Bear Watching In Kuusamo: Best Tour + What To Expect

Are you thinking about going bear watching in Kuusamo? This guide is all about how you can go and see majestic brown bears in Finnish Lapland, as part of a bear watching tour from Rovaniemi or on your own.

Below I have detailed everything you need to know about bear watching in Finland, along with where to go, and what to expect on a Kuusamo bear watching tour.

Bear watching in KuusamoA Eurasian brown bear chilling in front of us while we were bear watching in Kuusamo

Arctic Travel Tips uses affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase through my links, I may earn an affiliate commission at no extra charge to you.

About bears in Finland

The Eurasian brown bear is the national animal and can be found all over mainland Finland. There are over 2,000 bears spread across the country, but the majority of them can be found on the eastern edge of Lapland.

Each night, the bear population in Lapland swells as they cross the border from Russia in search of food. Seeing one in the wild is, however, incredibly rare. Their acute sense of smell and keen hearing means they will know you are coming and leave the area way before you even get close to them.

Brown bears start being active in May when they wake from their winter hibernation. From the moment they wake up, they start their summer-long hunt for food and a mate.

A brown bear, with a second brown bear behind it
This bear was unaware he was being watched!

While they are known as apex predators, bears are actually omnivorous and eat pretty much anything. They scour the forests for berries, mushrooms, and leftover carrion.

Towards the end of summer, their diet moves to be more meat-based as they try to fatten up for winter. During this period, they hunt for fish and will even take down larger mammals like reindeer. By October, the bears start to hibernate and are no longer visible in the wild.

As bears are shy, the best way to see one is to visit a bear-watching center, where they can almost guarantee that bears will appear at some point each evening.

Where to go bear-watching in Finland

As the largest population of Finnish brown bears can be found in Lapland, you will want to head to the north of Finland to increase your chances of seeing a bear.

In Northern Finland, the best place to see bears is Kuusamo, just below the Lapland region. There are numerous companies offering bear-watching around Kuusamo, but I highly recommend Karhu-Kuusamo.

A bear walking through a field
One of the many bears that regularly visits Karhu Kuusamo

They are the northernmost bear-watching company in Finland and the actual huts they own are just 200 m (656 ft) from the Russian border.

Its proximity to the border means many bears can easily saunter over from the Paanajärvi National Park in Russia and increase your chance of seeing one of the majestic animals.

Best Time to go bear watching in Kuusamo

As bears are only active between May and the end of September, the window for bear-watching is short.

I have found the best time to go bear-watching, however, is during June and early July, as with the midnight sun you have 24 hours of daylight.

An older bear cub
An older bear cub visits the pond on his own for the first time

This is perfect for those wanting to photograph the bears as you have almost constant lighting. During the earlier part of summer, the bears are also more focused on mating than eating, so you will likely also witness male bears challenging each other for mating rights.

How to go bear-watching in Kuusamo

There are two main ways to go bear-watching in Finland: either by booking a trip on your own or as part of an organized tour. I personally went bear-watching as part of a tour from Rovaniemi.

I will cover both options in this guide so you can make an informed decision on how you would like to go bear-watching in Finland!

Option 1: Wild About Lapland: Arctic Animals Immersion Tour

Duration: Two days (one night)

Meeting Point: Pick up location will be confirmed after booking

Language: English

🐻 CLICK HERE TO BOOK

I decided to book a bear-watching tour with Wild About Lapland, as I wasn’t entirely sure if we would have a car the whole time we were in Rovaniemi.

The main advantage of taking a tour is that I did not have to worry about the stress of having to drive!

A small bird in the pond
Looking for leftover scraps in the pond

I was also very excited that we would get to enjoy more than just bear-watching on the tour. I tend to have terrible luck when it comes to seeing animals and therefore, I was thankful that if no bears were to appear, at least I would have still had an amazing day.

The Arctic Animals Immersion tour itinerary

This tour is quite flexible and outside of the core elements, it can be tailored a little bit to your needs. We chose to do only the core elements of the tour, which included a visit to a reindeer farm, a hike in Auttiköngäs, and finally an evening bear-watching.

A bear splashing and scaring a seagul
A bear playfully chasing a seagull

An optional add-on is to visit Rauna Zoo the day after bear-watching. However, my partner and I do not feel comfortable with zoos, so we chose not to go.

Pick-up

Wild About Lapland offers pick-up outside of Rovaniemi city center. For those staying in the city center, you will have to meet your tour guide at their office. We were picked up from our house close to the Arctic Tree House Hotel at 9 am.

Visit to a traditional reindeer farm

The first stop of the day is a traditional reindeer farm, Sieriporo Safaris, just outside of Rovaniemi. I have been to reindeer farms in winter, but I have to admit visiting the reindeer farm during summer in Rovaniemi was a far more enjoyable experience.

