Kungsleden (The King‘s Trail) is a hiking trail in northern Sweden, approximately 440-kilometre (270 mi) long, between Abisko in the north and Hemavan in the south. It passes through one of Europe‘s largest remaining wilderness areas.
The trail is separated in four portions which each represent approximately one week of hiking. The most practised part is by far the northernmost, between Abisko and Kebnekaise. The season, when the huts are open and rowing boats available, usually runs between mid-June and the end of September, but the weather can be very treacherous, including late or early snow.
We opted for the northernmost part and chose beginning of September to enjoy the peak of autumn season there. Also, instead of staying purely on Kungsleden, we pursued zig-zag crossing across the area.
The 9-days itinerary was the following: Nikkaluokta -> Visttasvággi valley -> Unna Reaiddávággi pass -> Sälkastugorna -> Alisvággi valley -> Unna Allakas -> Abiskojaurestugorna -> Abisko. Except for one night in the Unna Räitastugan hut, we used our tents and enjoyed autumn landscape of the deep north quite heavily. That sense of freedom… cannot be described by words.
It took us a whole day to get to Kiruna in northern Sweden. From there, a friend gave us a night car lift to the small outpost of Nikkaluokta. Around midnight, we pitched our tents on a small hill close to a nearby chapel.
The following morning we woke up into one of the most beautiful autumn days we have ever seen anywhere on the Earth. The sun was shining and autumn colours were at their best: around us in all the directions, endless fields of birches were bursting by golden, red and brown colours.
After a few hundreds meters of walking on the road, we quickly turned to the left and entered a broad valley called Visttasvággi. The Visttasjohka river was running slowly and peacefully, creating numerous lakes and smaller ponds.
Those with shorts were really lucky. We were hiking far beyond the polar circle and in the middle of autumn, yet the sun was shining so intensively that shortly we found ourselves sunbathing shirtless in the popular “Putin style”.
The valley was beautiful and looked spectacular in the afternoon sun. Instead of rushing, we preferred to move slowly and enjoy beauty of the arctic landscape and marvellous weather we didn’t expect at all.
The shadows were getting lower yet it was still very warm. We continued hiking in the north-west direction towards the magnificent peaks we saw in the west.
We camped in a small camping spot we found among the birches. The night was peaceful and we felt really thankful for such a beautiful opening of our trekking adventure.
Early morning was foggy and misty as one may expect in late autumn in a location close to the river; the sun was only hardly getting through thick clouds.
Soon, however, the fog and clouds disappear, and brilliant sunshine continued to rule.
We continued hiking in the north-west direction, slowly ascending on the right sight of the valley. From time to time, we descended back to the river, and got a chance for a swim.
It was really warm - however, the water temperature was as arctic as was our location.
It the late afternoon, the sky was still cloudless. On the right side of the valley, we got a chance to look back at those twenty five kilometres we had hiked so far. Somewhere in the east, there was Nikkaluokta settlement - the closest civilization.
So far, we had met less than five people. For unknown reason, this Visttasvággi valley was not really popular - good for us!
We decided to camp on a nice small plateau located on the left side of the river. With upcoming twilight, the temperature dropped significantly. Dinner, tea, and finally a shot of whisky in our sleeping bags.
The first two days on the trail couldn’t be more magical. We were looking for tomorrow - the plan was to leave the valley, and go to the mountains.
Sunrise in the valley in a close proximity to majestic peaks was an awesome experience.
First sun beams were illuminating the mountains in a magical game of light. Looking out from our tents, however, did not bring much optimism. Thick clouds had gathered through the night, and it looked like rain.
Indeed, light shower started soon, and we had rather wet breakfast. We packed our things quickly, and set out on the trail again.
We decided to cross the Unna Reaiddávággi pass and spent a night in a small cabin called Unna Räitastugan.
In fact, this meant more or less constant gentle ascent through the pass, following crossing of a tributary river. From time to time, rain showers were making our progress harder, but we were also rewarded by a beautiful rainbow.
The hike along the lower lake below the Unna Räitastugan hut was a rather wet endeavour; that time, it rained quite extensively.
