There is a lot to see in the Kola Peninsula. The Arctic megacity Murmansk and the closed military areas create such a contrast with the surrounding natural beauty. Here’s some routes for you to consider. Note that they are beta -versions only and not even been tested (by me, yet).
Salla – Kandalaksha – Varzuga
The Kola Peninsula is not a part of the Karelian Republic. But as a historical area, its southernmost city Kandalaksha (Kantalahti in Finnish), was once included in White Karelia (Viena).
Salla, Finland might be the best place to cross the border. There aren’t that many services on the way, so prepare to cook your own food and sleep in a tent. Once in Kandalaksha, follow the road 47K-011 to Varzuga. It’s tarmac until Kashkarantsy. Wild horses at Kuzomen!
There use to be a railroad track linking Salla and the Saint Petersburg – Murmansk track. The rails on the Finnish side still exist, but the ones behind the border are now used somewhere else. Stalin wanted to create this ”dagger in the back” for military uses and Finns were forced to do their part in the bargain. I wonder if one could cycle it? It’s not unheard of to have old railroads turned into cyclepaths.
Kandalaksha itself is worth visiting. Nearby reservation areas offer some spectacular scenery. Villages like Knäsöi and Kouta, situated south from Kandalaksha, still have thew Karelian speaking inhabitants.
The Kandalaksha – Varzuga leg is said to be the most beautiful road in the Kola Peninsula. The shores of White Sea and the exotic northern nature, along with the small villages are truly worth seeing. Mind that Umba is a closed military city (with two museums. I wonder how that works…).
The road there is a dead end, but there are busses going ”every other day or so”.
If you are looking for more information, these websites should be useful:
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.
The person running the Kandalaksha+ website is a very helpful chap called Pasha. He should be able to give you all the necessary information and even communicate with the officials in case you have any questions conserning permits.
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 near the main road.
Raja-Jooseppi – Murmansk – Teriberka
Raja-Jooseppi is a good border crossing point in case you are planning a trip to Murmansk. This way you don’t have to spend time on the Saint Petersburg-Murmansk main road. Information on sights inside and near Murmansk can easily be found so there is no point in going through them here. What you might be interested in is a smaller road going to Teriberka. It is by no means a good road, but taken as a challence… It does take you to a graveyard of ships by the Barents Sea! Most likely no public transport by the end of this road.
Kirovsk area and the mountains between lakes Umbozero and Lovozero
Watch this video. Footage from other interesting places too. Some people seem to question their equipment choises though. My guess is that locals also use heavy duty vehicles when travelling there. I would, obviously, prefer a bicycle.
Murmansk Region in Short
There is some amount of tourism in the Kola Peninsula. It’s such an extreme place to live! With its 300 000 inhabitants, Murmansk is the biggest city inside the arctic circle. The Kirovsk region has mountains up to 1200 meters over sea level, making it a skiing and hiking destination with magnificent views. The various rivers in the peninsula are in favour of fishermen (and women presumably). Doubletracks go deep into the wild. It’s unlikely that one could not find worldclass bikepacking routes here!
Kirovsk was and still is a mining city. It seems that wherever there is an area of natural beauty, someone finds gold, minerals or something else valuable that weights more than the unique nature surrounding it. The Murmanskaja Oblast has infact several heavily contaminated areas.
There are closed military cities north from Murmansk, wich means making roundtrips can be surprisingly hard. The northwest is becoming tactically increasingly important for the Russian army. Maybe it’s understandable that things like nuclear submarines and all sorts of gadgets of immense destructive power are a bit hush hush.
Reindeer herding is concentrated around Lovozero and it’s often done by the Saami indigenous people. Ozero means lake. In Finnish the area is called Luujärvi.
An ethnographic group of Pomors, who speak a dialect of Russian, traditionally live at the shores of the White Sea. Especially in Archangel, Suma, Belomorsk, Kandalaksha, Umba and Varzuga. The three latter ones are inside Tersky Distrikt, Murmans Oblast.
Finland lost land here too, be it that we only had this area, Finlands ”other hand” from 1920 to 1944. Petsamo is rich in natural resources and Liinahamari was our link to the Arctic Sea. It was on the very short list of open ports in Europe during the war. In the early twentieth century Finns were proud to have an exotic annex like this. With the precious minerals and metals found from the soil and the indigenous people and all… It was like being a proper colonialist!
Information conserning visas and all sorts of material of lesser value can be found here.