The 82 km long hiking trail, the Bear Trail or the Bear Circle (Karhunkierros in Finnish), is one of the most popular hiking routes in Finland. Located in Northern Finland in Kuusamo, the trail takes you to one of the most stunning landscapes in the country, and you will see lakes, rivers, fells, rapids, forests, and many animals – including reindeers! It is incredible to see how the landscape changes when you hike through the whole trail, and this is a great way to experience Lapland and the Finnish wilderness.
Unlike the name says, the hike is not actually a circle (kierros in Finnish), and the starting point is in Hautajärvi at the Arctic Circle. Of course, you could do it the other way around and start in Ruka which is a small town in Kuusamo, a popular place during the winter season with the ski slope but pretty quiet during the summer. For me starting in Hautajärvi was a nice choice and especially the last day of summiting Fell Valtavaara felt like the last ultimate challenge before ending up in Ruka.
How Long Does It Take to Hike Karhunkierros?
The recommended time for hiking the Karhunkierros is 3-7 days. I did it in four days, but just in case I had food for six days. I had calculated that hiking around 20 km every day was reasonable and I had planned my overnight stops for places where you can set up a tent. I used this free map for planning my hike. I felt like it would have been impossible for me to do the hike in three days, just because of the locations of overnight stops and timing. I had timed my hike so that the last overnight stop was in Porontimajoki. That’s because after Porotimanjoki, there weren’t that many water sources available and the last bit of the hike was going up and down hills all day. My overnight stays were in Taivalköngäs, Jussinkämppä, and Porotimanjoki.
Karhunkierros trail is very well looked after, and there are lots of free services you can use like overnight huts. These open overnight huts are located strategically on a bank of a river or the shore of a lake so that water is readily available. If you would like to stay in the huts, you need your own sleeping pad/mattress and sleeping bag. I was fully prepared to be self-sufficient, and I was carrying camping equipment so that I didn’t need to stay in the huts with other people. It’s also recommended that if you do the hike during the peak months (June, July, August) that you carry a tent because the huts can be full. Of course, if you just arrive early enough to the huts, you would be fine. I did the hike in July which is probably the busiest month as the Finns are typically on holiday, but the huts never got full when I was there.
If you carry your own tent, you can’t camp just anywhere you want, but instead, you should use the marked campsites or pitch your tent near the huts. Because I used only the free map for planning my hike, I didn’t know the locations of the smaller campsites not marked on the map, so I just stayed near the huts every night. This way you won’t have as much silence or privacy because there will always be other people camping too, but the locations were very nice with a water source and other free facilities (like dry toilets, tables, stove, and gas cooker).
Weather Conditions in Kuusamo
I highly recommend doing the hike in the summer months, July probably being the warmest and surest option. In June, it can still be very cold, and because the sun doesn’t set at all, it can be difficult to sleep. Even in July, there was still too much light to get my tent dark during the night. In August, the nights are getting darker but especially at the end of the month, it can be getting cold too.
If you’re up for an extreme challenge, you could do the hike during winter, but I won’t get into details with it as most people are not used to this kind of weather conditions, and it can only be recommended for very experienced hikers.
During the summer, it’s essential to check if there is a forest fire warning. You can check it here, and this site is also good for the weather forecast in Finland. If there is a forest fire warning, making a campfire is prohibited everywhere, and even without warning, you can’t make a fire in the open. There are lots of marked fire sites you can use when there is no warning.
I was lucky to do the hike during a heat wave in Europe, and it was around 30°C even in northern Finland! I had prepared some warm layers and a jacket for my hiking backpack but ended up leaving them out when the weather suddenly changed, and there was no need for warm clothes anymore. However, notice that usually the weather is a little different in Northern Finland and even in the summer, the temperatures could drop to zero during the night.
Safety on the Trail
Karhunkierros trail is very well marked, and it’s impossible to get lost there. The only thing you have to do is to follow orange signs (usually on the trees, check the picture above) and check the signposts at 1 km intervals showing the distance to the trail ending points in Hautajärvi and Ruka. You will also see signs telling you the distance to the nearest huts and rest spots. A good outdoor map is of course always recommended, but I didn’t have any. I used the free map for planning my hike and then just followed the signs. Just in case, I also downloaded a map of the area in my maps.me app which also shows the trail. I never had to use this because as I said, it’s impossible to get lost there!
