A SWEDISH LAPLAND STORY

Hiking the King's Trail

The king of all trails

Photo: Ted Logart

Text: Håkan Stenlund

The King's Trail runs through Sweden's most beautiful mountain scenery and provides more than 400 kilometres' worth of hiking adventure for the first-time hiker as well as the truly experienced mountain veteran. It is one of the world's most famous hiking trails, and the stage between Abisko and Nikkaluokta is the most-travelled trail in all of Sweden.

The King’s Trail extends through a varied mountain landscape in Sweden’s Arctic destination Swedish Lapland. The Swedish name is ‘Kungsleden’ and it was used by the Swedish Tourist Association – STF – for the first time in 1928. Today the King’s Trail is a fully extended hiking route between Abisko in the north to Hemavan in the south.

Along the stages between Abisko and Kvikkjokk, and Ammarnäs to Hemavan, there is a well-developed cabin network. Between Kvikkjokk and Ammarnäs on the other hand, the least-visited stretch of the trail and perhaps the wildest part of the King’s Trail, there is a lot more distance between cabins and service points. The hike between Abisko and Nikkaluokta is the most alpine stage and also the most-hiked trail in all of Sweden. This means that the King’s Trail is a hiking challenge and a source of enjoyment for everyone.

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The hike between Abisko and Nikkaluokta is the most-hiked trail in all of Sweden. Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi

Hiking season

When April gives way to May you can see the earliest flowering plant in the mountains: the purple mountain saxifrage. It is often found in gullies and on the first snow-free patches. By midsummer, most of the snow has melted and you can hike the King’s Trail. But it is always advisable to contact Abisko or Hemavan beforehand to ask them about the weather, making sure you pack the right kind of equipment. Even if nights are bright and it is summer, you always have to pack for the cold. It can snow any month of the year in the mountains.

The opening hours of the cabins may vary, but the summer season begins in June and lasts until mid or late September. During this time there are cabin hosts at most cabins. All cabins have a smaller space that is open outside the main season as well. From the end of August, you might even be able to enjoy the northern lights shining above your tent site.

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The summer season begins in June and lasts until mid or late September. Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi

Hike your way

Hiking the King’s Trail does not have to be a hike with heavy rucksacks and long stages. You can buy food at most cabins during the time of year they are staffed, and if you plan ahead you can do a ‘light-weight hike’. In general, good planning always makes trips like these easier. Also, choose your hike based on your own ability. If you have never hiked the mountains before it might be wise to begin with a stay somewhere like Ammarnäs, Saltoluokta or Abisko, and make day trips from there – just to get a feel for whether mountain hiking and the King’s Trail are your thing. Opting for day trips means you are always comfortable. The next step could be making a cabin trek, which also makes it easier to keep the weight down. Simpler supplies such as tinned food and instant mash are always available for purchase at the STF cabins. Distance between cabins varies but is usually between 12-15 km, a fairly comfortable day stage.

Finally, if you have been cabin-to-cabin hiking in the past: perhaps it is time to take on a proper tent trek instead? The King’s Trail comes in many different versions. In some places you have to row across water to get to the other side of the valley, in other places, there is boat transport available, for example at the King’s Trail in Alesjaure and on the stage Kebnekaise to Nikkaluokta, but also further south – like along the trail at Vuonatjviken in Arjeplog.

The King’s Trail, Abisko – Nikkaluokta, 10,5 mil

  • Abisko–Abiskojaure:
    15 km / 4–6 h, 380 – 490 m.ö.h.
  • Abiskojaure–Alesjaure:
    20 km / 6–8 h, 490 – 780 m.ö.h.
  • Alesjaure–Tjäktja:
    13 km / 4–5 h, 780 – 1000 m.ö.h.
  • Tjäktja–Sälka:
    12 km / 3–5 h, 1000 – 835 m.ö.h.
  • Sälka–Singi:
    12 km / 3–4 h, 835 – 720 m.ö.h.
  • Singi–Kebnekaise mountain station:
    14 km / 4 – 6 h, 720 – 650 m.ö.h.
  • Kebnekaise mountain station–Nikkaluokta:
    19 km/5-7 h, 650-470 m.ö.h.

Depending on how you plan your hike, you may come across large lakes and watercourses. Visit swedishtouristassociation.com for information about boats in the mountains.

