In the National Park the Subarctic region of the Norwegian mainland meets the Low Arctic in a unique convergence. We encounter European mainland species at their most north-westerly range distributions and Arctic species at their most southernly. Grilse-salmon rivers decorate the peninsula’s length and breadth like pearls on a string. In the heart of the Park the landscape is as it was before the last ice age. There are magnificent views out towards the Varanger Fjord southwards or the Barents Sea northwards. In this wide terrain the distances are enormous, the weather wild and variable, and human travellers are a mere dot on the landscape.
Along the road that skirts the Park there are marked access points and parking facilities. Yet within the Park itself you will have to navigate by your own reckoning because this is one of the few remaining areas of Norway without an extensive network of marked paths. Instead of paths made by people, you’ll find here tracks carved by generations of semi-domestic reindeer herds.
The Park is surrounded by several Protected Areas. Along the peninsula’s rugged coastline there are distinctive landscape features such as dislocated and stratified sedimentary rock formations, sand dune systems and rocky shores, also raised beaches evidencing post glacial rebound. On the outermost coast is an abrasion coast with sheer cliffs towering above beaches littered with driftwood and an almost total absence of vegetation.
Block fields created before the last ice age Photo: Bjarne Riesto
The Ragnarokk cabin. Photo: Geir Østereng
Explore the National Park by the following entry points: Nattfjelldalen /Idjaávže / Koppakuru , Komagdalen /Stuorrajohka /Komagdaali and Ordo /Oarddajohka /Ortojärvi. At the Nattfjelldalen entry point you will find a marked track leading all the way up to the Park border. Be aware that there are no marked paths beyond this point. From Komagdalen there is 4 km long bird-watching trail with information billboards about the birds using the valley. Similarly, beyond this short, designated trail the Park authority provides no marked tracks or cairns to follow, and you need navigation skills of your own Although there are open huts and shelters in the area, it is recommended to take your own tent with you when planning longer tours. There may be rapid weather changes – in adverse mountain weather and low visibility conditions you may be forced to seek shelter.
The area has many unusual and distinct natural features to it, from its geologically varied coastline and lush riparian valleys to its high plateaus with their rocky scree-slopes and boulder fields. The waterways shaping the valleys are vital for Atlantic salmon, sea trout and Arctic char. The extensive and largely untouched landscape with its panoramic views out over the sea are a unique national and international feature to Varanger. Semi-domesticated reindeer graze their summer pastures here in large flocks. The reindeer reflect a time gone by back to the Stone Age when there was hunting and trapping of wild reindeer in the area. They are also a potent symbol of the modern practice of semi-domestic reindeer husbandry today.
Why a National Park?
The National Park was established in 2006 and covers an area of 1804 km2.
The aims of its Park status are,
- To protect a largely intact natural area free from most technical and human modification with the purpose of maintaining biological diversity in terms of ecosystems, species, and populations. An integral part of the protection status is to preserve this most Arctic-influenced region of mainland Norway with its characteristic land formations and features from the ice age, and it’s distinct easterly and Arctic flora and fauna. The region is defined as a key location for Arctic fox and for unique Sami cultural heritage.
- Zone A is designated as a marsh and wetland area of special scientific significance as a reference area distinctive for its many ponds, lakes, and marshes. The area is habitat for a rich and varied composition of wetland birds, including endangered species. It is of high value for bean geese and white-fronted geese.
- The Norwegian ‘right to roam’ laws (‘Allemannsretten ’) give legal permission to participate in traditional low-impact outdoor recreation that doesn’t require infrastructure and modification. Maintaining the natural integrity of the National Park is important for Sami culture and livelihoods. The area is designated as a reindeer husbandry location.
Zone A of the national park consists of small lakes and wetlands. Photo: Geir Østereng
Enjoying the fire. Photo: Bjarne Riesto
What is permitted in the National Park?
Within the Park you can enjoy sustainable outdoor recreation activities using low-impact travel means. According to the Norwegian ‘right to roam’ laws, berry and fungi-harvesting for your own personal use is permitted, as is recreational fishing (after obtaining a fishing license). Conservative use of firewood for small campfires is allowed. For your means of transport, you can hike, horse-ride and kite (in wintertime). Non-motorized bicycling is also permitted.
In wooded areas you should keep to tracks and paths when cycling, whilst in the uplands you may cycle where you will. When travelling in the Park you must refrain from harming vegetation or cultural heritage sites and disturbing any animal and bird life you may encounter.
Licensed small-game hunting is permitted in the National Park within respective seasons for specific quarry. However, at the western boundary of the Zone A area all forms of hunting begin at the earliest on 10th September each year. In Norway there is an ‘on-leash season’ when all dogs must be kept on leads. This is a legal requirement to protect wildlife, domestic farm animals, and semi-domestic reindeer from dog harassment and dog attacks. This period can vary slightly from municipality to municipality yet is generally from 1st April – 20th August. Please note that in Zone A of the National Park the on-leash season for dogs is extended. In Zone A your dog MUST be on a lead between (and including) 1st April – 9th September.
Sources of potential noise pollution are restricted within the National Park. This means that drones, model aircraft and motorized ice-drills are not permitted. However, if you wish to sing loudly when travelling this is permissible – so long as you are not disturbing wildlife or people!
Motorized Transport ban
Use of electric-bikes and other motorized bikes are not allowed in the Park. With some exceptions, neither is motorized transport on snow- and ice-covered fields and uplands, nor flying aircraft at altitudes lower than 300m. Snowmobiles can be used on the municipalities’ own designated scooter trails, as according to specific rules related to these trails. Information about whether the trails are open can be found on the municipalities’ own websites.
Organized travel tours
So long as the natural environment is not damaged, guided hiking tours are permitted. However, if there is a perceived risk of damaging the Park’s nature, permission must be sought by the operating body. This includes organized tours with horses, snow-kites, dog sleds and also other transport means. Permission must always be sought for any activities organized in areas of the Park where there are endangered species such as Arctic fox or where there are birds of prey.
Reindeer are particularly sensitive to disturbance from the beginning of April until the end of June.
Use existing fire pits along the river valleys instead of creating new ones. Do NOT burn your rubbish -to avoid littering please take all rubbish home with you. If you are planning to camp, consider moving your tent if you stay in one spot for an extended number of days. This will spare the vegetation beneath your tent from permanent damage.
Tent in Sandfjorddalen. Photo: Randull Valle
Arctic fox bouncing towards the feeding station. Photo: Geir Østereng
It is vital to disinfect your fishing equipment when you have arrived from another location and will be fishing in any salmon river in the area. This is to prevent salmon lice infestations in the wild salmon stock in the Park. Use of live bait is not permitted.
Remember! Vegetation, wildlife, and cultural heritage sites all have special protective status.
Please leave the National Park in the same condition as you would like it to be in on your return. A ‘leave-no-trace’ travel philosophy is the very best way you can help with this!
In Norway there is special legal protection regarding Arctic foxes. This legislation requires you to keep at least 300 m distance from Arctic foxes or their den sites. Avoid disturbing foxes you meet and if you encounter locations with special feeding stations or automatic cameras in place you should avoid these areas also. Follow this advice if you encounter an Arctic fox on your travels .