Norway has enormous respect for nature; once you’re there, it won’t take you long to figure out why. For hundreds of years, they’ve practised a law called allemannsretten (pronounced ALL-eh-mahns-rett-enn), which dictates that everyone has the freedom to roam and to camp outdoors. One may set up a tent almost anywhere, as long as it’s not on cultivated land and is pitched at least 250 metres away from any and all houses (preferably out of view of residents). It is fully expected that campers behave responsibly and leave no trace whatsoever of their time outdoors.
But in Norway, it is also assumed that hikers are competent, that they know their own capabilities and that they arrive well-prepared. Hikers must leave no trace and bring food and water, clothes for any weather changes (layers!) and gear for possible emergencies. You hike at your own risk; there are few safety barriers. Fences are rare, as they disrupt nature and incite dangerous behaviours (such as climbing over barriers and rebelling against guidelines). There are no garbage bins or toilets on the trails; bring a roll of TP and a Ziploc bag to bring your soiled TP back with you.
If you don’t like the sound of all this, I suggest you avoid hiking in Norway.
I personally love this no-nonsense approach to the outdoors. And I find the idea of wild camping to be absolutely enticing; to pitch my tent just about anywhere, within reason --and for no other reason-- than to admire the sweeping views.
HIKE RATINGS IN NORWAY
Norway classifies the difficulty of its hikes as such (4 levels) :
--Easy (GREEN) : Novice hikers, no experience necessary
--Intermediate (BLUE) : Some hiking experience and average fitness level
--Demanding (RED) : Experienced hikers, well-prepared with high-level fitness, proper gear (preferably prepared for unexpected overnight) and decent navigation skills
--Expert (BLACK) : Longer and more technical hikes, well-experienced hikers with high-level fitness, proper gear (prepared for unexpected overnight) and good navigation skills
During my month in Southern Norway, I managed to hit ''only'' 6 hikes. Poor weather, vast distances and time restraints kept me from tackling some trails (such as the famous Besseggen Ridge in Jotunheimen National Park) but otherwise, it was a rather successful hiking and camping trip.
Allow me to reminisce!
Kjeragbolten (« ch-RAG-bolten »)
- Distance: 11 kms roundtrip (6-10 hours total, varies with fitness and weather)
- Elevation gain: 800 m elevation (mostly during the ascent, but the terrain varies throughout)
- Rating: RED Demanding (steep and strenuous) This hike is only open from mid-May to September and should not be underestimated. Start this one early, folks.
- Trailhead: Parking lot at Øygardstøl.
- Parking fee at Øygardstøl: 300 NOK (roughly 34$ CAD)
One of my first destinations upon arriving in Norway was the tiny town of Lysebotn (LIH-sa-boh-ten). It’s a convenient base for hiking Kjeragbolten, a difficult hike that promises beautiful views throughout and a cool photo op at the end.
Not gonna lie, this one will be tough on the non-hiker, with steep and slippery rock ascents. Cables are strewn everywhere so don’t hesitate to grab onto them, especially on the descent. (I credit both the cables and my rubber-tipped hiking poles for keeping me on my feet). This hike would be terrible in windy and rainy weather. On a sunny day, I saw people slip and fall on the rock slabs, people dressed in jeans and dress shoes, and I ended up handing out 5-6 ibuprofen tablets to random hikers who looked like they really didn’t want to be there anymore. Lots of f-bombs being thrown about. LOL This is definitely a hiker’s hike.
Click on each photo to enlarge, and on the arrows to see all photos (3 photos) :
Kjeragbolten involves a strenuous ascent onto slippery rock walls, up and down three valley ridges and steep muddy slopes, and across a windy plateau. The third valley is the longest and steepest to climb. Finally arriving at the end, you are treated to a 1,084m view down to the gorgeous waters of Lysefjord (pronounced LIH-sa-fjord, meaning Light Fjord) and to a suspended boulder you can clamber onto for that ultimate Instagram shot.
