Finland’s national parks still drawing crowds after pandemic peaks

Perämeri National Park in Lapland. (Minna Aula / Yle )

Take a look at what keeps drawing people by the thousands to remote and pristine natural areas across the country.

During the first two years of the Covid pandemic, 2020 and 2021, Finland’s national parks and other nature sites became extremely popular domestic travel destinations, but it appears that other attractions are increasingly competing for people’s attention.

Although official summer visitor figures are not yet available, the parks have seen a slowdown in traffic, according to Pirkko Siikamäki, regional director at the state forest management agency, Metsähallitus.

The drop in visitor numbers may have something to do with the fact that many people have travelled abroad this summer for holidays.

“Last year, nature sites were more popular than ever before. It’s quieter now, although there are still a lot of visitors,” Siikamäki said.

However, interest in national parks had been growing even before the Covid pandemic, Siikamäki noted, so their popularity is likely to remain high.

Back in 2021, the agency noted that the number of first-time hikers, mountain bikers and young people visiting outdoor destinations had been growing for a long time, along with an increase in the number of families camping with children. The number of overnight stays in national parks had also been steadily increasing.

Kolovesi National Park in the South Savo region.(Juha-Pekka Inkinen/Yle)

Several parks have added more parking spaces recently, including the Oulanka and Riisitunturi national parks. Many destinations have also upgraded their trails to accommodate more visitors.

Siikamäki said that the renovations serve customers and improve safety, while also ensuring that the sites remain unchanged despite the increase in visitors.

2020 pandemic-induced visitor boom

According to Metsähallitus, Finland’s national parks saw over four million visitors in 2020, a 23 percent increase compared to the previous year.

The parks were so popular in 2020 that cars queued up to enter the Oulanka National Park in Kuusamo. The year saw the park’s visitor numbers increase by over 45,000 from 2019.

Pudasjärvi’s Syöte National Park in Northern Ostrobothnia also saw one of the biggest increases in visitors in 2020, surpassing the 100,000 mark by a significant margin. Visitor numbers were up by 35,000 from 2019.

Repovesi National Park in Kouvola and Mäntyharju. (Kari Saastamoinen/ Yle)

Repovesi National Park in Kouvola and Mäntyharju also saw a big uptick in visitor numbers in January 2020. It recorded up to eight times more visitors than the previous year, nearly 6,500, compared to around 800 in 2019.

In total, 230,000 people visited the park in 2020.

Pallas-Yllästunturi most popular in 2021

Visits to national parks exceeded four million again in 2021. Compared to the previous year, national park visits were up by just two percent, but still 25 percent more visitors compared to 2019.

Linnansaari National Park in in the Finnish Lake District. (Petri Aaltonen / Yle )

The most popular destination overall was Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, in Western Lapland, which attracted nearly 700,000 people in 2021. Urho Kekkonen National Park, also in Lapland, was the second most visited.

Meanwhile, Nuuksio National Park, in the municipalities of Espoo, Kirkkonummi and Vihti, near Helsinki, came in third.

“Last year showed that first-time visitors have come to stay in national parks,” Henrik Jansson, Director of Parks & Wildlife Finland at Metsähallitus, said of the 2021 park visitor figures at the time.

Nuuksio National Park in Southern Finland. (Benjamin Suomela / Yle)

North attracts the most visitors

The growth in 2021’s visitor numbers was not uniform throughout Finland, however, with parks in the north-eastern region and Lapland seeing the biggest increases.

For example, Repovesi National Park in Kouvola, Southern Finland, saw nearly 60,000 fewer visitors than the previous year, down to 173,000 from 230,000.

The agency said visits to northern parks rose thanks to an overall rise in domestic tourism and working remotely.

Although the number of visitors to the southern parks fell from 2020 to 2021, the figures were still higher than during the pre-pandemic years.

Lapland still popular in 2021

According to Metsähallitus, the number of visitors increased not only in Northeast Finland but also in Lapland in 2021.

In Northeast Finland, Oulanka National Park attracted the fifth highest number of hikers in the country, with more than 253,000 visitors. Syöte was the next most popular park in Northeast Finland, with almost 118,000 visitors.

Of all the national parks in North Ostrobothnia, Rokua saw the largest increase, with visitor numbers tripling to 63,000 from the previous year.

Riisitunturi National Park in Posio, Finnish Lapland, saw a third more visitors than in the previous year.

Oulu’s Sanginjoki, a large nature reserve, attracted 73,000 visitors in 2021.

Although Lapland’s national parks have seen the biggest increase in visitors during 2021 and 2022, Perämeri National Park drew only 6,000 visitors in 2021.

Metsähallitus has been monitoring the number of visitors to the national parks since 2001 using visitor counters installed in the terrain.

Online services for people moving around in nature were also used more than in the previous year. The number of individual users of the toiseen palveluun) service increased by 49 percent to 3.2 million users.

Meanwhile visits to the toiseen palveluun) service increased by 44 percent to around 3.8 million.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Tourists return to Yukon, Canada, but season isn’t without challenges, CBC News

Finland: Sami Parliament in Finland publishes digital guide for responsible tourism in Lapland, Yle News

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