Finland: Hiidenportti National Park

According to legend, Hiisi was a devil giant living on Vuokatinvaara Hill. He hated the sound of the church bells ringing (when Christianity was first brought to Finland), and threw large rocks at the church. When this didn’t stop the noise (or the church) he gathered his livestock – a pack of wolves, bears, wolverines and lynx – and moved to the backwoods through the gorge of Hiidenportii (the Giant’s Gate). 

You can still walk through the gorge today, and gaze down on the dark, round, mossy ponds at the bottom of the gorge that are said to be Hiisi’s eyes.

Geologically, the gorge is a massive rupture valley, formed by the folding of the earth’s crust, and later moulded by the ice ages. It is 1km long, and has vertical walls up to 20m high.

The national park was established in 1982 to preserve the region’s wilderness. The 45 sq km encompasses a mosaic of mires and dry forests. No logging has taken place since the early 20th century, and much of the woodland is in a near natural state.

The Porttijoki (joki = river) alternates riffles and still, dark ponds. It’s fed by a system of rivulets from boggy ground and mires. The whole national park is an important wetland, though the open waters can appear dark and barren as they do not support much vegetation.

Tufted Loosestrife Lysimachia thyrsiflora and Common Reed Phragmites australis can be found on the shores, while ponds surrounded by pine mires and open bogs may support White Water Lilies Nymphaéa cándida and Spatterdocks or yellow water lilies Nuphar lutea. The natural fish population of Hiidenportti National Park include Perch Perca fluviatilis, Pike Esox lucius and Roach Rutilus rutilus.

Location: Hiidenportti National Park is located in the southeast corner of the municipality of Sotkamo, on the boundaries of the municipalities of Kuhmo and Valtimo.

A Mosaic of Mires

The mires in Hiidenportti National Park are in their natural-state, forming wet corridors winding through ravines and valleys.

Dwarf-shrub pine bog is the most common mire type, dominated by pines and Marsh tea Ledum palustre. These pine bogs often surround more open boggy areas which form long strips in the middle of forests. The largest are Kortesuo Mire and Urposuo Mire.

Spruce mires are usually located by streams and in narrow steep-sided ravines and are a mix of myrtillus spruce mire, cloudberry dominated spruce mire and wood horsetail spruce mire. They can be quite lush on slopes with springs, and on the shores of streams. Downy Birch Betula pubescens, Grey Alder Alnus incana, Goat Willow Salix caprea, and ferns are found here.

Although the Hiidenportti mires are quite barren and the vegetation is sparse, there are a few surprising rich spots in the middle of mires, spring areas, seepage areas, and fens. Demanding plants which grow at these lush spots are Early Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata, Broad-leaved Bog-cotton Eriophorum latifolium and Common Twayblade Listera ovata.

Cottongrass growing on a mire
Cottongrass

Old-growth Spruce Forests and Hilltop Pine Forests

Forests cover two-thirds of the national park. In the past, the forests were used for slash-and-burn agriculture and for tar burning. The last logging was in Portinsalo at the beginning of the 20th century, so today the forests are approximately 100 to 150 years old. They are practically all spruce and pine forests in their natural-state, and are in sharp contrast to the commercial forests surrounding the area.

Moist pine forests cover the tops of fells, while spruce predominates on the slopes by spruce. The marked trail from Urpovaara Hill to Hiidenportti Gorge takes you through the most splendid of these dark forests, and in the midst of the large spruce trees there are some grand aspens.

Generally, the forests are not herb-rich, except for one area with plants such as Bearded Couch Elymus caninus, Mezereum Daphne mezereumRosa majalis and the Baneberry Actaea spicata.

Inhabitants of Old-growth Forests

The backwoods of Hiidenportti National Park are quiet and undisturbed. Bear, wolverine, pine marten and lynx are permanent inhabitants. Wolves visit occasionally. Beavers make their homes in the streams, and there is a large Eurasian elk (moose) population.