Click on each photo to enlarge, and on the arrows to see all photos (2 photos) :
I cannot, however, muster the courage to do it. The boulder itself, wedged between two cliff walls, is not the problem; it’s more than wide enough to stand on and I’m not afraid it will dislodge as I step onto it. The problem is, the footpath to get onto that boulder is only about 1 foot wide and ever so slightly slanted, with a sickening 1 km drop down to the water. There are no chains to hold onto, only a small loop to hook one finger into, but it’s awkwardly placed. I had heard you could also crawl onto the boulder, but I just didn’t see how it was doable. There is absolutely no room for the slightest error; the exposure is absolute.
No friggin’ way. Nuh uh. I am cringing just writing this. (I am admittedly very scared of heights, but I can talk myself through it if there’s little risk involved, like skydiving or via ferratas). But here, I can’t stand to look at the people tiptoeing across; I am convinced that I will witness a horrible fall and will have to care for bereaved and hysterical family members. Contrary to what everyone says, I do not believe that walking onto this boulder is even remotely safe, despite the lack of reported accidents. Again, you hike and explore at your own risk.
If I were to do it again, I would camp on top of this hike, not only to break up the somewhat strenuous hike but to further enjoy the out-of-this-world views. Alas, I had already pitched my tent at an amazing campground (Kjerag Lysebotn Camping Resort, photo below), with its beautiful cascading waterfall and gorgeous fjord views. Note that the town of Lysebotn is inaccessible in the winter, due to Lysevegen Road being closed and completely snowed-in. Side note: Lysevegen is a crazy, hair-pin road with 27 twists and turns that make their way down the cliff from Øygardstøl to the village. It is fantastic and fun, but don’t expect to go barreling down at high speeds.
Click on each photo to enlarge (2 photos) :
Situated at the bottom of the crazy winding 6km-long Lysevegen Road (first photo), Kjerag Lysebotn Camping Resort was the perfect location for hiking Kjeragbolten.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this first hike of mine would be one of the toughest in Norway for me. (I had planned on doing the notorious Besseggen Ridge, but weather didn’t permit). That being said, Kjeragbolten was 100% worth it, even if I chicken-shit talked myself out of standing on that boulder. No regrets, though.
Music: Nightsky, by Tracey Chattaway
For more info on Kjeragbolten, visit FjordTours.
Preikestolen (« PRY-kiss-tow-len »)
- Distance from main parking lot P1 (at Preikestolen Vandrerhjem Basecamp) : 8 kms roundtrip (roughly 4 hours total). Allow extra time for photo line-ups at the top. Also, add slightly more distance, elevation and time from Moslimyra parking lot (P2).
- Parking fee at either lot: 250 NOK (roughly 35 CAD).
- Elevation gain: 400 m (all during the approach)
- Rating: RED Moderate (on the lighter side of Norway’s RED hikes). Well-defined trail of large stone boulders, built by Nepalese sherpas (can be hard on the knees, especially on the descent).
- Trailhead: Preikestolen Vandrerhjem Basecamp
Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock, is one of several hikes I am looking forward to; the image of people perched on the platform is a Norwegian icon. Topping off at 604 m above sky-blue Lysefjord (on the opposite end of Lysefjord than Kjeragbolten), it’s a short but steep trail. You gain almost 400m in elevation over 4 kms, with the steep parts divided roughly into four sections.
I strongly recommend doing this hike in the early evening. I had arrived at the parking lot around 1pm and was bewildered by hundreds of cars vying for the few remaining parking spots. There is room for 1,000 vehicles and there are many parking attendants, but it’s woefully inadequate. On a summer day, there are thousands of people on this trail and parking is a nightmare; I strongly recommend visiting after supper.
So I drive the hell outta there and spend the afternoon at a lovely waterside restaurant, Villa Rosenhagen (delicious and surprisingly affordable food only 15 minutes away, in case you find yourself in a similar situation). I return to the trailhead around 5 pm to find loads of spots available in the main parking lot (P1). The weather is now cooler and I am in no hurry, as I plan on camping at the top overnight.
This is a short but steep 4 km hike consisting of steep stone stairs and boardwalks covering boggy swamps. After the final steep ascent on rocky boulders, I pass a small lake and a refuge cabin. Around kilometre 3, I cross some rocky slabs and exposed cliffs (they don’t pose a danger, though) until the landscape suddenly opens up and I'm staring down into Lysefjord, 604 metres below. It’s an astonishing view into the abyss - I promise that you will feel like a badass rock star.
