In the center of the historic town of Lesja, you can visit Lesja Bygdatun (tel. 61-24-31-53), consisting of a dozen houses moved to this site and revealing how life was lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. You can explore farm dwellings, cookhouses, barns, storehouses, and a forge hammering out wrought-iron products. Archaeological finds unearthed in the region are also displayed here. An association of farm women bakes and cooks daily at the coffeehouse and restaurant, which serves waffles and other traditional baked goods. On Saturday, they serve the famous rumgraut (porridge made with sour cream). There is also a craft shop selling embroideries, painted china and glass, wooden bowls, and other items made in Lesja. From June 20 to August 18, it is open daily from 10am to 5pm, charging NOK40 ($8/£4) to enter. Children 15 and under enter free.
Exploring the National Parks -- If you have time for only one of these parks, make it Jotunheimen, but if you stay on, you're in for some more scenic glory. The little town of Lesja can be your gateway to Rondane Nasjonalpark, which lies to its southwest. Henrik Ibsen called Rondane "palace piled upon palace." Created in 1962, the 572-sq.-km (223-sq.-mile) park was the first to open in Norway.
The park is divided into a trio of different mountain areas, all more than 2,011m (6,596 ft.) in elevation. To the east of the Rondane massif rise the peaks of Rondeslotteet, at 2,178m (7,144 ft.). To the west are such mountains as Veslesmeden, at 2,016m (6,612 ft.); Storsmeden, at 2,017m (6,617 ft.); and Sagtinden, at 2,018m (6,619 ft.). All these mountains are linked by narrow "saddles." The third group is split by the deep valley of Lungglupdalen and crowned by Midtronden Mountain, at 2,114m (6,934 ft.).
One of Norway's great areas for hikers, Rondane has poor soil, and the ground is often covered with lichens instead of more luxuriant flora. The park is peppered with little lakes and rivers, the landscape broken in part by dwarf birch trees.
The area has been inhabited for thousands of years, as ancient Viking burial mounds and centuries-old reindeer traps reveal. More than 2 dozen types of animals, including reindeer and some 125 species of birds, now populate the park.
Most visitors to the park begin their hikes at the Spranghaugen Car Park, near Mysusaeter, which is reached by bus. From this point, the most popular hike in the park is the 6km (3 3/4-mile) jaunt to Rondvassbu, followed by a 5-hour return climb to the summit of Storronden, at 2,138m (7,013 ft.).
The Sjoa, Europe's best river for rafting, cuts through the park, centered at Heidal with its rushing white waters. The rafting season starts in mid-May and lasts until the end of September. Sjoa Rafting in Heidal offers trips through the gorge and other activities in the park. Rafting trips along a 11km (6 3/4-mile) stretch of the Sjoa run 3 1/2 hours and cost NOK650-NOK700 ($130-$140/£65-£70). Call tel. 61-23-61-70 for more information.
The other national park, Dovrefjell Nasjonalpark, was enlarged in 2002 to take in more of the surrounding area. The park now includes territory in three counties, making it the largest continuous protected area in Norway. Although still called Dovrefjell, its full name in Norwegian is actually Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park.
The core of the park was set aside for protection in 1974. The aim was to safeguard the highlands around Snøhetta, which soars to a height of 2,286m (7,498 ft.). Hikers can ascend to Snøhetta in about 6 hours.
The park is home to wolverines, arctic foxes, and reindeer. It is also the habitat of the rare musk ox. This animal, which can survive at amazingly cold temperatures, also lives in parts of Greenland and Alaska. It can weigh up to 446 kilograms (983 lb.). Obviously, its coat is incredibly thick.
In 1931, 10 musk oxen were introduced to Dovrefjell, having been shipped over from Greenland. Because these animals once inhabited Dovrefjell, they were bred successfully. The herd is now estimated to number about 80. It is highly unlikely you'll come across the elusive wolverine or the arctic fox, however.
In another section of the park, the Knutshøene rises 1,690m (5,543 ft.), lying to the east of the main route, E6. This section of the park is Europe's most diverse intact alpine ecosystem. Before setting out to explore the park, arm yourself with a good map from the visitor center.
One of the most intimate ways to explore the national park -- and our favorite way of doing it -- involves participating in one of the 5-hour guided tours offered by the Moskus Safari Dovrefjell (Dovrefjell Park Musk Ox Safari Company), N-2660 Dombås (tel. 99-70-37-66). Between mid-June and mid-August every summer, they make daily departures at 9am, usually from the Spranghaugen Car Park, near Mysusaeter, or -- with prior reservations -- from one of the area's hotels. After a 40km (25-mile) bus or van ride, participants get out for short hiking treks across the tundra (sturdy shoes and protective rain gear are recommended) for close-up observation of the musk oxen and their natural habitats. The cost is NOK300 ($60/£30) per person, lunch is not included in the experience, and participants are usually redeposited either in the Spranghaugen Car Park or back at their hotels sometime between 1 and 2pm. For information on other sporting or sightseeing options within the park, contact the Dombås tourist information office at tel. 61-24-14-44.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.