The Kungsleden (literally “King’s Trail”) is the most famous and popular hiking route in Sweden. A well-signposted, 500km-long path from Abisko in the north to Hemavan, near Tärnaby, it takes in Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise, en route. If you’re looking for splendid isolation, this isn’t the trail for you; it’s the busiest in the country, though it’s the section from Abisko to Kebnekaise that sees most hikers (one of the least busy sections is between Jäkkvik and Adolfström). Most people start the trail at Abisko, but it’s equally feasible to begin further south.
The ground is easy to walk, with bridges where it’s necessary to ford streams; marshy ground has had wooden planks laid down to ease the going, and there are either boat services or row-boats with which to get across several large lakes. The route, which passes through the national parks, is traditionally split into the five stages described below. For the distances between the places mentioned on each segment; the best map to have of the entire area is Lantmäteriet Kartförlaget’s Norra Norrland (scale 1:400,000).
Stage 1: Abisko to Kebnekaise (6 days; 105km)
From its starting point at STF Abisko fjällstation, the Kungsleden winds through the elongated Abisko national park, which contains some of the most lush and dense vegetation of the trail, including beech forest lining the valley bottom. From the Alesjaure cabins, perched on a mountain ridge 35km from the start, you’ll get a fantastic view over the open countryside below; there’s a sauna here, too. The highest point on this segment is the Tjäktja pass (1105m), 50km from the start, from where there are also wonderful views. This section of the trail finishes at Kebnekaise fjällstation, from where it’s possible to leave the main trail and head to Nikkaluokta, 19km away (served by buses to Kiruna).
Stage 2: Kebnekaise to Saltoluokta (3 days; 51km)
One of the quietest sections of the trail, this segment takes in beech forest, open fells and deep valleys. First of all you backtrack 14km from Kebnekaise fjällstation to Singi, before heading south again with an unobstructed view of the hills and glaciers of Sarek national park. You then paddle across the river at Teusajaure and climb over a plateau into Stora Sjöfallet national park, from where you drop steeply through beech forest to Vakkotavare. From Vakkotavore a bus runs to the quay at Kebnats, and then a short boat trip brings you to Saltoluokta and the start of the next section.
Stage 3: Saltoluokta to Kvikkjokk (4 days; 73km)
This segment involves skirting a tame corner of the inhospitable Sarek national park. It crosses two lakes and also passes through a bare landscape edged by pine and beech forests. A long uphill climb of around five to six hours leads first to Sitojaure, on a bare high fell. The shallow lake here, which you have to cross, is choppy in the strong wind; take the boat service operated by the cabin caretaker. You then cross the wetlands on the other side of the lake, making use of the wooden planks laid down here, to Aktse, where there’s a vast field of yellow buttercups in summer. Using the row-boats provided, row across Lake Laitaure for Kvikkjokk; as you approach you’ll see pine forest.
Stage 4: Kvikkjokk to Ammarnäs (8 days; 166km)
Not recommended for novices, this is one of the most difficult stretches of the trail (distances between cabins can be long, and there are four lakes to cross); it is, however, one of the quietest. From Kvikkjokk you take the boat over Saggat Lake and walk to the first cabin at Tsielejåkk. It’s 55km to the next cabin at Vuonatjviken. You then take the boat across Riebnesjaure and walk to Hornavan for another boat across to the village of Jäkkvik. It’s a short hike of 8km to the next cabin, then on to the village of Adolfström, passing through Pieljekaise national park en route. Then you get another boat over Iraft Lake and on to the cabins at Sjnjultje. From here there’s a choice of routes: 34km direct to Ammarnäs, or 24km to Rävfallet and then another 20km into Ammarnäs.
Stage 5: Ammarnäs to Hemavan (4 days; 78km)
This is the easiest part of the trail: you’ll pass over low fells and heather-covered moors and through beech forests and wetlands, the horizon lined with impressive fell peaks. The only steep climb is 8km long between Ammarnäs and Aigert, where there’s an imposing waterfall and a traditional steam sauna in the cabin. On the way to the Syter cabin, 48km from Aigert, you’ll pass a network of bridges, which cross the various lakes in what is called the Tärnasjö archipelago.