All you need to know to hike the Kungsleden
One of my favorite places on earth, the Kungsleden, in Swedish Lapland, will be open for summer hiking from 16 June to 24 September this year. I spent a week on the trail and surrounding areas last September and loved (almost) every single bit of it. So just before the huts and related facilities start running again, I thought it’ll be timely to compile some resources that you might find helpful if you intend to explore this otherworldly arctic landscape.
Who is the Kungsleden for?
Everyone who loves nature and a good hike! The trail from Abisko to Nikkaluokta or vice versa, where most people visit, is approximately 110km (70 miles) long, and can be spread comfortably over a week.
Love camping? There’re plenty of areas where you can pitch your tent and feel all alone in the wilderness. Hate camping/ carrying tents? Comfortably stocked huts run by the Swedish Tourist Association are spread throughout the hike, the distance between them ranging from 13 to 21km (8 to 13 miles).
Like it more leisurely? Complete a hut distance a day, as I saw many elderly hikers did. There are some uphills and rocky terrain but nothing too much for a day. Like it a little faster? Pack light and complete the trail in 3 days, as I saw a trail runner did. The options go on forever, but as you can see, the Kungsleden pretty much caters for everyone who wants to be out there in nature and be one with it.
How long will I need to hike the Kungsleden?
As earlier mentioned, the northernmost section of the main trail is approximately 110km, with 6 huts/ mountain stations between Abisko and Nikkaluokta. Taking a hut a day would total to a week. Skipping huts is totally possible too. I wouldn’t consider myself in top fitness but I skipped huts in order to make detours to Kebnekaise and Tarfala (Tarfala IS magical) and still complete the hike in a week. The minimum number of days (more than average fitness required, but not superhuman standard) would probably be around 3, completing about 35km (22 miles) a day.
Have time for more? There are plenty of possible detours to stunningly beautiful landscapes throughout the trail, and you’d definitely not regret spending more time in Swedish Lapland.
Do I need a guide for the Kungsleden?
You will not require a guide to hike the Kungsleden. A guide may however add to the experience by providing additional tips and information along the way. If you’d like the time alone with nature, you’ll be glad to know that it is possible to do without a guide too. As explained below, main trails are generally well marked.
Do I need to bring a tent?
No. Huts and mountain stations can be found throughout the trail at comfortably spaced distances. You’ll need to bring sheets/ sleeping bag as sheets are not provided.
Is there electricity at the huts along the Kungsleden?
There are electrical plugs available at the mountain stations Abisko and Kebnekaise, but the huts between them have neither running water nor electricity. Fret not, as you’ll always be near one of the freshest sources of water on Earth, and there’ll be plenty of scenery to keep you busy.
Are credit cards accepted on the Kungsleden?
Surprisingly, credit cards are accepted at major huts along the trail, as long as there is enough sunlight to power the solar generators. Maybe not so surprising considering how Sweden leads in terms of advancing towards a cashless society. Enough sunlight can be a challenge though. I met a Swedish guy who tried to get breakfast with his credit card, but as there was not enough solar power then, he had to run to the next hut (over 10km away) to get breakfast instead.
Is there mobile reception/ Wifi on the Kungsleden?
None at all. A tiny bit at Tarfala just for one of the operators, to serve the research station there studying glaciers and climate change. Wifi, like electricity, is readily available at Abisko and Kebnekaise mountain station but unavailable at the rest.
Do I need to bring food?
It is possible to get through the entire hike without bringing any food in for 2 reasons:
- Most huts on the main trail sell dried/ canned food (pricey, a trade off between having the same food everyday and needing to carry them throughout)
- Some people leave food items behind at the kitchen of the huts (not advisable to depend on, and not really nice to take all of it as it is meant to be an exchange)
Which bring me to the point on cooking. Gas stoves are available at all huts and water from nearby streams mean that you’ll most probably be able to cook almost anything you bring to the trail, without having to bring gas with you (not allowed to fly with those anyway, but you can get one at the shops for some outdoor cooking).
Do I need to bring water?
Nope, freshwater (apart from fresh air and breathtaking scenery) is probably the most abundant resource on the trail. Just look for clear, open streams, look around for possible sources of contamination, and if clear, drink up! A bottle would definitely be handy though for the stretches in between and to save having to leave the trail for the stream every time.
How do I get to the start / end?
The nearest city to the northernmost section of the Kungsleden is Kiruna. Kiruna is about 1.5 hours away from Stockholm by flight, and a day by train.
Between Kiruna and Abisko, you can choose between the bus and train. Check train schedules here.
Between Kiruna and Nikkaluokta, bus service 92 plies the route twice a day. Here’s a link to the schedules for bus service 92 (valid summer 2017).
Do I need to pre-book accommodation?
Nope. Though I did not pre-book my hut stays throughout the trail, I did not face any situations where bunks ran out. Even if they did there is an assurance that you would not be turned away. Not booking beforehand also allows for flexibility as to how long I want to spend on the trail and where I want to spend each day of it.
Will there be others on the trail?
Yes, but few and far between. When I was there in September 2016, I’d go for hours without seeing a single soul, then be ridiculously happy to see someone else passing, greeting every passing person like an old friend. Maybe it’s a common experience on the trail that we don’t need words to express. If you’re there during the Fjallraven Classic between 11 and 18 August, prepare for a fully packed trail. The event is sold out already this year.
