Highlights from the road trip around Finland: Koli, Kalajoki, Vaasa, and Rauma

This summer, we drove about 1700 kilometers road trip around Finland. Here are highlights from the trip.

Night colors of Koli National Park and Lake Pielinen

Published on 8/24/2020. Updated on 8/30/2020. Text and photos by Tero Auralinna.

This year the COVID-19 pandemic canceled our summer holiday travel plans. So instead of traveling abroad, we did a road trip in Finland and drove about 1700 kilometers via the following route: Helsinki - Kuopio - Koli - Kalajoki - Vaasa - Rauma - Helsinki.

First stop in North Savo, eastern Finland

📷 Autuaankannas: We drove through a picturesque narrow land between the pond called Autuaanlampi and Lake of Virmaanpää. There is also a kiosk, which makes this a perfect place for a break in good weather. Unfortunately, the weather was bad this time so we didn't make a stop there.

Instead, the Lake Saittajärvi at Itä-Karttula provided various nice views later in the evening.

Lake almost like a mirror. A calm moment at Lake Saittajärvi in North Savo, eastern Finland Lake almost like a mirror. A calm moment at Lake Saittajärvi.

Colors of sunset at Lake Saittajärvi in North Savo, eastern Finland. Colors of sunset at Lake Saittajärvi in North Savo, eastern Finland.

Koli National Park: National landscape in Finland

Our main road trip destination was the beautiful Koli National Park – one of the national landscapes in Finland. Koli is one of the most popular National parks in Finland. Especially this year when most of the Finns spent their holidays in Finland. Although, the most crowded places were the surroundings of the Koli Nature Centre and the top viewpoints. For example, the Mäkrä trail was quiet, and mostly we were hiking there by ourselves.

Rainbow over Lake Pielinen at Koli National Park, Finland Rainbow over Lake Pielinen at Koli National Park. This image is taken from the french balcony of a hotel room. Perfect place to watch the constantly changing scenes of Pielinen.

Break Sokos Hotel Koli was the perfect basecamp for the daily hikes in the national park. Grill it! Koli restaurant served us an excellent menu, and we also enjoyed the pizzas of Kahpitsa. Views from the hotel room were a big plus. We enjoyed our stay at this hotel. The location and views from the hotel are hard to beat in Finland.

Beautiful views from the top of Koli Beautiful views from the top of Koli.

Parking tip for Koli: Due to the popularity of Koli, I recommend using the P4 parking lot (Ylä-Kolintie 10). There is free, two-way transportation by a bus to the Koli Nature Centre Ukko. Though, it might be that a low season brings more space to the nearest parking lot.

What to see and do in Koli?

Beautiful landscapes from the top of the Koli hills are the main reason why most of the people come to Koli. Koli also offers a vast network of different kinds of hiking routes.

Views from the Paha Koli (translates as Bad Koli) Views from the Paha Koli (translates as Bad Koli).

Visit at least the trail of the tops (Huippujen kierros) and Mäkrä trail (Mäkrän kierros). The trail of the tops is a short one, but it will pass through all the top spots (Ukko-Koli, Akka-Koli, and Paha-Koli). Go early in the morning or later in the evening if you want to enjoy views alone without other visitors. Mäkrä trail is about 7 km long circuit route with moderate ascending and descending. There are a couple of steep spots on a route. From the Mäkrä trail, the one will also find scenic viewpoints. Also, the glacial erratic on top of Mäkrä hill is an interesting sight.

Colors of Koli and Pielinen: Blue – Green – White Colors of Koli and Pielinen: Blue – Green – White.

One way to experience Koli is to use Koli's scenic lift that operates in the peak season in summer. Check out the sneak peek of the ride from YouTube. There is also a lot of parking space near the scenic lift lower station. So it's also a viable option to visit the tops from there. Although you need to pay a small fee to get into a scenic elevator.

Koli has a lot to do year-round so check out the official Koli website for more information.

On our way to Kalajoki Sand Dunes

From Koli, we continued our journey to the famous Kalajoki Sand Dunes.

☕️ Koirakosken Koski-Kahvio: We spotted this summer cafe at Koirakoski, Sonkajärvi on our way to Kalajoki. The cafe is next to a river and white-water. They had so good freshly baked buns that have a butter eye in the middle. Best buns of this road trip! Koski-Kahvio is only open from May until September.

Koirakosken Koski-Kahvio Picture is taken from the terrace of the Koirakosken Koski-Kahvio.

Kalajoki Sand Dunes (Kalajoen Hiekkasärkät) is a three and a half kilometers long area formed by the dunes and beaches. Some of the sandbanks are reaching far to the sea and it's fun to walk on those. From Kalajoki you'll find a vast amount of different kind accommodation options from the hotels and cottages to camping sites.

Kalajoki Sand Dunes Kalajoki Sand Dunes.

Walking on a sandbanks at Kalajoki Beach Walking on sandbanks at Kalajoki Beach – these sandbanks extend far to the sea.

Sunset at Kalajoki Beach Views just before the sunset at Kalajoki Beach. I would love to rent that cottage if ever visiting Kalajoki again!

Kids at the beach watching the sunset. Kids at the beach watching the sunset.

🏨 Hotel Rantakalla: Nice rooms with balcony and sea views. Quick access to the beach. Perfect place to admire the sunset views. Especially from the upper floors.

🍹 Café Reef: Nice, colorful, surf-style cafe & terrace overlooking the sea. Friends of Lager can taste a locally produced beer called Kärkisen Kuohuva.

Check out the official Visit Kalajoki website for more what you can do and see at Kalajoki.

Back to Helsinki via Bothnian Coast Road (Pohjanlahden rantatie)

From Kalajoki, we drove back to Helsinki via cities of Vaasa and Rauma. We mostly followed the Bothnian Coast Road. You'll recognize this route from the traffic sign, which has the lighthouse in it. We also made several stops in the smaller towns, like Kaskinen, Jakobstad, Kristinestad, and Merikarvia, that happens to be on the route.

Colorful and beautiful wooden houses at the Old Rauma Colorful and beautiful wooden houses at the Old Rauma. Old Rauma is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

🧂 Pavis: Stylish rstaurant with sea views at Jakobstad (Pietarsaari). We enjoyed a great buffet lunch at Pavis.

🍗 The Merry Monk Gastropub: This is a great restaurant at Krookka Harbour, Merikarvia. Try their Fish & Chips from the fresh, local fish. Probably the very best Fish & Chips I have ever eaten.

🍰 Sweet Vaasa: Beautiful and tasty cakes in the center of Vaasa. Also they have a really good salad selection.

🍻 HEJM Restaurant & Rooftop Terrace: Nice restaurant & rooftop terrace with a view over the bay at Vaasa. Also, try out their own HEJM Pils.

🍦Long Van Ice Cream Kiosk: After HEJM, get a dessert ice cream from the Long Van trailer. They have big portions, tons of flavors, and reasonable prices.

🏨 Hotel Vanha Rauma: Offers a comfortable stay in the center of the Rauma's old town. Spacious and timeless rooms in a building that represents a functionalist architecture.

☕️ Wanhan Rauman KaffeBar: A coffeehouse worth to stop by. They serve fresh coffee, donuts, pastries, and salads. They also have a cozy terrace within the inner court.

🏺 Sammallahdenmäki: The old bronze age burial site near Rauma. Also one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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