The landscape changed dramatically - here in the pass, there was almost no life, neither birches nor bush; just tundra grass. Everything looked really rough and rugged. Last (or first?) patches of snow were lying on the slopes of surrounding peaks.
The path continued on the left side of the pass, climbing to a plateau with another lake - where the hut should have been located. We were quite tired and were really looking forward to a place where we could warm up a bit and enjoy the evening. There was a spectacular waterfall connecting higher and lower lakes.
The hut was small and not in a perfect shape. Still, it was a cosy place.
With a small fireplace, we quickly managed to warm up the cabin, and enjoyed the rest of the evening in a peaceful and comfortable atmosphere. Outside, meantime, it got really cold. The wind was blowing severely through the pass, and from time to time it was raining. We were really thankful for this small hut we stayed in - it became our true home for the night.
The sunrise at the Unna Räitastugan cabin was nothing less than a phenomenal light performance in a truly exceptional setting.
The rising sun was illuminating surrounding peaks and changing their colours continuously. What an awesome experience! It was cold, most likely below zero, but we couldn’t resist staying outside to witness this natural phenomenon.
We didn’t rush to move on; the comfort of the cabin was way too attractive.
We enjoyed our breakfast, warm tea, and packed our things in a slow-paced way. Brilliant weather ruled and the sun was shining, though it was quite cold outside - no wonder, we were at the elevation of at least one thousand meters.
We set out on the trail hiking in the south-west direction. Frequently, there was hardly any path at all; we were crossing barren land of rock fields - not a pleasant way of walking.
From time to time, a few reindeer were our companions. Here, there was no one, no other trekkers - obviously this shortcut was even less frequented than the Visttasvággi valley we had explored during the first two days on the trail.
Soon, we started to descent from the pass, and after some time we turned to the left, towards a beautiful lake called Reaiddájávri.
The journey planned for this day was one of those shorter ones; we didn’t really rush, and enjoyed beautiful autumn weather instead.
After a few kilometres of hiking on the plateau with the lake, we started yet another descent - now to our final destination of the day, Sälkastugorna hut and campsite. For the first time, we were about to reach Kungsleden trail - it is crossing the area in the south-to-north direction like a trekking highway.
The evening was pleasant though rather cold. Of course, we did enjoy a sauna that was available, and a nearby stream - surely a must after a few days of hiking and sweating.
The night was not warm - near the river, it became really cold, and we were thankful for our good sleeping bags.
There were a few nice brief moments of sunrise sunshine, but quickly it became overcast and grey clouds started to rule the skies. It looked like rain. We set out on the trail, following the Kungsleden path in the northern direction. The terrain was flat in the beginning, with some gentle ascents that followed.
We continued hiking to the Tjäktjapasset pass. It started to rain - luckily there was a small cabin in the pass where we got a chance to dry out and have a lunch.
Then, the path led us along the Tjäktja hut, and we continued hiking till twilight, aiming to find a nice camping spot in the broad valley.
We pitched our tents on a small plateau in the middle of the Alisvággi valley. It was overcast, but at least it wasn’t raining.
We realized that though the valley was really nice, it was not comparable to our first hiking days in terms of natural beauty.
Also, we were meeting more people here - from time tom time, these were really funny encounters. Have you ever met a hiker on a long-distance path with an umbrella? :-) Everything seemed to be possible here…
The sky looked much better than yesterday. For our sixth day on the trail, we had planned rather long hike, significantly exceeding 20 kilometres.
The plan was to quickly reach the Alesjaurestugorna hut and Alisjávri lake, have a lunch there, and then continue across the plateau to the west, aiming to get to the Unna Allakasstugorna hut and campsite in the evening.
Here on the trail, we met an “Umbrella man”, as we quickly nicknamed him. Umbrella, small backpack, and a sleeping bag on his shoulders… quite a unique style of wandering in the deep north!
The wind started to blow quite intensively and we quickly continued to the Alisjávri lake, crossing a spectacular bridge across one of the tributaries of the Aliseatnu river.
Soon, we found ourselves close to the lake and and a nearby Alesjaurestugorna hut. Slowly, the sun started to shine through the clouds and illuminate the surrounding autumn landscape with its beautiful light.
It looked like in an autumn fairy-tale paradise; everything in red, yellow and brown autumnal colours.