From 2013 to 2016, Norway commissioned Nepalese sherpas to improve the existing trail with boulders and flat rocks. It’s exceptionally well-built, but tough on the knees during the descent, since many boulders are quite high.
While taking photos, I meet a lovely German couple who is also planning on camping overnight. Gerti, Thorsten and I hit it off so well that we pitch our tents together and spend the evening (and the following morning) admiring the magnificent views.
Click on photos to enlarge and on arrows to see all 3 photos :
Our camping spot at sunset. We walked back to the pulpit rock for sunrise (photo 2) and were able to spot our tents way below (near left bottom corner, last photo).
A friendly reminder: Be cool, fellow hikers. I found a grocery bag filled with banana peels and eggshells at the top, which I tucked into my backpack and brought back down to the car. This always pisses me off; not only should hikers be more decent towards nature, but the wonderful allemannsretten may one day be revoked if such carelessness continues.
Also remember that, as with most hikes, you’ll be warm during the ascent but will need extra layers at the top. Wear aggressive trail runners with good grips, or hiking boots; sneakers and jeans simply don’t belong here.
Music: Bomboleo by Gypsy Kings
All in all, Preikestolen is an absolutely stupendous experience for the (relatively short) 2-hour climb. It is more than worth the effort.
For more info on Preikestolen, visit the official Preikestolen 365 website.
Trolltunga (« Troll-TOON-ga »)
Distances and elevation gains
Choose between three trailheads to hike Trolltunga :
1. From higher P3 lot (Magelitopp) : 20-km roundtrip (7-10 hours), 10 kms each way, 350m total elevation gain. Parking fee: 800 NOK (roughly 100$ CAD, reservations needed and severely limited). Bus shuttles to this trailhead are available from P2 and P1 (for 130 NOK - 17$ CAD) and are strongly recommended.
2. From lower P2 lot (Skjeggedal) : 27-km roundtrip (10-12 hours), 13.5 kms each way, 750-800m total elevation gain. Parking fee: 500 NOK (roughly 67 $ CAD), with shuttles available to P3 (for an extra fee).
3. P1 lot in Tyssedal : Must take shuttle to P2, then another shuttle to P3 if desired. Cannot start hike from P1. Parking fee: 300 NOK (roughly 40$ CAD). Seriously, don't choose this option.
The walk from P2 to P3 represents an extra 4.3 kms of walking and an extra 400m in vertical gain. There is no scenery; you will miss nothing and you will work very hard for this lack of views. My advice is to park at P2 (or P1 if you have to) and take the shuttles up to P3 to start your hike. At the end of your hike, catch the shuttle bus at P3 back down to your parked car.
- Rating: BLACK Expert due primarily to its length (any hike over 20 kms gets an automatic BLACK rating). The trail does have a few steep spots and ascends continually.
Trolltunga is arguably Norway’s most popular hike. It’s hikeable from March to October and should definitely not be underrated. This one is LOOOONG but infinitely worth it.
Long story short, my new friends Gerti and Thorsten change their plans to explore the North of Norway instead of the South (where they are forecasting worse weather), so I now have great company and a hiking buddy! Thorsten and I tackle Trolltunga and what a treat it is (Gerti has to stay back because of a bum knee). I am grateful to have a companion with whom to hike this trail. FYI, I stay at nearby Lofthus Camping and it is wonderful.
Trolltunga can take between 10 and 12 hours to hike, depending where you begin. We start from P3 (the highest parking lot), and climb a total of 800m over 20 kms of hiking, which takes about 8 hours. The trail is not particularly difficult, although some sections are steep; its length is what makes it challenging. If you are so inclined, this would be a good hike to split in two by camping overnight, but keep in mind that the weather here is notoriously bad (and there are designated camping areas).
It goes without saying (although it bears repeating) that one must be well-equipped and experienced to do this hike; I wouldn’t recommend it as your first in Norway.
The trail is level and elevates gradually for the first 45 minutes, then a long climb up a rock slope begins. This ascent to a small lake and to Gryteskaret Pass is probably the most strenuous stretch of the hike.
