Sonfjället National Park in Sweden: bears and a mountain
Sonfjället National Park, or Sånfjällets Nationalpark, is one of the roughest national parks in central Sweden. The park is located in the west of Sweden, in the heart of the Härjedalen region in the province of Jämtland. With an area of approximately 103 square kilometers, it is also one of the smallest national parks in Sweden and you can see the park for the most part in one day. The largest part of Sonfjället National Park is formed by a huge mountain that you can see from everywhere in the wide area. Sonfjället is known for its lonely mountain and … the bears! In this article I will take you on an adventure through Sonfjället National Park in Sweden.
What to do in Sonfjället National Park
Sonfjället is particularly interesting for hikers and nature lovers. There are hardly any facilities for visitors and you are therefore primarily dependent on your own creativity. So don’t expect a coffee shop and extensive visitor center as they have in Fulufjället National Park for example. The only real facility is the small information center in Nyvallen, but it was closed when we were there. Do not count on it that you can get your information from there. We received our hiking brochure from the campsite where we stayed while in the area.
The most important activity in Sonfjället National Park is hiking. There is not much else to do than this to be honest. This does not change the fact that it is a great place to visit, but the views and landscapes only really become special once you walk up the mountain and soak in the incredible panoramas.
In addition, Sonfjället is one of the best places in Sweden to see brown bears. We were advised to go on a tour, but we didn’t feel like doing so to be honest. Eventually we decided to go on a wildlife safari ourselves, but this requires an adventurous attitude. I’ll tell you more about that later on in this article!
Hiking in Sonfjället
As mentioned, the most important activity in Sonfjället is hiking. There are numerous trails for both advanced and less experienced walkers. Most hiking trails start at Nyvallen in the north of Sonfjället National Park. Nyvallen is a small mountain farm about 14 kilometers uphill from Hedeviken. From here various hiking trails start, including the fun 1-2-hour walk for families that is doable for everyone.
Another nice walk is the one to Lillfjället, or the small mountain. This walk takes about 3 hours from Nyvallen, but you have to climb and descend quite steeply so if you’re not a hiker, you will have to work hard.
We chose to do the Sonfjället Full Circle walking tour, a tough hike of about 15 kilometers around the mountain. Below I will tell you everything about it. You can also easily take part of this walk and then walk back along the same path.
A number of hiking trails also start from the other settlements around the national park (Dalsvallen, Nysattern and Valmen). During our wildlife safari we also hiked a short section of a hiking trail near Dalsvallen.
Looking for bears in Sonfjället National Park
In all fairness, we really wanted to see a bear. I have seen them countless times during my Alaska trips, but David has never seen a wild bear, despite having been in Sweden at least 25 times. However, we figured we’d put an extra lot of effort into it so we might end up seeing one this time around.
We don’t find much information on the internet about where chances are best to see bears. We do not know whether this is due to the fact that people want to sell the guided tours (where bears are ‘lured’ with food) or that it is simply impossible to find them. We decide not to go on a tour anyway and just head out on our own.
The campsite owner tells us that we have the best chance in the southeast corner of Sonfjället, but also that he himself has only seen a bear a few times despite his countless years living in Sweden. Nevertheless, we set off in good spirits: who knows what we’ll find on our way. In addition, we have plenty of time and in particular no rush. So bring the bears on!
We load our car with food and water and set off. We have converted our Volvo V40 into a sleeping car for this trip particularly so if we have to, we can even spend the night in it. From Hede, where our campsite is, we first drive south to Rånddalen. The road is unpaved and bumpy, but that only makes the fun even bigger. At the Rånddalen settlement we turn left towards Linsell. The road is getting worse and we drive deeper into the wilderness. Eventually we arrive at Dalsvallen, a number of farms and an information panel in Swedish.
The great thing about driving on these types of roads is that you can just drive at a super slow pace without bothering others, because there are hardly any other cars. And if there are any, just let them pass. So don’t forget to look into your rearview mirror regularly. Each time we think we see wildlife, we stop the car, grab our binoculars and have a thorough look to see what we’ve found.
