Parks Beyond Borders / Video Feature: Nuuksio National Park—The Best Of Finland's Parks Just Minutes From Helsinki

Tuomas Uola, customer service officer at the new Finnish Nature Center Haltia, points to Haukkalampi—Hawk Lake or Pond—a popular access point to Nuuksio National Park, less than an hour from Helsinki. The new nature center—and this wild national park near the capital—are an easy escape for any traveler in Finland. Photo and video below by Randy Johnson.

Visiting a national park in another country often requires getting off the beaten path—sometimes way off. Maybe in some places, but definitely not in Finland, for travelers on business or pleasure.

Nuuksio National Park is just 45 minutes from Helsinki. The park’s 45 square kilometers of luxuriant northern woodland is dotted with the spectacular lakes so typical of this Scandinavian country. Watch the 3-minute hi-definition video below for a wintry visit to the park.

The tract of mixed deciduous and evergreen boreal forest is so big “you could get lost out there,” says Tuomas Uola, customer service officer for the Finnish Nature Centre Haltia.

This summer, you could easily avoid getting lost in Nuuksio’s woods by just focusing on the spectacular new Nature Centre Haltia that opens in June. Check out our earlier feature on the new facility. The Center’s cutting edge, high-tech exhibits will introduce you to not just Nuuksio—but to the country’s entire park system—one of the most renowned in Europe.

That kind of accessible portal to Finland’s national parks is sure to become a major tourist attraction for anyone wanting a taste of this nation’s natural heritage—especially with new dedicated bus service from the country’s capital to make it really easy.

But don’t stop at Haltia—or more accurately, don’t just stop there. The park beckons.

There are miles of trails, including new interpretive hikes near the nature center to tempt you out into the woods. True, many Finns explore these forests by orienteering off-trail—this is the country where Suunto compasses are manufactured. But no compass is needed. Near Haltia, Nuuksio’s Haukkalampi access area is a good example of the park’s front-country opportunities so close to the capital.

Typically Finnish Nature Appreciation

At Haukkalampi, Hawk Lake or Pond in English, fire road-style trails lead into the rolling forest, where people swim in the lakes and picnic at rustic shelters (what the Finnish park parlance would call “day-use huts”). The picnic sites often perch on lakeshore crags with great views, and prepared firewood for your picnic is available at trailside huts (check out the video to see these sites in action). Backpackers are welcome, with orienteers camping at truly dispersed and isolated sites. Mountain bikers are permitted to use a portion of the trails.

There are also modest cabins available, some without electricity—a reflection of the Finnish vacation lifestyle. Most Finns own a vacation cabin, individually or with their families, and some are downright rustic. For many Finns, getting away to a primitive cabin in summer—or even cooking a family picnic lunch in a snowy shelter by a frozen lake in winter (see the video)—are deeply Finnish experiences. Understandably, even the most rustic of these summer cottages invariably has a sauna (pronounced sowna)—including many in national parks.

Huts are popular in Finland. “Many Finnish national parks have huts,” Uola says, “and they range in style.” Some are far from roads, leftover from previous use by reindeer herders, and upgraded with a stove and wooden bunks. Others cost 10 Euros a night, are reservable, and very popular. Or not. “At some huts, you can check the register and find no one has signed-in for months,” says Tuomas Uola.

Undiscovered—For Now

Despite the park’s proximity to the capital, and 200,000 visitors a year, the park was only designated in 1994, so “there are still a lot of people who’ve never been to Nuuksio even after living nearby all their lives,” Uola says. That’ll change with the new Haltia nature center. The new bus service from Helsinki is direct—no more need to take the bus to nearby Espoo, and from there, on to Nuuksio. There’s also a new well-lighted greenway access path from the nearby “interstate-style” high-speed highway.

A big part of the Haltia effort will be to acquaint metro residents with the expanding interconnectedness of parks, paths, greenways and other opportunities near them that make it easy to get outside in Nuuksio and other natural areas near Helsinki.

That opportunity starts right outside the center. There’s a new 2-kilometer handicapped accessible trail that Uola says will be “kind of athletic.” A new 1.8-kilometer nature trail will appeal to families and international visitors, and will also be used for school groups—a clientele expected to expand given that the visitor center’s funding is supported by local municipalities.

And if you’re needing a longer walk, a new 4.6-kilometer trail will lead from Haltia to Hawk Lake. That’s a perfect distance to lead a visitor from another country on a one-day discovery of this—and all of Finland’s national parks—unbelievably close to Helsinki.