Eventually, you pop onto a beautiful grassy plateau and the views open up to reveal Ringedalsvatnet Lake. This is a great place to set up your tent overnight, as the views are astounding. You'll be strolling along this grassland for quite a while, so enjoy the views, have a snack, and fill up on water from the surrounding streams (if that’s your thing).
Click on photos to enlarge and on arrows to see all 3 photos :
The grassy plateau, standing at 700m elevation, wavers up and down but the bulk of the elevation is behind you at this point. You’ll pass by two emergency huts, each equipped with sleeping bags, blankets and emergency food. I remember walking for quite a while on a large rocky table until we spotted hikers perched over Trolltunga in the distance. From that point on, it was a 15-20 minute stroll to the famous outcrop.
Standing atop of Trolltunga, you are hovering 700 metres above beautiful Ringedalsvatnet Lake. It’s a fantastic feeling, and walking onto the platform is not scary for me (although I was very nervous beforehand). Four rebar ladder steps lead down to the rock. There’s no exposure walking onto it, and it’s so wide that you can’t see the lake below you, from either side. However, the width of the tongue (and consequent lack of visibility) does give people a false sense of security, so caution is evidently advised. It’s a long way down and a fall would definitely be fatal.
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The walk back is significantly shorter, but still lengthy and hard on the knees. Make sure you have plenty of daylight left and always stay on the trail. You’ll probably be fatigued and there’s a lot of terrain in which to get lost up here.
For more information on Trolltunga, visit the official Trolltunga website or VisitNorway.
Kirkja (« KEERK-yah »)
- Trailhead: Leirvassbu Mountain Lodge’s parking lot
- Fees: Leirvassbu private toll road fee - 60 NOK
- Elevation gain: 650m vertical gain
- Distance: 9 kms return (roughly 5-8 hours total)
- Rating: RED Class 2 scramble (some easy climbing)
- Kyrkja Mountain on Google MAPS
Standing tall in Norway’s famous national park, Jotunheimen (which means Home of the Giants), the Kyrkja hike is a last-minute addition to my day. I happened to overnight in Jotunheimen during some of the most dreadful weather of that summer, and was disappointed to miss out on hiking its amazing peaks. Jotunheimen houses 27 of the highest mountains in all of Norway. I’m equipped for hiking in the rain and have good gear, but sheets of rain and fierce winds don’t mix well with hiking solo in high altitudes. I don’t take chances with that.
The skies finally opened up on the afternoon that I am leaving Jotunheimen, and I bolt straight to this hike, but ultimately run out of time and can’t finish it.
The path to Kyrkja starts on a well-marked trail beyond the lodge; you’ll soon see a lake further away on your right, but cross over onto an unmarked trail (look for cairns) to begin the ascent of a small rocky hill to your left. You’ll cross a small snowfield and several paths will diverge on top of this hill, but all paths lead to the other side. This is Hogvaglen Col and you’ll spot a beautiful glacier-fed lake before continuing your climb.
From here on, I find the trail to be poorly marked. It’s an adventure! You’ll be climbing over large boulders and continually looking for a red, spray-painted T on the rocks.
Higher up, the trail becomes quite steep (just under 30 degrees) and mostly pathless, and the views from the top are reportedly amazing. Unfortunately, I cannot personally vouch for it, but online photos suggest stunning 360-degree views of Jotunheimen National Park.
For more info, visit the AllTrails site (Kyrkja Mountain).
Løstad (« LOW-stad»)
- Trailhead: Path behind the Hotel Union in Geiranger
- Fees: None
- Elevation gain: 430 m
- Distance: 6 kms return (roughly 2-3 hours total)
- Rating: BLUE Moderate hike, usually very muddy at higher elevations
Løstad is a moderate and relatively short hike that brings you to a cliff’s edge overlooking the stunning UNESCO site Geirangerfjord. Easily the best bang-for-your-buck hike I did in all of Norway, it demands little effort considering the jaw-dropping rewards.
I had a hard time finding the trailhead for this walk; there are no signs in town indicating the Løstad hike. You must follow the path to Vesterås and once there, the signs indicate the way to Løstad lookout.
