Saturday, 9 June 2012

Ilomantsi: Susitaival Trail, Day 1

Susitaival Trail (or Wolf's Trail) is about 96-97 km long hiking trail which runs mostly in Ilomantsi area in Northern Karelia, Finland. Its southern starting point is at the easternmost village of Finland at Möhkö, 23 km east from Ilomantsi. I step off the bus by Koitajoki river and see it take off; this was the last school day before the holidays and the bus service begins again in August. A granite war memorial greets me next to the bus stop. During WW2 in 1944, there was heavy fighting in the village area. Möhkö is extremely close to the border zone between Finland and Russia.
Susitaival Trail begins on the other side of the Möhkönkoski rapids, soon after the narrow canal, turning to the left. However, before hitting the trail I make a brief stop at Möhkö Ironworks museum (ironworks = ruukki) where the other hiker seems to be heading as well. Actually, the German-speaking hiker is asking where the trail starts because he does not have a map with him! Well, the Karjalan Kierros / Ilomantsi maps (1:100 000) are not for sale at Möhkö so getting your maps before arriving here is a must. The museum staff kindly take photocopies of my map for the other hiker but they look worried, especially when hearing that he plans to hike as far as Teljo, including both this and the Karhunpolku trail further north. "Are you sure you have enough food with you?"

I take off alone and hope the other hiker will be alright as well. The trail is pretty well marked with orange circles painted on trees and rocks, occasionally with Susitaival signs, but I prefer to carry a map to know what is ahead, where you can make a fire or find a shelter, and just in case something unexpected happens. 
For the first part I walk on dirt roads, then follow the arrow sign to the right and finally spot an orange trail mark. Entering clear felling areas means that the trees with the original trail marks are gone, but luckily they have been usually replaced with paint circles here and there. After stepping through the young birches that have taken over the trail, I land on the soft, needle-covered track that winds through different forest types, but mostly fir trees and pines, then again walk on a dirt road before returning to a narrow path.
The wonderfully wide duckboards take me easily across the mire. You don't need to have two of these side by side!
The pink flowers of bog-rosemary (suokukka) - a poisonous plant - add a touch of fresh colour on the mires. The more familiar white flowered wild rosemary is not quite yet in bloom. Walking on the mires and the heath forests is easy because the terrain is very flat.

Upon seeing the very first false morel (korvasieni) right in the middle of the path I pause for a moment but there's no way I can start picking these delicious beauties to take them home with me. Farewell, my lovely. I wonder will there be many more... Very important note: false morels are poisonous (can be even deadly!) and must not be eaten unless prepared properly.
After reaching Öykköstenvaara the scenery turns simply gorgeous. The path is on the top of the ridge which is between two lakes, Sysmä and Eteläinen Pitkäjärvi. This reminds me of Punkaharju ridges close to Savonlinna, but over here there are no cars passing me by. The only sounds are the sound of my footsteps and the occasional cuckoos from the other side of the smaller lake. Oh the beauty of this early summer eve in Karelia!
Well, someone, or rather something else has gone before me. The almost black scat includes berries - cranberries, I suppose. Possibly by a brown bear that has also taken a walk here; I am not an expert on scat.
Crossing the brook that leads to Sysmä lake is easy; there is a wooden bridge. Walking with a backpack makes you feel pretty warm so it feels great to rinse my face on the fresh water. Very soon I will arrive at an even better resting place because today's journey, a 13 km walk is close to an end.  What a good start to Susitaival! Well, I've also said goodbye to some poisonous fellows met on the way. Actually, on the path itself... 43 false morels and one black snake, a common European viper.
The wilderness hut of Pohjoinen Pitkäjärvi (Northern Long Lake) is simple yet total luxury: a fireplace both inside and outside, an outdoor toilet, and a lake right in front of it. It is a great feeling to take off the backpack which feels heavy at this point, and get ready for some rest. First some exercise with a saw and axe though, to chop some firewood (provided for free) - but thanks to the previous visitors, I'm only doing it to make some ready for the next visitor, as the custom goes. The hut gives me a welcome night's sleep, without any mosquitoes inside...


