This blog post updates when new routes are suggested! Stay tuned!
I’m still not sure if it’s a good idea to use gps-tracks as the final versions of the routes. I know it is the way things are done these days, but it just feels wrong to take away one’s freedom like that. Your biketrip should be an adventure, not a guided tour (nothing wrong with guided tours though). It seems like a better option just to give rough guidelines to help you mix and match and explore. And being a fan of paper maps I’m also not that familiar nor comfortable with the technology involved.
Meeting people, seeing new places, getting to know some of the history and to witness the present state of these areas is the thing. Travelling by bike could well be the best way to do that!
One of the reasons I believe there is a demand for these routes is that even the most experienced cycle tourists seem to end up following the St. Petersburg-Murmansk highway.
For Finns these places are like pieces of a bigger narrative. Seeing a route on a map without detailed info to back it up isn’t quite enough but anyway… Here’s a quick peek to some of the routes I’ve been working on this far:
Helsinki – Saint Petersburg
Map (overview only for now, sorry)
There are many variations of this route. Recommended border crossing point is Nuijamaa. Enjoy the coast and visit nice cities Like Helsinki, Porvoo, Loviisa, Hamina, Vyborg etc. Or if you have already seen them, try something else… Buy this paper map to get the best out of the existing Finnish cycle route network: Retkeily GT Etelä-Suomi.
Finlands official regional roundtrips and A to B’s can be found at bikeland.fi. They use Ride With GPS and it seems to be working.
Eastern Finland and The Exotic North (some of the sights pinpointed)
The easiest way to link your trip to Russia with the (poorly) signposted Finnish cycle network might still be the Retkeily GT paper maps and, of course, the Iron Courtain Trail. Do a Google search on Saimaan saaristoreitti and Salpalinja. Check out Puumala, Pistohiekka and Punkaharju. Visit Savonlinna castle and the wooden church of Kerimäki. Experience the view over Kermajärvi lake from Heinävesi church and the quarry museum of Outokumpu. Eat Karelian pastries at Joensuu market square and find a more quiet road to Koli, a fell with stunning views over Lake Pielinen. Go further north where distances between cities grow, places seem exotic even for Finns and people are slowly replaced by reindeers… Do consider visiting some of our national parks! If you are wondering if there’s any scenery, here’s a list of the most prominent hilltops in Finland. Use Laavu.org or retkikartta.fi to find free campspots with fireplaces and visit this website in case you want to see some rock paintings while you are looking for that perfect tent spot by a lake. Promisingly named viakarelia.fi suggests various routes in eastern Finland but they’ve been made thinking you are following them by car.
Areas Finns Lost in the War (Luovutettu Karjala)
Vyborg, Terijoki-Komorovo, Vuoksi, Konevsky Monastery, some good old mushy gravel and a scenic road to Sortavalu, the Valaam Monastery Island and Ruskeala marble quarry or Suistamo depending on your route (If you cross the border at Niirala, remember that Värtsilä is inside the border area. You might have to explain your plans to the guard and keep pedalling until you are out of the zone. Room to improvise at the Karelian Ithmus! Alternative versions of this route are slowly taking form.
Parikkala border crossing point is currently for trains only, but is due to open for other vehicles too at 2024. Years ago I heard there were plans for shorter bikeroutes too.
Map (overview only for now, sorry)
Classic roundtrip (well almost round at least). Ruskeala marble quarry, nice views, Soviet style city center of Olonets and the beautiful surrounding villages by the riversides. Syväri, Staraja Ladoga (one of the oldest cities in northern Russia), Orekhovy Island (Shlisselburg Fortress), Saint Petersburg and more.
A roundtrip between the two largest lakes in Europe. The most Karelian bits of Karelia: Aunuksen Karjala and Vepsäläiskylät. Petrozavodsk and Kichi Pogost as the cherry topping. The suggested route goes through some really rough gravel sections between Vitele and Kinnermäki. Kinnermäki is propably the most beautiful village in Karelia, but because of the condition of the roads I’m looking for alternative solutions and a possibility of a boatride at River Syväri. It would offer a whole new perspective. Prjaza or Prääsä as Finns would write it, is situated close to the main road. It is an important village and could be an option worth considering. There is an older road next to E105 and another small road that goes north through Kindasovo but their condition is also a mystery for now.
Imatra – Petrozavodsk
Map (Bit inaccurate. Add more gravel by crossing the damn at Enso/Svetogorsk, then cycle smaller roads near the Vuoksi river. If you deside to do this, remember that you might still be inside the border zone when venturing off the main road. Visiting Lumivaara and other places close to the shoreline is an option worth considering.)
An A to B route. Often follows smaller gravel roads. Goes through interesting villages. Also possible to take a ferry to the Kichi Pogost and cycle even further! The huge headland of Lake Onega is actually a maze of smaller lakes! If the boatride doesn’t work out, but you want to continue north, consider a smaller road east or west from the main road. The famous church of Kontupohja (Kondopoga) burned some years back, but there is, for examle, an ancient volcano in Hirvas (Girvas) and waterfalls at Kivatsu (Kivach).
Kalevala -White Karelia and the Solovky islands
City of Kostamuksha built by Finns and the enormous quarry and factory that feeds it (or its owner at least). Old Karelian villages Lönnrot found most of the material to create Kalevala. Route follows gravelroads in White Karelia (Viena). Boat ride via Reka Kem through the largest undrained swamp in Europe. You can continue the adventure by taking the road to Kem and Papinsaari and a ferry to the Solovky Islands. And from there maybe catch a flight to Arkangel…
Tallinn – Pskov
Bit off the map this one but too good to miss! Take the Eurovelo route east from Tallinn and turn south to visit the coastal villages of Lake Peipus, Tartu, Petseri and Pskov. Border crossing near Petseri. Cycle to Novgorod and follow the river north and you are back on track! Obviously can’t take any credit as it follows well established Estonian cycle routes.
