Driving in Lapland? You’re more likely than not to encounter a reindeer on the road, any time of year. Here’s some ways to stay safe when traveling northern Finland’s roads.
Lapland is huge, with an area that spans more than 100,000 km². (That’s bigger than Austria, but who’s counting?) And there are more reindeer here than people. If you’re driving in Lapland, there’s a good chance you’ll run into … run across … encounter reindeer, often on the side of the road, but sometimes in your lane. We’ve put together some driving tips for every season, and what to expect from our antlered friends.
Rudolph on the move
Reindeer are migratory, which means they’re always moving. They roam vast distances every year in search of food, food and more food. When driving, you may come across reindeer at all times of the year, even in the heart of winter. They wander through the suburbs of Rovaniemi and across the great snowy fells of Posio. Luckily, Finnish company Porokello is a service that allows drivers to report reindeer sightings. The app only runs on Finnish phones, but the service also works in browsers on non-Finnish phones. If you have Porokello on your device, it will alert you if a reindeer has been spotted in your area recently. It’s literally a life-saver.
Driving in winter in Lapland is a bit different than other places. For the most part, we don’t salt our icy roads, so studded snow tires and vigilant driving is a necessity. Drive cautiously, take care when turning and stopping. If you’re driving slow, it’s not uncommon for a driver to pass you. Another Arctic driving condition is the darkness. Polar Night means that there’s not much (if any daylight) for a few weeks to a couple months, depending on latitude, with only a bright period at midday. Know how to use your car’s high-beams, fog lights and extra lights, if they have them, when driving in the dark.
Of course, when the sun comes up, you’ll have the opposite problem, as any skier or snowboarder well knows. Sunshine plus heavy snowcover can lead to snow blindness. Don’t forget your sunglasses!
Let’s talk internal clocks. Like humans and just about every other animal, reindeer regulate their sleeping patterns with melatonin. During the Nightless Night in Lapland, when the sun stubbornly refuses to set, reindeer’s bodies suppress melatonin allowing them more time to binge the latest season of Game of Thrones. Just kidding, it’s so they can eat. The 24/7 sunshine causes a green explosion across Lapland, and reindeer travel far and wide to eat lichens, grasses, herbs and more in preparation for the colder seasons. Bloodsucking insects can irritate reindeer, driving them out of the wilderness and onto the roads, so be wary. Like in winter, the color of their fur matches their surroundings, which can make them hard to see if you’re driving. And remember, reindeer travel in herds, so if you see one, there are likely more hiding in the woods like Arctic velociraptors.
Another problem, especially in the beginning and end of summer is long stretches of low sun, which can mean driving into sunlight, or having it blast from your rear-view mirror. Sunglasses are a must, but even then, they might not be enough. In these cases, stop at a rest area or a scenic overview and relax for a while. Maybe you’ll come to better understand what makes Finns some of the happiest people on Earth.
Summer is probably the best time to explore Lapland by car. But if you drive an electric car, you might be concerned by all this talk of vast wilderness and tiny villages. But, just like our antlered friends, electric car charging points abound in Lapland (link and map in Finnish).
In total, there are about 30 charging points (as of 2019). Rovaniemi has the most (6), but there are a dozen scattered throughout western Lapland, from Kilpisjärvi to Kemi. In northern Lapland, there are fewer charging points, but you’ll find one in Vuotso, one in Inari and a pair in Karigasniemi. The greatest distance between any two charging points is just under 200km, from Kuusamo to Rovaniemi. And if you explore beyond the borders of northern Lapland, you’ll find more charging points along the main highways in northern Norway.
Mad for mushrooms
Autumn is easily the most colorful time of year in Lapland, as the trees turn stunning shades of crimson, gold and sunset orange. While they’re often not as colorful, mushrooms are also a staple of autumn, popping up just about everywhere. And reindeer are a bit like 8-bit Italian plumbers—absolutely mad for mushrooms. A common sight in fall is reindeer chomping down on the sides of roads from late autumn until early October. Mushrooms rarely grow past the first hard frost of the coming winter.
And you may think that this is the perfect opportunity to pull over and snap a few amazing pics of Lapland’s most famous furry denizens. But be forewarned: autumn is the rutting season for reindeer, and no one wants to be on the wrong side of a rack full of pointy antlers. You may even see males testing each other in the middle in the road. Don’t get close; just stop and enjoy the show. If you come across a herd and decide to take some pictures, remember to pull over first and stay a safe distance from any reindeer, male or female. In fact, that’s good advice all year-round.
Once the frost comes, winter can’t be far behind. Then it’s time for winter tires, and the cycle begins again.