  1. What a great hike. A bit more than 2 marathons and a 10K in distance, but is that only one way? Or did you have to do that distance twice?

    Was it mostly quiet and was it all remote?

  2. Susitaival is one way, and you can do it in either direction. I started walking from the southern end, aiming at Patvinsuo, the northern end of the path from where you either need to hike or hitchhike to the nearest bus stop (not too close), or call a taxi if you don't have a car waiting.

    After leaving Möhkö village, I didn't see anyone on the first day, not even the other hiker who was getting ready to leave straight after me. The area is quite remote, really walking in the woods.

  3. Great to read about your walk.
    The Susitaival trail is on my 'to walk' list for a while now.
    (I've walked parts of the Karhunkierros trail a few years ago)

  4. Thanks Martijn. So you've been to Kuusamo on Karhunkierros! I've only hiked the Pieni ('small') Karhunkierros (12 km) and enjoyed the scenery but the path was very crowded. Very different from Susitaival...

    Northern Karelia offers lots of great trails, I really recommend the area.

  5. Yes, I walked the Pieni Karhunkierros (indeed very crowded)and a small part of the longer one.
    Last couple of years I've been canoeing near Kolovesi and also went to Koli.
    I really like Karelia and will walk Sustaival someday for sure.

  6. Have you already been on the new part of Herajärven kierros at Koli?

  7. No, that time I rented a cabin at the lake Pielinen and did some shorter walks to viewpoints etc.
    And sat in the sauna of course, Chilling after 8 days of canoeing ;)

  8. Sauna - so good after any outdoor activities. Koli offers great scenic spots and walks throughout the year, hope to go there again soon.

  9. how long is this trail alltogether :-)? did you use a tent now and then? Stumbled across this blog by chance as I have been playing of doing a trekking tour in Lappi next summer, and am slightly worried to get lost (seems it's an option)) I live in Switzerland and love hiking here but it's rather difficult to get lost

    1. Susitaival is 97 km long altogether. I didn't carry a tent with me but slept in open log shelters (lean-to) or in cabins which can be used for one night's stay in some places. If you are lucky, that works but not always - there might be many other hikers at the same time and the shelters only sleep few people.

      The scenery is very different in Lapland compared to Southern Finland so think about that as well. If you stay with marked trails you shouldn't need to worry about getting lost as long as you can read a map - and during holiday season you are bound to meet some other hikers. Most long-distance trails in Finland are pretty well marked but map-reading skills are a must. And you definitely need to have a good map with you. Plus be prepared that you may not meet many people, depending on where you go and what time of the year/week it is.

      I met a hiker from Germany at the start of Susitaival and he planned on doing both Susitaival and Karhunpolku (97+133 km) in one go, and he had not brought a map with him. I wasn't sure he even had enough food with him - and the next opportunity buy even a bit of food was 97 km away at Ruunaankoski where Susitaival and Karhunpolku meet (not a grocery store but a restaurant by the rapids that are popular with fishermen especially). I just hope he managed the trail alright - didn't see him a second time en route.

  10. Hi there,

    This is a very good report! I hope to hike the Susitaival from Patvinsuo to Mohko in June. What maps did you use? Is there an English language website where I can order any maps I need?

    1. Thanks :) I've also hiked the rest of Susitaival until Patvinsuo, and last summer I continued from Patvinsuo to Ruunaa, along Karhunpolku (Bear's Trail).

      I used the Karjalan Kierros map (1:100 000); the trail was pretty well marked but I wouldn't go hiking there without a map. You can also check out excellent online maps at, and which give you very detailed information.
      The Karjalan kierros maps cannot be bought online so you should contact Karelia Expert ( and ask if they can send you one or buy the maps when you get to Finland. Their store is right in the city centre of Joensuu and maps are for sale also at e.g. Ilomantsi. See also

      Patvinsuo: go to for more detailed maps of that area. At Patvinsuo you can stay overnight indoors (bunk beds) or camp by the lake. Hope you have a great hiking trip!