Murmansk Oblast and the Kola Peninsula
Would be a big fat lie to say you can’t open world class bikepacking routes here. The Kola Peninsula is enormous! Murmansk and the mountains around Kirovsk are the obvious destinations. The closed military areas in the north seem to limit the possibilites a bit but there’s still so much to see. Even the fact that roads in the peninsula seem like dead ends, these cul de sacs are not a problem if there is public transport. For Finns it might be interesting to visit Petsamo and Liinahamari, our arctic port during the war. Wait for future updates!
Kantalahti (Kandalaksha) – Varzuga could be an interesting route (map here). Cycle tourists spotted! Wild horses at Kuzomen, busses ”very other day or so”, as I was told by Pasha who runs the Kandalaksha+ website. Theoretical possibility to follow footpaths and doubletracks deeper into the wild. Starting point could also be Salla, Finland.
Teriberka is located at the shore of the Barents Sea. A road leads there. Not the best of roads but what did you expect? A graveyard of ships awaits as the ultimate attraction. Raja-Jooseppi border crossing point – Murmansk – Teriberka looks interesting, but you’ll most likely have to return to Murmansk following the same road you took to Teriberka (no public transport at the end of this road).
It’s Lapland so there’s bound to be reindeers right? Reindeer herding is what people do. Luujärvi area is the home of the Saami indigenous people. Also a museum focused on the subject here.
Kandalaksha+ is a blog with tons of relatively random content to get you psyked (and freaked out and confused) for your next trip to North-West Russia. Seriously.
Kolatravel.com offers guided mountain bike tours in the Kola peninsula. Do check their website. They also have a route description for a St. Petersburg-Murmansk-Kirkenes tour with some interesting sites close to the main road.
Suojärvi use to be a part of Finland. One of my plans is to cycle the route Värtsilä – Suistamo – Suojärvi and see if there are interesting places to visit for the cycling tourist.
If you are looking for an alternative way to head north, Suojärvi might be on your path. It is possible to travel pretty far mainly on gravel. Is it wise? Maybe not, but these decicions are not made purely by reasoning. Pack a lot of food and your fishing gear and you’ll be fine! Do not choose a road too close to the border as you might end up inside the border area.
There is a railroad connection, at least a theoretical one: Vyborg – Sortavalu – Suojärvi and all the way to Uusi-Jyskyjärvi (Novoye Yushkozero) in White Karelia.
You don’t have to over do it. Cycling to Petrozavodsk via Suojärvi is also an option worth considering.
Another spot to start looking for obscure routes is Karhumäki (Medvezhyegorsk) at the north end of Lake Onega. Bear in mind that there are also interesting towns, both beautiful and extremely ugly ones, and ancient petroglyphs in the Belomorsk region that are easily accessible from the main road.
Paanajärvi National Park
One of the areas that was previously part of Finland. Spectacular. A destination in itself. The road that leads there is a dead end but might be worth it even if you have plans to continue north towards Murmansk or Lapland in general. Or south through White Karelia. To visit you need a permission. Possible to get one online, but they’re been sold at Pääjärvi. Roads in these parts are in the ”at your own risk” category.
I’m only guessing at this point but because there are cabins you can rent inside the national park, there are most likely doubletracks for maintenance. That you can cycle!
Waterfalls, viewpoints, prehistoric sites etc
So many beautiful lakes, hills and rivers here. Some can be found easily from sites like TripAdvisor, others are only known by the locals. The aim is to pinpoint the exact spot on the map. (Unesco just added the petroglyphs of Lake Onega to their list of world heritage sites. The carvings near Belomorsk were also included.)
Cycling the east side of Lake Onega (map, not the final one…), or choosing a seamingly irrational route through wast nothingness for example, becomes a considerable option if you know there is something spectacular to be found*. Take a closer look at Puudozi, Shalla, Besov Nos and Karshevo at Lake Onega. I Know there are people who arrange boatrides in the area. Cycling on a busy road most likely isn’t what you are looking for, but the rivers and the stone carvings could well be.
Belomorsk (Soroka) and Suma (Sumposad) are both situated near the White Sea. The road to Belomorsk follows the Uikijoki river. From there the road number 86K-20 leads to Suma and Kuolisma. Return or continue by train! The cities are historically inhabited by Pomors, an ethnic group with links to Novgorod, Kola Peninsula, Archangel and Northern Norway. They speak pomory wich is considered to be a dialect of Russia, but there is also the language of Russenorsk, a mix of Russian an Norwegian that was formerly used in the Arctic by Russian traders and Norwegian fishermen.
Mapcarta.com combines some of the features of OpenStreetMap and/or GoogleMaps and Wikipedia. Spend some time browsing. Not just lakes or ”waterfeatures” here but all sorts of info.
Like it or not, cycle touring has developed into a multisport activity. You can even buy a raft that packs so small it’s possible to carry one without a bike trailer. Or you can stay off the road network altogether and just ride trails on a fatbike. Be it so there is no point in suffering from fear of missing out. Good old bike touring still stands out as one of the best ways ever invented to cover great distances and to explore new places.
There are Russian visas for single and for multiple visits. To play it safe and making it possible to cross the border several times to get the best out of your trip, opt for the multiple version. Finnish Karelia and eastern Finland all the way to Lapland is nice to cycle too! Mix and match!
* scenes like these are not that uncommon in Karelia, but it might take some effort to get there. (An unauthorized photo I found browsing google maps. Sorry.)