Most Norwegians have a deep and abiding love of the great outdoors. They enjoy many kinds of sports – from dog-sledging and downhill skiing in winter, through to mountaineering, angling and whitewater rafting in the summer – but the two most popular activities are hiking and cross-country skiing.
Norway boasts some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in the world, its soaring peaks accentuated by icy glaciers, rocky spires and deep green fjords. Great chunks of this wild terrain have been incorporated into a string of national parks, 41 in total with 34 on the mainland and seven in Svalbard. These parks, especially the more accessible, are magnets for hikers in search of everything from easy rambles to full-scale expeditions along clearly marked trails, served by an excellent network of mountain cabins, which provide the most congenial of accommodation (see Mountain huts).
The short hiking season, loosely defined by the opening and closing of the mountain lodges, runs from early July (mid-June in some areas) through to late September. This coincides with mild weather – daytime mountain temperatures of between 20°C and 25°C – ideal for hiking. And, of course, it’s daylight for most of the time – beyond the Arctic Circle, all the time – so you’re unlikely to be searching for a mountain lodge after dark.
Hiking trails and maps
Norway’s hiking trails are typically marked at regular intervals by cairns (piles of stones). Most junctions are marked by signposts, some of which are small and hard to spot. There are also red “T” symbols painted on rocks – especially useful when visibility is poor. Although waymarking is good, you’ll always need a hiking map. The classic map range, with red and white covers and covering every part of the country, is the Statens Kartverk M711 Norge 1:50,000 series, though in recent years many of these maps have been updated and upgraded with red or blue covers and made waterproof and tear-resistant; many of the new maps in the series are also co-productions between Statens Kartverk (the Norwegian Mapping Authority) and a commercial publisher. To complicate matters, Statens Kartverk became part of the Nordeca group in 2011 and Nordeca has now produced top-quality, GPS-compatible maps – Turkart – for all the key hiking areas at three scales – 1:25,000, 1:50,000 and 1:100,000. These are the best hiking maps on the market, and are on sale at DNT outlets, many tourist offices and some bookshops; you would, however, be well advised to buy before you go – Stanfords (
stanfords.co.uk), in London, is as good a source as any.
Guided glacier hiking
Guided glacier hikes can be terrific – and the widest selection are available in the western fjords on the Jostedalsbreen glacier. Glaciers are in constant if generally imperceptible motion, and are therefore potentially dangerous. People, often tourists, die on them nearly every year. Never hike on a glacier without a guide, never walk beneath one and always heed local instructions.
Norway has a strong claim to be regarded as the home of skiing: a 4000-year-old rock carving found in northern Norway is the oldest-known illustration of a person on skis; the first recorded ski competition was held in Norway in 1767; and Norwegians were the first to introduce skis to North America. Furthermore, one of the oldest cross-country ski races in the world, the 55km Birkebeinerrennet, is held annually in late March, attracting several thousand skiers to participate in the dash between Rena and Lillehammer. The race follows the route taken by Norwegian mountain-men in 1206 when they rescued the two-year-old Prince Håkon. The rescuers wore birch-bark leggings known as Birkebeiners, hence the name of the race.
Although you may be tempted to go on a ski package via a tour operator remember that in most places you should find it easy (and comparatively inexpensive) to go skiing independently. Even in Oslo, there are downhill and cross-country ski runs within the city boundaries as well as convenient places from which to rent equipment. As a halfway house between independence and the package tour, DNT, the Norwegian Trekking Association (
www.dnt.no), arranges a limited range of guided skiing excursions – see their website for details.
In terms of preparation, lessons on a dry slope are useful in so far as they develop confidence and balance, but cross-country skiing needs stamina and upper body as well as leg strength.
Downhill skiing and snowboarding
Downhill skiing and snowboarding conditions in Norway are usually excellent from mid-November through to late April, though daylight hours are at a premium around the winter solstice. Otherwise, Norway scores well in comparison with the better-known skiing regions of southern Europe: temperatures tend to be a good bit colder and the country has, in general terms at least, a more consistent snowfall; Norway’s resorts tend to be less crowded, have smaller class sizes, shorter lift queues, and are at a lower altitude. Three main centres for downhill skiing are Voss, Lillehammer and Geilo.
Cross-country skiing is a major facet of winter life in Norway. Approximately half the population are active in the sport, and many Norwegians still use skis to get to work or school. Wherever you are in wintertime Norway, you’re never far from a cross-country ski route and at major ski resorts sets of parallel ski tracks called loipe are cut in the snow by machine with the cross-country skier in mind: they provide good gliding conditions and help keep the skis parallel; some loipe are floodlit.