Is the trail well marked?
Yes. Most of the Kungsleden is generally clear and well marked (no signage but usually a red paint mark to indicate the right path). No water crossings are required as good bridges cross the water points. There is a segment around Tjaktja Pass that was a bit of an issue for me last year though. Thick fog covered the pass and visibility was at times less than 10m, and I nearly lost the trail on a few occasions, despite the red paint marks on rocks. Take precaution there or just stay the night at the emergency hut, if the fog gets too thick.
Where are the huts and what are the possible detours?
The main and commonly used route (in either direction) is as follows:
Abisko – (14km) – Abiskojaure – (21km) – Alesjaure – (13km) – Tjaktja – (13km) – Salka – (12km) – Singi – (14km) – Kebnekaise – (19km) – Nikkaluokta
As mentioned, I chose to do detours to Kebnekaise and Tarfala. Kebnekaise is not really a good idea to go alone/ without snow hiking experience, but Tarfala is an absolutely stunning place, located on the shore of a glacial lake, facing glaciers on one side and mountains and a wide valley on the other.
Other popular detours are to Nallo, Vistas, and Unna Allakas, all of which are around the Alesjaure/ Tjaktja area and all of which I’d love to visit some day.
Is there snow on the trail?
There was plenty of it on Kebnekaise and at Tarfala in September 2016, but keeping to the main Kungsleden trail you shouldn’t have to cross any snow during the summer hiking season, except occasionally at Tjaktja, the highest point of the trail.
How much money will I need?
Mountain huts along the Kungsleden cost 520 SEK (60 USD) a night, or 420 SEK (48 USD) with STF membership. Huts not on the trail (e.g. Tarfala) cost 460 SEK (53 USD) a night, or 360 SEK (41 USD) with STF membership. STF membership can be obtained at the mountain stations (Kebnekaise and Abisko) for 295 SEK (34 USD), and as you can easily work out, you’d get back the cost of the membership with 3 nights on the trail. STF membership will also grant you access to use the kitchens at the huts along the trail, even if you’re not staying for the night, which would be really useful for a lunch stop if you’re planning to complete 2 hut distances in a day. More details on pricing of huts here. That’s basically all the necessary costs of the hike.
I can’t remember to exact price of meal packets where you can just add water and have a full hot yummy meal ready, but I think they’re in the range of 100-200 SEK. There might be some clearance items on offer which can be quite a bargain in the mountains.
Approx min cost for 7 nights on the trail:
295 SEK for STF membership
420 SEK x 7 = 2940 SEK for accommodation
Total = 3235 SEK (371 USD) ~400USD including transport to and from Kiruna, excluding cost of food
What do I need to bring?
There’s a gas powered drying room (torkrum) at the mountain cabins along the trail, sufficient to dry up shoes and clothes should they get wet during the day. As such, it is possible to get through the trail with just 2 sets of warm, comfortable clothes, a set to hike in, and a set to sleep in.
Same with shoes, a good pair of hiking boots for rugged terrain with snow grip, and comfortable footwear for use at the huts/ to the sauna while your boots dry in the torkrum should they get wet during the day.
Speaking of which, a towel can come in handy! Make use of the wood fired saunas that can be found in many of the mountain cabins on the main Kungsleden trail to freshen up and soothe those tired muscles after a long day. Check the timings though, there is usually a women’s session, a men’s session, and also a mixed session, each for about an hour and a half. Of course, bring toiletries along to to keep fresh throughout the hike.
Sheets/sleeping bag are essential for hygiene purposes as there are no sheets at the bunks, though beds are comfortable enough.
Never forget your torchlight/headlamp, as there is no electricity along the trail and everything is absolutely pitch black once the last bit of sunlight slips behind the mountains.
A lighter or matches can also come in handy, as there are wood fireplaces in the bunks and matches are not always available. Learning to start a wood fire can be very useful, but I learnt it the long way on the trail, first looking at an experienced Finnish man do it, and the next day spending hours attempting to start it myself (and accidentally finishing up quite a bit of wood).
If you don’t intend to spend lots of money on food bought along the trail (they cost much to bring in, given the inaccessibility by roads), don’t forgot food! Easily cooked, high energy, lightweight stuff like oats make a good choice. You can add some flavour to your oats with wild blueberries or lingonberries, which can be found in many places along the trail. Be sure that your food is not just purely functional, but also taste good enough. You wouldn’t want to end off a full day tiring hike with some bland tasting (or worse, foul tasting) food. Make full use of the stoves and pots available to make every meal more enjoyable, and don’t forget to do your dishes!
Other essentials: cash/ credit card (to pay for the huts/ food), map (can be bought at Abisko or Kebnekaise Mountain Station), good hiking backpack, raincoat/ waterproof jacket and rain pants, camera and sufficient batteries (or just soak in the view), water bottle, mug, enough underwear and socks, books or some comfort items (e.g. earphones to listen to music), a positive attitude, and you’re all set to have the most memorable time on the trail!
Compiled useful links:
- From my hike in 2016:
- Swedish Tourist Association website to learn more about the huts and trail
- Mountain Huts Price List for 2017
- Map and details of huts in Swedish Lapland
- Train schedules between Abisko and Kiruna/ Stockholm
- Bus schedule between Kiruna and Nikkaluokta
Any other questions you have about the trail that I didn’t cover? Drop me a message in the comments below!