The Kungsleden trail in Sweden: a true Nordic hiking adventure
Welcome to this Kungsleden trail guide! Some hiking trails you just have to do once in your lifetime. The Kungsleden Trail in Sweden is one of them. Ever since I became an avid hiker I knew I wanted to hike the Kungsleden. I honestly have no idea how I came up with the idea of walking the Kungsleden. Probably after I read about it once in an outdoor magazine. When David and I had our first date nearly three years ago, he mentioned that he had hiked a section of the Kungsleden trek a few years ago. At that time, we did not know yet that we’d be exploring the Kungsleden hike together about a year and a half later. In this blog I’m telling the story of our first part on the trek: the section from Ammarnäs to Hemavan, the southern end of the Kungsleden hiking trail. Enjoy!
About the Kungsleden trail
The Kungsleden Trail, or the King’s Trail, is Sweden’s most popular multi-day hike. It starts in Abisko above the Arctic Circle and runs south to the mountain village of Hemavan. You can divide it roughly into five sections:
1. Abisko – Nikkaluokta
2. Nikkaluokta – Vakkotavare
3. Saltoluokta – Kvikjokk
4. Kvikkjokk – Ammarnäs
5. Ammarnäs – Hemavan
The total length of the Kungsleden trail is more than 400 kilometers. There are people who do the trail in one go, but you can also walk it well in separate sections. During our road and hiking trip in Scandinavia back in 2018 we hiked two sections of the Kungsleden: from Kvikkjokk to Saltoluokta and from Ammarnäs to Hemavan.
It is not an extremely difficult trail, but you are highly dependent on the local conditions and the weather. We hiked both sections in one of the hottest summers that Sweden has ever known, so there was a ban on fire and (gas) stoves on the entire trail. However, there are also stories of hikers who end up in a snowstorm in the summer. So prepare yourself for everything and any kind of weather!
At the end of this article you will find more useful tips and information for preparing your trek on the Kungsleden. However, I will now continue with the day to day description of the Ammarnäs – Hemavan section. Be sure to check out the video below before you’ll continue reading!
Arrival in Hemavan
As we are on a road trip in Scandinavia for no less than five weeks, we have not planned anything in advance. You don’t have to make reservations for the Kungsleden and no permit is required either. In addition, we do not want to commit ourselves too much in advance to be able to travel as flexibly as possible. We have converted our Volvo V40 into a camper car so that we can sleep wherever we want. But we’ve also brought all our camping gear with us so that we can spend the night in a tent. David hiked the Ammarmäs – Hemavan section before and was so impressed that the decision was made without hesitation to hike this part of the trail again.
Upon arrival in Hemavan, the rain pours heavily. Good for nature because there are forest fires everywhere in this part of Sweden, but less fun for us of course. Hemavan is a small mountain village that is popular for skiing in winter and popular with hikers and fishermen in the summer. It looks a bit touristy, but oh well, we cannot be bothered really.
Transport from Ammarnäs to Hemavan
We know that we want to start hiking somewhere in next few days, from Ammarnäs to Hemavan or vice versa, but first we have to figure out the transport and how to get back to our car. If we leave the car at the end of one side of the Kungsleden Trail, we have to get back there somehow. There appears to be a bus but it takes a whole day to transfer. We decide to go for the deluxe option: by helicopter!
We make a few calls with various helicopter companies and find availability with Arctic Air. They can drop us off in Ammarnäs tomorrow for an amount of € 170 per person. For a moment we are in doubt because it’s quite a splurge, but soon we decide to go for it. It’s our summer vacation after all. We confirm our flight by phone and do the last shopping that afternoon before we really start our the adventure the next day.
Flight to Ammarnäs by helicopter
The next morning we leave our car at the Hemavan Fjällstation (mountain station) and carry our full backpacks to the place where we are picked up at noon. We are not alone, there is a family and a group of Swedish hikers waiting in the same area. We wait but at 12.30 pm there is still no helicopter in sight. We carefully ask the other people if they are also waiting for the Arctic Air helicopter. This appears to be the case, so luckily we are in the right place at least.
