Hiking the Finnish Bear Circuit – the Karhunkierros

A breathtaking nature, an interplay of pristine contrasts and the unconditional solitude make the Bear Circuit probably one of the most popular routes in Finland. For years, it has been highly rated by outdoor enthusiasts and gifted hikers.

Oulanka National Park Finland
Oulanka National Park Finland

Although especially during the summer there are many vacationers on the Bear Circuit, it has been able to retain its charm of yesteryear. In Finland it is known as Karhunkierros. It is located in the popular Oulanka National Park, which is located in the northeast of Finland.

Oulanka National Park is located near the Arctic Circle and covers a total area of 269 km².

The status as a protected area has allowed to keep alive the breathtaking nature in these climes with all its beauty.

The national park is characterized by a breathtaking river landscape, which could hardly be more varied and at the same time more exciting. It is the Oulankajoki, which shapes the picture and meanders through the landscape with its numerous tributaries.

Again and again, one encounters gigantic rock gorges in the park, which leave the viewer with the impression of a canyon landscape. Elsewhere, the ground is covered by thick layers of gravel lined by high embankments.

The impressive embankments were once formed by the course of the rivers. Oulanka National Park is known for its diverse flora and fauna.

Brown bears, eagles and whooper swans still live in the area and have settled in the northern part.

Especially the brown bears find almost ideal living conditions here. They are also the namesake of the Karhunkierros, which could become a paradise for nature lovers as the Bear Round.

Finnish bear round
Hiking the Finnish Bear Circuit – the Karhunkierros

The bear round

For years, the Bear Round or Karhunkierros has been one of the most famous hiking routes in Finland. It is not a circular route and for this reason it is especially popular with those who love to be in nature for days on end.

In total, the Bear Circuit extends over a length of 95 km. The route can be completed in about five days, although this depends on the physical condition of the individual. If your own condition is not so promising, you can choose easy circular routes.

Another alternative is the Little Bear Circuit, which is just 12 kilometers long and starts in Juuma. The route can be easily mastered in one day and is especially popular with those who have little experience.

But also the Bear Circuit as a whole offers excellent conditions for beginners and gifted hikers.

Thus, the Karhunkierros has excellent signage that makes it almost impossible to get lost. The course of the route is signaled by orange signs.

The starting point for the Finnish Bear Circuit is the Hautajärvi nature lodge. It is located on the road from Kuusamo to Salla and is a good place for a short break before the start.

If you choose the shorter route with a length of 70 kilometers, the start is in Ristikallio.

The entire route is characterized by individual stations, where interesting reminiscences of the past present themselves again and again.

In addition, there are individual shopping opportunities along the route that can be used to stock up on your own provisions.

Places to stay along the Karhunkierros

As the popularity of the Bear Round has grown, so have the overnight accommodations.

If once you had to spend the night in your own tent, today along the Karhunkierros offer several wildmark huts. The simply furnished cabins can be used free of charge.

They are located directly on the edge of the path and can therefore hardly be missed. If you decide to hike the Bear Circuit in the summer, you should never do without a tent and a sleeping bag in your own equipment.

Especially in the high season it is possible that the huts along the route are occupied, so you have to switch to the overnight stays in the wild.

Every year, 10,000 to 15,000 hikers tackle the breathtaking route, which is characterized by a grandiose and at the same time unmistakable nature.

Along the Karhunkierros there are several posted campsites that can be used for overnight outdoor camping. At most of them there are small fireplaces created for the hikers.

Those staying in their own tent should make sure that the official campsites are left clean and have not suffered any damage.

The entire bear circuit passes through the Finnish wilderness and presents it with a magic that is unparalleled.

The starting point for day hikes

Not all active lovers who take the path to the Bear Circuit want to do the entire route. For this reason, smaller day tours are always possible, which can also be mastered by beginners without any problems.

The day hikes are best done starting from the village of Juuma. The small Finnish town presents itself to its guests with an unmistakable simplicity.

Simple accommodation is available for guests in Juuma. Also those who manage the entire Karhunkierros meet the small village, which is recommended for a stopover.

Thus, the long-distance hikers have the opportunity to stock up their provisions. Only afterwards, Kontaainen-Valtavaara presents one of the most exciting challenges.

