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Kungsleden – The KING of Trails

August 15, 2013

Beautiful Lake

The Kungsleden is a 440km trail in Swedish Lappland, though it would be more accurate to say it is a trail system. It partially coincides with the Nordkalottleden (or Nordkalottruta in Norwegian or Kalottireitti in Finnish), which is an 800km trail system between Norway, Sweden, and Finland. The Svenska Turistforeningen (STF) is the authority for the Kungsleden and runs all of the huts (making it the premiere source for detailed information).

The trail is located within the Arctic Circle, which makes the hiking season quite short. The huts open for the summer season at the end of June and stay open to the middle or end of September (depending on the weather of course). I hiked it at the end of July, which is the beginning of the high season and encountered variable weather (driving rain to relentless sun and snow is always a possibility in the mountains). Though it was very busy at the mountain stations near the ends of the trail, the huts along the trail were not full.

There are many options for hiking, though most people hike the main trail of the Abisko-Nikkaluotka section, which is approximately 110km and has huts every 10-20km. That is what I did, but there are also cabins off of the main trail along somewhat less trodden trails (Vistas, Unna Allakas, and Tarfala being the most popular, I sincerely regret not visiting Tarfala). If you are tent camping you can set up your tent pretty much anywhere. I chose to stay in the cabins to reduce the weight of my pack (I managed with 12kg), though staying in the cabins you lose the flexibility of hiking as much or as little you want per day, and the cabins can be on the noisy side. Also if you are tent camping, you can camp near the huts and pay a fee to use the cabin facilities.

I’ve made a very basic map of the main trail using my SpotGPS, the trial version of GPS Utility, and Google Earth that I am reasonably proud of. Click the map for more detail.

Kungsleden Map

Logistics are fairly simple. Most people either fly or take the train to Kiruna, which is a nice little iron ore mining town (the LKAB mine tour is highly recommended if you have the time and can be booked at the Kiruna visitor’s centre). If you’re hiking north to south as most people do, you can take the bus or train to Abisko Turistsation (the STF Mountain Station at the beginning of the trail), and the bus from Nikkaluotka (a small town which marks the end of the first section of trail) back to Kiruna. Buses and trains are regular, but the exact times change depending on the day and season, so I’ll just leave you the links.

The hiking isn’t overly difficult. You’re basically hiking through a series of valleys, and the valleys are separated by passes. Tjäktja Pass is the highest of these at around 1100m. The main trail is well trodden, significant rivers are crossed by bridge, and boardwalks cover many of the swampy and bouldery areas. All these reasons made it my choice for my FIRST solo hike.
Kungsleden Trail and Cabins

THE HUTS

I had never been hiking in Europe and had never hiked on a trail with a hut system so I didn’t really know what to expect. On the Kungsleden, the huts can be divided into two catagories: Mountain Stations and Mountain Cabins. The Mountain Stations have electricity, Wifi, running water, pretty well stocked stores, and are located near the ends of the trail. The Cabins are spaced regulary along most of the trail and have no electricity or running water, but are equipped with propane stoves, outhouses, dishes (including pots and pans), and bunk beds with pillows and blankets (you’ll need to bring a sleeping sheet). Some have stores with basic provisions (cans of beans, museli, crackers, camping meals, chocolate bars, etc) and saunas. The Mountain Stations can and probably should be booked ahead, the Cabins cannot be reserved ahead of time, but no one is turned away. Note that you cannot pay at the Cabins by credit card, and will either need to pay in cash or buy a Mountain Pass beforehand.

Inside Singi Cabin

The huts along the main section of trail are as follows:
Abisko Mountain Station – One of the big mountain stations, has all the amenities: showers, restaurant, wifi, and a decent shop if you forgot some basic gear.
Abiskojuare – A standard sized mountain cabin with a small store, a sauna, and a few bunkhouses.
Alesjaure – One of the bigger mountain cabins, all the cabin amenities, even propane heat in some of the bunks and drying rooms.
Tjäktja – A small mountain cabin with no store or sauna, I didn’t stay here.
Sälka – One of the bigger mountain cabins, all the cabin amenities, several bunkhouses.
Singi – A small mountain cabin with no store or sauna. The last cabin before the Kebnekaise cut off.
Kebnekaise Mountain Station – The biggest and most popular of the stations, I booked the rest of my trip around the availability of this station. A sight for sore eyes after a few days of hiking. If you are tired of hiking at this point, you can take a reasonably priced helicopter ride from here to Nikkaluotka.

The distances between huts are as follows:

Abisko Mountain Station – Abiskojaure: 15km easy hiking, mainly below the tree line
Abiskojaure – Alesjaure: 20km moderate hiking, a small pass in the first 5km (also a cheater boat that can take along part of the lake)
Alesjaure – Tjäktja: 13km moderate hiking
Tjäktja – Sälka: 12km moderate to difficult hiking, crosses Tjäktja Pass in the first few kilometers
Sälka – Singi: 13km moderate hiking (note if you want to hike Sälka to Kebnekaise there is a bypass trail around Singi)
Singi – Kebnekaise Mountain Station: 14km moderate hiking
Kebnekaise Mountain Station – Nikkaluotka: 19km easy hiking (there is also a cheater boat that can take you ~5.5km along a lake), back below the tree line There is some accommodation in Nikkaluotka.

KEBNEKAISE SUMMIT
Kebnekaise Eastern Route

Kebnekaise Mountain Station is also the starting point for summiting Sweden’s HIGHEST mountain, Kebnekaise (approximately 2107m depending on how much snow is at the top). In fact, I’d say most people I met at the Mountain Station had just hiked the 19km from Nikkaluotka to climb the mountain and were leaving the same way. You can hike the western route on your own, or take a guided tour of the eastern route with the STF as I did. The eastern route involves glacier walking, easy rock climbing, and if you’re lucky and the snow is still on the glacier, glacier sliding! It’s as fun as it sounds! But it is difficult and was a tough 10 hour day. I booked ahead of time via kebnekaise@stfturist.se and paid at the Mountain Station, though you can book once you get to the Mountain Station as well.

At the summit!

Notes:

Wildlife isn’t much of a hazard on the trail. I mostly saw reindeer and small birds. There are very very few bears in the area, so no one takes bear precautions.

I expected to be able to buy a map at Abisko Mountain Station before I headed out on the trail, but unfortunately they were sold out. Fortunately they were in stock at Abiskojaure and the trail is very well marked. If you want to buy it before reaching the Mountain Station, it was in stock at Alewalds in Stockholm. Alewalds is also a great place to buy any gear you might have forgotten.

Very few North Americans hike the trail, I only met one native English speaker outside of the Mountain Stations. Everyone I encountered spoke English very well and was happy to speak to me, though the reindeer were quite standoffish.

Reindeer!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate permalink
    January 13, 2014 4:35 pm

    Hi! Great blog! I am really interested in doing this same hike, however, I haven’t got a lot of hiking experience, would it be silly to do it solo? If so, do you have any tips for preparing for this hike?

    Thanks,

    Kate

    • January 13, 2014 5:36 pm

      It’s a good first solo hike, as long as you have some experience. It’s probably a good idea to stay in the huts the first time. Then you don’t have to bring as much stuff!

      • Kate permalink
        January 13, 2014 5:37 pm

        Ok thanks! 🙂

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