|Visitors to Karelia can find a broad spectrum of Finnish landscapes: rugged ridges, hills, marshes, backwoods, lakes and rivers with sandy beaches and islands galore. There are about 2 000 lakes and with two thirds of the area covered by forest.
For Karelians the natural environment has always been much more than merely a source of livelihood. In the ancient religions nature was a sacred thing and the forces of the forests and waters were tangible things with which man had to live in harmony.
The diversity of landscapes, flora and fauna in Karelia is enormous. In addition to extensive wilderness areas hikers are offered numerous signposted trails with marked areas for campfires and backwoods camping; but if you’re looking for something a little less basic there is a broad selection of cottages available. By keeping to marked trails visitors can see the countryside easily and at the same time minimise erosion.
The universal right of access enjoyed in Finland means freedom of movement in the countryside, including the right to pick wild berries and mushrooms. Some forms of fishing are also included, but in many cases require a licence, as does hunting.
A safe way to see the large carnivores of the taiga forest is to spend a night in an animal watching lodge in the middle of wilderness. For example, brown bears, wolverines, golden eagles and even wolves and lynxes can bee seen.
Three complete national parks lie wholly within North Karelia; Koli, Petkeljärvi and Patvinsuo – while three others: Kolovesi, Tiilikka and Peurajärvi-Hiidenportti are partially located within the province.
Koli, with its spectacular views over hill and lakeland scenery, is the most popular and has the most visitor facilities, centred on Heritage Centre Ukko.
Petkeljärvi, with camping and hostel accommodation, lies near the eastern border and is mainly composed of forested sandy ridges among sparkling lakes.
The most remote of the three is Patvinsuo, an internationally important mire conservation and research area with almost nonexistent facilities for daytrippers.
Though very different in character all three parks offer the outdoor enthusiast opportunities for such activities as hiking, skiing, canoeing and fishing.
Another spot ideal for lovers of the outdoors is Ruunaa Recreational Area with whitewater boating, fishing, hiking, cycling and skiing. Ruunaa Visitor Centre offers information and an exhibition of the area.