In the north of Sweden you'll find wilderness outside every town, from forests to wild rivers to unspoiled coastlines to thousands of tranquil lakes to high mountains to low farmlands. Of course, getting to those villages is part of the fun, as your trip will take you along roads ranging from express highways to the smallest, winding logging paths.
We come to Norrland mainly to explore Sweden's national parks. The most spectacular of the lot is Muddus National Park, some 49,000 hectares (121,082 acres) in all. From Gällivare, you can reach other national parks, including Stora Sjöfället and Padjelanta. These parks combine to form Europe's largest national park, a landmass of 5,225 sq. km (2,017 sq. miles). Others come to explore the highest mountain in Sweden, Kebnekaise, at 2,090m (6,857 ft.).
Abisko is the best center for exploring Abisko National Park, where the mountains tower as high as 1,170m (3,839 ft.). It is also one of the best centers for watching the midnight sun. But that's not all: It's the start of the longest marked hiking trail in Sweden, the Kungsleden, or "Royal Trail," which stretches from Abisko to Hemavan, a distance of 338km (210 miles).
As one of the last great wildernesses of Europe, Lapland offers even more outdoor activities. You can play golf at the most northerly courses in the world, go on horseback riding trips, experience white-water rafting along rapids, or even go canoeing. In winter, dog and reindeer teams can take you on adventures through the backcountry. In addition, Lapland has the best grayling fishing in Europe, and you can hunt for small game and elk here.
Fishing trips, golfing jaunts, horseback riding, and especially dog and reindeer sledding should be arranged in advance through a tour group before you go to Sweden. It is usually not possible to just show up and book these activities. To reserve in advance, contact Lynx Ski Travel (tel. 800/422-5969 in the U.S.; www.lynxvacations.com). For general information and bookings once you are in Sweden, most questions can be answered by calling Destination Kiruna, at the Ice Hotel, Marknadsvägen 63, S-981 91 Jukkasjärvi, Sweden (tel. 0980/668-00; fax 0980/668-90). Kiruna may be able to book you on last-minute sporting activities if you've arrived without plans, but again, it's best to reserve beforehand.
If you want to set up a golfing adventure in north Sweden, this too should be arranged in advance. Of course, your chances of playing golf in Lapland will depend heavily on weather conditions, which may be dicey even in the summer. Summer is also the time when mosquitoes plague the golf courses, so be sure to slather on repellent before you hit the links. For information about golf vacations, contact Idrefjällen Golfklubb, P.O. Box 32, S-790 91 Idre (tel. 0253/202-75; www.idregolf.se). Greens fees range from 190SEK to 370SEK ($38-$74/£19-£37).
Hiking & Camping
Swedish Lapland is a Valhalla for hikers and campers (if you don't mind the already-mentioned mosquitoes). Before you go, get in touch with the Svenska Turistföreningen (Swedish Touring Club), Stureplan 4c (Box 25), S-101 20 Stockholm (tel. 08/463-21-00; www.stf.nu), which maintains mountain hotels and has built bridges, marked hiking routes, and even introduced regular boat service on some lakes.
Locals and visitors can enjoy hundreds of kilometers of marked hiking and skiing tracks (Mar-Apr and even May are recommended for skiing; hiking is best in the warm summer months). Some 90 mountain hotels or Lapp-type huts (called fjällstugor and kåtor, respectively) are available, with beds and bedding, cooking utensils, and firewood. Huts can be used for only 1 or 2 nights. The club also sponsors mountain stations (fjällstationer).
You must be in good physical condition and have suitable equipment before you set out, because most of the area is uninhabited. Neophytes are advised to join one of the tours offered by the Swedish Touring Club (contact the club for more details).
In spite of the bitter cold, many visitors come here to ski in winter. At least snow is guaranteed here, unlike at some alpine resorts of Switzerland and Austria. Kiruna, Gällivare, and Arvidsjaur offer some of the best possible conditions for cross-country skiing. Local tourist offices will offer constantly changing advice about how to hook up with many of these activities, which naturally depend a great deal on weather conditions.