Way up in the north of Sweden, near Norway and tucked safely away in the Arctic Circle, is Kungsleden, The King’s Trail. Something like a century old, there are only a few main starting points to enter the trail, and once you’re in your only escape is to keep hiking, in or out, or pay for a helicopter to take you back to one of those starting points.
The main body of the trail runs north – south and can take up to a month to walk, or so I’ve been told. More common among the hikers I’ve encountered is to take the diverted route, hiking the northern part of the trail and then a western route from Abisko to Nikkaluokta (or the other way around) which takes a week if you stop at a hut a day.
If you take the shorter route, as we did, you could easily add an extra day to your trip and climb Sweden’s tallest mountain as one of the stops is at STF Kebnekaise. Since we did that last year, and since this was at the tail end of our hike, we did not do this. No way. Wasn’t happening. And while I recommend both of these experiences (Kungsleden and Kebnekaise) separately, I would not recommend them together unless you are very fit, have the time to probably take some kind of rest day, and I would also suggest starting in Nikkaluokta instead of Abisko. I feel like the trail may be easier if you start in the north, but that would put the mountain at the end of the week, after 80km of hiking (some of it pretty tough terrain). The other way puts the mountain on day 2, which seems a much preferable experience to me.
As for Kungsleden itself, there are huts along the way with facilities to use if you are willing to pay. If you want a bunk the price is of course higher, but as a tenter you can pay a smaller fee for use of the kitchen and toilets, as well as the sauna in the larger locations, but otherwise it is free to tent if you are content to use your own wiles to get by. The only time this does not apply is when you are inside the Abisko National Park (locations Abisko and Abiskojaure). Of course the benefit of sleeping at the huts is you won’t have to haul cooking and camping gear with you the whole 105km. And if you happen to be a member of STF (Svenska Turistföreningen) then you get discounts. Definitely worth it.
The great thing about these huts is that STF uses volunteers to run them, so the people working there are there because they love the outdoors and hiking and all that jazz. Also because of this it is expected that those using the facilities help out. You do your dishes, keep the fire going, chop firewood if you use it, refill the water buckets, etc. On occasion it can be frustrating if some people aren’t up for that and leave it for others, but for the most part if creates a little community among the hikers. You’ve probably already passed each other a few times on the trail, exchanging greetings and learning about each other along the way, but in the huts or on the campground you bond in the shared responsibility as much as the shared experience.
As for our experience, it was great. The scenery was incredible, though the weather wasn’t always great; at one point snow forced us to stay in the hut at Tjäktja, which was probably for the best as getting up to the pass where the hut is settled was a bit of a climb, and the next day, in which you go up, over, and down the pass, was supposed to be the hardest. I suppose this depends on your own physical abilities, but the short steep pass was not that hard for me compared to the hike from Abiskojaure to Alesjaure. That is the longest day at 20-22km (depending on the sign) and the terrain is pretty much the full array of everything you could experience in the mountains. For me a steep but short climb, however rocky, is a lot easier to get through then a constant steady incline with terrain that can be anywhere from rocky to marshy and not always with great footing.
Of course I say that based on the planned route. The actual hardest part was from Sälka to Kebnekaise. Normally you would do a nice 12km from Sälka to Singi, then 13km from Singi to Kebnekaise. But because of scheduling we were thinking we would rest in Singi and then push on a few extra km to tent, getting a head start on the next day in which we would do the same again. However, at some point you reach a crossroad telling you Singi is 3km to the right and Kebnekaise is 14km straight ahead. Lacking a map, we thought this meant Singi would be off the path and we weren’t interested in walking there and back just for a short break, so we pushed on. I will tell you now: if you go to Singi, it has a separate route out that goes to Kebnekaise, it’s own 14km, which is apparently a lovely walk through the valley. It is not off the main path at all. The route we took was a shortcut. It will save you a whole 2km. It cuts up over a freaking mountain that seems to never, ever end! And the path is not well travelled. And then you still have a pretty large part of the valley to hike through to get to the Kebnekaise Fjällstation. I do not recommend this unless you are prepared and willing to make a lengthy, steady climb. Seriously. Just go to Singi.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that was a great experience. I feel like as far as preparedness goes, we have some great boots, warm base layers, and great outer shells, and that really helped to make it not miserable and mostly a really great time. It was always beautiful, whatever the weather, and the people we met along the way were lovely. There were all kinds of people out there, too, so I’d say nearly anyone could do this trail, just be prepared for a few harder instances between the steady forward motion. And reindeer. Lots of reindeer herds out there because that is where the Sami (indigenous) people herd them, so keep an eye out. Sometimes they’re just around the corner, and sometimes they are way up in the mountains.
Would I do it again? Well, I’d probably do the other part of the trail first, maybe hike a few other places. And at the moment I’m not exactly stoked to redo certain parts of that particular trail, at least until my feet recover. But if the opportunity arose I wouldn’t say no. It was really a worthwhile experience that taught me a lot about myself in some very unexpected ways. All in all, a really great time that I enjoyed immensely. I definitely think it is worth anyone interested attempting. Just not right now. The huts close on Sept 18th for the winter. But come spring time, if you’re looking for a mostly relaxing and totally beautiful experience, consider hiking the King’s Trail. You won’t be disappointed.