Two National Parks breakaway from Helsinki
A 2-3 days breakaway from Helsinki to Nuuksio and Liesjärvi National Parks, cycling through peaceful country roads, gravel highways and serene singletracks
Sometimes I feel the urge to unplug from everything that surrounds me: work, the daily routine, the constant buzz of the city. The best way I found to clear my head is to hop on a bike, particularly on gravel, and soak up nature. add camping in a forest, and I hit that sweet spot of inner peace.
So, I had this idea to map out an ideal route for a two or three-day bikepacking trip around two national parks near Helsinki, Nuuksio and Liesjärvi. The whole route is in the Uusimaa region, except for Liesjärvi itself, which just sneaks into Kanta-Häme. Even though the capital region is Finland's most populated, this route takes you through some less crowded and kinda remote spots.
The plan was to make it versatile and good for all kinds of bikepackers. You could go the chill route in three days, leaving in the early afternoon, spending one night in Nuuksio and another in Liesjärvi, and using the third day to pedal your way to Hyvinkää, where you can hop on a regional train back to Helsinki. Or, if you're feeling a bit sporty, do it in two days, camping out only in Liesjärvi (that's 129km from the start). If you're a beast, go ultracyclist style and ride everything in a day. No camping, no hauling camping gear. Just you, your bike, and the road.
Personally, I took the trail in three days at the end of October, with temperatures between -3 and +2. I left on a Thursday afternoon after lunch from my home in Helsinki and returned around 7pm the following Saturday.
Description of the Route
The starting point is Helsinki central station, so as to be easily reachable from any area of the city, or even from the airport. Since the route mostly winds through forests I figured out it could be cool to start with quick spin of the seafront of Helsinki and Espoo, through the island of Lauttasaari and Laajalahti nature reserve. Once you cruise through the suburbs of Espoo on well-maintained cycle paths you reach Nuuksio national park and its splendid gravel paths. There are no mountains in Finland but the forests are often full of short but steep ups and downs, perfect for taking your breath away and speeding up the heart rate.
After 46km of travel you reach the lovely camping area of Mustalampi, equipped with all the amenities: fireplaces, dry toilets, firewood and a small lake (Musta= black, while lampi is the Finnish word for pond. By Finnish standards, in fact, Mustalampi, black pond, it is little more than a puddle). If you travel in a relaxed way, you can call it a day, in front of the fire, perhaps having a chat with a tent neighbour or a passing hiker.
The second day kicks off with some amazing singletrack inside the national park. Once out of the park the route switches between serene asphalt roads, mostly traffic-free, and gravel highways through cultivated fields and farms adorned with ruins of old cars and skeletons of disused agricultural machinery. Restaurants and resupply points before Liesjärvi are in the small towns of Vihti and Karkkila. Upon reaching the small-sized Liesjärvi National Park, you'll cruise along a narrow unpaved road into the forest and then you’ll have to push your bike on narrow wooden platforms, stones and roots for about 1km before reaching the camping area of Savilahti, a small peninsula where you can swim in the lake, temperature permitting, cook on the fire, pitch your tent wherever you want and use a dry toilet. There are no rubbish bins, it is important to remember not to litter and take all waste with you.
On the third day we travel on roads parallel to those of the previous day up to Karkkila. After leaving the town centre, you’ll cycle along the Karkkilan rata, a cycle, pedestrian and equestrian off-road path that follows the route of an old railway. The rest of the day is mainly on asphalt on country roads and cycle paths. From Hyvinkää you can hop on a regional train that will take you to Helsinki in 45 minutes.
- The National Parks, particularly Nuuksio given its proximity to the city, can be crowded in the weekends, I suggest traveling on weekdays if you want to spend the evening alone.
- The route is not viable in winter (usually early December to late March), as the trails in Nuuksio are reserved for skiers, and the single tracks aren’t maintained. The country roads, being isolated, may be slippery with ice.
- As an alternative to the initial coastal tour you can kick off through Keskuspuisto (Central Park), a real forest inside Helsinki, then swing west towards Kauniainen/Grankulla and make your way to Nuuksio from there.
- I thought about wrapping up the trip in Hyvinkää to keep the route around 200km and make it comfortable to travel on a weekend. Of course you can keep going south and catch the train at a later station or, why not, cycle back to Helsinki if you have time.
- In Finland, like in other Nordic countries, there’s a thing called “Jokamiehenoikeus", or the right of public access. It means you can wander across the whole national territory without motor vehicles, pick mushrooms and wild berries, and camp for a limited time in any woodland. But, there are some obvious limits. For instance, in national parks, camping is only allowed in designated areas, and you can't set up camp on farmland or within 100 meters of homes. So, my suggestion is to spend the nights in the two spots marked on the map.