It was already mid afternoon when we set out on the trail again, having had a lunch at the Alesjaurestugorna hut. There were remaining thirteen kilometres ahead of us, starting with a fair climb to a nearby plateau.
Leaving Kungsleden once again meant founding more spectacular scenery, now in beautiful tones of the setting sun.
There were herds of reindeer as well, and not surprisingly, we had only met two fellow trekkers on this “shortcut”. This may have been one of the surprises of Kungsleden: these shortcuts and side trails are often much more interesting than the main trail.
After a few hours of hiking, we found ourselves quite close to - Norway. Indeed, the snow-covered peaks reminding Mordor landscape were actually located in Norway.
It was already during sunset when we descended from the plateau to the valley - but still, we had to cross another smaller ridge called Unna Allagas.
We reached the Unna Allakasstugorna hut and campsite during twilight. Having talked to the warden, we realized that this day was actually the last day the hut and campsite were operating (in the summer season).
Autumn was about to end here, and birches were already almost leafless in the area.
The warden was kind enough to give us some spare cokes that were not sold to other hikers during past weeks - after a few days of hiking in the wilderness, this was like a small miracle that happened to us.
It was a long day. Or, better said, the longest day. 28 kilometres with heavy backpacks is neither short nor an easy walk.
Tired, we fell asleep quickly. The night was quite peaceful, with occasional wind and rain.
We woke up into a really mysterious morning.
Fog and mist were rolling through the valley, and it looked like rain. Still, the warden told us that the weather shall improve in the afternoon, with even some sunshine being forecast. But now, in the morning, it started to rain.
The autumn tundra landscape looked completely differently in the rainy and foggy weather.
There was some melancholy in the air, and one could really feel that winter is already knocking on the door. Mid of September - autumn doesn’t last long in the deep north.
We hiked in the north-east direction, aiming to get close to the Abiskojaure lake to have a camp there.
It was quite an easy walk in a broad valley, without major descents or ascents. After some time, even the light rain stopped.
Around lunch time the sun finally broke through thick clouds.
We felt this could haven been the very last day of autumn here. Once again we were hiking in a fairy-tale place, without any fellow hikers, being completely alone.
We continued hiking through the Rovvidievvá hamlet with a few summer houses (of course, no one was there).
There was some nice rainbow performance as well, and we decided to go a few more kilometres to find a nice camping spot.
We camped in a small birch forest and enjoyed a campfire.
Our journey was about to end soon; so far, we had hiked more than one hundred kilometres.
The morning was really optimistic - after a few days, there was plenty of sunshine, and the grey rainy clouds disappeared completely.
After breakfast, we set out on the trail, aiming to reach the Abiskojaurestugorna hut and campsite around lunchtime.
The journey was pleasant, nothing really challenging. Also, after a week our backpacks became lighter and bearable.
We reached the Abiskojaurestugorna hut around lunchtime, bought some snacks and a few cokes, and enjoyed the lunch. It was rather windy, but the sun was shining perfectly.
Autumn wonderland yet another time.
The re-joined the Kungsleden path for the second time and continued hiking on the right side of the Abiskojaure lake.
Here on the trail, we were definitely not alone - herds of fellow trekkers were passing by, following the Kungsleden highway to the south.
We did not really rush - our aim was to camp somewhere close to the end of the trail, saving last few kilometres for tomorrow. It was really beautiful. I remember seeing summer pictures from Kungsleden, everything in green - this was far much better. More colourful, even spectacular. And without mosquitoes.
Autumn is for sure the best period for hiking in the deep north…
From time to time, we were hiking at the shores of the Abiskojåkka river. The setting was beautiful, and we were meeting more and more daily trippers and hikers. The civilization was not far.
We camped quite close to Abisko train station, in a nice campsite at the river.
Last night in the wild.
The journey was about to end.
It took us two hours to come to the end (and beginning) of the trail. And it was it. End of a journey. End of autumn. End of the trip.
We took a train back to Kiruna and spent a night there. Of course, some good meal and a few beers were not missed.
It was a beautiful trail.
I could give tens of advices, but I give just one: don’t just stay on the main path.
Wonder around, explore, go for some adventure. It’s definitely worth it!