The Koli area, in North Karelia, is popularly thought to be Finland’s most beautiful nature-tourism attraction. It is a unique ensemble – a combination of internationally well-known natural and cultural values and high-quality, diverse tourist services.
You can admire the Koli national landscape as you like – looking down from the top of high fells or looking up from Lake Pielinen. Koli is the meeting-point of the best features of Finnish Lakeland and the fell landscapes. Lake Pielinen, Finland’s fifth largest lake, the forest landscapes, the islands, and the rugged contours of the Koli fells offer you a glimpse into the Finnish soul. Koli is the Number One destination of the active nature-lover.
Koli is known for its national landscape and the Koli National Park, which fosters the fell landscape, the lake landscapes, the singular geology, and the tradition of slash-and-burn farming and attracts over 130 000 visitors annually. The hiking and skiing trails of the national park invite you to experience the national landscape on foot. Tourism has been carefully reconciled with the conservation tasks of the national park. The tourist information desk at the Visitor Centre Ukko is at the service of tourists and visitors to the Koli National Park.
At the turn of the 19th and 20th century, Koli impressed itself into the minds of Finns through the works of Eero Järnefelt, Juhani Aho, Pekka Halonen, I.K. Inha, Jean Sibelius, and other artists. It has become the symbol of the Kalevala-like landscape and Finnishness. During the era of National Romanticism and Karelianism, Koli became known as a tourist attraction as well. The Koli landscape has also influenced the works of the writer Heikki Turunen, among others. The American writer Kurt Vonnegut wrote enraptured reminiscences about the frozen blueberries that he found and tasted on the autumnal slopes of Koli.
As the symbol of Finnishness and the spirit of Kalevala, Koli functioned as a strong spiritual weapon, bypassing censorship, in the struggle for national identity at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. No words were needed, for example, when in the middle of the political battles in the capital city the painting “Syysmaisema Pielisjärveltä” (‘Autumn scene from Lake Pielinen’; 1899) by Eero Järnefelt was hung on the wall.
Finland’s oldest marked nature trail was opened at Koli on 12th July 1896. In the same summer, the first tourist hostel of Koli was built. At the time, Koli was already one of Finland’s most popular tourist attractions.
Koli has been strongly present in the history of the Finns. When one looks at the high spruce forests of Koli today, it is hard to imagine that the cliffs were once adorned by tropical plants! The history of Koli’s geology is a heady story of the developmental history of the Earth. In a crash of tectonic plates about 1800 million years ago, an old plate sunk down towards the core of the Earth and a younger plate pushed upwards. From the younger plate arose the predecessor of the Koli fells, the Karelian fold mountains, or Karelides. The landscape was similar to that of the Alps today. The five-kilometre-high peaked mountains with their valleys and lakes must have made for a whopping sight!
Over the millions and millions of years, however, the high mountains eroded, by and by, into their present size.
At the same time, the plate that had ended up lower in the crash of the plates moved little by little. It first moved towards the equator, sometimes moving in tropical areas, sometimes in dry ones. Before reaching its present location, the plate made a turn near the Antarctica. During this period, the changing climatic zones eroded the mountain range effectively. In cold periods, the cliffs were eroded by the ice cap, and in hot and humid periods, the rains. The cliffs of Koli are part of the latest stage in this history of erosion, being the lowest part of the old mountain range that once was formed out of desert sands that had spilled onto the seashore. Due to its hardness, the sand that had condensed into quartz rock about 10 kilometres deep inside the Earth has caused the Koli fells to stay higher than the surrounding areas.
Volcanic eruptions and crevices of the tectonic plate in the Koli area once formed volcanic zones in the bedrock. After long periods of erosion of the mountains, these areas have surfaced and show up in today’s landscape as nutritious groves. A good example of this is the Paimenvaara area. On Lake Pielinen, the Sikosaari island and the Hölösaaret islands have been formed as entry channels of magma eruptions.
Fortunately for Koli, as a result of the series of geological events described above, the tectonic plate is over 70 kilometres thick in the Koli area. Away from Koli, in whatever direction, the plate is thinner. For this reason, the conditions at Koli are the stablest on Earth.
At the Visitor Centre Ukko, the standing exhibition "Kolin perintö" (‘The Heritage of Koli’) tells a multidimensional story of the history and geology of Koli. Half an hour’s drive from Koli, the Finnish Stone Centre in Nunnanlahti, Juuka, offers you a magnificent presentation of the life and use of stone.
Koli got its first human inhabitants as late as the 17th century. Today there are just under 300 inhabitants in the village of Koli. Koli is part of the municipality of Lieksa, most of which lies on the other side of Lake Pielinen. Koli is served by the Koli comprehensive school, which has two classrooms and about 20 pupils.
Koli tourist information / Koli Tourism Association
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Tel. +358 451 387 429
Places to visit
Koli national park