Koli National Park is one of the most famous ones in Finland, and there’s no question about why that is. The highest peaks of Southern Finland that lie in the park, give you the most breathtaking views of Lake Pielinen below, which is a unique sight. This one-of-a-kind experience is something that everyone should experience. No matter the season – Koli is always worth it.
Like with most destinations in Finland, most seasons have their charm. I have visited Koli and the region in late summer, autumn and winter and I loved all my visits for different reasons.
Summer is great for lake activities and relaxing outdoors, autumn is the perfect time to hike the peaks and indulge in local food, winter is great for winter sports like snowshoeing and skiing. Personally, I am not too big a fan of “spring” (everything is muddy as the snow is melting, but nothing is green yet). I would recommend to visit any time except during April-early May.
To reach Koli, the closest bigger town is Joensuu. If coming from Helsinki, a good option is to take the train to Joensuu, and continue with a rental car from there. There are also flights from Helsinki to Joensuu, but the time you save is minimal and it’s a lot pricier. The train is great.
Take a train to Joensuu, Vuonislahti, Lieksa, or Kajaani. The closest stations are Joensuu (74 km via Kolintie), Lieksa (85 km), or Kajaani (182 km).
From Joensuu or Kajaani, you can reach Koli National Park by bus or taxi (kolintaksi.fi).
From Lieksa, pre-book a shared taxi (lieksa.fi, in Finnish).
By Shared Taxi: Pre-book a taxi between Joensuu and Koli in the summer season. Also available between Lieksa or Juuka and Koli (lieksa.fi, in Finnish).
By Bus: The nearest bus stop is at Ahmovaara (Kolinportti) on Highway 6, approximately 9 km from Koli National Park.
Buses (matkahuolto.fi) from Joensuu and Kajaani run all year and stop at Kolinportti. Mon-Fri, book a bus from Ahmovaara to Koli (koli.fi) in advance. From Helsinki, the bus to Joensuu takes over 6 hours, the train is recommended.
By Car: Use Kolintie (Road 504) to reach Koli National Park, avoiding challenging roads like Rantatie and Jerontie, especially in winter. From Helsinki, it’s a good 5 hour trip to Koli.
In mid-winter, an ice road across Lake Pielinen is open from Koli to Vuonislahti (koli.fi).
If you travel from Joensuu to Koli by rental car, I recommend 24rent.fi for a good option.
There are several hikes of different lengths and difficulties in the Koli National Park, but the iconic Huippujen kierros Trail of the three most famous peaks is a must-visit! It’s only a short walk (uphill though) from the Koli Hotel.
If you have more time and stamina, I highly recommend the Mäkrä Trail – it was recommended to me by a very nice lady from Metsähallitus some years ago – and after a long while I finally got to hike it in autumn of 2023. And it was definitely worth it – it’s a demanding trail though and I definitely cursed a lot during the ascent up to Mäkrä. A long coffee break on top of the hill with snacks was just perfection, though. It takes about 3-4 hours.
In Nurmes, nearby the Bomba Hotel, you can visit the Bomba House, which showcases Karelian culture and history. You can visit an exhibition and learn all about the heritage, shop for local handicrafts and souvenirs. Everyone for sure has come across the Karelian pies in Finland that are from this region, so how about picking up a traditional rolling pin to make them yourself at home?
Korven kota is one of the best kept secrets, a traditional wooden sauna in the middle of nowhere, especially (but not limited to) magical in the winter time. We visitied in January and went for a dip in the ice hole (Avanto) which I always recommend trying at least once in your life. It’s a unique spot, and if you get the chance to get a meal cooked by your host in the kota (teepee hut), it will be one to remember.
Pielinen is the Fourth largest lake of Finland and absolutely stunning. What makes it quite unique, is the almost mountainous landscape around it. It’s best viewed either from the hilltops or the water – and a cruise with the M/S Marival II is just so relaxing. I love being out on the lake, enjoy a tasty cup of coffee and admire the scenery.
Two-hour cruise: 32,90€/adult
The Ukko Centre is these days run by Retkipaikka, the place for any outdoor resources in Finland. You can visit exhibitions and learn more about the local nature and wildlife, get a unique souvenir from your visit and get all the tips you need for our visit to the National Park from the lovely expert staff.
They also organise all kinds of outdoor activity and guided excursions.
If the peaks seem daunting don’t worry – e-bikes are the perfect option to venture out on the National Park trails. With Polar Adventures, located right next to the Koli Kylä village hotel, you’re in the right spot. You can both book a guided tour (for example to a Birdwatching tower) or rent the bikes and explore on your own.
Guided e-bike tour: from 79€/person
Snowshoeing is the most underrated activity, I always enjoy going out in snowshoes. The only tip: just pretend you don’t even have them on. Just walking as normally as possible will give you the best experience. Also: if it’s hilly, do take the help of the poles, it makes a huge difference. There is a dedicated winter trail for snowshoeing up to the peaks, which takes a bit longer but is really beautiful and special.
The Bomba Spa is just fantastic, what can I say. Especially when it turns dark outside and the Northern Lights coloured ambience comes out, it is a really moody and special experience. Particularly amazing is the outdoor jacuzzi with the lake view. There are different saunas, steam bath and shower experiences, a hot-and-cold-bath (my favourite) and the beautiful, large pool. You can also visit the Bomba spa without staying at the hotel. Possibly one of the nicest spa experiences in Finland.
Spa visit from 23€/adult
The Koli Spa on top of the hill has unmatched views over lake Pielinen – it is quite small but feels intimate and cozy. There are different saunas, hot tubs and foot baths. All you need after a day out in the nature.
Spa from 36€/adult
Arguably the most iconic hotel in the region is Break Sokos Hotel Koli, on top of the hill right at the foot of the most famous peaks, by the Nature Centre and the best views. Also a small spa. I recommend trying their Sibelius-inspired menu at the in-house restaurant.
Rooms from 199€/room (highly depends on the season)
Just opened in summer 2023, the Break Sokos Hotel Koli Kylä in the village is the newest addition to the accommodation offer of the region. Modern and bright rooms, in a beautiful nature-inspired space and lots of great amenities at a more budget-friendly price are great. Public transport in and around the area are tricky, and taxis to get to the top of the hill are expensive, but there is a ski bus in the winter season. I’d recommend staying here if you have a car available other seasons.
Rooms from 113€/room (highly depends on the season)
The Break Sokos Hotel Bomba hotel lies about an hour North of Koli. The Break Sokos Hotel Koli on the top of the hills in the National Park is a luxury option for those who really want to be in the heart of the action, where it can be quite busy. Bomba is near the village of Nurmes at the very North point of the Pielinen Lake, and a true oasis of relaxation and culture.
Rooms from 113€/person (highly depends on the season)
The cozy Pihlajapuu guest house closer to Nurmes (about 50 minutes by car from Koli) is a great option if you want to experience Karelian food and hospitality in an old wooden school building. A popular choice for cyclists during the summer season as well, you can also learn anything from pie-making to archery, or go canoeing nearby.
Rooms from 50€/person
Koli National Park and the surrounding Northern Karelia area is full of culture, history and natural beauty – worth a visit any time! From Helsinki it’s quite a journey to get there, so a great reason to spend a few days longer here. Perfect for a long weekend away!