Most likely there will also be lots of other hikers so even if you do the hike alone, you don’t need to worry about getting stuck in the wilderness for days if something bad happens. Make sure to pack a small first-aid kit and in case of emergency, call 112.
Finland has a broad mobile network, but in some areas during the hike, my internet didn’t work. I usually kept the phone in an airplane mode all the time, just to save some battery and quickly checked it in the evening at the camp. Even when the internet didn’t work, my phone still had coverage for calling so I could have used it if needed.
I had planned to do the hike in four days, but I still had food for six days. Take extra food for 1-2 days just in case something happens.
There aren’t any dangerous animals in Finland except the only venomous snake, an adder. You can recognize it by its zigzag stripes but getting bitten by one is rare. If you want to be extra prepared, you can buy packs of medication for adder bites from a pharmacy. I didn’t see any snakes during my hike in Kuusamo. And even though the name of the trail is The Bear Circle, actually seeing bears is rare because in Finland they are usually scared of humans and try to avoid people whenever possible. So unlike in Canada or parts of the US, the bears won’t come to your camp and steal your food.
You don’t need to do any river crossings as there are hanging bridges and duckboards. The only time you might want to double-check this is during spring when the snow melts and some of the spots might flood. Check out Karhunkierros Facebook page for updates.
Less is more. I saw many people lugging around their superheavy 70 l backpacks. The only thing they complained about, was the weight of their bag. I never had this problem, and my bag felt light from the start of the hike. I wanted to be able to run with my bag and not have problems lifting it. I had a 45 l backpack and didn’t even pack it full.
For this hike, I tried to go as ultralight as possible, and my final weight (food and water included) was around 10 kg. And this included enough food for six days and gas for nine days. I could have gone for the smaller gas canister, especially when I realized that most of the wilderness huts have gas stoves you can use. Other gear for cooking I had was a small pot, spork, lighter and small stove. I also had a rag for handling the hot pot and cleaning.
For toiletries, I had one multipurpose trek soap that I used both for my dishes, laundry and myself. I had toothpaste and a toothbrush, hairbrush, mirror, small dry shampoo, lip balm, coconut oil, and nail clippers. I also carried toilet paper, hand sanitizer and baby wipes.
I wore the same clothes every day for hiking and washed them at the camp every night. My hiking clothes are pictured above – hiking shirt, shorts, bandana, sunglasses, and trail runners. I had another pair of clothes that I wore at the camp: long pants, a T-shirt and flip-flops. Sometimes I also wore my rain jacket. I had another pair of sports bra which I never wore and three pairs of underwear. I had two pairs of socks, and I washed a pair every night, and because the socks were usually the only clothes that were not dry in the morning, I hung them on my backpack, and they dried during the day. For colder weather, I would have added long warm running tights that can be worn under the long pants too, gloves, hat, long-sleeved shirt, and a warm jacket.
Other handy things I had were a Swiss knife, sleep mask (because the sun never sets and your tent will not get dark), book, power bank, phone, camera, chargers, trekking poles, water bottle, and Camelbak. I also had a headlamp which I never used because there was so much light all the time. My sleeping system consisted of a tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and an inflatable pillow.
I bought a new sleeping bag for the hike because I thought it’s going to be a lot colder and my summer sleeping bag wouldn’t be enough. I used Marmot Ultra Elite 20 sleeping bag, and even though the temperatures didn’t drop that much during the night, I didn’t get too hot with this bag. I can highly recommend this sleeping bag for Karhunkierros or any other hike too. It’s lightweight, highly compressible, vegan and you can use it at a temperature of 20 °F or -7 °C. For me, it was probably around 18 °C during the night, and the bag didn’t feel too hot either.
Food and Water
Finland’s supermarkets carry a large selection of everything you can imagine. I highly recommend getting your food from Prisma which is a reasonably priced large chain and all of the stores have an extensive selection. They also have a website where you can see almost everything they sell with prices, pictures, and other information. The site is only in Finnish, but I will link all of my foods if you are interested in checking out these options. I tried to plan my meals to be as nutritious and healthy as possible while still trying to stick with lightweight, dried foods. Everything is vegan too!
