Backpacking The Greatest Wilderness in Europe

Sweden's Far North, home to the wild heart of Europe

By: Erik Nilsson + Save to a List

Well above the arctic circle in Swedish Lapland lies Kungsleden - The King's Trail. This 450km swath of trail stretches between the towns of Abisko, the northern terminus and Hemavan, the southern. Hikers wanting to complete the whole trail can expect it to take anywhere between 3-6 weeks, depending on speed, fitness and willingness to explore many of the well worthwhile side-trips this hike has to offer.  

Along most the trail, at approximately 20km intervals you will find huts run by STF (The Swedish Tourist Foundation). These huts come in various shapes and sizes, most being somewhat basic (some very), and a few being almost luxurious - with sauna, ensuite restaurant and comfortable beds. If you are more of a camper, the Swedish allemansrätten (the right to roam) law states that anyone is free to pitch a tent more or less wherever they please in the country, as long as they do not disturb the land or its inhabitants. Free of charge.

Because of Kungsledens great length it is more common, than not, for people to split the trail up into sections, with the most popular section of the trail being the furthest northern part. Clocking in at around 120km, this part of the trail can be completed in a week or less, again depending on speed and side-trips. This is a genuinely peaceful expanse of land, oftentimes with nothing to brake the deep silence except for the call of the wind, the gushing of streams and the occasional stomping of reindeer hooves. 

Following rivers, meandering through ancient glacial-carved valleys, scrambling across wind-scorn passes and skirting Sweden's highest peaks on route, this segment of the trail has a beauty that is hard to put in to words. The land can feel empty and isolated at the same time as it fills you with a sense of belonging and tranquility. It is truly a place to slow down, to let nature be nature, and to find your place in it. The water in rivers and streams is of highest quality, frigid and fresh and on the side of the trail you will find blueberries, lingonberries and cloudberries - a Swedish delicacy. 

One of the highlights of the trail is the side-trip up Kebnekaise, Swedens tallest mountain. Mountaineering/rope skills are not needed to reach its summit via the southern route, only a reasonable amount of fitness. The 2102m climb takes most people 8-10 hours to complete and should generally only be attempted in fair weather. The peak is snow-covered year round, and in whiteout conditions, a misplaced foot could have a potentially fatal outcome. Weather can change rapidly in this region and even during the summer months, temperatures in the valleys often drop below freezing levels. Cary a warm sleeping bag, and dress in layers as well as having a waterproof outer shell.

Waking up at the crack of dawn with crisp morning air filling my lungs, my companions and I soon find ourselves flanked by giants, as a swift sunrise gently warms our backs. The winding trail leads us on amongst boulders and streams and scraggly wildflowers. This is earth at its rawest.  It's hard not to smile.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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