Saariselkä / Ivalo Travel Guide

Saariselkä, Finnish Lapland / Copyright

(Midnight sun view from Kaunispää)

Saariselkä is a largish winter sports center in the Inari manucipality of Finnish Lapland, 250 km north of the Arctic Circle. It itself lies in a valley and is essentially a compact strip of a village with one gas station, one main supermarket, one liquor store and a few hotels, shops and restaurants. Ivalo is the closest town to Saariselkä (30 km away) and home to the northernmost airport in Finland. In winter, the fells of Kaunispää and Iisakkipää, both equipped with ski lifts, are the primary slopes for winter sports in Saariselkä. The village is also a base for cross-country skiers going into UKK national park in winter, and a gateway to the park for many hikers in the summer.

Besides Sámi reindeer herders, the area was hardly populated until gold was found at the nearby Lutto River in 1865. Soon after, the Finnish gold rush began and the first claim in Saariselkä was staked in 1871. As the rush faded away as time passed, the area was developed into a tourist attraction in the 1960's with the construction of hotels, restaurants, and ski lifts. In 1983, the region stretching from Saariselkä to the Russian border was turned into the Urho Kekkonen National Park, named after former Finnish president Urho Kaleva Kekkonen.

In the map below, you will find practical places to know about for planning a trip and things to do in Saariselkä / Ivalo. Below the map you will find some helpful travel information by clicking on a topic button and scrolling down to read.
Enter the name for this tabbed section: How to Get to Saariselkä / Ivalo
The quickest way to get to Saariselkä / Ivalo is by plane from Helsinki to Ivalo airport (IVL), from which a connecting 20-minute bus takes visitors to Saariselkä. If staying in central Ivalo, visitors must get there from the airport by taxi or arrange for airport transfer to their accommodation.

Saariselkä and Ivalo are along highway E75 which runs from Rovaniemi to Utsjoki. Another way to get there is by overnight train from the south to Rovaniemi, and then by bus, which takes about 3 hours. There are also bus connections from Murmansk, Russia.

You can see bus timetables and buy tickets and on the Matkahuolto website.
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Getting Around Saariselkä / Ivalo
You can pretty much walk anywhere you want to in Saariselkä, but if you have gear/luggage with you, you can get on the local ski bus that shuttles between the village and the slopes approximately once an hour.

Ivalo is a small town and its easy to walk to most places. There is a bike path next to the main roads.
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Saariselkä / Ivalo Weather
For up to date weather, check out the Levi forecast on the FInnish Meteorological Institute.
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Things To Do in Saariselkä / Ivalo
Ivalo is a small town and for the most part a central place to shop for food, gear, accommodation, or simply the easiest place to arrive in Lapland because of the airport. Many activities are in and around Saariselkä, however there are some located in, or closer to Ivalo.
  • Snowmobile Safaris
  • Reindeer Sleigh Rides
  • Dogsledding
  • Downhill skiing & snowboarding
  • Cross country skiing
  • Snowshoeing
  • Viewing Auroras
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Camping

Things To Do in Saariselkä / Ivalo

  • Kaunispää - an easily accessible fell (by car) in Saariselkä offering great 360 degree views of the surrounding area. Its also a ski hill in winter time.
  • Kiilopää - an easily accessible fell (by short hike) just south of Saariselkä offering nice 360 degree views of the area.
  • Urho Kekkonen (UKK) National Park - as one of Finlands largest protected natural areas, there is almost an endless amount of hiking opportunities in the pars. Hikers can stay freely at any of the open wilderness huts listed on the map above.
  • Midnight sun - In summer time its quite a surreal experience to stay up late into the evening to watch the different colors produced as the sun floats on the horizon. In general, the night sky is luminous from May until mid August
  • Northern lights (Aurora Borealis) - many visitors come to Lapland hoping to see the dancing solar winds in the night sky. Here are the best places to see Northern Lights in Saariselkä
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Saariselkä Travel Tips
  • Practical Lapland Travel Information
  • Ivalo is a good place to base yourself if staying in the area for a few days as you can do many day trips to the surrounding area, such as visiting Nellim
  • Cellphone networks may not cover many places in the Saariselkä area or signals can be quite weak.
  • UKK National Park is quite large with many options for hiking, some in nearby areas to the resorts and some much further away in remote wilderness. If heading toward the remote parts, its wise to let local park officials or someone know where you are headed and give a timeframe of how long you will be hiking and where you will be going. As mentioned, cellphone coverage is weak in the area so if getting in trouble you may not be able to immediately call for help.
  • If you're thinking about traveling to Saariselkä and have some detailed questions about the area in general and would like some answers from a local perspective, Samuli from Restaurant Laanilan Kievari is happy to answer any questions you might have whether you plan to visit the restaurant or not. You can contact him by email.
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Finding Accommodation
  • Saariselkä is a very popular winter destination and has a variety of accommodation options. Ivalo is also a place to search for accommodation as it is not to far away for day trips between the two areas.