In many ways, the long wedge of land that comprises central Sweden – the sparsely populated provinces of Dalarna, Härjedalen and Jämtland – encompasses all that is most typical of the country. This vast area of land is really one great forest, broken only by the odd village or town. Rural and underpopulated, it epitomizes the image most people have of Sweden: lakes, log cabins, pine forests and wide, open skies. Until just one or two generations ago, Swedes across the country lived in this sort of setting, taking their cue from the people of these central lands and forest, who were the first to rise against the Danes in the sixteenth century.
Dalarna, centred around Lake Siljan, is an intensely picturesque – and touristy – region, its inhabitants maintaining a cultural heritage (echoed in contemporary handicrafts and traditions) that goes back to the Middle Ages. You won’t need to brave the crowds of visitors for too long, as even a quick tour around one or two of the more accessible places here gives an impression of the whole: red cottages with a white door and window frames, sweeping green countryside, water that’s bluer than blue and a riot of summer festivals. Dalarna is the place to spend midsummer, particularly Midsummer’s Eve, when the whole region erupts in a frenzy of celebration.
The privately owned Inlandsbanan, the great Inland Railway, cuts right through central Sweden and links many of the towns and villages covered in this chapter. Running from Mora in Dalarna to Gällivare, above the Arctic Circle, it ranks with the best of European train journeys, covering an enthralling 1067km in two days; the second half of the journey, north of Östersund (where you have to change trains), is covered in theSwedish Lapland section. Buses connect the rail line with the mountain villages that lie alongside the Norwegian border, where the surrounding Swedish fjäll, or mountains, offer some spectacular and compelling hiking, notably around Ljungdalen in the remote province of Härjedalen. Marking the halfway point of the line,Östersund, the only town of any size along it and the capital of the province of Jämtland, is situated by the side of Storsjön, the great lake that’s reputed to be home to the country’s own Loch Ness monster, Storsjöodjuret. From here trains head in all directions: west into Norway through Sweden’s premier ski resort, Åre; south to Dalarna and Stockholm; east to Sundsvall on the Bothnian coast and north into the wild terrain of Swedish Lapland.
Grövelsjön fjällstation makes an ideal base for hikes (summer only) out into the surrounding countryside, with a variety of routes available, some lasting a day, others several days.
Among the established day-hikes is the clearly marked route (16km round-trip) from the fjällstation up to Storvätteshågnen (1183m), with fantastic views over the surrounding peaks and across the border into Norway. Another worthwhile hike starts with a short walk from the fjällstation to Sjöstugan on Lake Grövelsjön (roughly 1.5km away), from where you take the morning boat to the northern (Norwegian) end of the lake. You can return along the lake shore to the fjällstation (9km) by way of the Linné path, following in the footsteps of the famous botanist who walked this route in 1734. It’s possible to do the whole route in the opposite direction, heading out along the Linné path in the morning and returning by boat in the late afternoon; ask at the fjällstation for details of boat departure times. A third option is to strike out along the path leading northwest from Sjöstugan, heading for the Norwegian border and Salsfjellet (1281m) on the other side of it (16km round trip). There’s no need to take your passport as the border is all but invisible; people wander back and forth across it quite freely.
From Mora and Orsa, the Inlandsbanan trundles through the northern reaches of Dalarna before crossing the provincial border into Härjedalen, a sparsely populated fell region stretching north and west to the Norwegian border, and containing some of the best scenery anywhere in Sweden. The region belonged to Norway until 1645, and the influence of the Norwegian language is still evident today in the local dialect.
From the comfort of the Inlandsbanan, you’ll be treated to a succession of breathtaking vistas of vast forested hill and mountainsides (Härjedalen boasts more than thirty mountains of over 1000m) – these are some of the emptiest tracts of land in the whole country, also home to the country’s largest population of bears. Although the sleepy provincial capital, Sveg, holds little of appeal, it’s from here that buses head northwest to the remote mountain village of Funäsdalen and Tänndalen; both have easy access to excellent and little-frequented hiking trails through austere terrain that's home to a handful of shaggy musk oxen which have wandered over the border from Norway. Nearby, across the lonely Flatruet plateau, with its ancient rock paintings, tiny Ljungdalen is the starting point for treks to Sweden’s southernmost glacier, Helags, on the icy slopes of Helagsfjället (1797m).
Härjedalen got its name from the unfortunate Härjulf Hornbreaker, a servant to the Norwegian king, who mistakenly killed two of the king’s men and was banished from the court. He fled to Uppsala, where he sought protection from King Amund, but after falling in love with Amund’s cousin, Helga, and arousing the king’s fury he was forced to make another hasty exit. It was then he came across a desolate valley in which he settled and which he named after himself: Härjulf’s dale, or Härjedalen, as it’s known today.
The route taken by skiers on the first Sunday in March during the annual Vasaloppet race, the 90km-long Vasaloppsleden from Sälen to Mora is equally rewarding to explore on foot. The path starts just outside Sälen, in Berga, and first runs uphill to Smågan, then downhill all the way to Mora via Mångsbodarna, Risberg, Evertsberg, Oxberg, Hökberg and Eldris. For accommodation, there are eight cabins along the route, each equipped with a stove and unmade beds.
Another hike to consider is the little-known southern Kungsleden ( which starts at the Högfjällshotellet in the resort of Högfjället, a few kilometres west of Saälen, and leads to Drevdagen, a 30min drive west of Idre off Route 70 (bus #395 runs once daily Mon–Fri between Idre and Drevdagen), where it continues to Grövelsjön and all the way north to Storlien. There’s no accommodation on the Högfjället–Drevdagen stretch.