Situated above the Arctic Circle on a neck of land bordered by the River Kemijoki and Lake Kemijärvi, Lake Kuumalampi, and Lake Pöyliöjärvi, the town of Kemijärvi has the distinction of being the most northernmost in Finland. It has 396 lakes and ponds, and is close to well known fells Pyhätunturi to the north and Suomutunturi in the south. The region was first settled around 1580 by Paavali Ollinpoika Halonen who arrived there from Niskakylä. His place of residence is now known as the village of Halosenranta, located a little south of Kemijärvi. This part of Eastern Lapland is famous for its many skiing resorts, such as Suomu, Luosto, Pyhä, and Salla. Lake Kemijärvi, an area of outstanding beauty thanks to surrounding forest-filled hills, teems with trout, pike, and perch, and is the northernmost lake in Finland with an indigenous population of zander, which the Finns call pikeperch, and Americans call walleye.
The region has become quite famous for wood sculptures, and there is a wonderful collection that can be seen in the Puustelli Art Centre, and more can be seen in the town centre - in fact there are around 40 outdoor works of art and monuments dotted about. The town also boasts about 14 historical boards within the town centre, each recounting some aspect or story of Kemijärvi's rich history in texts and photographs. Other notable places to visit in the town are the Church, the old clock tower which dates from 1774, and the Ethnographic Museum. In the inner courtyard of Virastotalo you'll find Piiskapetäjä, possibly the last remaining flogging pine spot in Northern Finland, a method of civic punishment used in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Snowmobile Museum contains many of the older models, such as Winha and Larven, along with propeller machines, and many other items relating to snowmobiling. You can even enjoy a ride on an old Bombardier snow bus for a small fee. Elsewhere, the renovated dairy now houses an artist residence activity centre which has grown in popularity every since it opened. Less than 10km south of the town you'll find the Kotavaara Lookout Tower, which affords the visitor some of the most beautiful panoramic views available in Lapland, and which shouldn't be missed.
There are plenty of activities for locals and tourists to enjoy, at the Kemijärvi Music College, the Culture Centre, the Folk High School, the Poukama Spa & Swimming Baths, and the ice rink and sports hall. No matter what time of the year, the nearby fell resorts of Suomu and Pyhä offer a wide range of activities for the adventurous, with excellent skiing opportunities in the winter.
The region also offers one of the world's truly unique experiences: atop Lampivaara Hill, in the vicinity of Luosto skiing and recreational centre, you'll find the Lampivaara Amethyst mine. This is possibly the only gemstone mine in the world that welcomes visitors, introducing them to the fascinating world of mineralogy, and permitting them to dig for their own amethyst which has waited 2,000,000,000 years to be discovered!
The oldest national park in Finland, Pyhä-Luosto National Park (just north of the town of Kemijärvi), is a 35km long string of fells very popular with hikers, and with cross-country skiers in winter, due to its unique environment and its accessibility. The highest peak in these fells is Noitatunturi at 540m, and Isokuruis the deepest of its rocky gorges, more than 200m in depth. Trekkers will also delight in discovering the Pyhänkasteenlampi pond, the Pyhänkasteenputuos waterfall, and the 400 year old forest of Rykimäkuru.
Staying in that region, fishermen, canoeists, and kayakers will be thrilled to find the biggest rapids on Finland's greatest river, flowing through Pelkosenniemi. These challenging waters course through virtually uninhabited wilderness regions, between the villages of Savukoski and Pelkosenniemi, and are home to grayling, pike, trout, perch, vendace, and many more, while the lands on either side are ideal for hiking or birdwatching.
The most notable cultural attractions in Kemijärvi are the Puustelli Art Centre, the Ethnographic Museum, the flogging pine Piiskapetäjä, the Snowmobile Museum, and the Culture Centre. There are also monuments to the first permanent settlement in Halosenniemi and to the birthplace of Hannes Gebhard, pioneer of the Finnish Cooperative Movement.
Whatever time of year, there is always plenty to do in the Kemijärvi region! Skiing, snowboarding, and a choice of snowmobile, reindeer or husky safaris in the winter, while the warmer months offer a choice of canoeing, kayaking, hiking or trekking, birdwatching, hunting, scenic cruises, or fishing cruises. Or take some time out to relax in a Spa.
There are plenty of fine dining opportunities in Kemijärvi, but be sure to try the local delicacies on offer, in particular the many tasty reindeer dishes. And with so many lakes in the region, it is hardly a surprise that freshwater fish features so often. Whether fish or meat, meals are often accompanied by delicious berries that grow wild, or mushrooms when in season.
Accommodation in Kemijärvi is varied, ranging from top class hotels to rustic log cabins. There are also many options available at the numerous resorts and recreational centres in the region, and accommodation in bed and breakfasts or on farms.
Kemijärvi has plenty of traditional giftware to choose from, but you'll also find plenty of locally produced goods, ranging from the practical life-vests and flotation suits of Hokka, through the fashionable hats of Helena, the unique selection of children's clothing in Paapero, and the fine assortment of locally produced souvenirs at Kauppapaikka. Keep an eye out too for the craftsmanship of the local goldsmiths and jewelers.
Kemijärvi can be reached by rail from Rovaniemi, where you can connect with the overnight sleeping trains to Helsinki, or by coach from both Rovaniemi to the west, and Kuusamo to the south.