At Dalsvallen we decide to take a short walk. We follow the orange markings uphill, until we have a beautiful view across the valley. Here we take a break and gaze down the opposite mountain slopes with our binoculars. We are not lucky and don’t see any wildlife at all.
Hours later we drive further down the road to Linsell where we prepare our dinner. We decide to drive back to the campsite along the same road. The sun is going down and it’s becoming dark soon: this is the time to spot wildlife. At Rånddalen we turn right again and then suddenly I feel that something is staring at me from the bush. I see a giant moose standing in the bushes a few meters away from the car. It is too dark to take a photo but we feel incredibly lucky still.
Not much later we arrive back at our campsite. We have not spotted any bears (but definitely continue reading) however we have spotted a beautiful moose and that makes the trip well worth the effort.
Also read: hiking the Kungsleden in Sweden
The Sonfjället Full Circle hike
The Sonfjället Full Circle hike is definitely the most beautiful hike that you can make in this part of Sweden as far as I am concerned, the cover photo of this article was also taken on this hike. It is a full day of hiking and at the end of the day my GPS even indicated more than 16 kilometers of walking distance. You climb and you drop in altitude considerably, so walking poles can be handy to bring if you’re not used to that.
We start our adventure in Nyvallen and park the car here. The muddy family trail takes us through the meadows where there are large herds of cows. After about half an hour of rising slowly, we are above the tree line and we have the first views of the area. It’s time to bring the binoculars out again. At least David’s, as I don’t like hiking with binoculars around my neck.
The trail continues to rise slightly and to my great surprise there are even some autumn colors in the landscape already. Not much, but it is clear that the end of the summer is coming (we were here mid-August). While I occasionally take pictures, David gazes at the landscapes around us almost non-stop. The first reindeer have been spotted, but no signs of bears and moose.
David suddenly gives a shout out. ‘A BEAR! I see a bear! ” He is peering into the valley about 50 meters away from me on a small hill. I run towards him and I can feel stupid that my binoculars are in my backpack. I quickly try to grab it but the excitedment is huge. David is hyper because he saw a huge bear roaming about 800 meters from us. The moment I have taken out my binoculars of my backpack, the bear has already disappeared into the bushes.
Do I feel bad? Yes and no. Yes, because of course I would have liked to see a bear myself. But I especially feel a lot of joy for David. He had wanted this for so long and he has now succeeded! The rest of the hike we remain alert for bears but apart from a few reindeer we see no more wildlife.
Across the top back to Nyvallen
Still super excited because of seeing a bear in the area, we hike to the southernmost point of our hike: the shelter at Hästtjärn. The lake on the hiking map looks much larger on the map than in real life and it is a good thing that there is a shelter here because the wind is blowing like crazy. We grab a bite in the shelter and after a short stop we continue our way. First along an endless stream that we regularly cross, then up along the Valmfjället.
The landscape becomes rocky and there are huge boulders all around us. We climb to a great altitude and jump from one boulder to the next when the landscape eventually flattens somewhat. Then we arrive at the ridge of the mountain, just below us is Lillfjället and Nyvallen. Following this is an immensely steep descent that hurts my knees. After a good hour of descending steeply, we are back at Nyvallen and we are back at the car.
Where to stay during your visit to Sonfjället
We stayed at Camping Hede, which is run by Dutch owners. It’s a nice campground, not too big and pretty quiet. If you’d rather stay in a hotel, check your options for the Härjedalen region here.
In Sweden, the Every Man’s right applies, which means that you can camp anywhere, provided that you do not disturb anyone and you leave no mess behind. In other words: leave nothing but footprints! After our visit to Sonfjället National Park we drove towards Norway and we found this beautiful camping spot just next to the main road!
Conclusion and disclaimer
We found our visit to Sonfjället extremely worthwhile. Even though I did not see the bear myself, I would definitely recommend a visit to this special nature park. You can find more information about the park on the website of Sweden’s National Parks.
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