Around 1 p.m. we hear an approaching sound that sounds like that of a helicopter, which lands right in front of us not much later. The young pilot apologizes for the delay, but there was an urgent flight that he had to carry out first. He divides us into two groups: the family goes first, then we and the other hikers are transported.
After a 30 minute wait the helicopter is back and at 13.45 we finally board the flight to Ammarnäs, on the other side of the mountains. Shortly after we’ve taken our seats the helicopter takes off, directly up towards the mountains. I sit next to the pilot at the front and he points out several points of recognition, including the mountain huts on the way and a number of lakes. About twenty minutes later we land in Ammarnäs and our adventure on the Kungsleden trail will begin!
Hiking Kungsleden from Ammarnäs to Aigertstugan
After landing in Ammarnäs we walk into the local (and only) pub for a beer and then we set off. The great thing about the Kungsleden trail is that you can just go freedom camping and since we walk back to the car, we have no fixed hiking schedule in mind: we just hike until we no longer feel like it.
We do have some kind of plan, but our final camping spots are partly dependent on the weather and where we can find running water. Today we want to leave the civilized world and get into the mountains.
Ammarnäs is super tiny and within no time we walk out of village, onto the Kungsleden. The sun is shining and the legs feel a bit wobbly because of the beer we just finished. As soon as we are on the trail, my heart jumps. I wanted to do the Kungsleden for so long and now it will finally happen!
The first part of the hike is not very interesting and mainly takes us through the woods. It is relatively warmand so we walk in a t-shirt and David even wears shorts. You’ll climb steadily, you’ll pass streams and you’ll eventually rise above the tree line. Behind us a beautiful panorama unfolds and about three hours after leaving Ammarnäs we arrive at the ridge. The Aigertstugan looms in the distance. We don’t really want to sleep near a hut, but the view from the ridge is so beautiful that we decide to pitch the tent behind a hill and out of sight of the hut.
From Aigertstugan to Servestugan
The next morning we get up and it is considerably cooler than yesterday. The sun is still shining, but long pants and a sweater are necessary today. We pack our bags and walk into the valley behind the Aigerstugan. From here we steadily climb to alpine terrain, over a rocky trail. Once we reach the top, the trail becomes flatter and we walk next to various mountain lakes. This section followed by a steep descent to the next valley.
The next hours we intensely enjoy the endless views of the Vindelfjällens Nature Reserve. We gaze down the horizon in search of elk and reindeer and decide to set up the tent about an hour’s walk in front of the next hut, at the foot of Vuomatjånkka Mountain.
A giant hike to Tarnasjön
We wake up early and after cup of coffee we pack everything again and hike on. Another beautiful descent follows and it takes us to Servestugan, the next one of the Kungsleden huts. Here we refill our water bottles and after the hut another climb takes us to the next mountain. The descent to the next hut, the Tärnasjöstugorna, is long and steep. I begin to feel the fatigue in my body, but we don’t feel like putting up the tent near the hut, so we decide to walk a little further along the shores of Lake Tarnasjön. However, no good camping site presents itself and at a certain point I almost collapse because of exhaustion.
Eventually we reach a bay covered with stones one and a half hours after the last hut. It is not ideal, but we decide to spend the night here. We are just in the tent when a major thunderstorm begins. The storm is not mild and right above us. It is thundering and lightning and we are right in the middle of it. I’m really terrified because we are extremely vulnerable in our tent. I crawl next to David and bury my face in his chest to avoid having to see the almost nonstop lightning. After a good two hours the thunderstorm is over and we fall asleep. A very restless sleep.
Onwards to Norra Storfjället
It continues to be spooky weather above the lake all night and it rains very hard. The next morning we wake up early and hope for a dry moment during which we can quickly pack stuff. We get a 20 minute weather window only, so quickly grab our stuff and leave.
We put our backpacks back on and put on our rain suits for the first time while hiking the Kungsleden trekking. The next part of the Kungsleden hike takes us through a swamp area. In many places there are planks to ensure that you do not sink into the swamp, but due to the continuous rain they are extremely slippery and the walking become shoveling. At the end of the huge lake is a series of small islands that are connected by gigantic suspension bridges. The wind is so strong that the bridges swing up and down, exciting and spectacular at the same time.