Cross-country skis can be waxed or waxless. Waxless skis have a rough tread in the middle called “fishscales”, which grips adequately at temperatures around zero. Waxed skis work better at low temperatures and on new snow. Grip wax is rubbed onto the middle third of the ski’s length, but a sticky substance called klister is used instead in icy conditions. All skis benefit from hard glide wax applied to the front and back thirds of the base.
All the main skiing centres, including Oslo’s Holmenkollen, have designated cross-country skiing areas with at least some floodlighting.
In the Telemark region of southern Norway a technique has been developed to enable skiers to descend steep slopes on free-heel touring skis. This technique, known as Telemarking, provides a stable and effective turning platform in powder snow. Essentially the skier traverses a slope in an upright position, but goes down on a right knee to execute a right turn and vice versa.
Summer skiing on Norway’s mountains and glaciers – both alpine and cross-country – is very popular. Lots of places offer this, but one of the largest and most convenient spots is the Folgefonn Sommar Skisenter (
folgefonn.no), not far from Bergen, which has ski rental, a ski school, a café and a ski lift to the slopes.
Norway’s myriad rivers and lakes offer some of Europe’s finest freshwater fishing. Common species include trout, char, pike and perch, not to mention the salmon that once brought English aristocrats here by the buggy load. In the south of the country, the fishing is at its best from June to September, in July and August in the north. Seawater fishing is more the preserve of professionals, but (amateur) sea angling off the Lofoten Islands is a popular pastime.
Sea- and freshwater fishing are both tightly controlled. The first does not require a national licence, but is subject to national and local restrictions regarding the size of the fish you can land and so forth. The second, freshwater fishing, needs both a local licence, which costs anything from 50kr to 400kr per day, and a national licence if you’re after salmon, sea trout and char – while, that is, these fish are in fresh water. National licences are available at any post office and online (
inatur.no) for 235kr and local licences (fiskekort) are sold at sports shops, a few tourist offices, some hotels and many campsites. If you take your own fishing tackle, you must have it disinfected before use.
A number of tour companies specialize in Norwegian fishing trips and holidays, but if you’re just after a day or two’s fishing, it’s easy enough to get fixed up locally – start off by asking down at the nearest tourist office.
Norway has literally dozens of top-notch whitewater rafting runs. Two of the best places are Voss and Sjoa. For a full list of tour operators offering rafting trips, consult the Norges Padleforbund (the Norwegian Canoe Association) website,
Fjord and sea-kayaking are increasingly popular in Norway with a small army of tour operators concentrated in the western fjords. Local tourist offices have the details of what’s on offer, and there’s more information on the website of the Norges Padleforbund (the Norwegian Canoe Association;
padling.no), but one place to aim for is Flåm, which is home to the sea-kayaking specialists, Njord Flåm (
t91 32 66 28,
Reached via the E6 and the Dombås–Trondheim railway, the eastern reaches of this large park are rugged and severe, but as you hike west the terrain gets even wilder as the serrated alpine peaks of the Romsdal hove into view.
Europe’s largest mountain plateau, stretches east from the Hardangerfjord to Finse in the north and Rjukan in the east, its bare, almost lunar-like rocks and myriad lakes make for some spectacular hiking. The Hardangervidda begins about 130km east of Bergen.
Norway’s most famous hiking area has a heady concentration of towering, ice-tipped peaks, more than two hundred rising above 1900m, including northern Europe’s two highest. The park is near the east end of the Sognefjord, about 300km from Oslo.
The Rondane comprises both a high alpine zone, with ten peaks exceeding the 2000-metre mark, and a much gentler upland area punctuated by rounded, treeless hills. It is on the E6 between Oslo and Trondheim and is especially popular with families.
One of the archipelago’s largest protected areas, this coastal tundra stretches across the Isfjorden north of Barentsburg. It comprises wetlands, lake and pond complexes, and is great for light day-hikes and wildlife-spotting; wildlife includes eider ducks, pink-footed geese, ringed seals, arctic fox and the Svalbard rock ptarmigan.
For a list of all of Norway’s national parks, consult
Den Norske Turistforening (The Norwegian Trekking Association; wwww.dnt.no) manages all aspects of hiking in Norway. It organizes all-inclusive tours and, in conjunction with a small army of local hiking associations, takes care of trails and waymarking. It also operates several hundred mountain lodges. DNT has outlets in all of Norway’s largest cities, including Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim, which stock hiking maps and give advice on equipment. They also sell DNT membership, which confers, among much else, substantial discounts at its mountain huts (see Rooms in private houses), though you can also join at any staffed DNT lodge. Neither is annual membership expensive at 550kr, 295kr for 19–26-year-olds, 175kr for 13–18 years, 67-plus 425kr, under 12 110kr.