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Five of the wildest adventures in Sweden, from ice-bathing to backwater rafting

The pull of the wild is never stronger than in Sweden. On the periphery of Europe, this is where nature throws out the rulebook and local guides offer incredible adventures, from wolf-howling tours to hikes through reindeer-herding lands.

By Kerry Walker
Published 31 May 2022, 06:00 BST
Cooking at a campsite, part of a log rafting trip, Sweden.

Cooking at a campsite, part of a log rafting trip, Sweden. 

Photograph by Wolfgang Fuchs

In Sweden, nature isn’t worshipped from a distance, it’s lived and breathed in real time. Whether kayaking through the granite islets of West Sweden’s Bohuslän region or holding your breath as a wolf howls in the forests west of Stockholm, to travel here is to see the world with fresh eyes.

Hear the call of the wild on a wolf-howling tour

The hairs-on-end howl of a wolf is a sound that belongs utterly to the north. As the howl echoes through the night, it tugs at our deeper nature. A two-hour drive west of Stockholm leads deep into forests near Skinnskatteberg, where families of wolves prowl. Sign up for an overnight wolf-howling trip and you’ll get a backdoor pass into their world. Treading silently through woods in the half-light of the Swedish summer, you’ll feel your heart quicken as a wolf begins to howl in the near distance. The wolves are free agents, so sightings aren’t guaranteed, but the odds are excellent from June to September. wildsweden.com

Build your own log raft for a multi-day backwaters trip

There’s no finer way to give civilization the slip than by building your own log raft from scratch and tuning into the mellow rhythm of a river as you float downstream past eddies and sandbanks, forests and brooks. Skipping back to a more primitive age, these multi-day tours take to the Klarälven river flowing through Värmland in Sweden’s heart. Time melts away. The summer light is ever changing. Days are spent fishing or spotting wildlife like beaver, moose and deer. Nights are spent by warming campfires and gazing up to skies pinpricked with stars. Tours range from one night to a week from June to August. realscandinavia.com  vildmark.se

Take an icy dip at the Arctic Bath

Frozen in winter or afloat in summer, the Arctic Bath on the Lule River in Harads leaves you speechless. Perhaps because you’ve dared to plunge into the numbingly cold water as any hardy Swede would. Or perhaps because you’re stunned by the hotel’s architecture, designed to resemble a beaver’s logjam in a nod to the river’s timber-transporting past. Whether you’re trying imaginative riffs on local game, fish, herbs and berries in the restaurant, getting a pine-oil rubdown in the spa or embracing the dopamine-boosting benefits of cold water swimming, there’s always plenty to do. Of all the seasons, winter has the magic edge: stay in a floating cabin with a private deck as the Northern Lights swoop across the night sky. arcticbath.se

Go paddle camping on Sweden’s West Coast

Eight thousand granite and gneiss islands, islets and skerries punctuate Sweden’s West Coast. Clasped between sea and sky, this is a place of ravishing natural beauty, best explored with a paddle in hand. The Bohuslän region is a kayaking dream, with its delicate fretwork of rocky inlets, bays and fishing villages lined with red-painted wooden cabins — each more crazily idyllic than the next.

Islands that are nameless. Islands that are unmapped. Islands where you are alone with your tent, the seabirds and the stars. Dawn breaking in a pool of fire across quicksilver waters. Swimming in secluded coves. The sound of a seal as it emerges from the water next to your kayak. These are the moments you’ll remember. From May to September, Nature Travels can set you off on the right course with a self-guided kayaking and wild camping trip, starting in the sheltered fjords of Uddevalla and ending in Orust or Tjörn. naturetravels.co.uk

Slip off the radar on Sweden’s Kungsleden

Nowhere shines a light on the inestimable vastness of Sweden’s wilderness like the Kungsleden (King’s Trail). Reaching from Abisko in the Arctic north to Hemavan in the south, this 270-mile, 28-stage route might be well-mapped but it’s still phenomenally remote. Often, you’ll find yourself alone with the elements and an awesome canvas of swollen rivers, glacier-carved valleys, looking-glass lakes and berry-filled forests.

Nature here is raw and unedited: bathe in streams, camp under the stars, walk in quiet exhilaration through Sami reindeer-herding lands and make a brief detour to clamber up 6,877ft Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest peak. Rock after rock, step after step, life on the trail rewinds to a more intuitive time. Most hikers come in summer, but September is the magic month, with the birch forests burnished to perfection, the Northern Lights flickering in night skies and bears lumbering across the slopes in search of crowberries. visitsweden.com

Published in the June 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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