Two years in a row January has taken Daniel and I for a winter holiday to Vuokatti. Located in (North) Eastern Finland, Vuokatti is guaranteed to have at least a little bit more snow than what we have at home on the South West Coast. Last year January was cold, but not too snowy, so we dedicated our week to local activities in Vuokatti. This year the snow situation was a lot better, so we took a different kind of approach and spent a lot more time outdoors. Our first winter adventure took us to admire the frozen waterfall of Hepoköngäs [see map].
Hepoköngäs is one of the tallest natural waterfalls in Finland, and the readers of a website called ’Waterfalls in Finland’ chose it as the most beautiful Finnish waterfall in 2014. Even if I’m a Finn, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a natural frozen waterfall, so it seemed like a perfect day trip destination less than 1,5 hours away from Vuokatti.
Neither of us had ever been to Hepoköngäs Nature Reserve before. We found surprisingly little information about the accessibility in winter, so we packed snowshoes in the car, just in case. And that, my friends, turned out to be pretty darn good decision.
Even if the waterfall is located only 600 meters from the parking lot, you can never be sure if someone has been walking there and made an easy-to-walk path in the snow. Especially if it has been snowing a lot in the previous night. Once we got to the parking lot, we immediately noticed that there has been one visitor after another walking in the snow, but we were so excited about our new snowshoes that we decided to wear them anyway.
In ’the good old times’ Hepoköngäs waterfall was called Hevompersie, which literally translates as ’the horse’s ass’. I read somewhere that the waterfall got its’ original name because when it’s flooding, the water is cascading ’as if it’s coming from a horse’s ass’. I wouldn’t know if it’s the official explanation, though, and I couldn’t find the source when I tried double checking it.
The word ’köngäs’ comes from the Sami word keävngis that would translate as steep rapid. Therefore the word ’köngäs’ is often part of the name of a Finnish waterfall. Just like Hepoköngäs.
In January Hepoköngäs waterfall was indeed frozen, just like I hoped for. The river Heinijoki hardly ever gets frozen below the waterfall, no matter how cold it gets. Once we arrived to the waterfall, I dug the foldable seat pad out of my backpack and placed it on the untouched snow. I sat down, and I felt like I could have stayed there forever, just admiring the beautiful sight opening right in front of my eyes.
’Winter wonderland’ got a whole new meaning in my mind. This is it.
In winter the dark gets to surprise you, especially when you’re more north than normally. We wanted to explore the area a little bit more before the forest becomes pitch black, so after a lunch break in the beautiful lean-to that is built on the rocks next to the waterfall, we started following a geological path along the river Heinijoki.
This is where the snowshoes really paid off. No one takes care of this path in winter, and no one had actually gone down to the river before us. There were times when, despite of snowshoes, our legs sank it the deep snow up till our thighs.
Of course you couldn’t spot any of the geological wonders under the snow, but the unfrozen river and the amazing ice formations on top of the tall and steep cliffs provided us with enough attractions.
When following the river, the path is marked on the trees with blue and red dots. After a while you’ll arrive to big wooden signs; This is where the route splits in two. The blue trail is called the UKK route, named after a former president, that goes all the way to Lapland. The 1,5 km long geological path goes up in the forest, and the rest of the route is marked with red dots only.
The dots are fairly difficult to spot in winter, especially when you’re starting to lose the daylight. The snowy forest don’t provide much more to see, so returning back along the river is a good option and, if we had known any better, this is what we would have done.
1,5 km seems like a short walk, but when doing it in deep, unbroken snow in a dark forest, it easily feels like 5k. Luckily we had headlamps in our backpack and that’s something you should never forget when going for a winter adventure in Finland – even for a short one.
Once we found our way to the parking lot, it was already pitch black, but we felt like real winners. And hey, despite of the difficulties, at least we got a good test drive for our brand new snowshoes and got to see the beautiful frozen waterfall.
Good to know before your winter adventure in Hepoköngäs Nature Reserve:
– The road is plowed all the way to the Hepoköngäs parking lot and the road is in good condition
– There is a toilet in the parking lot, but there was no toilet paper so always have some in your pocket.
– The distance from the parking lot to the waterfall is 600 meters. In case there’s no clear path, turn right after crossing a wooden bridge.
– There is quite a new lean-to next to the waterfall where to have lunch or even have a barbecue. There is wood and kindling, some equipment for BBQ and for putting down the fire, but no matches. So be prepared.
– The starting (or ending?) point of the geological path is located right next to the lean-to.
Read also these stories:
Winter Holiday in Vuokatti – Not a Bad Alternative to Crowded Lapland
Wonderful Waterfalls of North Wales: Conwy Falls & Swallow Falls
The jewels of River Rakasjåkka: Waterfalls of Swedish Lapland
Pin this frozen waterfall for later: