My thru-hike of Sweden’s: Kungsleden Trail
The Kungsleden Trail, or “King’s Trail” in Swedish, has been on my list for some time. (My list keeps growing from all the people I meet, and their stories of other trails each time I hike though)
I hiked it just after Midsummer’s Day, which is one of the biggest holidays in Sweden, which I got to experience in a small village, with friends and it was cool.
1st Raising their own maypole at their home and then going to the villager’s gathering, complete with band, and someone calling out the dances while most of us joined hands and danced around the pole Cool stuff.
I wanted to be on the trail on the longest day of the year, but in retrospect, glad to have made the decision to postpone it for a few days to experience the big holiday with friends.
The Kungsleden: It’s a great trail, although I think too crowded. (especially the northern sections)
I search for places and trails in the world that are not crowded but I believe it’s a growing sport worldwide and remote trails ones are getting harder and harder to find.
After my friends drove me to a bus station, where I got a connection to the airport, I found out some strange things about Sweden: There is no cash accepted almost everywhere, there is no one at the bus station to sell you a ticket, (same with railway stations, etc) EVERYTHING must be done with your phone. I asked someone what happens if you lose your phone. They said, then you have big problems.
I decided to hike this trail Northbound for 3reasons:
1/ since the sun is going to be up 24 hours a day, I’d rather it at my back then in my face.
2/ The prevailing winds are from the southwest, and this turned out to be a real plus as there were strong winds often.
3/ The finish at Abisko looks much more spectacular than the southern end of Hemavan and, given the choice, I’d rather finish with a beautiful, picturesque ending. Sort of like the carrot that the rabbit is chasing, or something like that.
That having been decided, there are a few ways to get to Hemavan and I decided to fly up there from Stockholm. Obviously, it is the quickest way. I wanted to see Sweden but was planning on visiting more friends in central Sweden after the hike so, knew I would be seeing the vast countryside later.
And I wanted to experience the 24 hour sunlight as much as possible, having already missed the longest day (only by 2 days though)
There were about 8 other trekkers on the flight in the small prop-plane that seated about 24 to the ghost town of Hemavan. (pronounced “hem Ah van”}
Flight leaves from a small terminal, #3 which I believe is only for small prop planes and a bit hard to find in the many terminals of Arlanda International Airport.
Arriving in Hemavan was strange again, and it was a big town, but so quiet!
There was a taxi or 2 waiting when we landed but I only had to go a mile according to Google maps to get to my hotel so, started walking (in the rain).
Didn’t see anyone on that one mile walk except a taxi or 2 passing me while I walked.
Arriving at my hotel that I had booked, I discovered that there were many buildings involved in the complex, but nobody around. I circled them all and then found a wooden box that read: “Reception”.
I looked inside and there was an envelope with my name on it. I tore it open to find a key and a map of the complex with my building circled. Finally found the building and room 15, which was supposed to be a 6 bed “dorm room” It was. But nobody around. Surprise, surprise.
I needed food and fuel so, went in search of something, anything, open in this big, empty town. Luckily made a left at the big road and walked about a km to find a huge IGA supermarket.
The supermarket there is great. They have everything you might need, except propane. That is in the hardware store/gas station, across the road from the supermarket.
Supermarket doesn’t open till 9 am but the hardware store opens at 7. The guy there is real friendly and told me how to get to the trail by taking a small dirt road just near the store, up the ski area. (Trail starts by going up a ski slope/area)
The first STF hut is about 1/2 day in and the folks there (caretakers) were the nicest of all of the STF huts that I saw. I joined the STF association there. They (somehowk through a satellite hookup ) take credit cards and that’s what they prefer.
Almost all of these STF huts have stores selling hiking food, some first aid equipment, some even have clothing. They are expensive but you can save a lot of weight if you use them as you’ll see them often on most of the trail.
You will need some cash though because one of them, didn’t have his credit card machine working and the boats that take you across some of the lakes (2nd half of the trip only), only take cash. So, take a few hundred dollars worth of Krona with you (that you can get at any ATM machine of course.)
But get used to swiping your card, as that’s what you need to use 90% of the time.
