It could sound weird to take off for the arctic circle in the middle of the summer, when we could be enjoying the beach and the sun, but the Northern wilderness and the midnight sun won us over this year! The Lofoten, an archipelago of 7 islands located in western Norway, 120 km north of the Arctic Circle, is impressive for its steep and very mineral mountains that plunge into often turquoise waters.
We went there to try to cross the archipelago on foot, from North to South. There was no real thought behind this choice (North > South) but rather a desire to get rid of all public transport (plane – ferry – bus) from the beginning of the trip and then to enjoy a leisurely hike. Yes, but only Lofoten are not really suitable for trekking unless you are an extremely well-equipped experienced hiker (especially regarding the weight of the bag). Indeed, not only is it a hard climb to reach the peaks even if they are not very high (30% slopes rather often), but it is then necessary to walk between the hiking starts, very often alongside the road. So we ended up doing a lot of hitchhiking and even renting a car for a few days.
No regrets on that side!
Lofoten islands: The 6 hikes not to be missed!
We climbed as many peaks as the weather allowed us and here is our top 6.
Matmora (Austavagøya Island)
A hike of about 10km long, with a positive altitude difference of 940m, to reach a 788m-high peak. The hike can be a round trip or a crossing (the summit is located halfway in terms of time). A rather easy hike (it is quite popular) despite a very steep start and a summit surrounded by rocky ridges, without vertiginous passages. You can see as far as the Vesterålen archipelago on a clear day. Bivouac is possible at the start of the hike, and even during the hike, after about an hour’s walk regardless of your starting point.
Himmeltindan or the Summit in the Sky in Norwegian (Vestvågøya Island)
The highest peak on the island, 930m high, a spectacular 180° panorama! An extremely steep hike in soft soil, about 8 km long with 950m of positive altitude difference, but still very busy despite the difficulty (some people run to the top!) Sticks are recommended. A river flows along the trail if you need to fill up your water bottle. Parking is charged at the start of the walk (the payment method being the bank transfer, this system relies relatively heavily on trust and the goodwill of hikers).
Narvtinden (Moskenesøya Island)
A walk that starts gently on large stone slabs before becoming quite steep from the altitude of 300m up to the summit ridge (677m). This 7km hike takes about 4 hours, with a positive altitude difference of 680m, through a rather original landscape as the trail overlooks the gigantic Solbjørnvatnet lake.
Munkan (Moskenesøya Island)
Follow the path to the Munkibu refuge, slightly downstream of the Munkan summit at an altitude of 769m. Be careful, you must book the refuge in advance if you wish to stay there overnight! A rather easy hike of 16km (possibility of taking a small loop) along a string of lakes with a difference in altitude of 1100m – about 6 hours of walking. No aerial passages but quite a few passages where you have to use your hands to climb blocks of stone, or in the mud, so good shoes are necessary!
Justadtinden (Vestvågøya Island)
A hike with a gentle slope for once, 16km for 800m of positive altitude difference with a peak at 738m, the way down is almost monotonous after our other hikes in Lofoten! As the summit is located in the South of the island, it is possible to see the Norwegian coasts in good weather. The start of the hike is located in a rest area so there is a water point there for those camping nearby.
Nusfjord & Tonsasheia (Flakstadøya Island)
A coastal hike on an old fishing path between Nusfjord and Nesland, which can be coupled with the summit of Tonsasheia for the bravest. The coast path is fun with ladders and handrails. We tried the loop by hiking back through the summit of Tonsasheia but we strongly advise against it because the path has nearly disappeared on the Western side of the mountain and is very airy. The coastal path alone is 5km long with a 250m positive altitude difference one-way.
Rorbus, fishing and camping
Apart from hiking, we visited a few villages with their typical rorbus (red fishermen’s huts on stilts) and it was impossible to miss the hundreds of fish drying on large wooden racks across the archipelago. Two fishing villages are particularly touristic on the Lofoten: Nusfjord (Flakstadøya Island) and Å (Moskenesøya Island). Both being just as touristic as each other (they are village-museums in a way). We would advise you to go to Å to watch the fish filleting, and which has the advantage of not charging the entrance fee to the village (about 7€ in Nusfjord!).
For those who would like to try fishing, the waters are known to be rich in cod, halibut, saithe, … You can fish fin the sea without a licence, as long as the fish you catch are for your personal consumption. Depending on the season, it is also possible to see seals and killer whales from the coast.
By the way, we tried (and failed!) to fish in the Lofoten because the cost of life is extremely high there – which is probably the case in Norway as a whole. That’s also why we chose to camp in the wilderness camping and to hitchhike at times (hitchhiking is much faster than taking the bus in the Lofoten – buses are really not frequent and stop very often! And at least we were sure we were not going to miss our stop when hitchhiking :)).
Wilderness camping is relatively easy in Lofoten in summer. Indeed, Norwegian law allows this practice (the right of access to Nature is governed by the allemannsretten law which literally means the Right of everyone) provided that the environment is respected, that no more than 2 nights are spent in the same place near inhabited houses, and that a distance of at least 150 metres is respected with the nearest dwelling. It is forbidden to build a campfire in or near forests from April 15 to September 15. The midnight sun, rather mild temperatures (10-15°C in July for us) and the multitude of water points made this experience a pleasant one. It is often possible to camp close to rest areas in order to enjoy clean toilets and recharge your water supply.
Caution! Wilderness camping is much more difficult on the south coast of Moskenesøya Island. This island being particularly mineral, there are very few grassy areas where camping is possible (and which are at an acceptable distance from the drying fish & their unbeatable smell ). You can have a look around the Moskenes harbour for example or along the hiking trail to Munkan otherwise.
In case of bad weather, the campsites we visited were always equipped with kitchens and laundry rooms (laundry service is charged). Be careful, showers are very often priced and accessible only for campers (magnetic card) so it is impossible to come into the camping as a guest only to shower and then leave.
To summarise, it is a great adventure that awaits you there, both physically if you are hiking and by the exploration of these islands, their culture, and the people who live there – with spectacular views ( which are hard to capture on camera!), for a taste of the Great North in both climatic and logistical conditions that are more than comfortable 😊