The trail slowly winds up into the cliffs that surround the town of Geiranger, which is precariously perched on the fjord walls. The trail ascends gently but steadily for 4kms through forest, with occasional views between the trees.
Once you arrive at Vesterås Farm, you only have one more km to go (approx 20 mins). For those who are short on time or cannot do the hike, you can drive to the farm and hike the km out to the viewpoint. Follow signs to Løstad, unless you’d rather visit the lower viewpoint of Vesteråsfjellet; both are clearly indicated.
One must traverse lots of mud, sheep shit and wetlands to get to the viewpoint; I am thankful to have worn my aggressive trail runners (my hiking boots have ankle support but less aggressive treads). There are more and more roots as you ascend and the viewpoint is extremely exposed; no guardrails and an absolute sheer 500-metre drop down into the fjord. Please be careful and watch your children and pets carefully. But man, what a sight! It had just rained for two weeks straight, so the colours are incredibly vibrant!
One great thing about this hike is the beautiful Vesterås Farm itself. It is an absolute recluse from the bustle of the town far below and I am very happy to spend an extra hour indulging in a cold glass of rosé and a delicious smoked salmon sandwich on their outdoor patio. It is all so incredibly charming and intoxicating.
Click on arrows to see all photos (7 photos) :
The Vesterås Farm restaurant serves fresh produce grown on its land, and it hosts two small apartments as well as five cabins (although I stayed at a campground in the excessively busy Geiranger). The barn that houses the restaurant dates from 1603 (!) and a plethora of sheep and lamas graze the wild grass on its steep hills.
The walk back down into town is quite undemanding and I roll into my tent (at the fantastic Vinje Campground) quite happy and satisfied from my day.
For more info on the fabulous Løstad hike, see the AllTrails-Løstad site. To learn more about Vesterås Farm, visit its official page on VisitNorway site.
Nesaksla (« NEZ-ack-slaw »)
- Trailhead: Small parking lot along Romsdalsvegen Road (near the roundabout). Additional parking 400m away (3-min walk) at Rauma Kulturhus and Gondola.
- Fees: Small fee for parking
- Elevation gain: 675m vertical gain, very steep
- Distance: 4 kms return (roughly 2-3 hours total)
- Rating: RED Difficult
The name of the path that starts in Åndalsnes and ends on the summit of Mount Nesaksla is officially named Romsdalstrappa. And of the 6 hikes I do in Norway, it is by far the most tedious, pain-in-the-ass one. This trail is quite steep and slippery, and includes steel ramps, deep tree roots, chains on the exposed cliffs, high stone steps, and steel stairs at the top.
The terrain is steep enough that I pull myself up with nearby tree branches and then hold on to them for dear life on my way down to keep from falling (my trekking poles aren’t as useful as the trees). Quite the adventure. Although it was clear skies when I was here, the stone steps and muddy roots reportedly become very slippery in rain; it would all be absolute hell in a storm.
Please don’t let my description discourage you. All I’m gonna say about this hike is, suck it up. LOL It’s a slog and the views are 100% worth the effort. Just keep going. I promise you’ll love the prize.
This hike is probably most famous for its Rampestreken viewing ramp. Just short of reaching the mountain summit, you’ll pass this ramp sticking out over the cliff from a height of 537m. There can be long queues here, but I am lucky. I might have lost my nerve if I had had to wait too long, as heights really challenge me.
Once you reach the summit, you can chill out in the building or walk around the grassy plateau and search out the best spots to admire the view of Åndalsnes. There is immense space up here to sit and chat with your hiking partner, to have a snack or a drink, to ponder life’s big questions or to enjoy the stupendous scenery. I don’t spend nearly as much time up here as I should have and I (very slightly) regret it.
For anyone wanting to avoid the strenuous hike up, you can always take the gondola up and hike back down. No one’s judging. And who cares if they are?
To find out more about this invigorating hike, see the official Romsdal site, the Visit Norway site or the AllTrails Nesaksla site.
So there you have it. Norway is gorgeous. Norway is clean. Norway is beautiful. It’s chock-full of natural wonders. And don’t get me started on their social structures, Viking culture and ecological prowess. I loved every minute of it. I plan on returning soon. Maybe I’ll see you there!