Visit This Northern European National Park For Breathtaking Waterfall Views

Europe may have many national parks, but this one is so close to Santa's official home that you can almost hear the sleigh bells. Ranked 21 in the 100 Must-Visit National Parks Around the World by, Finland's Oulanka National Park is located in Northern Ostrobothnia and Lapland, bordering Russia. It was described in The Daily Mail, based on a list by Medway Leisure Travel, as one of the most magical national parks in Europe.

The dramatic landscapes of Oulanka were carved out during the ice age, and the park was left with jutting rock formations that create a plethora of impressive waterfalls and rapids throughout. Scientists put it forward as a national park in 1897, and this dream became a reality in 1956. It is named after the Finnish word for floodwater. One of the best features of Oulanka is that it has a range of accessible trails that are suitable for wheelchair users, young children, or strollers. These walks are highlighted on the park map.

Finding waterfalls in Oulanka National Park

Oulanka can be explored by canoe, bike, and on foot, although snow shoes may be needed after winter snowfall! The park department's map shows trails according to your preferred method and as the forest is state-run, entry is free. Some of the pathways at Oulanka are cleared to keep them safe for visitors, but it is still important to keep yourself safe as rocks can be slippery or icy if it gets cold. Wear sturdy boots, keep well away from the edge of the falls or rivers and make sure that you know where you're going before you set off, something the park guides at the visitor center can help you with.

The most popular waterfall is Kiutaköngäs Falls, which is very easy to find as the nearest parking lot is only 1 km away. Jyrävä waterfall can be found on the rapids of the same name and reached via the Karhunkierros trail, also known as the "Bear's Ring." A lesser-known cascade is Putaanköngäs Waterfall, which is a 2 mile hike from Liikasenvaarantie and once you get there, you may have it all to yourself.

Things to see in Oulanka National Park

When you're exploring Oulanka, you are bound to run into its most famous residents and Santa's helper – the reindeer! They have been herded in the park for centuries and from September to November they can be seen 'rutting', where they show their strength to find a mate. In the summer, you can keep a look out for the emblem of the park, the beautiful calypso orchid which crops up around the trails.

Besides the waterfalls, there are even more impressive sights hidden within the confines of the park, the Oulanka Canyon, the Ristikallio Cliffs and the singular Rupakivi Rock which emerges from the centre of the River Savinajoki. There is even a sandy beach called Jäkälämutka which sits on the banks of the Oulankajoki River. To get a bird's eye view of all this beauty, take the steep trail from the Konttainen parking lot to the top of Konttainen Hill where you can enjoy some great vistas and photograph Oulanka National Park in all of its glory.