Experience river rafting in one of Europe's last untouched waters
If you are planning an adventure holiday to Sweden or Scandinavia then whitewater rafting should definitely be on your bucket list. From the adrenaline pushing through your body as you enter the rapid and rewarding sauna for aching paddling muscles, to catching wild fish or just taking in the untouched nature as you drift through the calm stretches, rafting is an experience for the mind and body.
Rafting adventure on the Arctic, national river Torne
The majestic Torne River is the largest of Sweden’s national rivers and one of the last untouched water ecosystems in Europe. Originating from lake Torneträsk, the Torne river is fed by meltwater from the ancient mountains of Abisko National Park. It winds its way from the mountains, past Kiruna, Jukkasjärvi towards the border of Finnish Lapland before reaching Haparanda where it unites with the Gulf of Bothnia.
Close to nature
The river rafting experience is so much a challenge for your body and mindset, as it is an adventure that brings you close to nature and local culture and history. The guides are knowledgable and as you let your shoulders rest during the calm stretches, they share their knowledge about wild animals or rare plants and trees in the local area. They have a wealth of historical anecdotes and will make you a traditional river rafters’ lunch in the outdoors, over the open fire.
There is nothing better than the restorative heat of the sauna as you return back at the hotel after the rafting tour, preferably with a cold local beverage and some reindeer jerky to snack on.
Picking the best destination or tour company for river rafting
With over four decades’ experience, we’re happy to share our tips on picking the best destination for your rafting adventure:
- Length of the tour. Compare how many km of actual, uninterrupted rafting the tour offers. Be sure to ask the provider if there are any sections of the tour where you need to carry the boat on land or be transported by car to continue the journey.
- Safety first. Find out the difficulty level and physical requirement of the tour, but also the certification of the tour company. In Sweden, the tour company should have a guide, safety manager, safety plan and equipment certified and controlled by Sjöfartsverket.
- From extreme expedition to special interest or family adventures – find the river rafting tour that suits you. Most river rafting tours that are physically demanding require a minimum age of 12-15 years. If you are traveling with children or would like a less demanding tour, for example, if you are recovering from an injury or are unable to paddle, the tour provider can usually adjust the tour accordingly. Equally, if you are looking for a multi-day expedition or have a special interest, for example, fishing or photography, that you would like to combine it with, then get in touch with the tour operator and let them come up with a tailored package.
- When to go. Research what the climate at the destination is like and what other adventures you want to include on your holiday. In the Arctic Circle, rafting season runs from June to the end of September, but within that season there are great variations. For example, if you are a keen hiker, then August or September is ideal, whereas if you want to catch the Midnight Sun or do fishing, then June-Julyise better.
- Good to know about rapid grades. River rapids are graded on a standardized scale 1-5 that is used by the tour captain to assess the river and plan a route that is realistic and safe. The grade is determined by a number of factors, for example, the water temperature, water flow and the accessibility for emergency vehicles to reach the route. So the grading of the river or the mean water flow is not necessarily a reliable indicator of what type of experience you will have. To get an accurate appreciation of the current conditions, your best option is to call the tour company a couple of days in advance and check.
Before the invention of modern vehicles, the rivers were the main transportation routes through areas like Swedish Lapland, and Jukkasjärvi has a river rafting tradition stretching back at least 400 years. Important goods and raw materials were transported up and down the river in long wooden boats. Without modern equipment, the cold water, strong currents, and ever-changing water depth made the Torne River a dangerous place that required great skill that was passed through generations.
Jukkasjärvi - the first river rafting destination in Europe
Icehotel is in its fourth decade running river rafting tours on the Torne River and is one of the most experienced activity companies in the area. In the 1970s, entrepreneur and founder of what was to become Icehotel arrived in Jukkasjärvi for the first time. He was spell-bound by the unexplored opportunities that Torne River and Jukkasjärvi presented, and before long he introduced a river rafting center – the first of its kind in Europe.
– Around 5,000 to 6,000 people came here in the summer for rafting, fishing, and canoe paddling. We had 30 inflatable boats and made several tours along Torne River every day. It was a success.
The Jukkasjärvi Homestead and inn grew to become ICEHOTEL – but that’s a whole other story, that you can read about here.
Torne River facts
520 km (190 km of which constitutes the Swedish-Finnish border)
Mean water flow:
388 m / s
Mean water temp:
10 degrees C
2-4 (5 at high water flow)
River rafting safety & equipment checklist
Before the tour, check that the tour company has
- Licensed guide/captain.
- Licensed safety manager.
- Annual practical tests of guides and equipment at the start of every season.
- Annually updated safety plan approved by the local authorities.
- Individual practical tests every year to qualify to operate as a guide for the season.
- Safety demonstration before the tour covering all the basic safety guidelines, paddling techniques and exercises rescuing maneuvers.
- Fully functional wet suit, life vest, helmet and wet shoes for participants.
- Dry bags to store your cameras etc on the tour.
- Check that your travel insurance covers river rafting.
- You must be an able swimmer and will be asked to confirm this in writing before the tour.
Equipment and clothing to bring
- Wool thermals including socks
- Wool hat and gloves
- Change of warm clothes
- Waterproof camera (at own risk – even head-mounted cameras sometimes fall off into the river).
- An energy bar and/or fruit to snack on the way back from the tour.