Our guide feeding the reindeer
Our expert guide feeding the reindeer at the farm

Your trip to the reindeer farm will start with feeding the castrated male reindeer that remain on the farm throughout the year, unlike the others who are free to roam the wild.

Once the reindeer are fed, you will go sit by a fire to enjoy hot drinks and cookies, while the owner of the farm teaches you all about reindeer farming in Finland. Once you are done at the reindeer farm, you will stop for some lunch cooked over a fire on the way to Auttiköngäs.

Auttiköngäs hike

Halfway between Rovaniemi and Kuusamo, you stop at Auttiköngäs for a short hike. We took a circular hiking route that takes you through a forest, over a gorge, and up to an observation point before heading back down to the entrance point.  I loved this hike and thoroughly enjoyed the fresh air and eating blueberries along the way.

Wooden hiking path through Auttiköngäs
Wooden hiking path through Auttiköngäs

Once we got back to the entrance point, my partner and I went to the little cafe at the entrance for a hot drink and to use the restrooms while the guides set up a fire to cook some sausages for dinner (vegetarian options are available upon request).

Once you have left the hiking area you will drive a couple of hours to the bear-watching hut. There is a small time crunch to reach the bear-watching location as you need to be there by 5:45 pm, as they will not admit you if you are late.

Bear Watching

The bear-watching part of the experience is run by Karhu-Kuusamo, one of the best places for bear-watching in Kuusamo. Once you arrive at the bear-watching location, you will follow the guides in cars down to the main parking area. Once there, you will be assigned a hut and one of the guides will walk you there.

A bear stretching against a tree
A big stretch for a big bear

The walk is about 200 m (656 ft) from the car parks to the huts. Each hut comes with seats, large windows, and holes in the wall for your camera lens.

Our Wild About Lapland guide wanted to get us into the larger cabin, but as we were a smaller group, we were put in one of the smaller huts with the opportunity to move to the larger one at 10 pm where there were more beds.

I was happy with our hut, and a number of bears, including an older cub exploring the pond on his own for the first time, came close to us. Once everyone is settled in their huts, the bear-watching guides will head out into the bear pond and lay some salmon scraps and a small amount of dog food throughout the area and in the trees.

They only leave a little bit of food so as to not impact the bears’ hunting skills or make them reliant on humans feeding them. The majority of this food is quickly eaten by the waiting seagulls and white-tailed sea eagles.

An eagle patiently waiting to steal the food
The eagles were smart enough to get there before the bears!

The first bear arrived almost instantly and began foraging for food before others arrived. We were fairly lucky, as our Wild About Lapland guide informed us that the last time they went there, they had to wait almost six hours before the first bear arrived.

We were fortunate enough to see around five bears including a mother with an older cub, who later returned on his own. The bears that frequent this area of Kuusamo tend to come over from Russia looking for food every evening.

Throughout the evening, the Karhu-Kuusamo guides popped into each hut and talked a little about the bears and their lives. The bears kept coming back throughout the evening playing in the water, chasing each other, and looking for any food that may have been missed (although most was eaten by the birds).

A bear pulling itself from a muddy pond
Pulling himself out of a mud bath!

As we had seen so many bears, we decided to end our tour early at 10 pm when the groups who did not plan to stay the night had to leave.

While we did pay for a whole night, the night was getting a little darker and we knew that our chances to photograph the bears were running out, and sleeping in our own beds that night seemed more preferable.

Had we gone earlier in the summer, I think I would have been more inclined to stay the whole night. Either way, it was an unbelievable experience.

Optional trip to Rauna Zoo

At the time of booking, you will be able to add an optional extra to visit Rauna Zoo, although for a cost. We chose not to do this as we don’t believe in zoos.

The zoo is unique in that it only houses animals that are native to the Arctic, such as polar bears, musk oxen, wolverines, and wolves.

I have heard good things about this zoo, and if zoos are your thing, I would recommend going. I personally just hope to see all these animals in the wild!

Option 2: Booking bear watching in Kuusamo on your own

🐻 CLICK HERE TO BOOK

If you have your own car while in Finnish Lapland, you can choose to go bear-watching on your own.

This is perfect for those who are not staying in Rovaniemi or do not want to do the other parts of the tour.

Booking the bear watching in Kuusamo experience

To book your own spot in a bear-watching hut, you will need to book directly through Karhu Kuusamo.

You will want to book the bear-watching experience far in advance as it is one of the most popular things to do in Finnish Lapland.

a bear searching for food around a pon
A bear searching for food around the pond

When we visited, every single hut was fully booked. During the booking process, you can choose if you wish to stay for just the evening or all night.

The evening experience lasts from 6 pm to 10 pm and costs €120 per person, while the experience including an overnight stay in the hut is 150€ per person.

The price is only for the cost of using the huts and the guides coming to speak to you about the bears. You will need to bring everything else with you.

Arriving at the bear-watching huts

The drive out to Karhu-Kuusamo is straightforward, but the road is not paved and you will need to avoid a lot of potholes.

