The Kungsleden is a hiking trail in Swedish Lapland, high above the Arctic Circle, that every hiker can enjoy.
No matter what kind of hiking experience you want, you can find it here.
Want to try out what it’s like to be cut off from civilization for days at a time and be on your own? It’s possible here, but in an environment that makes it easy for a beginner to try out this kind of trek.
The entire trail runs from Hemavan to Abisko, just under 450 kilometers (280 miles) through one of the last truly wild areas in Europe. You can also walk it the other way around, starting in Abisko.
Good practice for bigger adventures
But if you’re not sure yet if spending time alone in the wilderness is your cup of tea, plan a round trip from Nikkaluokta to Abisko (or the other way around), which will allow you to walk only the last part of the Kungsleden, the most popular and therefore also busiest part. This is also the section that the Fjällraven Classic follows (see my article about that endeavour).
The main advantage is that this section, the most beautiful part of the trail according to many, is well maintained. Within easy walking distance of each other, you will find cabins of the STF, the Swedish Tourist Association. You can stay overnight at the cabins and buy food along the way if you don’t feel like carrying your tent and all your camping gear. Moreover, there is almost always someone nearby, should you really get into trouble. At the same time, provided you don’t go during the busiest time of the year (Fjällraven Classic week), it’s also not too crowded.
Especially compared to walking trails in most of Europe, it’s pretty quiet. So even though you can stay overnight in the huts, I would definitely recommend bringing your own tent and going camping. It’s overwhelmingly beautiful (and not scary at all) to pick your own spot in that vast landscape, maybe take a dip in a small lake or look for reindeer antlers around your tent. Or just sit in front of your tent with a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy the vast landscape and the deafening silence around you. Complete relaxation guaranteed!
What to expect
This beginner’s tour (also great for those with little time) is about 110 kilometres, or 68 miles, with no major elevation changes or tough climbs for those in reasonable shape. The trail mostly follows the valleys between the mountains. Along the way you can make a side trip to climb the Kebnekaise, if the weather is good enough, but otherwise just admire this highest mountain in Sweden from the trail.
If you decide to sleep in the huts, you’ll miss out on what I think is the biggest advantage of hiking in Sweden: you’re allowed to camp anywhere!
Of course, in doing so you have to adhere to the ‘leave no trace’ etiquette, you take nothing and leave nothing, you leave your camping spot as you found it.
- The water is so pure everywhere that you can drink it straight from the streams, no filter needed.
- In summer, it stays light well into the night. This means you can walk whenever you feel like it. For example, I loved making a short stop in the evening to prepare my food, but then would continue walking for a few hours more. Almost everyone had stopped for the day by then, and I walked the trail all by myself in those hours. Occasionally you see a small tent in the distance, but otherwise, you are alone.
- The landscape consists of rolling hills and mountains, with little to no trees, so it’s almost impossible to get lost. Even if you deviate from the path, you can usually easily find it again by finding a rock from where you have an overview. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can go out completely unprepared! Always bring navigation aids with you, in case things do go wrong!
- That said: the trail is well-marked and easy to follow. A stack of rocks with red markings is a sign that you are on the right path.
So, what about the drawbacks?
Of course, every trail has its own character, so some things to consider:
- The trail is very rocky, if you have been walking on uneven rocks for a whole day you can start to feel it on your feet. If you have weak ankles this is also something to consider.The area is above the Arctic Circle, so you have to take all conditions into account: it can get warm, but just as easily it can start snowing or raining on the same day. It can also snow in August.It’s an area with a lot of precipitation, so make sure you bring good, waterproof clothing!If the mosquitoes do find you, just put on the aforementioned rain gear, they can’t sting through that. If possible, camp above the tree line, that makes a big difference.
- Thanks to all that water, there are lots of mosquitoes. Bring a head net and thank me later. At the same time, in the few times that I’ve been in the area, they haven’t driven me stark raving mad. Because the area is fairly open, there is often at least a breeze, which can keep the mosquitoes away
- If the mosquitoes do find you, just put on the aforementioned rain gear, they can’t sting through that. If possible, camp above the tree line, that makes a big difference.
Ok, sounds good, but how do I get there?
For such a remote area, it is fairly easy to get to. Since Abisko is a tourist attraction, there’s even a train going there.
It is best to travel to Stockholm, or book a plane ticket to Kiruna right away. If you fly to Kiruna, it will often be from/via Stockholm. In Kiruna you can take the train to Abisko.
If you’d rather not fly, or want a more authentic travel experience, with the chance to meet some other hikers or Swedes, catch the night train to Narvik in Stockholm*, stopping at Abisko Turiststation along the way, a journey of about sixteen hours. If you have the money for it, I would definitely book a sleeper compartment, but seats are also available. You can book this train in advance online through sites such as:
https://www.sj.se (the Swedish NS)
https://www.vy.se/en (SJ’s competitor)
Nikkaluokta is a very small place, you can only get here by bus (or arrange a lift with someone) if the road is free of snow. From Kiruna, there’s a bus, but check the departure times carefully, because there are very few buses! The bus takes 60 to 90 minutes.
- If you are flying in and want to camp, remember that you’re not allowed to take gas canisters onto the plane. Make sure to build in some time to get these after you arrive! There are small stores in Abisko Turiststation and in the STF huts along the route, but never count on them having everything you need. Especially the STF huts are only stocked sporadically, as this has to be done by helicopter.
- Do you like saunas? Many cabins have their own sauna, which you can use for a fee!
- If you want to sleep in the cabins, book them in advance. This is cheaper with an STF membership, you can also arrange reservations through them.
- Many hikers return from the Kungsleden with reindeer antlers attached to their backpacks. Reindeer are everywhere in this area (fun fact: they are not wild, all reindeer in Lapland are owned by the Sami), and so you may just find some antlers lying around somewhere along the trail. They’re popular souvenirs!
(*From the Netherlands you can also travel to Stockholm by train, although this is quite an undertaking and requires several transfers. Deutsche Bahn has a good website for buying train tickets, NS International gave me fewer options and sometimes no availability for trains that I could book through DB, although that may have changed in the meantime).