So, the section between Hemavan and Ammarnas is about 100 miles (178 kms). It is great. Only saw about 3-5 people a day southbound (no one NOBO) and mostly we talked about how much snow we had to cross. (lots)
This 79 km section from Hemavan to Ammarnas is an awesome introduction to the trail and one of my favorites (probably because it is one of the least travelled sections).
There are 5 of the STF huts in this section, spaced approximately 10 miles apart. They are quite expensive at about $60-70 a night to stay in the bunkroom. But, if you join the STF association (cost is somewhere around $50 US I think), you can then use the facilities for free between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm.
I did this almost every day as it was unseasonably cold on my hike in June and July 2019, so this turned out to be a good way to get warm, cook some hot food and drinks (using their gas), and refill my pockets with snack food for the next 10 miles. I ended up doing about 20-25 miles per day on average using this method.
I had printed out some maps from the internet that weren’t that good (compared to the ones they sell in the huts and supermarkets, but they are about $15 each!)
When I was in that first hut with the very friendly caretakers, they gave me a 10 year old map they had laying around and it was fine. I ended up trading it with a south-bounder in Ammarnas for the next section.
It pays to have the good maps although most of the time, I used the app I had downloaded on my phone for mapping and of course, to see where you are on that map (navigation is so much easier these days than back when we learned how to read a map)
The app I used was called “Sweden Topo Maps” and it is available on the Google play store. If you have an I-phone, I don’t know, as I use android.
Set it at the Sweden 50,000 topo map setting and download any maps before hand as you won’t have internet most of the time. (by the way, you do have to use your phone to do a lot in Sweden, so make sure you get a SIM card before you go up to Hemavan. I think little convenience stores is where you get them, just make sure it’s working before you go up there.
Much to my surprise, I started seeing reindeer on the 1st day! Mostly in groups of 15 or more.
The small town of Ammarnas is good. When you finally figure out where town is. (a few confusing roads coming into town)
When you cross the big bridge, you’ll see a “Guide Service” store and small restaurant across the street.
That guy has the best reindeer burgers and has a small hostel/apt upstairs for about $30.
The grocery store in town is also great and has everything you might need. I even bought another pair of long underwear bottoms there as this trail was much colder than I had expected and I needed it at night to sleep as my 23 year old “Hummingbird” sleeping bag wasn’t cutting it.
The big hotel that you’ll see further up the street has a great buffet breakfast for about $12. I don’t know how much it is to stay there, but I was lucky as there was a SOBO’er staying at the guide shop place and that’s who I traded lots of valuable info and maps with.
Even though there are not STF huts after Ammarnas, (til Kvikkjokk) there are emergency shelters. Learn how to spot them on your map (red triangle) because they are great. It was very cold when we were there and sometimes raining or sleeting so, it was great to stop in those for lunch. pr set my tent up right outside them and use the facilities. (your not supposed to sleep in them, but I did one night because I didn’t know they didn’t want you to)
I should mention a small town that the trail goes through named Adolfstromm. There is a coffe shop/grocery store here that is a must-see! Really cool place with a small restaurant and small grocery selection but HUGE on the knick knacks and touristy trinkets. Check it out.
Next town up is Jakkvik, where there is a great hostel, run by the church there. They have a separate building complete with everything: Showers, laundry, kitchen, etc. And there is a decent supermarket at the gas station up the street about 1/4 mile. So, you can cook some bacon and eggs for breakfast (cause of course you won’t find them at any of the buffets, only European breakfast, which is great, but I was hungry for bacon and eggs)
After Jakkvik, about 10 miles out or so, you have your first rowboat experience. Mine was a frickin disaster.
Only one row boat on my side and windy. So, of course, I had to row across 3 times and it was so windy, well, I pulled a muscle in my shoulder and got blown way downwind. had to get in the icy water to drag the boats back up where they belong and then STILL had to try to row across again . Where again I got blown downwind about 300 meters. Well, the whole ordeal took me 3 1/2 hours.
If there would have been 2 rowboats there, i would have done it in 15 minutes.And so, that caused me to miss the next (really long) boat ride across the 14 km lake. That guy only comes twice a day: 10 AM (although doesn’t really get there till almost 11) and 6 PM.
Since I missed the 6 PM, I had to wait 13 hours and it was the worst weather on the trip.
I ended up sleeping on the porch of one of the locked cabins there.
The boat is big and at the northern end of that long boat ride (14 kms) is a small village/business. That boat ride is the most expensive and is 500 krona I think which is about $50 US
The people there have cabins and a small store with frozen (Microwaved) pizza and ice cream
After that, I remember a place where there were 7 or 8 bridges across a whole bunch of islands. That was cool, but the mosquitoes were bad there. For me, it was the only place on the whole trip where they were bad. (too cold)
Eventually you get to Kvikkjokk, where the crowds of SOBO’ers will start.
There is a boat ride (you have to pay about 200 krona i think) and the guy driving the boat is cool and will tell you history and take you on a scenic ride if he’s not busy.
There’s a BIG STF hut there and this was my first taste of staying somewhere where the people don’t talk to you (cause it’s touristy and this is where many of the southbound hordes get off and finish) (bus service there I think)
Good breakfast there though and showers and laundry (good luck figuring out their machines. ask for help.
You can camp there for free if you’re a member. I got a room ($70?) STF members can camp there for free.
They have a good store to stock up on food too and it’s not too expensive (because there’s a road there)
A few kilometers north of town, you cross the Arctic circle. Unfortunately, there is no sign telling you exactly where but I had marked it on my map after someone told me. First time for me north of that line.
A few more lakes coming up that you need a boat ride to cross. There are signs to tell you where you can call to set up a reserved time about one and a half hours out. You need to do this because it is one of the only places with cell phone reception. The boat driver here is a Laplander woman who herds reindeer and lives in a cute little blue cabin on the lake.
Next resupply, you have: Saltoulouka. Well, if you thought Kvikkjokk was touristy, this place is like Disney world.
The Laplander, woman who runs the motorboat to bring you across the lake at Sitojaure, asked me if I wanted dinner at Saltoulouka as she could call in a reservation for me. I had already done 25 kms and asked her how much further it was and how long it takes? She said “only 20kms and I can do it in 3 hours”
So, I said ok, and proceeded to do my biggest day of 45 kms. I had to race to get there by 6 pm also.
Well, when I walked into that dining room for my reservation dinner, there were 90 other people having dinner there. OUCH!
I got a room there too and there’s a big store there with everything.
It’s a huge complex and very touristy.
Not only hikers were there but also sightseers, fishermen, and even a lot of trail runners. I found out this is quite a popular sport in Sweden and met quite a few runners with tiny packs in the next few days.
In fact there was a guy passing through there that night who was out to break the record for the fastest known time to hike the whole trail. I didn’t see him (sleeping) but heard that he finished the trail in 5 days, beating the old record by a few hours.
From Saltoulouka, you get on a boat, and then take the bus 30 kms up the road. But you have to change buses at a restaurant and there is a store there where you can resupply also.
Then the bus is full of people that are hiking but NOT doing the Kungsleden. So, make sure you keep an eye on where you are and get off at the STF hut Vakkotavare.
Just after that hut,back on the trail, make sure you take the bridge going left instead of the marked trail going straight. I had to do some backtracking there.
After that, there are many people, HUGE STF huts to accommodate them all, stores in all of them, and I started seeing 40,50, 60 , 70 people a day.
My last day, I stopped counting at 125
As you can see from my pictures, it was cold. Everyone bundled up and not a lot of sitting around (except in the cabins). There were a few places where I stopped to talk to people camping with incredible views.
I stopped and talked to a lot of people. Especially on the 1st half of the trail (south). What an assortment of countries represented. I met people from every European country of any size (not Lichtenstein, Luxoumburg, Andorra or Monaco, LOL) That was a pleasure to see the variety, even Asia was well represented: Korea, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Russia, and India!
When I was getting near the end, it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen the sun at 2 or 3 AM and was wondering how it gets from the west (every night when I went to bed) to the east (where it was in the morning). So I asked a local and he said: “it goes around the north”! Well, this I wanted to see, so I got up at 2 AM on a cloudless night near the end of my hike to see this. Sure enough, there it was due north. Fascinating!
Some more pictures along the way:
Really crowded near the northern end of the trail. Not my kind of scene but many were day-hikers I’m sure.
Abisko is like Saltouvouka. Big, tourist, Disney world.
You have to book the train out of there from your phone. Nobody at the station.
There is a little STF hut to the left as you are getting near the big abisko center.
I went down there the next morning and wish I would’ve stayed there instead.