I would set off early as you will want to drive slowly, especially if you are driving a rental car, to avoid damaging your car.

A bear sneaking through the grass
A sneaky bear trying to go unnoticed

You need to arrive at the entrance before 5:45 pm. This is a hard deadline as once everyone has arrived, you will be guided to the huts to start bear-watching at 6 pm. It is advisable not to drive past the Karhu Kuusamo entrance as the road will take you directly to the Russian border.

Renting a Car Finnish Lapland

When we travel, we always book our cars through Discover Cars. They have a great range of cars available with both manual and automatic transmissions.

One of the things I love about hiring a car in Finnish Lapland is that you generally always get a hybrid. Discover Cars also offers full coverage insurance.

🚗 Click here to book your rental car and full coverage insurance!

The self-booked bear watching in Kuusamo experience

The actual bear-watching experience does not differ from the one I described above for those looking to take a tour.

A brown bear
A bear coming to the water’s edge for a little swim

However, if you are alone or in a small group, you may want to bring a book or something else to do in case you have to wait a long time for bears to arrive.

You can normally tell when the bears arrive as the rooks and other birds will start sounding the alarm.

Bear watching in Kussamo experience + Tours FAQ

Is it worth going bear-watching in Kuusamo?

Yes! This was hands down my favorite thing I have ever done in Lapland. I did not expect to see so many bears and could barely contain my excitement when the first bear emerged from the forest. That level of excitement remained for every single bear that arrived that evening.

Is bear-watching in Kuusamo safe?

While bears may have a reputation for being fierce animals, the Eurasian brown bear is fairly docile and rarely ever poses a threat to humans.

During this bear-watching experience in Kuusamo, you are in the safety of a small hut. While the bears get close to the huts, they will not try to enter them.

At the start of the tour when the guides were laying a bit of food around, a bear entered the area and kept its distance from the guides until they were done.

We asked them afterward if they were worried about the bear. They confidently said the bear would not have approached them and it was more afraid of them than they were of it. For this reason, bear-watching in Kuusamo, in my opinion, is perfectly safe.

Who shouldn’t go bear-watching?

If you are not able to sit still or stay quiet for long periods of time, you are probably not suited for bear-watching. To reach the huts you need to be able to walk for about 200 m (656 ft) on uneven ground.

A large male bear searching for good
This big bear arrived late to the party and missed out on the food

If you are traveling with smaller children, the bear-watching tour might not be for them as it involves sitting around for long periods of time while being quiet

What should you bring with you for the day?

There are several things you definitely want to bring with you on the tour.

  • Camera preferably with a 200-600mm zoom lens
  • Binoculars, perfect for those who don’t have a camera or zoom lens
  • Snacks, although they should not have a strong odor to them.
  • Drinks, we drank water throughout the night as you do not choose something with a strong odor like coffee.

What should you wear?

While this tour happens during the summer, the weather is not guaranteed to be warm. I would recommend wearing dark clothing in layers that you can add or remove depending on the temperature.

I would also bring an extra pair of socks as you need to remove your shoes before going into the hut and it can get quite cold.

A young bear cub
The young cub showing off his independence

As bears have a keen sense of smell, you should not wear strong-smelling perfumes or any insect repellents. If you are staying the night, I would bring some comfortable clothing to sleep in.

What happens if you need the toilet while bear-watching?

Each hut has its own dry toilet that is easy to access and private. The toilets are secure and bears will not be able to reach you while on the toilet.

Will I only see bears?

While bears are the headline act, there is a chance that you may see other animals. Common visitors are white-tailed sea eagles, seagulls, and other smaller birds.

Three white-tailed sea eagles
The white-tailed sea eagles like to make their presence known!

While there is also a chance you could see foxes and wolverines. It is very rare to see a wolf in Finland as there are only around 200 in the entire country, although they inhabit the area.

Are there mosquitoes?

Unfortunately during summer in the Arctic, mosquitos are everywhere and in swarms. Once in your hut, you are protected from the mosquitoes (although a few will find their way in).

A bear in the bear pond
This bear clearly was not bothered by the mosquitos

While it might be tempting to bring mosquito repellent with you, it is not advisable as the smell will deter the bears from coming to the area.

Should you tip your tour guide?

Tipping is a personal choice, but if you feel your guides have done a good job, they will appreciate a tip. I recommend having cash on hand with you to tip your guides if you wish to.

Should you take a bear-watching tour?

I highly recommend taking a tour as it comes with the additional reindeer farm visit and Auttiköngäs hike. However, if those things are not of interest to you, then I would not take the tour and book directly with Karhu-Kuusamo.

A large male brown bear
The larger the bear, the more trouble he wants to cause!

I hope this guide has answered any questions you have about bear-watching in Finland. If you have any comments or questions please leave them below!

More Finnish Lapland in Summer Guides

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *