The number of visits to Finland's 41 national parks is steadily increasing, said state-owned Metsähallitus, the operator of the parks in a press release on Friday.
A total of 2.3 million visits to national parks were made from January to July in 2023. The number of visits increased by 2% year-on-year.
The strongest growth was in Lapland, where a good winter tourism season increased the number of visits. The number of international tourists has also increased, especially visitors from Central and Southern Europe.
"The hiking boom continues to be strong, and the enthusiasm for getting outdoors into nature that emerged during the pandemic has not stopped. Compared to the time before the COVID-19 pandemic, i.e. until 2019, the number of visits to national parks has increased by 14 per cent," said Henrik Jansson, Executive Director, Parks & Wildlife Finland.
The number of visits to Salla National Park (founded in 2022) increased by 26 per cent year-on-year. In the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, the new campfire sites and trails in Sipoonkorpi National Park are popular, and the number of visits to the national park increased by 35 per cent year-on-year.
The Rautulampi huts located in Urho Kekkonen National Park and the Ukko-Luosto scenic hut in Pyhä–Luosto have attracted visitors. The renovation and opening of the Aulanko observation tower to the public as well as the new exhibition at the Syöte Visitor Centre have also increased the number of visits to the areas.
In the national hiking areas, 153,000 visits were made to Ruunaa, Iso-Syöte, Evo, Oulujärvi and Kylmäluoma in January–July. In addition, 148,000 visits were made to the Inari and Arctic Circle hiking during the same period. Over the long term and compared to the years before the pandemic, the number of visitors to hiking areas has lagged behind the growth of national parks.
"For many, hiking areas are less known than national parks. Hiking areas have plenty of potential, as they have more opportunities for harmonising hiking with different needs than national parks do, which are nature reserves. We feel it’s important that in the future, national parks and hiking areas will be examined as a broader, common entity, and a national development plan will be drafted for this purpose," said Jansson.
There has been recent discussion concerning an addition to the Government Programme that will enable strengthening of the funding base of national through the use of voluntary visitor fees.
"This is an interesting opportunity and the matter will be further explored. We want to include our customers, i.e. hikers, tourists and entrepreneurs, in this discussion. However, voluntary fees alone can’t fully replace sufficient basic funding to ensure a sustainable level of recreational and tourism services."
According to Jansson, sufficient basic funding is also needed to prevent a new maintenance backlog. It is also important to continue funding for the Helmi programme, which is vital to the nature management of sites.