From Strömsund, Route 342, the 360km-long Wilderness Way (Vildmarksvägen), strikes out northwest towards the mountains at Gäddede, before hugging the Norwegian border and crossing the barren Stekenjokk plateau (876m; only open from early June to mid-Oct). It then swings inland again, joining Route 45 at Vilhelmina. The route ranks as one of the most beautiful and dramatic in Sweden, passing through great swathes of virgin forest, tiny forgotten villages and true wilderness. It’s also the part of Sweden with the densest population of bears. If you’re driving, stop wherever you can, turn off the engine and listen to the deep silence, broken only by the calls of the birds and the whisper of the forest.
There are plenty of lakes along the way ideal for nude bathing – you can choose whichever one you want to make your own as there’ll be nobody else there. One of the most beautiful stretches of rocky beach is just south of the tiny village of Alanäs on the beautiful Flåsjön lake, before you get to Gäddede.
If you have your own transport, you should turn left at Bågede and follow the minor, very rocky road along the southern shore of Fågelsjön lake to reach Hällsingsåfallet, an impressive waterfall. Sweden’s answer to Niagara Falls, it has an 800m-long canyon, into which the falls plummet 43m; the canyon’s that’s getting longer every year due to continuing erosion.
Gäddede and Murusjöen lake
The only town along the Wilderness Way is Gäddede, whose name means “the spot where the northern pike can no longer go upstream”. The name may be cute but the place certainly isn’t; give it a miss and instead turn off the main road and follow the road signed “Nordli” for a few kilometres to the long and empty sandy beaches of Murusjöen lake, right on the border with Norway (the beach is in Sweden, the water in Norway). You’ll be hard pushed to find a more idyllic spot: the silence is total, the deep blue water still and calm, and the mountains in the distance dark and brooding.
Stora Blåsjön and Ankarede
Stora Blåsjön, a lake 50km to the north of Gäddede, is surrounded by blue mountains; the village of Stora Blåsjon is where the road starts to climb above the tree line to cross the desolate, boulder-strewn Stekenjokk plateau into the province of Lappland. Just outside Stora Blåsjön, look out for the minor road leading to Ankarede, an age-old meeting place for the local Sámi; even today, families from Sweden and Norway get together here at midsummer and again in the autumn. Its old wooden church dates from 1896 and is located by the lake, between the two rivers. In addition there are around twenty circular Sámi wooden huts – kåtor – close by. The Stekenjokk plateau is the temporary summer home of several Sámi families, who tend their reindeer on the surrounding slopes, including those of the magnificent peak of Gervenåkko (1141m) to the east of the road.
After dropping into the minuscule village of Klimpfjäll, the Wilderness Way continues east. Taking the first turn to the left, after about 12km and then following the signs, you’ll reach Fatmomakke, a fascinating Sámi church town made up of eighty kåtor and twenty cottages, gathered neatly around the church, and twenty log cabins lined up by the side of Kultsjön lake. The first church on the site was built in 1790, but the Sámi met together here long before that for special religious celebrations including marriages, christenings and funerals, travelling vast distances on skis, horseback or by boat. The huts are made out of birch wood, with a hole in the roof to let the smoke out, and birch twigs on the floor to sit on. Everything inside is orderly, the fireplace in the middle, the cooking area at the back; there’s a strict code of behaviour as well – you must first wait in the entrance before being invited to enter. Look out for the signposted visningskåta, the “show hut” to the right of the church up on the hill, and have a peek inside.
About 20km further east of Fatmomakke, the lakeside hamlet of SAXNÄS is as good a place as any to break your journey and enjoy some of the magnificent scenery hereabouts. It’s also a good spot for adventure activities, or some pampering at the spa resort.