Winter hiking in Norway has its own challenges: snow, cold weather conditions and closed roads. But with good preparation hiking in Norway can be an enjoyment with beautiful nature and snowy mountains.
In the end of February 2020 I went winter hiking in Norway to Dovre National Park. I was on a mission! My goal was to see wild musk ox and climb Dovrefjells highest peak Snøhetta at 2286 meters over sea level. Dovrefjell is the only area in Norway where you can see the wild musk ox. Dovrefjell is also home to the wild mountain reindeer.
In the summer you can follow the Musk Ox Trail to hope to see a glimpse of the musk ox. But in the winter the trail is covered in snow and can be hard to spot for inexperienced hikers. The Musk Ox Trail is a loop of 4.5 – 15 kilometers. Choose your distance! But the Musk Ox Trail won’t take you to Snøhetta. And that’s where I’m heading!
How to get there?
The Musk Ox Trail and the trail to Snøhetta starts from Kongsvoll. You can comfortably get to Kongsvoll by train or by car. If you arrive by car just follow E6. Kongsvoll is situated north of Hjerkinn. On a clear day you can even see Snøhetta from the road if you arrive from the south. You can park along the road next to the start of the Musk Ox Trail.
Always check with The Norwegian Public Roads Administration which roads are open. Theyr map is very useful and up to date.
You can also start you hike straight from the Kongsvoll train station! Check the timetables to and from Kongsvoll at Bane NOR.
Equipment for winter hiking in Norway
There are hikers going to Snøhetta in the winter on tour skis, alpine skis or snowshoes. Overnight hikers usually pull a pulk packed with their equipment. This is a tour people usually do in 2 – 3 days. I was determined to do it in one.
My transport of choice was tour skis and snowshoes and a backpack with food, water and to store warmer clothes. As a good cross country skier I hoped to cover more ground faster on skis than walking on snowshoes.
Getting dressed accordingly is vital for winter hiking and to reduce the risk of frostbite. Even though it might be a mild day the wind higher up on the fell will make the temperature feel way colder.
I was able ski in a technical base layer and a thin trekking jacket and pants. I had a vest to protect me from the wind. In my backpack I had a duvet jacket and warmer pants to pull over when I get up on the windy and cold slopes. A set of different gloves are always good to have if you get too hot or too cold. In the winter I wear technical thermal socks, a beanie and a buff (scarf).
The route and the adventure hiking from Kongsvoll to Snøhetta
I headed out in the morning from Venabu. It was almost a 100 km drive and it took me about 1.5 hours. I had already spent a lot of daylight and started my hike at 9:30 witch is a bit late for an all day hike in the winter. Sun sets around 6 pm at this time of the year.
The temperature in the river gully at Kongsvoll had dropped to an estimate of –20 degrees C. So I was in a hurry to get out and moving.
The first part of the trail rises steeply. The snow was hard packed so I could walk the first 500 meters. After this rough start I was able to strip some of my warmer clothes off. I got warm pushing it uphill and also further up the temperature was milder.
The first 15.5 km to the Reinheim cabin was an easy ski with a slight elevation (except for the steep beginning). This took me about 3 hours and I was on schedule. The temperature was a comfortable –6 degrees C. All the time there was moderate wind from the direction of Snøhetta to cool me down.
The route to the hut was marked with bamboo sticks and reflectors so the risk of getting lost in clear weather is minimal. I followed the river up. The track at this moment was driven by snowmobiles so it was even easier to ski.
A few kilometers into my skiing trip I was stoked to spot 3 musk oxs on the hillside a few hundred meters away!
To be able to stay overnight in the DNT huts you need to have a DNT key. Read here how to get the key for the hut.
The cabin in Reinheim has place for 36 people. The cabin has got everything that trekkers need for cooking and sleeping. There’s firewood, gas, kitchen utensils and bunks with blanks or duvets and pillows (you’ll need you own hut sacks). Outside is a toilet. In the Reinheim hut there’s some dry food that you can buy. But don’t rely on that the storage will be full! Bring some of your own food.
To pay for your stay you have to fill out a payment form at the cabin. Afterwards you’ll receive an invoice for payment for food and accommodation. Check the prices here.
The climb to the top of Snøhetta
At 15.5 km into the track at the foot of Snøhetta is the Reinheim DNT hut. When I started my climb up Snøhetta people were already heading down from the fell. They had apparently stayed overnight in the cabin and could head up early. I didn’t stay in the cabin because I was on a mission to complete the hike in one day!
From the cabin it took me about 2 hours to snowshoe to the top of Snøhetta. I had tied the skis to my backpack. The steepness of the trail up doesn’t extend 20 degrees which means that there’s no risk for avalanche.
On the peak of Snøhetta the wind was so strong that it almost blew me over the edge! When I later checked the forecast it had been blowing with a speed of about 50 km/h.
I thought it would be an easy trip back to the car from here. It was already over 4 pm and the mist was rolling in. I changed back to skis further down on the hill were it was less steep, less rocks and less wind.
How I got lost hiking in Dovrefjell!
The faster speed on skis and mist made me miss a landmark and I dropped down too far to the south. The trail is marked with poles. Just be aware of that there’s a junktion in the trails at one point up to Snøhetta. This is where I took the wrong path. One trail of poels goes to Reinheim and the other to Snøheim. I had an “oh shit!” moment when I realized I’d ended up at the huts in Snøheim!
I was running out of time, daylight and food. The safe choice would have been to follow the road out. I would have needed to walk though due to lack of snow on the windy open areas. This routechose would also have been longer. I also didn’t want to head back uphill. I decided to risk it and go off track to the north east to try to find more snow and back to the river gully in the north. From here I would be able to ski back to my car following the track I arrived along.
I could see just enough through the mist to be able to navigate in the increasing darkness. Saving my torch until the very end.
My navigation mistake down from Snøhetta took me on a detour through the fell accompanied with the Norwegian wild reindeer! I counted to 4 herds and a total of almost 100 animals! It was amazing to ski through the misty darkness having the herds running all around me. Without my mistake I would only have seen tracks of the reindeer.
I made it over the fell back to the track. I had to navigate carefully to not end up in the steep canyon in Kolldalen. Well back on track I was double poling like there’s no tomorrow to make it as fast as possible back to the car.
I was back at the car around 20:30. I had the nicest (and coldest, almost frozen) potatoes and bacon I’ve eaten in my whole life!
Well back at my car I was tired so I decided to sleep in the car. I drew the car further up south of Kongsvall so I wouldn’t freeze too much. The temperature on higher ground is warmer. During the night it snowed and was about -6 degrees C. In the early morning I drove back to Venabu along unplowed roads.
I hiked from Kongsvoll to Snøhetta and back in one day!
It was awesome to do winter hiking in Norway to the top of Snøhetta! It took me 11 hours and 44 km later I made it out!
This hike was physically demanding because I had to keep up the speed in order to make it in one day. I was only stopping for short breaks to change gear, eat and to take some photos. The 1555 m of climb also added to the load.
I was stoked to reach my main goal to see wild musk ox in Dovre National Park! I also saw the wild endangered reindeer!
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Useful links when planning to do winter hiking in Norway:
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About the writer:
I’m Antonia Haga, a MTBO athlete and mountain biker from Finland. I have experience from cold weather. With cold I mean zub 0 Celsius, snow, ice and wind. I’m capable of exercising outdoors in temperatures below –30 degrees celsius. Getting dressed properly is vital for surviving a winter hike! When you choose your hike don’t overestimate your abilities!