Västerbotten Road Trip

Finally at the end of July Staffan was able to take a bit of vacation time from work and we hitched up the camper and hit the road. We adore road trips, and for us they are usually measured in weeks, not days, and we tend to cover a lot of ground. This year, though, since we decided to stick to exploring locally  our road trip was much smaller in scale, and in the end we didn’t leave our län (like the Swedish version of a state or province… sort of). For those who are curious but perhaps too lazy to Google it, here’s our län, Västerbotten.

sverige 2Yes we live that far north.

For those who might be less than familiar with the cities and towns of northern Sweden (meaning 90% of Swedish people and 100% of the rest of the world, excluding perhaps my parents) here’s a little map for reference as you read about where we went. Just a free little geography lesson for you. And you thought you were just browsing the internet and reading blog posts.

karta västerbotten

Lycksele Zoo

We started our trip by heading to the only place we had actually decided for sure should be on our itinerary. Lycksele has a beautiful zoo that is known for having animals that are indigenous to Sweden. So all the animals are in their natural habitats and are well-suited to the climate up here. A visit to the Lycksele Zoo has been a non-negotiable part of summer for us since we moved north, before Peter was born. And we generally combine it with a visit with friends of ours who live in Lycksele. This year was no exception.

We arrived in Lycksele in the late afternoon and found a beautiful spot to park the camper beside a boat launch, literally just a few meters from the river. The combination of the Swedish laws concerning “every man’s right” to nature and land, and the solar panel we installed on our camper means that we can avoid crowded and expensive campgrounds and “free camp” just about anywhere we go.


We spent two days in the zoo, which gave us time to slow down our pace and explore without feeling pressured to see everything at once. We followed a few zoo keepers making their rounds to feed animals and got to see more than just the advertised, scheduled feedings. We used some resources that I had printed out ahead of time to take some basic notes about a few favorite animals, and each of our kids got to make a “zoo book” that was appropriate for their level. (If you’re interested, I downloaded one for Peter here and for Emelie here .) We took dozens of pictures, but here are a few favorites:




POnRockLyckseleI’m a wolf! Aaawooooooooooooo!


Explaining something interesting she learned

MooseLyckseleWe got to the moose just before the feeding. He was hungry and Peter was happy to help!

EmJumpingLyckseleHow far can you jump compared to different animals?

The zoo also has a play area with rides (for an additional charge of course – we skipped those), moon bounces, boats and an enormous playground. We spent the last part of both days at “Lyckoland” (Happy Land) and the kids had a blast.




Fors means rapids in Swedish. The Mårdsele rapids are not the largest rapids in this part of the country, but they are big, there are many in a relatively small area, and they are both beautiful and powerful. The area has been developed with a series of bridges and boardwalks to help navigate the area in a way that complements its natural beauty. Our little adventurers had a great time crossing swinging bridges, climbing rocks, and splashing in the small pools left behind when the water level receded and kept full all summer by the rains. They discovered vibrant toadstool mushrooms, a pool filled with hundreds of tadpoles, and a mouse that wanted to share Emelie’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich.











rock jumping
We didn’t really HAVE to go that way, but this way was much more fun!

flying peter
Peter is much more cautious and wasn’t sure he wanted to try this.
But if his big sister does it, he doesn’t have much choice, does he?

The walking loop is only about 2 km (about 1.25 miles), so we walked around it once in the evening when we first arrived and then went back in the morning packed to spend the day out exploring. Unfortunately, the rain came back just after lunch, making the large rocks slippery and dangerous for our kids. After Emelie had a near-miss with a deep crevice, we decided to head back early. (She was fine, ignorant of what almost happened and irritated with Staffan for how hard he pulled her arm when he caught her.) But the chilly rain also gave us opportunities to enjoy other comforts, like finding a shelter where another family had already built a cozy fire, a nice cup of tea in the nearby cafe, and the cozy, drowsy feeling of putting on warm, dry clothes when we got back to the camper.

Mårdseleforsarna is another local treasure that I hadn’t known about before this summer, and where I definitely hope to return and explore further!

