Make your stay sustainable by following in the footsteps of Gjermund Nordskar, who hiked in 37 of Norway’s 44 national parks and wrote a book about it. Read his tips for treading lightly in lesser known areas.
You often hear that Norway is known for its clean, untouched nature. The core is the 44 national parks that are spread around the country.
Many local tour operators can help you experience nature in the best and safest way possible.
Gjermund Nordskar, who has written the book Til topps i Norges nasjonalparker (meaning “To the top of Norway’s national parks”) about his hiking trips during 80 days in the 37 national parks found in mainland Norway (the remaining seven is in the Svalbard Islands), believes that the huge park areas are easily accessible for most people.
“If you travel outside of the most visited areas, you can romp around in untouched nature that stretches longer than the eye can reach”, Nordskar says.
The national parks are partly vulnerable ecosystems and nature that Norway’s environmental authorities have decided to protect. 20,000 kilometres of hiking trails and cross-country skiing tracks are clearly marked with a painted ‘T’, the sign of the Norwegian Trekking Association. Within the areas visitors will find sustainable accommodation offers.
Just on the outside of many of the parks there are modern visitor centres with useful information and gear, usually where you normally park to enter. Remember to show respect for the nature and its animals, people, and local traditions. In short, leave the landscape as you would like to find it. The Norwegian Environment Agency has more information about protected areas.
Hikers are good at posting their national park experiences on social media. Gjermund Nordskar says that these posts are positive for raising awareness of the opportunities the national parks have to offer. At the same time, images from only a few of the 44 parks are found on social media like Instagram and Facebook.
So, which of his favourite lesser known parks would he send us to?
Gjermund Nordskar quickly mentions Lomsdal-Visten in Helgeland, Seiland in the absolute upper end of Northern Norway, Breheimen north of the innermost part of the Sognefjord, and Rago and Sjunkhatten just north of the city of Bodø in Northern Norway.
“Each of these national parks have a distinctive character with experiences for the whole family”, he adds.
“Lomsdal-Visten is known as ‘the unknown country’ and offers one of Norway’s last wildernesses.”
“Seiland offers a stunning island landscape in Finnmark’s archipelago.”
“Breheimen is a lesser visited mountain range with numerous small glaciers and beautiful mountains. The park lies in the shadow of its big brother Jotunheimen.”
“Rago is a park for your inner adventurer, with amazing waterfalls and colours.”
“Sjunkhatten offers wild nature and great contrasts. Here, white-tailed eagles hover above your head, and the steep mountain walls rise right up from the fjord. Sjunkhatten is also known as the ‘Children’s national park’ with kid-friendly activities.”
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Which smells from the national parks were left in Gjermund Nordskar’s nostrils after his 37 hiking expeditions?
“Well, it feels special to smell the sea when you stand on a high mountain. In Norway we have numerous mountains, but also a lot of terrain with pine needles. Trøndelag comprises a lot of areas of marsh, including its seven national parks Lierne, Blåfjella-Skjækerfjella, Forollhogna, Femundsmarka, Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella, Skarvan, and Roltdalen. Even the wind on the mountain peaks has its own, fresh smell, which is unlike anything else. When you go hiking in the mountains, you simply smell clean oxygen”, tells Nordskar.
When you’re going on a hike, remember to bring warm clothes like a jacket, as well as a wool or fleece sweater. “In case of an accident, it is crucial to stay warm”, Nordskar emphasizes.
“Keep your hands warm. Always bring at least two pairs of gloves. One of them should be wind and waterproof. In rough weather ordinary ski gloves are not sufficiently protective. When they get wet, they suck the heat out of your hands. Once your hands get cold, you lose the ability to use them to perform even the most basic things. Icy hands will also prevent you from picking up your smartphone to make great photos”, says Nordskar.
Navigation and communication equipment is essential on long trips. In many mountain areas the mobile coverage is poor. For example, a personal tracker or similar gear can turn out to be useful. For navigation, a map and a compass is a must, with a GPS as backup.
“Also bring a backup charger for mobile phones, of the type you can buy everywhere now”, recommends Nordskar.
Olav Nord-Varhaug runs the section for The national parks of Norway at the Norwegian Environment Agency. The agency has recently rebranded the Norwegian national parks with the uncompromising slogan “Welcome to nature”.
“The nature in the national parks is robust. It can endure to be far more used and visited than today”, he explains.
And if you have low ambitions for your trip?
“Then you can just walk a few steps into nature and lay in the heather. You can eat berries and photograph many beautiful motifs to post in social media”, says Nordskar.
“You can also choose to use one of the many local tour operators. Hiking guides know the wilderness.”
Jotunheimen national park
Photo: Anders Gjengedal / Visitnorway.com
Local food should be a part of your visit in a national park.
“Risotto cooked on a mobile stove became my team’s most popular meal. Preferably accompanied by onions, garlic, cheese, and vegetables. Although the national parks have many eateries, my team did not visit these during our 37 trips, as the goal was to stay self-sufficient”, tells Nordskar.
Olav Nord-Varhaug says that the national park authorities think excellent food offers are an increasing part of the total hiking experience.
“High quality local offers for eating, drinking and accommodation make it easier for hikers to choose to spend a whole day or more in nature. Many small places inside or just outside the national parks now have restaurants and other offers that stand out.”
Recognised local food made of the areas’ fresh ingredients is served at places to eat in Lom, Langsua, Folgefonna, Hardangervidda, and many other sites.
Read more about hiking and dining.