The mountain massif requires good conditions and solid equipment. The impressive peaks and the interplay between highs and lows should not be underestimated in any case.

After passing the impressive mountain range, you get much closer to the destination of the Karhunkierros.

Rukatunturi – destination of the Karhunkierros

Rukatunturi is the destination of the Finnish Bear Circuit and also the end of an impressive hike. As the destination of the Finnish hiking classic, Rukatunturi offers everything that is important for hikers after several days in nature.

Besides several stores and restaurants, a bank and a post office can be found in the village. Especially during the winter Rukatunturi is worth a visit.

During the cold season you can find here one of the most beautiful and at the same time most popular winter sports areas in Finland.

From the beginning of November to the end of April, the area is characterized by almost excellent snow conditions, which create excellent conditions for a wide range of winter sports activities.

The ski resort is known for alpine skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing. A total of 28 slopes are available for the fans of winter sports. 22 slopes are made accessible by artificial light during the polar night, providing an impressive yet unforgettable experience in the Finnish wilderness.

Tent and rest areas along the Bear Circuit


In any case, before setting out as a hiker along the Bear Circuit, you should plan the various stops along the way.

Again and again during the hike you will come across various wildmark huts that can be used for overnight stays.

Not far from the starting point in Ristikallio you will meet the second Wildmark hut on the route. Puikkokämpä hut is a good place for a first stopover and can be used for overnight stay.

Wildmark huts along the Bear Circuit are found at acceptable distances, so overnight stays in them can be easily planned. Among the most famous Wildmark huts is Oulanka Canyon, which can be found near Savilampi.

One of the most important intermediate destinations is the Nature Center of the National Park. In the center hikers can find a lot of information about the Oulanka National Park and about the other stations of the Bear Circuit. Near the center you can find a campground, which can be used for overnight stays in the open air.

Not far from the nature center, you will find a well-known fishing spot, which offers excellent conditions for fishing enthusiasts. It includes a campground, so you can spend the night on site after a balanced fishing trip.

A resting place in breathtaking scenery presents itself with Kotavaalu. The tent and rest area is located directly on the river Kitkajoki. It is known for its abundance of fish.

A real feast for the eyes is Myllykoski. The old mill has been lovingly restored and has managed to preserve the features of the past. After the old mill you reach the village of Juuma, where you can stock up on your own provisions.

An old mill that includes a night camp is Porontimajoki. The mill includes a simple Wildmark hut, where numerous overnight guests can be expected, especially during the high season.

Along the Bärenrunde there are always shelters that can be used for a short break. But they also offer themselves as protection in unpleasant weather conditions.

Scenic diversity along the Bear Circuit

The popularity of the Bear Round is due to the impressive landscape, which resembles a feast for the eyes. It presents itself with a variety of contrasts that will make the hearts of nature lovers beat faster.

The landscape along the Bear Circuit is characterized by waterfalls and gorges. Again and again you will come across lakes and seemingly never-ending forests, which make the Oulanka National Park an unparalleled paradise.

During the hikes, small adventures and challenges are always waiting for the nature lovers. A head for heights is essential, especially when passing the suspension bridges.

Among the highlights of the Bear Circuit are the rapids and waterfalls. The most famous are found in Jyrävä and Myllykoski. They are characterized by a breathtaking size and present the forces of nature from their most beautiful side.

Most hikers do the Bear Circuit during the summer, when the weather is comparatively stable and the long days provide excellent conditions for the individual stages.

Even though there are many hikers on the Karhunkierros during this time, these are the best weeks for beginners.

The number of those who venture out on the bear circuit even in winter is small. In principle, only smaller day hikes should be undertaken in winter.

Especially Rukatunturi offers excellent conditions as a well-known winter sports area. Solid equipment is essential for contesting the Karhunkierros. Rainwear and sturdy shoes should not be dispensed with under any circumstances.

Our Finland tipps & insights

Photo of author
Ich bin absoluter Skandinavien-Fan und reise schon seit über 12 Jahren in die schönen Länder Skandinaviens. Hier teile ich meine Erfahrungen und Tipps zu den skandinavischen Ländern und der Ostsee-Region.