The World’s 10 Best Hikes: Arctic Sweden

Potterfield's Picks: Endless valleys, birch forests, and hidden glaciers

Peter Potterfield

Trek: Kungsleden
Destination: Arctic Sweden
Distance: 70 miles, 5-7 days
Difficulty: Moderate

In extreme northern Sweden, well inside the Arctic Circle, hides the last genuine wilderness in Western Europe. This is Lapland, and through it runs Kungsleden, a 275-mile-long route that cuts through the heart of this expansive landscape of big Arctic valleys, birch forests, hidden glaciers, powerful rivers, the highest pass on the trail, Tjaktjapasset, and the highest mountain in Sweden, Mt. Kebne.

Kungsleden, the “King of Trails,” runs through four national parks and a nature reserve, a total area larger than some European countries. Hiking the entire route takes a month, or more, but the northern-most section I recommended covers the highlights of Kunglseden in just 70 miles (86 kilometers) and a week on the trail. This section starts at Abisko Mountain Station, the northern terminus of Kungsleden, and finishes at the Sami (these are the ethnic Laplanders) settlement of Nikkaluokta.

The sheer scale of Kungsleden and the country it traverses comes home when, after a 25-mile day, you realize you’re not halfway down the undulating, glacier-carved valley you dropped into that morning. The hike works in either direction, but virtually everybody does it from north to south that puts the sun on your face as you travel, no small consideration in the Arctic. Fit hikers could do the route in four or five days, but most take a more leisurely six or seven days. The typical itinerary starts from Abisko with overnights in the huts at Abiskojaure, Alesjaure, Tjaktja, up over Tjaktjapasset, down to the hut at Salka before finishing the hike at the elaborate Kebnekaise mountain station. From there it's another 12-mile day under the power lines out to Nikkaluokta.

Logistics: This section of Kungsleden has the advantage of being relatively easy to get to, thanks to the small mining city of Kiruna, home to one of the largest iron ore mines in the world, as well as the tony Ice Hotel. Tiny Kiruna has good air connections to Stockholm, and bus transportation to both ends of this hiking route, making this wild adventure surprisingly easy to organize.

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Adventure journalist Peter Potterfield has hiked more than 10,000 miles in search of the greatest backcountry routes on the planet. As he researches his iconic hiking books, such as Classic Hikes of the World, Potterfield is always on the lookout for the best hikes on all seven continents. Here, just months before the release of his next book, Classic Hikes of North America, Potterfield offers up his current list of favorite hikes. 

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