The weather can change quickly in the mountains, so pack wisely. Photo: Cody Duncan

A cultural landscape

The King’s Trail runs through three national parks: Abisko, Stora Sjöfallet in Laponia and Pieljekaise on the trail between Jäkkvik and Ammarnäs. All these national parks were formed in 1909 when Sweden created Europe’s first nine national parks. The trail also crosses the Sámi cultural landscape, where reindeer husbandry is a natural feature. Always be considerate when you meet reindeer and especially if you encounter a herd on the move – it is important that you sit still and show yourself as little as possible until the herd has moved past. In several places, you will come across active Sámi summer camps. Take the opportunity to enjoy learning about Sámi nomad culture. During certain periods they brand reindeer calves in the mountains, and during others, they gather the animals for other purposes. Be mindful at all times and remember that you are in the middle of Sámi everyday life – and in the middle of their workplace too.

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It's not unusual to meet reindeer in the mountains, if you do, make a stop and let them pass. Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi

Summer and winter

The trail is an experience for both hikers and skiers – yes, it is possible to travel the path in winter as well, even if it is much more common that guests stay at one of the mountain stations and make day trips from there. The trail changes dramatically along the way, from alpine terrain to lower-lying land with mountain birch forests. In the south near Saltoluokta, the King’s Trail runs through a wild mountain landscape with u-shaped valleys and lakes that go on for miles. There is a lot to see and do along the trail, so it might be a good idea to stay an extra day in one of the cabins to go exploring nearby valleys and perhaps climb a summit. The mountain station at Kebnekaise (which might actually be called a detour from the King’s Trail itself) is one of those places where guests stay for several days to do day trips, and where Sweden’s highest peak Kebnekaise is a given on visitors’ bucket lists, well, yes, much like the trail itself. The king of all the hiking trails in Sweden’s Arctic destination.

Learn more

In the 1920s the first stretch from Kvikkjokk to Abisko was cairned and today the King’s Trail stretches some 430 kilometres from Abisko in the north to Hemavan in the south. There is a well-developed network of mountain stations and cabins, making the hike easy and fun in summer as well as winter. STF has a lot of information about the King’s Trail, all the cabins, what to pack in your rucksack and ideas for children along the hike. You can find all this at swedishtouristassociation.com.

Suggested tours along the King's Trail

Abisko–Nikkaluokta

Distance 105 km
Days 5–7
Number of STF cabins 5 on the King’s Trail and 7 nearby
Provisioning Abisko, Abiskojaure, Alesjaure, Kebnekaise, Sälka, Vistas, Unna Allakas
Sauna Abisko, Abiskojaure, Alesjaure, Kebnekaise, Sälka, Unna Allakas, Vistas

At the Singi cabins, you can veer o the King’s Trail and head towards Nikkaluokta via Kebnekaise mountain station, or keep going south towards Vakkotavare. To follow the King’s trail south from Vakkotavare you take a bus to the pier at Kebnats and a boat across to STF Saltoluokta mountain station.

Kebnekaise–Saltoluokta

Distance 52 km (bus from Vakkotavare to Kebnatsbryggan/Saltoluokta)
Days 4–6
Number of STF cabins 4
Provisioning Kaitumjaure, Kebnekaise, Saltoluokta, Vakkotavare
Sauna Kebnekaise, Saltoluokta, Teusajaure, Kaiutumjaure

Saltoluokta–Kvikkjokk

Distance 73 km

Days 4–6

Number of STF cabins 3

Provisioning Saltoluokta, Kvikkjokk, Aktse
Sauna Saltoluokta, Kvikkjokk

Boats are available to borrow where you need to cross lakes, or you can ask for a lift. There’s information on the internet, so do a search for ‘STF boats in the mountains’. Keep in mind that certain parts of the trail have no mobile coverage, so call ahead to book.

Kvikkjokk–Ammarnäs

Distance 157 km

Days 7–10
Number of STF cabins 0

Provisioning Kvikkjokk, Jäkkvik, Adolfström and Ammarnäs
Sauna Kvikkjokk, Ammarnäs

The King’s Trail between Kvikkjokk and Ammarnäs is more demanding than other parts of the trail. This part of the King’s Trail is not equipped with cabins and shelters, so you need to bring a tent and other necessary equipment.

Ammarnäs–Hemavan

Distance 78 km

Days 5–7

Number of STF cabins 5
Provisioning Alla stugor. Aigert, Serve, Tärnasjö, Syter, Viterskalet and Ammarnäs and Hemavan
Sauna Ammarnäs, Aigert, Tärnasjö, Hemavan