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Pack your bag and get ready to embark on one of the amazing canoe trips in Sweden.
There are two things that usually motivate travelers to visit Sweden: it’s the amazing scenery and peaceful atmosphere. About 70% of this land is covered by forest, while another 7% consists of lakes and other bodies of water. Moreover, the country’s population density is quite low. All this makes Sweden the perfect place to escape from civilization.
My boyfriend Mathias always says that canoeing in Sweden is an amazing experience and even one of the best ways to move around this Scandinavian country. He was talking about it so often that I decided to give it a try. This summer, we finally planned and executed our self-guided canoe trip in Sweden. This is nothing extraordinary in Sweden. In fact, both locals and visitors often do this. However, for me, the idea of navigating around on a tiny boat and doing wild camping in Sweden seemed rather adventurous.
Now that I am back from my five-day canoe trip in Sweden, I can confirm that yes, it’s indeed amazing. If you are lucky enough to get the same great weather we did, you would also fall instantly in love with it. What’s best, planning such a trip is not at all difficult. In this article, I will share all you need to know for planning your own Sweden canoe trip.
Travelling to Sweden
We traveled from Jena, Germany to Sweden on FlixBus. Our trip took 24 hours altogether including a stopover in Berlin, a short ferry ride from Copenhagen to Malmö, and crossing the Oresund, the world’s longest bridge, connecting the two countries.
Travelling by bus is one of the cheapest ways to get to Sweden. You can save a lot of money, especially if you’ve got a lot of luggage. Since we were bringing over all our equipment for wild camping in Sweden including a tent, sleeping bags and other essentials, we found it great that Flixbus only charges a single euro for an extra piece of luggage. If flying, we would definitely have spent a fortune!
If you are considering traveling to Sweden or anywhere else on a long distance bus, check out my 9 Tips to make your journey as comfortable as possible. Alternatively, you can find flights to Sweden here.
The best time for canoeing in Sweden
The best time to visit Sweden is summer. It is the warmest season of the year and you can expect the best weather. The average temperature in July and August is 13 ° C in the north and 18 ° C in the south. This summer was a huge exception: during our trip, we faced tropical weather temperatures around 28-30 ° C.
When packing for your trip to Sweden, keep in mind that it can be rainy for some days or even weeks; always pack a raincoat and closed shoes, just in case!
Our Sweden itinerary
Sweden is a beautiful country. If you have time, it is definitely good to visit multiple places during your trip. Even though our canoeing trip was planned to be five days, we decided to extend it to 10. This way, we had enough time to explore beautiful Stockholm and its surroundings, too. This was our Sweden itinerary day by day:
Day 1 – Departure to Sweden, with a stopover in Berlin.
Day 2 and 3 – Arrival in Stockholm, staying for two nights. Visit the main sights (Vasa Museum, Gamla Stan), a boat tour of the Stockholm Archipelago.
Day 4 and 5 – Visit to Adelsö Island near Stockholm, two nights at a weekend house near the lake. Swimming, cycling. On the way, visit Drottningholm palace and the Blue Lagoon.
Day 6 – Move on to Värmland, buy food for 5 days of wild camping in Sweden. Pick up the canoes, get instruction for the trip.
Day 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 – Canoe trip on Lake Värmeln. Wild camping on the islands.
Day 12 – Head back to Stockholm, say goodbye to Sweden.
Day 13 – Departure from Stockholm, journey home via Berlin
We rented a car for moving around Sweden, in order to be independent and also comfortable with all our camping equipment. If you plan to do the same, I recommend booking the car in advance, as the cheapest cars usually get booked first. There are a few car rental agencies around Stockholm’s main station. Car rental for 10 days will cost approximately 300 Euros. A great website for booking rental cars is here, and it offers you comparisons of various rentals so that you can find the best option for yourself.
Two days in beautiful Stockholm
The Swedish capital literally took my breath away; I would say that there is no person on Earth who would call it ugly. Stockholm is nicknamed “Venice of the North,” as it is situated on 13 islands surrounded by the Baltic Sea and Lake Mälaren (that is, by both salt and fresh water). Stockholm boasts lots of interesting sights, including one treasure stands out – Ship Vasa, can be seen in a museum of the same name. Back in 1628, this ship took off from the port in Stockholm but made it just 1500 meters before sinking due to overload. After 333 years, they managed to recover it from the ocean floor, perfectly preserved.
