We were on a roadtrip from Jyväskylä all the way to Enontekiö in north western Lapland, and we wanted to visit Hepoköngäs along the way. We knew the largest free-falling waterfalls in Finland were somewhere in the Kainuu region just above the midriff of Finland so we took out an old-fashioned map and checked out that it was located in Puolanka, about 100km above the town of Kajaani. Yes, it was sort of along our route (it wasn’t really… the detour added several hours to our travel time) but we decided it was definitely worth seeing. I mean… you can’t really see too many forests and white-water rapids, not to mention waterfalls in your entire lifetime. You just can’t.
The signs were easy to spot along our way towards Puolanka: Hepoköngäs signposts stood alongside the main road up pretty much as soon as we had cleared the town of Kajaani. There are also good instructions at the location guiding you to the waterfall, 1,5 km long geological trail or 5 km long hike to a lake called Pyssylampi. The hike to Pyssylampi is actually a part of a 75 km hiking trail called UKK, named after a former president of Finland Urho Kekkonen, who himself hiked this trail in 1957. The UKK trail is part of an European wide hiking trail E10, which goes from Nuorgam to Tarifa in Spain. Hepököngäs is one of the highlights along E10 in Finland.
More about Hepoköngäs
A köngäs means steep rapids that can’t be rafted down. Hepoköngäs means Horse rapids in Finnish. The nature reserve area was established in 1956 to protect the river, the waterfalls, and the unique lakeside area below the falls. The height of the waterfall is said to be around 24m but in actuality, it is closer to 18m (59ft) tall and 5m (5,4ft) wide. There is a lovely nature route that winds through the forests around the waterfall, taking visitors past swamps and blueberry shrubs, the winding river that flows and then opens into rapids by a quaint barbecue area overlooking the waterfall.
The nature around the waterfalls is lush and dark green, and you can almost see the oxygen and freshness surrounding you. For everyone visiting, a great way to enjoy the area is to explore the different plants in the area because there are small signs explaining details about the woodlands along the walking path. However, make sure you respect the nature and leave it in better condition than you found it in.
Address: Hepokönkääntie 21, Puolanka. This address has a tiny place where you can park your car for the duration of your visit.
How to get there: You can get to Hepoköngäs by car or by bicycle. Public transportation gets you about 16km from the waterfalls to the town of Puolanka.
- Car: Just follow the instructions of your navigator. You drive towards Puolanka from either Oulu or Kajaani.
- Bicycle: There are narrow but still well-maintained gravel and asphalt roads for bicycles as well as excellent maps. The bicycle routes follow closely to the car route.
- Public transport: Admittedly, getting to Hepoköngäs is a bit tricky by public transport. The city of Oulu is 130km and the town of Kajaani 100km away from Puolanka. You can take a bus or a train to either of these cities. Check the local bus schedules from the homepage of the town of Puolanka (only in Finnish: bus = linja-auto in Finnish).
Accessibility: The Hepoköngäs area has been made as accessible as possible for visitors: the path from the carpark is wide enough for two strollers or wheelchairs to pass each other. The path is smooth gravel, and at some points there are wooden slides that can be used to for access. There are some rises and falls on the path if you want to see the falls from the bottom.
Facilities on site: There is a small cafe there in the summer. There are accessible toilets by the falls themselves on top of the falls. There is a small fireplace area also near the top of the falls. You may use the firepit but make sure you follow local advise on fire safety and check if it’s safe to make fire in the area by referring to this map.
When to go: You can visit the waterfall at any time of the year. If you visit during snowy or wintery seasons, make sure you are careful as some areas can be slippery.
What to wear: Mosquito repellent in the summer.
More to see: If you are already in Kainuu, make sure you stop by in the town of Kajaani to see the famous tar channels and locks that were used to transport tar from north to south for centuries starting in the 19th century.