If you are looking for an accessible and adventurous summer adventure kayaking and canoeing head to the scenic village of Dala-Floda in the Swedish county of Dalarna says Ben Love author of Wild Guide Scandinavia…
Kayaking and canoeing in Dalarna, Sweden
Allemansrätten – Right to roam
Sweden has for many years been like the rest of Scandinavia a bastion of social democracy. One of the legacies of this is the ‘Allemansrätt’ or ‘Every Man’s Right’, which is a piece of model ‘right to roam’ legislation that many Swedes now take for granted. Put simply, in Sweden you have the right to access nearly all land including coastlines, lakes and waterways. The basis of the legislation is that we are guests in the nature and that we must exercise consideration and responsibility for our surroundings. The main rules affecting paddlers are:
1. You can light fires but these are often seasonally prohibited due to the risk of forest fires. For advice on a specific area please ask in the local tourist information office, use your common sense and adhere to the pictorial signs.
2. Avoid routes that pass through people’s properties if you need to portage with your boat and make sure that you follow any local signs and close gates behind you.
3. Be aware during the spring and summer months that birds are often sitting on eggs and can be quite nervous of paddlers.
4. You may pitch your tent for a night or two anywhere in the countryside as long as you don’t disturb the landowner or cause damage to nature.
Sweden as a paddling destination has long been considered as the preserve of the open canoeist while the whitewater paddler has tended to head to Norway. This is because the rivers rising in the Scandinavian Mountains drop more rapidly to the south and west in their quest to meet the sea at the heads of the spectacular fjords. The rivers that instead run east from the same mountains have much further to go before they meet the Baltic Sea. Apart from the initial drop from the mountains any subsequent gradient is either gradually absorbed or is concentrated into sets of rapids after long flat stretches. This is particularly true in the Swedish county of Dalarna about three hours north of Stockholm, which has many different opportunities for a paddling adventure.
Dalarna is described as being the ‘most Swedish’ of all the areas in Sweden with its signature red painted timber buildings coloured with iron pigments from the “Falu red” paint, which is for many visitors their strongest memory of Sweden. It has many different types of landscape from the mountains on the Norwegian border to vast areas of untamed wilderness and deep forests teeming with moose, bear, wolf, wolverine and lynx.
The village of Dala-Floda sits on the banks of the Västerdalälven (West Dala River) at the heart of southern Dalarna, where it is known as Dalarna’s Garden of Eden. Its location makes it the ideal base for forays into the forests and onto the myriad lakes and rivers that characterise the area. An added bonus is that when out exploring here, you don’t have to look hard to find a bountiful feast of wild berries and mushrooms. These can be enjoyed beside an open fire as you wild camp on the smooth granite or sandy beaches that form the shores of many of the lakes.
Dalarna is a Mecca for open boaters with thousands of miles of rivers and lakes to choose from with wilderness camping, fishing and amazing wildlife.
It would be silly to try and pick out any one place as being the best as you can choose from the big rivers with their occasional rapids (all easily to portage) or from the hundreds of lakes of all sizes with their islands and interconnecting streams and trails. This is canoe touring at its best.
The same stretches of river that are great for open boating also lend themselves to kayak touring in specialist touring or sea kayaks. Sea and touring kayaks can be hired from Kajaktiv in Dala-Floda as these are obviously quite difficult to bring by plane should you decide on that option. The main Dalälven below the confluence of the West and East Dalälven is particularly popular for multiday touring paddling.
White Water Paddling & Pack Rafting
There are plenty of creeks up near the Norwegian border and often hidden away in the forest. These include the possibility of some first descents if you are prepared to do some exploring.
The river that attracts the most paddlers to this area is the Västra Dalälven, which has several sections with rapids, which are perfect for beginner and intermediate whitewater paddlers as well as some great freestyle spots at different water levels.
Favourite sections of the Västra Dalälven river
Nås Section Class: III
This is a great stretch for beginners, which can be done in half a day with plenty of easy rapids and eddies with small surf waves perfect for building confidence. In addition this section is great for spotting some classic Swedish wildlife.
Access: Follow route 71 from Dala-Floda towards the village of Vansboro. About 1km after a level crossing you come to the village of Nås. Turn left immediately after the road sign with lots of letter boxes and follow the track through the woods down to the river.
Egress: Park by the big blue iron railway bridge.
Kärringforsen Section Class: II - III
Immediately above Fänforsen in the village of Björbo there is the section known as Kärringforsen with several different lines great for beginner and intermediate paddlers looking for some great reasonable volume river features to practise on. At the beginning of the season when the levels are high (400 - 500 cumecs) a world class surf wave forms on river left at the top of the rapid. This section hosted the 1997 slalom championships.
Access: Follow route 71 from Dala-Floda towards the village of Vansboro. After approximately 1km after the Fänforsen rest area there is a small access road on the left hand side. Follow this road down to the free camping area by the river.
Egress: From the access road.
Fänforsen Section Class: III - IV
This is Southern Sweden's biggest rapid! There are loads of different lines from a straight forward run down on river right to more exciting routes on the left with ledge drops and holes to navigate. There are also several play spots in the rapid including holes and waves, which work at different levels and are used extensively for training by the Swedish Freestyle Team. If you are looking to improve your freestyle paddling then you could progress far by spending some time training on the features available in this rapid.
Access: From the Fänforsen rest area on route 71.
Egress: At the end of the rapid and walk back up.
Dala-Floda Section Class: II (III)
Several small rapids broken up with sections of flat water with the take out literally right outside Kajaktiv. This is another great introductory whitewater section with a hot-tub at the end!
Access: Follow route 71 from Dala-Floda towards Björbo and after about 2km turn off into a lay-by on the left beside the river.
Egress: At Kajaktiv in the village of Dala-Floda
You will find the local paddlers hitting the rivers as soon as the snow starts to melt taking advantage of the high water levels from the snowmelt known locally as the 'spring floods'. This can be anytime from Easter and can be earlier or later depending on the severity of the winter. The smaller creeks up in the mountains and the forests are mainly rain and snowmelt dependent so are therefore often good to go at the beginning of the season and then only come up again during the summer after heavy rain. The main rivers are like major arteries threading their way through the forests to the sea and sustain reasonable levels all through the summer and into the autumn. The Swedish school holidays are in June/July and this is the time when the rivers and lakes are at their busiest. During July and August the water temperatures can be really warm with twenty-four hour daylight and in September the days are shorter but the sunsets are spectacular and this is a great time to explore the lakes by canoe.
Kajaktiv Kayak School
About ten years ago roving Kiwi river guide James Venimore decided to plant his paddle in the ground in the village of Dala-Floda and make it his family home. Since then he has grown his business, Kajaktiv, into Sweden's biggest kayak school on the banks of the Västra Dalälven. If you are looking for a summer kayaking course from beginner to advanced or want to hire equipment to paddle in great surroundings with a traditional sauna and hot tub at the end of the day then this is the place to come. For details see - kajaktiv.se - or give them a call for a chat.
Ben Love is the author of Wild Guide Scandinavia charting the best wild adventures in Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark (£16.99 Wild Things Publishing and also available as an app). Receive 30% discount (plus P&P) by adding the coupon ACTIVE at the checkout.