Visiting Stockholm is very pleasant since you can see most of the places on foot or by boat. We spontaneously joined a 3-hour boat trip around the Stockholm Archipelago and it was one of the best experiences during our entire trip to Sweden. When it comes to accommodation in Stockholm, it is good to find a place near the main station. We liked Scandic Continetal the most as it featured an amazing outdoor terrace from which we could appreciate panoramic views of Stockholm.
Peaceful island Adelsö
To be honest, Adelsö island only made it onto our Sweden itinerary by chance. We were sent there by a friend living in Stockholm; she has a weekend house in Adelsö and only occasionally finds the time to actually go there. She was so kind as to lent us the keys for two days. This way, we got to enjoy a bit of the Swedish lifestyle, the way many locals spend their free time.
Adelsö Island has an area of 26.08 km², and with its peaceful atmosphere, you’d never guess that back in the 8th century it was an important Viking settlement. Apart from the places connected to Viking history (some of which are even listed by UNESCO), there is beautiful nature and great swimming spots to be enjoyed. Two days were exactly enough to get a taste of everything and also visit the stunning Blue Lagoon on the way back.
Värmland: The land of endless lakes
Our multi-day canoe trip took place in the province of Värmland, one of the best areas for canoeing in Sweden. It’s situated in the northwestern part of Sweden, on the border with Norway, and consists of more than 10, 000 lakes. The largest of Sweden’s rivers, Klarälven, runs through Värmland, dividing the province in half, before pouring into one of Europe’s largest lakes, Vänern.
There are many opportunities for canoeing in this area; Lake Vänern itself has a staggering 20,000 different islands. Other notable lakes in the area are Fryken, Glafsfjorden and Värmeln. Our trip took place at the lake Värmeln – but I am convinced that any other lake would be a good choice, too.
How to plan a canoe trip in Sweden
The landscape in Värmland is beautiful, and when you are traveling in a canoe, you can get to the remotest places and have them all to yourself. The lakes are rugged, with plenty of small or big forested islands where you can stop for swimming or for finding a camping spot. Owing to the low number of residents and fact that Värmland is an underrated tourist destination, it is always possible to find an island with nobody else on it.
Although organizing and executing a canoe trip in Sweden is not complicated, it is essential to make adequate preparations. There are basically two main things to arrange beforehand: equipment for wild camping and supplies for the entire duration of your trip. I must say, putting this together and packing them into the waterproof barrels was quite exhausting. Space is limited, so you’ve got to prioritize and only bring along things you absolutely need.
Renting your canoe in Värmland, Sweden
Even though there are several companies renting out canoes and kayaks around Lake Värmeln, it is a good idea to arrange your canoe in advance. Firstly, all the equipment will be ready for you upon arrival. Secondly, you will avoid having to wait for a canoe to return if all of them have been rented. We rented our canoe from Stefan, whose site Värmland Kanutouren we found by searching online. The canoe rental cost 109 euros for 5 days. He provided us with a map of the lake, added some tips for the best beaches and bays, and arranged the transportation of us and our boat directly to the departure point on the lake. Five days later, we got picked up from the same place.
Food and supplies
We headed to the largest regional city (Karlstad) to buy all our food and supplies. We bought canned foods, instant soups, biscuits, coffee and tea, and especially a royal supply of knäckebrot (crispbread), which was the staple of our camping diet. So that we wouldn’t have to eat it dry, we bought some mysterious spreads in tubes, which resembled toothpaste (by shape, and well…by flavor sometimes, too.:) Such a food is by no means a local delicacy, but when in the wild, one cannot be too picky 🙂
Prices in Sweden can be a real shocker; most foods cost double what foods in Western Europe do, and triple Eastern Europe. We saved quite a lot by the fact that we did self-catering and cooked for ourselves during the trip. Our purchases for 5 days came to 864 Swedish crowns (about 83 euros). It should be added that we focused on instant and long-lasting foods, and mostly cheap and low-nutrition stuff.
The art of canoeing
Canoeing is rather an uncomplicated discipline and you will manage, even if it is your first time canoeing in Sweden or canoeing at all. With Mathias having plenty of experience, I knew I had nothing to worry about, even if something unexpected happened.
All in all, there are two critical aspects you have to pay attention to:
- Embarking / Disembarking: The canoe should to be boarded by only one person at a time (while one is boarding, the other must hold the boat). What really helps is to holding the gunwales with both hands, then it is more stable; do not just get on without holding on yourself!
- Waves: There are much less waves on the lake compared to the sea, however, you have to be ready to deal with some. The canoe should approach the waves perpendicularly. When in the waves, it is important to keep paddling – only a boat that is in movement can be effectively managed.
Before you rent your canoe, there is usually an instructional session in which you are shown how to handle the canoe, how to enter the canoe, and how to sit properly in it. If you are a beginner, don’t be ashamed to admit it; you’ll benefit more from the advice.
For example, we were advised to stay along the shore rather than going far out into the water. Of course, this advice makes sense because if capsizing or any other emergency situation occurs, it is easier to swim to the mainland or an island. In practice, however, it often means a longer journey, which is why we sometimes ignored this suggestion.
Wild camping in Sweden: A Taste of Freedom
We had no need for a hotel during the five days and nights of our canoe trip. Trust me, with amazing Swedish nature all around, you hardly need one! Each afternoon, we found a nice island just for ourselves and set up our tent there.
Wild camping in Sweden is absolutely legal, and the right to enjoy nature freely is one that is protected by law. It’s called allemansträtten in Swedish (other Scandinavian countries have similar ideas) and it means that everyone has the right to explore forests, lakes and mountains. And yes, wild camping in Sweden is one of the must-do experiences in Sweden. Even now, some weeks after the trip, I keep dreaming about our lovely nights sleeping in the wild.
Apart from the right to explore nature, you’ve also got an obligation to protect it. It is necessary to collect all your garbage and carefully remove any other human traces. During our trip, we separated our waste right away (into plastics, paper, and other garbage) and took it along with us. It is a good idea to thoroughly clean all food containers and packages so that they don’t get stinky. We never found messes at camping sites, and we tried to leave them all just like we found them.
This summer was much warmer and drier than usual in Sweden, so it was forbidden to have a campfire. We prepared our food on a gas cooker but always did so carefully on a large stone by the water.
How to find a suitable tenting spot
Finding a suitable location is not always as easy as it seems. With many islands being densely forested, it always took us some searching; we even abandoned a few islands due to the lack of suitable camping spots. A good camping is one that is flat and big enough to for the tent. Ideally, there should be a bay nearby to beach your canoe and go swimming. A pair of binoculars is great for looking for camping spots.
It’s smart to start searching for your next camping spot in the early afternoon. Mathias always said he wanted to find one by 4 pm at the latest. At times, you can spot great places just by passing by, but if it’s too early in the day, you just have to let it go and find another one later. I would always recommend you pick a bay facing the west; in Sweden in summer, days are very long, with sunsets taking place around 10 pm, so you can sunbathe and swim well into the evening.
Getting drinking water
One of the coolest things about canoeing in Sweden is that the freshwater from lake is so clean that you can drink it. With all your extra boat space dedicated to food and supplies, this can really save lots of place and weight. You can imagine how much water one would need for a five-day trip for two people; we would not even be able to transport this! Instead, we could just bring four to five plastic bottles and could refil them all the time.
When fetching the water, remember to get it a little further from the shore, where it’s cleaner. Along the shore, you will do other things like brushing your teeth or washing yourself. We drank fresh water from the lake during the entire trip and encountered no problems!
Security during your canoe trip in Sweden
It is important to pay attention to weather conditions; a strong gust of wind or a thunderstorm could make your journey quite complicated. We experienced it during one afternoon when the wind blew so hard that our paddling efforts weren’t achieving anything, with the boat barely moving forward. We had chosen the way along the shore to avoid at least some of the wind. Later we even decided to stop paddling on this day, and cover more distance the next day. If it’s windy or rainy, you should be very careful and wait for the better conditions if you can.
Probably the most dramatic situation occurred on the last day when a storm hit. At that time, we had just stopped to swim on one of the islands. The sky suddenly blackened, strong winds came, and it started to rain. In order for the wind and high waves not to carry away our canoe, we had to transfer it completely to the mainland. Mathias pitched a tent quickly so that we could be covered from the wind and rain, and then we just waited for it to pass. After one hour, it was all fine and we were able to continue.
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