Alta Canyon (aka Sautso) Hiking Trail in Northern Norway

23 August 2020, by Oana Badiu

Alta Canyon, aka Sautso, is the biggest canyon in Northern Europe, however this viewpoint is not very well known amongst tourists, so you have a possibility to enjoy its beauty without a crowd. The hiking trail to Alta Canyon is relatively easy, but quite long, so you should take at least half a day for this hike.

About Alta Canyon Hiking Trail

Trail elevation: 200 m

Alta Canyon highest point: 420 m

Difficulty: Easy - Medium

Last few meters consist of a steep descent to the viewpoint and there is also one trickier river crossing, but nothing too difficult. Probably it is best to do this hike after the spring flood (May/June), as the rivers you need to cross might be flooded and dangerous.

Length: 6.5 km one way (13 km round way)

Time: 4 - 6 h

Wear good hiking boots, as some parts of the trail are rocky and muddy. Also the steep descent to the viewpoint is a lot easier if you have hiking poles (if not, you can grab on to the trees around the trail). The descent is not exposed until you get to the viewpoint, which is pretty much a vertical drop down to the river, but I wouldn't expect anything else from Norway's landscape. If you have fear of heights it is possible to keep a bit of distance from the edge, like I am doing in the picture below.

I would also recommend getting a hat with a net that keeps the bugs away. In the summer months Lapland is filled with mosquitos and other bugs that want to eat you and the bug spray we had was definitely not enough to keep them at bay. Some of them got me even through a thick t-shirt.

You can also go with mountain bike on this trail, however crossing the rivers might get a bit difficult while carrying your bike as well. There are 3 rivers that you need to cross along this trail: one is very easy by foot and by bike, another one is ok by foot, but probably a bit more difficult by bike and the third one is easy by foot because there is a flimsy plank across it, but might be challenging by bike as it is a bit deeper. I haven't actually seen anyone with a mountain bike while I was there, but I read that it is doable.

Where is Alta Canyon Hiking Trail

See directions on map

The hiking trail starts about 4.5 km drive from Gargia Lodge. The asphalt on the road ends at Gargia Lodge and the rest of the trail is a bit rough, however it is very doable with a normal car, like we had. You just need to drive very carefully and slowly, as there are quite many bumps on this gravel road. It takes about 1 h to drive from Alta to the trail head, despite what Google says 😃

You can easily find and follow the trail by downloading maps.me app on your phone. It has very good information about trails and parking places.

It is possible to visit the Alta Canyon also by boat along the river or by getting a guide and going to the Alta Damn. The area seems to be very protected and according to the information online you cannot visit the damn without a guide.

About Alta River and Canyon

The Alta Canyon is called Sautso in Sami language and it is the largest canyon in Northern Europe, with its deepest point reaching 420 m. The Alta river counts as one of the world's best salmon rivers by anglers globally. The main river has a total length of about 240 km. By the estuary the water flow is ca. 88 m3/s and during the spring flood in May/June it can be as much as 1000 m3/s. Migrating salmon can run up to 47 km upstream the main river through the power plan outlet. The biggest official record of salmon taken with fly fishing is 26.7 kg!

Alta Canyon Hiking Trail - Own Experience

I was planning this great hiking trip around Northern Norway and training for it as well, however, about 5 weeks before my trip one of my knee muscles got damaged. To be honest, I still don't know what was it, as the MRI didn't show anything wrong. The Vastus Medialis quadriceps muscle was completely numb and tight for around 5-6 weeks, I couldn't put any weight on it and I had to use a crutch for a while in order to be able to walk. After seeing that it doesn't want to recover in time, I started a "diet" of painkillers for a few days and hoped for the best.

The Alta Canyon hike was the first hike after my injury and it took a bit longer than it normally would. We started the hike around 3 and ended the hike around 10. My hiking poles were a huge life saver and probably the best investment I had made before going on this trip.

The trail starts with a small ascent towards the very typical Lappish landscape and it's pretty much flat all the way to the Alta Canyon with just a few easy ascents and descents.

After a few kilometres we got to our first river crossing. The weather was really nice when we did this hike so the rivers were quite small and easy to cross. We did this hike at the beginning of August, so I would imagine that in the spring it's more challenging to cross the rivers as the snow melts.

About half way there is a really cool waterfall and a smaller canyon to see, just a few meters from the main trail. I highly recommend the small detour.

After a while you get to a bit bigger river that needs crossing. It's not difficult, but you do need some good balance on the rocks. Bear in mind that the pictures are taken with a wide angle lens, so a lot fits in the picture. The river is bigger than it appears below.

After this point the terrain gets a bit rockier and before the next river crossing there is a big pile of mud that you need to get over. Luckily there are some planks on top of it, so you can probably manage without sinking into it.

After the mud there is another river crossing on a very flimsy plank. I am not really sure if this plank can support someone that has more 100 kg, but at least it didn't break while we crossed.

These last 500 m feel very long, as my leg starts to get very tired. The terrain is also very rocky after the river and it requires a slight descent. Just when I thought I had reached the end a guy tells me that there is a really steep descent ahead in order to get to the viewpoint.

There was no-one there anymore except us, so I just took my time on the steep part, mainly using the healthy leg. I can't explain the joy I felt when I was at the viewpoint and I realised that my pain was so worth it 😊! The canyon looks amazing!

There are actually 2 viewpoints pointing to different sides of the river. From the one above, just follow the trail along the edge to get to the other one. There is not much space here to wonder around, so it was really awesome that there were no other people except us.

The walk back was a bit more challenging for me as my healthy leg was already tired and the mosquitos started to be very active, but luckily after taking another painkiller it was all fine. Despite the pain, I was so happy to have seen such a beautiful sight and it turned out this walk actually made my knee muscle feel better in the end. Next day my knee was doing great and it almost healed completely!

The Alta Canyon hike was a great kickstart for my 3 weeks adventure in Northern Norway and helped rebuild my leg muscle after 5 weeks of pain and lack of exercise.

Where to Stay in Alta?

I highly recommend this awesome (and quite fancy actually) husky farm called "Trasti & Trine´s Lodge".

The rooms are really nicely renovated and quite big, but what really stands out is that Trasti is a top chef and his restaurant downstairs was amazing! We had the tasting menu and it was absolutely outstanding, a lot better than a lot of fancy restaurants here in Helsinki city centre! I absolutely enjoyed each and every dish, especially the fish. This was a really great find and it seems that restaurant is quite popular, so it's wise to reserve a table for dinner.

The property offers also breakfast, which is the BEST breakfast I have ever had anywhere! The fancy dining theme follows also to the breakfast and it is delicious!

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