Building your own floating river raft, climbing into your own treehouse, and exploring the deep wilderness are just a few items on your Swedish adult summer camp agenda.
SWEDEN – With a whopping 96 percent of uninhabited land, Sweden is practically synonymous with the outdoors. And the Swedes know this — hence allemansratt, the utopian government policy that allows citizens “freedom to roam” the countryside without obstacle, even through private property. Though its cities have a fairytale appeal, like Stockholm’s Gamla stan (Old Town) and Gothenburg’s Haga neighborhood (nicknamed Little London), Sweden’s true treasures lie in the wilderness among moss-blanketed forests, mirror-still lakes, and scenic rivers. The little-known rural landscapes of Värmland and Västmanland in the western frontier provide endless opportunities to rekindle a connection with nature. Here are four found-only-in-Sweden activities that are undeniably Scan-tastic.
Snaking through the Värmland region is the 280-mile-long Klarälven River, a waterway historically used for drifting timber from the northern forests to Karlstad. Today, visitors are the ones floating downriver on timber rafts they fashion themselves — an activity worth risking splinters for. Become the Scandinavian Tom Sawyer with Vildmark i Värmland, a local adventure tour operator that offers excursions that range from day trips to six-day tours.
From hilltop storage piles at the banks of the river, you’ll begin by rolling down logs into the water: Timber’s buoyancy makes the logs easier to manage and strap together with rope. With the thickest logs forming the foundation, several additional layers are tied together to form a two-ton raft that lazily drifts at about one mile per hour. Depending on the length of your trip, you’ll be camping overnight on the riverbanks, though even if you’re sailing for the day, you’ll see why National Geographic Traveler considers it a “tour of a lifetime.”
Tucked inside a pine and spruce forest near the town of Skinnskatteberg is Kolarbyn, Sweden’s most primitive hostel. Upon arrival, it feels more like a hobbit village. The electricity-free ecolodge, made up of twelve mini cabins, is camouflaged with moss-covered roofs, upon which wild mushrooms and billberries grow. The structures that form Kolarbyn were originally built in 1996 by retired forest workers who sought to share the skill of kiln charcoaling for iron extraction, a 400-year Skinnskatteberg tradition that faded when modern methods proved more efficient.
The huts were altogether converted into a hostel in 2004, appointed with cots, fur blankets, and wood fireplaces. Much like summer camp, a stay at Kolarbyn guarantees both seclusion and socializing over savory kolbulle bacon pancakes by the fire, dips in the lake, and sweat sessions in the sauna.
Moose spotting is at its peak from May to September, when the gentle giants emerge from the forests to graze in open fields. With more than fifteen years of experience guiding moose safaris, the folks at WildSweden guarantee a sighting on every trip. After a lakeside dinner around a fire, and a nature hike through blueberry bushes and over animal tracks, the safari begins. Zipping down country roads in a minivan, you’ll start spotting families of moose in the midsummer night’s sun. Quick-dimming September evenings, however, make them a little harder to see. Using a high beam flashlight to hypnotize the animals (moose in headlights, anyone?), you’ll be looking for two floating orbs in the distance — the light reflected in their eyes. Even in the darkness, their imposing silhouettes give you an impression of their great size. Be sure to keep an eye out for wild boar, badgers, wolves, and lynxes.
Getting back to basics is part of the gig at Naturbyn on Värmland’s Lake Eldan. The village-like campsite comes to life from May to October, when guests come to leave the modern world behind for a digital detox. Naturbyn is a passion project created by the incredibly hospitable Thomas Peterson, who, with just his two hands, built every treehouse, communal log house, and lake top floating cabin (which can only be reached by canoe) on the property. However you define “grounding,” you can do it here, free of distraction, by tiptoeing barefoot on the dewy moss, filling your bottle with pristine stream water, or self-poaching in a fire-heated hot tub. Whether you’re awakening in the treetops or atop Lake Eldan, your GPS feels useless when you feel so entirely removed from the map. A fully stocked open kitchen is free to use as long as you bring your own groceries — and a desire to unplug. You’ll really need that, too.