Road to Nowhere

We didn’t have a specific plan for where to go next. The kids were asking to do some more hiking, so when we saw a flyer on a bulletin board recommending a mountain that wasn’t too far away, we decided to check it out. We got more information from a few locals who worked at the cafe, found it on the map and hit the road. As we got closer, the paved roads ended. This wasn’t too surprising, and our Subaru does a great job of towing our camper on varied terrain, so we continued. As we followed the map, the roads grew more and more narrow, with less and less prepared surfaces. By the time we started wondering if this was a good idea, there was absolutely no way to turn around. The satellite view on Google maps promised a clearing large enough to turn around at the end of the road.

Eventually we were able to turn the camper – by hand, on a less than ideal sandy and rocky surface. We slept in the small clearing for the night, since it was late. But we were unable to find a trail head or any other kind of confirmation that we were even in the right place. So we decided that getting ourselves back out to the main road was adventure enough for this stop and left again in the morning. After speaking some kind, encouraging words to the car, ignoring the sound of branches brushing against the camper, and laughing nervously at a few muddy hills, we breathed a sigh of relief as our tires once again hit pavement.



narrow road
So this road is really more of a trail. We should make a commercial for Subaru!

Bjurholm and Ballforsberget

Back in 2011-2012, we lived in Bjurholm for about 14 months. It was Staffan’s first placement as a pastor, and even though it wasn’t a good fit for us long-term, we still value many of the relationships we formed there. We had planned to stop there along our route, timing our visit to fall on Sunday so we could go to church and see as many people as possible. When the hike at the end of the road to nowhere didn’t work out, we decided to head to Bjurholm a day early and hike a trail that was a bit more familiar – up Ballberget.

The trail is only about 1km from the parking lot to the top, but it’s a perfect length and level of difficulty for small legs. Steep enough to be challenging but not for so long that they get too tired, varied enough to keep them interested, and with a good view from the top.





Stora Nolia

Next we headed to Umeå to a convention called Stora Nolia. This enormous annual event is like all the different kinds of conventions you can think of rolled into one. With categories like home and renovation, health and beauty, crafts and handmade gifts, kids, pets, clothing, fishing and hunting, there really is something for everyone. One of our favorite areas is where you can tour all the latest models of RVs and campers, including monstrous trailers over 10m long and tiny campers designed for bicycles or motorcycles. The kids’ favorites were face-painting, testing out the children’s snowmobiles, and the bus ride to and from the convention area.

the wheels on the bus

hello kitty snowmobile
Confirmation that Hello Kitty is, indeed, found on everything.

face paint
Batman and the bunny.
Let’s not talk about what happens later when you’ve covered a 3 year old’s face with black paint!


Our last stop before heading home again to Skellefteå was the beautiful little island of Holmön. We left the car and camper in the parking lot on the mainland, packed up our backpacks and took the free ferry out to the island. The island offers free tent camping in designated areas, so we decided this would be the perfect opportunity for the kids to try out sleeping in a tent.

Staffan and I have spent many, many nights in our little backpacking tent, but we hadn’t been out since before the kids were born (with the exception of one sleepless night and an aborted backpacking trip when Emelie was a baby). It was wonderful to return to something we both enjoy so much and to have the chance to introduce it to our kids. Holmön also offers plenty of places to take walks, climb rocks, play on a sandy beach, and splash in the (cold!) water. Plus it starts and ends with a boat ride. Our kids couldn’t have been happier.





All things considered, it went pretty well, though our original idea of one tent for kids and one for mom and dad ended up requiring some middle of the night rearranging. We are all hoping to find opportunities for backpacking and tent camping next summer!


We had such a great summer exploring locally and we found so much more than we were expecting just within our local area. The added advantage to staying close to home is knowing that we can easily go back to all of these great places we discovered!

Who else stayed local this summer? What kind of great places did you discover?

More posts in our series about exploring locally:

June 2015
July 2015

2 thoughts on “Västerbotten Road Trip

  1. Christi and Staffan, you have the cutest kids. Emilie and Peter have such a wide-eyed wonder. And you… you are still leading Adventure Camps. The two differences now are that the campers legs are shorter and you can’t drop them off at the parking lot at the end of the trip! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Don’t forget the third difference – no one pays us to do it anymore and we have to foot the bill 😉 But really, thanks. We hope that we can keep finding ways to encourage their natural curiosity and keep that wonder alive. And besides, adventure camp isn’t an event… it’s a way of life! Here’s hoping we never “outgrow” it! 😀

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