Utsjoki – Pearl of the North

At the top of Finland, more than a thousand kilometres from the capital, lies the pearl of the Sámi land, Utsjoki. Utsjoki has 1181 inhabitants, almost half of whom are Sámi-speaking. Although the population is small, the municipality is large, with more than four times the number of square kilometres per inhabitant. The municipality is officially bilingual. Multiculturalism is very much present in Utsjoki, as in addition to Finnish, you are sure to come across North Sámi and Norwegian when visiting the villages. Utsjoki has three larger villages, Karigasniemi at the head of the Tenojoki River, Utsjoki Church Village and Nuorgam, the northernmost village in Finland.


Tenojoki has played an important role in the development of the municipality of Utsjoki, and has been a major thoroughfare throughout the history of the area, used both in winter and summer. Teno has also historically acted more as a link between the two countries than as a divider. Salmon tourism is thought to have begun in the Teno in the summer of 1838, when the first English salmon lords arrived. Tenojoki river’s golden age among the English lasted until the 1910s, but came to an end with the First World War.

The Finnish interest in the northern salmon river arose in the late 1940s when the large salmon rivers of the south were harnessed for electricity generation, and the final impetus for a surge in fishing tourism came with the completion of the road from Kaamanen to Utsjoki in 1957. Fishing tourism grew strongly until the 1980s and remained at roughly the same level until 2017, when a stricter fisheries agreement was signed between Finland and Norway. The agreement was made in order to protect the salmon stock, which has plummeted considerably in the 2000s. The agreement was intended to reduce fishing tourism pressure on the Tenojoki River by a third, but led to 50% decrease.

The last straw for salmon fishing tourism was in 2021, when the Finnish and Norwegian governments banned salmon fishing in the Tenojoki River basin to protect the collapsed salmon stock. However, the ban on salmon fishing does not mean the end of fishing tourism altogether, as the numerous lakes in the wilderness areas provide many opportunities for keen fishermen.


There are two important cultural sites in the municipality of Utsjoki, where you can learn about the lives of the Sámi people in the past. Välimaa estate is located on the banks of the Tenojoki River, roughly halfway between the village of Utsjoki and the village of Nuorgam. Välimaa estate was established on its present site in 1858, on the good fishing grounds. The people of the farm lived from fishing and sheep. Today, the farm is an important historical site where you can learn about the past. Here you can learn how the Sámi have survived here in the harsh but beautiful nature of the northernmost Lapland.

The Utsjoki church and the church huts below it on the shore of Lake Mantojärvi have survived intact from the 19th century until today, which is rare in Lapland due to the Lapland War between 1944-1945. The church huts were the dwellings of Sámi families, where people attended market and church services, as it was a long way from their own homes. During the summer, the area around the huts serves as a free outdoor museum and an hour or two can be spent exploring them. As well as exploring the huts, it’s also worth stopping off at the missionary café for a waffle and to see the local crafts. Next to the stacks is the Utsjoki parsonage, Carl Ludvig Engel’s northernmost and most recent design work, which still serves as the vicar’s residence. On the other side of the road, on the hillside, is the stone church of Utsjoki, designed by Ernst Lohrmann. The church and its churchyard have been designated a nationally significant built cultural environment, and on arrival you can’t help but admire the harmonious building site in a scenic location.

Living wilderness

Utsjoki municipality is home to two of Finland’s largest wilderness areas, the Kaldoaivi and Paistunturi wilderness areas, and the Kevo Strict Nature Reserve with its rugged canyons. There are several marked hiking trails in the wilderness areas, from which you can choose the one that suits you best. In Kevo Strict Nature Reserve, there is a 63-kilometre hiking trail from Sulaoja to Kenesjärvi, or the 86.5-kilometre Kuivi Ring Trail. Please remember to stay on the marked routes in the nature reserve and check the restrictions in force before setting off. You are free to roam freely in the wilderness areas, of course using the prepared routes, especially when cycling, as the northern nature is very vulnerable. Remember to follow the hiking etiquette and the restrictions in force when you are out and about.


The municipality of Utsjoki has invested in cycling tourism in recent years, and there are several interesting cycling routes for mountain biking enthusiasts, as well as for touring cyclists. Municipal companies offer cyclists transport services, accommodation, rental equipment, food and a warm sauna.

For example, the Tenojoki Valley route, dubbed the most beautiful road in Finland, runs from Karigasniemi via Utsjoki and Nuorgam. If you’re keen, you can climb one or even all three of the Ailigas fells along the way to admire the scenery of the Tenojoki river valley. If you want to do a circular route, you can set off from the village of Kaamanen from Inari to Karigasniemi through the wilderness of Muotkatunturi and Paistunturi, from Karigasniemi to Utsjoki, and from Utsjoki back to Kaamanen.

There are routes for mountain bikers in different parts of the municipality, the length of which can be chosen according to experience and fitness. The trails include challenging climbs as well as easy hills with room to admire the open landscape. The mountain biking season runs from mid-June to August-September. If you’re keen to cycle even after the snow has fallen, take a fatbike, which can be used on soft snowmobile tracks.

Writer: Eelis Loponen, nature guide student, Sàmi educational institute, Inari.