Tradition – Kovasinvaara Hill

The most valuable traditional landscapes are on the grounds of a former wilderness croft on the slope of Kovasinvaara Hill. On some parts of the slopes birch trees grow – a reminder of slash-and-burn agriculture. These birch forests are much like herb-rich forests: lush and varied. However, spruce forest is starting to invade. The area is actively managed by the use of grazing animals, and a small area has been subjected to recent slash and burn (including the planting of traditional crops) to maintain the more open habitat here.

Field Scabious is a perennial of calcaereous and neutral grassland, found in rough pasture, open hedgerows and on roadside verges, waste ground and railway embankments.

There are many interesting plants at Kovasinvaara Hill, including Alpine Bistort Polygonum viviparum, Field Scabius Knautia arvensis (above) and Moonwort Botrychium lunaria, as well as the regionally near threatened Brown Knapweed Centaurea jacea and Leathery Grape Fern Botrychium multifidum. The threatened Clustered Bellflower Campanula glomerata and Creeping Bellflower Campanula rapunculoides can also be found.

In addition to dry and wet meadows Kovasinvaara also has large areas where raspberries and Fireweed Epilobium angustifolium grow amongst Couch grass Agropyrum repens and Tufted Hairgrass Deschampsia cespitosa.

Birds of the National Park

The majority of bird species in the Hiidenportti National Park are indigenous to the east and north. The most common in summer are Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus, Siskin Carduelis spinus, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata and Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis. The Wren Troglodytes troglodytes is the only southern species – its clear song can be heard in the lush hillside forests of Porttijokilaakso River Valley.

Many species require old-growth forests in order to survive. These include Goldcrest Regulus regulus and Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, Goshawk Accipiter gentilis, Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus and Siberian Jay Perisoreus infaustus; this last species is very curious and will watch humans from tree tops – often coming in for a closer look. The most common game birds are the Western Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus and the Hazel Grouse Bonasa bonasia.

Great grey owl, Strix nebulosus, in northern conifer forest, where it is well camouflaged. One of the three largest owls in the world, it is found across the boreal forest zone of the northern hemisphere.

The Great Grey Owl Strix nebulosa is the emblem of the park.  It is common and can be seen especially in years when there are many small rodents such as voles around.

The mires do not attract many species, but the wood sandpiper Tringa glareola is the National Park’s most typical wader.

Butterflies, Moths and Beetles

A lack of intensive farming has left Hiidenportti National Park and its surrounding areas ideal for invertebrates. Species are typically those of middle boreal coniferous zone and also from further south.

Burnished Brass moth

A study done in 1992 found 164 species of large moths and butterflies, and 186 species of micro-moths in Hiidenportti National Park. Among these were Swallowtail Papilio machaon, Burnished Brass Diachrysia chrysitis (above), Eurasian Emperor Moth Saturnia pavonia and the threatened Xestia sincera.

Dead wood: The short summer and cool temperatures mean that dead wood rots slowly – providing cracks and crevices for invertebrates.

Finland: Hildenportti resources

The canyons of Hiidenportti are an impressive sight. Along the path leading to the main gorge you can experience shady spruce forest, a flowery meadow and woodland that used to be cleared periodically by slash-and-burn farmers. The park has many fascinating places and stories for anyone interested in cultural history to discover. 

Hiidenportti Narional Park Website – The canyons of Hiidenportti are an impressive sight. Along the path leading to the main gorge you can experience shady spruce forest, a flowery meadow and woodland that used to be cleared periodically by slash-and-burn farmers. The park has many fascinating places and stories for anyone interested in cultural history to discover.

Getting there – Hiidenportti National Park is located in the southeast corner of the municipality of Sotkamo, on the boundaries of the municipalities of Kuhmo and Valtimo.

Activities to enjoy – Trekking, admiring the sights and the views, photographing the scenery

Hiking – 30km of trails – For hikers and trekkers looking for peace and quiet. Also well-suited to inexperienced hikers, groups of students and other group trips. Not suitable for the disabled. 

Rules for visitors – the DOs and DON’Ts for visitors to the park

Travelling in Finland – advice for those unfamiliar with the country

Videos

Three days hiking in the Hiidenportti NP – with English subtitles

Books

Useful guide to sites south of the Arctic Circle, but sadly not to Hiidenportti

Lluontoportti – NatureGate

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