Once back on the mainland we bump into an American hiker. We keep ourselves relatively isolated from other walkers, but we have a nice conversation with him about hiking in the United States versus hiking in Europe. After walking together for half an hour, we walk on to the Syterstugan as he takes a break. This STF hut is in a fabulous location, but it is still early in the day and we think it is a shame to set up the tent here already.
After we have warmed up our lunch here, we ask the hut warden if she knows a nice camping spot about an hour’s walk away. She points to a valley in the distance: the Norra Storfjället. At the start of this valley is an old barn, here are some good camping spots and running water. It sounds totally like what we are looking for!
Back to Hemavan
Here we camp at the most beautiful spot of this section of the Kungsleden route, under the Northern Sytertoppen and the Southern Sytertoppen. Surrounded by reindeer, small streams and a lot of wind, it is a unique wilderness experience to spend the night here.
On the last day we hike through the narrow valley to the last hut of this section: the Viterskalstugan. Along the way we cross several rivers and just after the hut we start the last hours of the hike. Hemavan is below us and that means that we are almost ‘done’ with this part of the hike. After the Viterskalstugan, the trail gradually gets busier, we come across day hikers, families with children and not much later we arrive at the mountain station of the cable car. We resist the urge to take the cable car down and start the long but beautiful descent back to the village.
Just before the start of the village we arrive at the official trailhead of the Kungsleden in Hemavan, or the end depending on how you walk it. Fortunately, this is not yet the end of the adventure for us, because next week we will again walk a section of the Kungsleden Trail.
Practical tips for this Kungsleden guide
Do you also feel like doing (a part of) the Kungsleden hike? Then I have some useful tips for you here:
– You can camp or sleep in the STF Kungsleden huts. These huts are from the STF (Swedish tourist federation) and you cannot book in advance: space is first come, first serve. If there is no more room in one of the beds you will get a mattress or in the worst case a sleeping mat to sleep on. Almost every hut has a small shop, a kitchen and running water in the vicinity. You pay in cash on the spot, sometimes you can pay with a credit card. Prices can be found here. Camping at the cabins is possible by payment and members of STF receive a discount on the prices mentioned.
– You can pay with a credit card in most huts, but always take enough cash with you as this is not possible everywhere. The supply in the huts is not cheap, so you can carry everything yourself better and cheaper. In addition, they sometimes do not have much in stock, especially at the end of the season. So I wouldn’t bet on buying all your food along the way.
– You can drink from the streams or bring a water filter. In some places you can also drink from the lakes, but we did not do this ourselves because of the enormous drought in the area. If you go freedom camping, it is advisable to inquire about drinking water on the way in the huts: due to the drought in the period that we were there, many streams on the map were dry. As a result, we sometimes had to continue longer than initially planned.
– More information about this section of the Kungsleden Trail can be found on the STF website. You can buy the Kungsleden Map at most mountain hotels or visitor centers, ask for the Fjällkarta of the Tärnaby-Hemavan-Ammarnäs area.
Is the Kungsleden Trail difficult?
As said, we were very lucky with the weather and only had rain during half a day and a night on this part of the trail. However, it can also happen that you’ll just have rain. Because of the drought, we did not have to cross the rivers and we could just use the stepping stones or jump across, but the year before we heard that the rivers were much deeper. It’s definitely something to keep in mind.
Having said this, I didn’t find the trail extremely difficult and / or challenging. The trail is especially very rocky and sometimes boggy. There are planks in various places to make your journey through the swamp easier. These boardwalks are sometimes slippery and / or rotten, so it is important to pay attention when you walk across. Walking poles are certainly a great help in the bogs and help you keep your balance.
Although there are considerable differences in altitude, most climbs and descents are relatively gradual and nowhere technical. I can therefore definitely recommend this trail to starting hikers who want to see what it is like to walk with full packs and go freedom camping in Sweden.
Conclusion and disclaimer
Hopefully you enjoyed this article about our hike on the Kungsleden. If you have any questions, we’d be happy to hear from you below.
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