Breakfast: porridge with chia seeds, freeze-dried blueberries and raspberries
Lunch: Vegetarian multigrain noodles with dried fava beans and nutritional yeast
Dinner: Italian pasta with dried soy
Extra: Sometimes I added couscous and lentils to my meals if I was very hungry
Snacks: Clif-bar and smoothie (I had one Clif-bar and one smoothie per day, and I tried to have different flavors for each day)
For the first two days, I also had some fresh vegetables and herbs that made my first few meals a little bit nicer. And always add 1-2 days worth of extra food in case something happens or you just feel like eating more. I packed my six days worth of food in six ziplock bags – one bag containing food for one day. That way, I knew exactly how much I was eating every day, and everything was measured so that each day I had the same amount of food. I also had one extra ziplock bag where I kept my trash.
You will have a possibility to buy some food in Oulanka Visitor Center which is around half-way through the hike. Unfortunately, when I checked the menu, there were no vegan options available.
When it comes to water, I had one 2 l Camelbak and one water bottle (which I assume being 0,75 l or 1 l), so in total, I was carrying 3 liters of water. I mostly used the Camelbak while I was hiking and the other bottle was just in case my Camelbak ran out of the water, and I also used the bottle more at the camp. This was enough for me as the trail has water sources everywhere. The only time I felt like running out of the water was the last day because the water sources were fewer, but even then I managed with three liters. I didn’t filter my water or use water purification tablets because usually, the water is very clean in this part of Finland. For the last day from Porotimanjoki to Ruka, I would recommend water purification tablets though, and if you have no prior experience drinking water straight from the rivers in Finland, maybe you should use the tablets just in case. There is nothing worse than getting sick during a hike. I didn’t use water purification tablets or anything else and was fine, and in theory, the water is very clean. Check Karhunkierros Facebook page before your hike as they will update if there is something you should know about the water.
How to Get to Ruka, Kuusamo
Most people visiting Finland probably arrive in Helsinki. To get from Helsinki to Ruka, you can either fly with Finnair, rent a car or use public transport. If you use public transportation, the best way is to take either a train or bus to Oulu and then take another bus to Kuusamo. Onnibus is the cheapest bus company for long distances between major cities but getting from Oulu to Kuusamo, you would have to check out Matkahuolto. For more information about traveling in Kuusamo and Ruka with public transport, check out ruka.fi.
Where to Stay in Ruka
There are a few hotels in Ruka that are quite nicely located and not far from the center of the town even if you are traveling without a car. Hotel Royal Ruka and Scandic Rukahovi are worth mentioning if you are looking for a nicer place to stay and relax before and after the hike. For me at least, taking some time to relax at a good hotel after a hike feels amazing. Another more budget-friendly option is Hostel Matkailumaja RukaTupa.
If you would like to sleep in your tent before and after the hike, there is also a camping ground called Iisakki Village Camping. It’s a little bit outside of the town center so you would need a car to get there.
Wherever you decide to stay, all of these are good options, and the best thing is that they all offer sauna too. There is no better way to end the hike than experiencing traditional Finnish sauna!
How to Get to the Starting Point in Hautajärvi
There is a bus called the Karhunkierros bus, driving once a day between Ruka and Hautajärvi. The price from Ruka to Hautajärvi is 10€, and you can check out the most recent timetable here.
I had initially planned to take the bus, but because it was Saturday, there was no bus leaving in the morning, and I planned to start hiking early. So I decided to hitchhike to Hautajärvi. The first ride was easy to get, and I had only walked a little bit outside of the town center in Ruka. The second one, however, was a little bit more challenging as I was literally in the middle of nowhere and there was a car passing every 15 minutes. It took probably an hour for me to get the second ride, and this friendly driver took me all the way to Karhunkierros Visitor Center. At the visitor center, there is a small cafe and shop, and you can also get a free map and some information. I charged my phone and used the bathroom there and was then ready to start the hike.
Please, don’t hesitate to comment below or email me if you have any additional questions about the hike! Hiking Karhunkierros is really one of the best ways to experience Finnish nature and should be on everyone’s bucket list!
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