacial valleys, and deep gorges, through to broad mountain passes and liberally-strewn boulder fields. There are few trees in the more elevated areas, in fact, you’ll likely not see a tree for a few days on this northern section, realising this only when you re-encounter them after the Singi hut and the frigid high Laddjubahta valley on your way to the Kebnekaise fjällstation.
Do I need a tent?
Many people carry a tent with them on the way, we found that it wasn’t a necessity. Well, the precautionary folk among you might want to have one as a safety net but the stugans are rarely more than 20km apart and there’s a smattering of intermittent emergency shelters that are conveniently located for lunch stops and refuge if the need arises. The trail is busy during the summer months and right up to mid-late September there are people hiking both ways on the Arctic Kungsleden path. If trouble should befall you between the stugans and refuges, your bivvy bag and sleeping bag will keep you warm until someone passes by. In the peak of the season, you’ll likely not be waiting more than twenty minutes before someone is with you. Now, I’m not suggesting one should rely on others to ‘save’ oneself if the worse should happen, not one bit. But the going is good and there’s relatively little risk or danger throughout most of the high season. Feel free to walk unencumbered by that bulky shelter.
For those of you that like to camp, there are many spots outside the Abisko National Park that you can pitch your shelter and stay a night or two. The national park section at the far north of the trail has one or two designated camping spots where you can stop the night, and there are even public toilets which has cut down on stinking lunch stops!
Will I see anything cool?
Hell yes! From reindeer to moose, and ravens to solitary, soaring eagles, the Arctic Kungsleden is filled with wildlife. Crisp, clear flowing waters intersect the trail so often that you’ll not need to carry very much water on your way. Just tether a cup to your pack strap and stoop, scoop and slurp your way along the leden. It’s one of our favourite things about hiking in the highlands and through wild land; the freedom of wending one’s way across the far-reaching landscape pausing often to drink in the waters and soak up the awe-inspiring views which bristle with intense atmosphere.
The Northern Lights
Then of course, there are the aurora. Aurora borealis, to be completely specific. For those that camp there is the massively increased likelihood to witness this utterly bewildering spectacle of natural light. I’m going to stick my neck out and say, with relative confidence, that on at least two nights out of five (assuming the clouds permit and it gets sufficiently dark) you shall have a chance of seeing these Northern Lights. You'll need to avoid the middle of summer for this. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't get very dark when the sun doesn't set. So, with all this in mind, and if you are given a truly great spot of fortune, you’ll get an overhead display that will knock your socks off. Sadly, Carl's photographic skills with his mobile phone are left wanting, so the photos he grabbed are not really doing the aurora any justice, he does send his apologies though! :-)
What's the ground like?
Underfoot you'll find boardwalks covering most of the roughest sections of trail, whisking you across mud, uneven boulders, and deep squelching bog! A good pair of trail running shoes will serve you well through the warmest months and even the top and tail of the spring/autumn days. It’s a matter of opinion (often well debated) but boots will only be needed for the higher peaks which flank the trail – and those peaks will tempt you... often. Naturally, you mave have a personal preference for hiking in boots, so guess what... wear boots, it's your hike!
High Mountains - Kebnekaise
There are many high mountains which flank the trail, all of which offer exhilarating day hikes from the main trail. Kebnekaise, the highest peak in the whole of Sweden, can usually be attempted from the base station (which has adopted the peak's name). You will need full winter hiking equipment (boots/crampons/walking ice-axe, etc.) if attempting some of the higher mountains, and these, as well as mountain guides, can be hired at the fjällstation. This is a great way to avoid having to carry this heavier throughout the whole hike.
Experience and Fitness
You will have gathered by now, that this really is a hike which is feasible for most walkers, so long as they possess a reasonable level of hiking fitness.
What about navigation?
We're not about to give you a blow by blow and turn by turn description of the route firstly because other people have already done just that, but mainly because that just isn't how to find your own adventure. We'd also say that it just isn’t necessary. Here’s how to successfully navigate the Arctic Kungsleden:
- Learn to use a map and compass
- If you haven’t done so already, buy the Calazo 1:100k tyvek map of the northern section
- Consider also the Calazo guide to the Kungsleden
That’s it. You’re all set. Seriously… the hardest bit of navigation for us was finding the ruddy trailhead at the Abisko Fjällstation!
We really hope you have a great time hiking the Arctic Kungsleden in Swedish Lapland, so be sure to tell us all about your travels on our social media channels:
Once you're back, be sure to grab yourself one of our commemorative t-shirts which we designed to evoke memories of the fauna, flora, and landscape of the magnificent Arctic Kungsleden in Swedish Lapland.