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Experience the Magic of a Reindeer Sleigh Ride in Finland - Santa Claus Feeling Guaranteed!

Updated: Jan 19

In the Salla Wilderness Park in Finland, reindeer pull sleighs through the deep snow. They're not as fast as huskies, but Santa Claus feeling is guaranteed. You can also explore the winter wonderland in Lapland by husky sleigh or on snowshoes. The Finns are relaxed – except when it comes to climate change.

The Silver Arrow is neatly parked to the left of a wooden gate made of roughly hewn spruce boards. The almost one meter high snow, doesn't seem to impress the big bearded man, clad in a thick woollen jumper, cap and heavy boots; He approaches the vehicle at a leisurely pace. Silver Arrow turns around relaxed and looks with velvet eyes towards the excited tourists who are cautiously approaching behind the man.

Timo Tuuha, co-owner of Salla Wilderness Park, introduces visitors to the first reindeer harnessed to a wooden sleigh.

“This reindeer is called “Hopeanuoli”, silver arrow in English.

But the name doesn’t really suit his temperament,” grins Timo good-naturedly.

I feel like Santa Claus on the reindeer sleigh ride!

The reindeer of the Salla Wilderness Park are deeply relaxed. They only wear a simple halter that is connected to the rustic-looking wooden sleigh by a rope. “Oh, they look cute, can I pet them?” asks Susanne, a visitor. “It's better not - it reminds them of the mosquitoes that plague them in summer,” explains Timo. A touch triggers strong trembling and twitching, as if they were trying to scare away flies. The snow-white and beautiful reindeer Martin makes an exception here. It can be petted and graciously poses with visitors. Timo makes himself comfortable on a wooden fence to give the last instructions before the sleigh ride. “Each of you can steer the sleigh yourself, but you don’t actually have to do anything except make sure that the animals don’t get the rope between their legs. If you want to cheer on your reindeer, make a noise like “kssssshhh”, basically a loud kissing mouth. Otherwise, make yourself comfortable on your wooden sleigh, relax and enjoy the ride.”

Equipped with these important instructions, the participants in the group each make themselves comfortable on a sled. The herd moves off leisurely. A bit of a Santa Claus feeling arises as the reindeer sleighs cruise through the deep snow-covered ancient spruce forests of Finland. The masses of snow on the trees have transformed them into sculptures. No sound can be heard except for the runners gliding across the snow.

Finnish humor

Susanne wants to know how many reindeer Timo owns. He answers laconically “one on the right, one on the left of the tree.” When he sees Susanne’s questioning face, he explains patiently: “In Lapland you don’t ask how many reindeer someone owns. It's like asking you how much money you have in your bank account."

Timo definitely has a bizarre sense of humor. In the film, with which Salla is applying to host the 2032 Summer Olympics, he surfs bare-chested on a snowboard behind his reindeer.

In 2022, the city was suddenly on everyone's lips when it announced its intention to compete with Jakarta, Istanbul and Seoul-Pyongyang to host the 2032 Summer Olympics. A joke? Hopefully!

We have a warm heart," says Timo in the film and his colleague, who is playing volleyball in the snow in a bikini, adds: "and a warm place will soon be here too.

With the video, the residents of the small Finnish community want to draw attention to climate change. The motto is “Save Salla, save the world.” “We liked the idea because we are concerned about climate change. "We live here in the Arctic Circle and experience the changes in nature first hand," says the city's mayor, Erkki Parkkinen, the face of the campaign. "We want winters to be like they used to be. Real winters.”

During the reindeer sleigh ride through the wintry landscape in the freezing -10 degrees Celsius, the participants cannot at first glance see any signs of the climate crisis.

Climate change at -10 degrees?
Timo Tuuha Salla Wilderness Park Finland Reindeer

Christian, another visitor from Germany, would like to know how global warming is affecting itself here in northeast Finland.

"Winters are coming later than they did 20 years ago when I was a child, and the weather has become more unpredictable"

says Timo. "Some days we can have -30°C and two days later it's raining. Then a layer of ice forms on the snow and the reindeer can no longer scratch for the moss that is under the layer of snow. When it snows in the fall on the ground that is not yet frozen, the moss becomes moldy and is inedible for the animals.

It's not without reason that Salla 2032's mascot is a heat-exhausted reindeer, because they don't like it hot. The subtle humor runs through the entire campaign, even the slogan for Salla “in the middle of nowhere” shows the self-confident yet ironic attitude.

In fact, Salla is a pioneer for sustainable tourism. Many of the activities offered here are certified with the “Sustainable Travel Finland” seal of sustainability. Tourism in Salla is based almost entirely on nature; according to Visit Finland, it has the cleanest drinking water and air in the world.

“Even before this certification existed, we had actually already done most of the things that were required there,” explains Timo to his group of visitors. “We don’t use plastic bottles, we try to save energy and water and use recyclable materials.”

Action with the husky sled

Animal husbandry is also an important part: the huskies - as well as the reindeer - have a long summer vacation between mid-April and November and are of course allowed to rest when they are sick or if they are not feeling well. Minna Heikkinen supervises the husky sleigh rides in the Salla Wilderness Park. She knows each of the 134 dogs by name.

“Six animals each pull a sleigh. The team is mixed according to character and performance so that there are no fights."

she explains to Susanne the next morning on the husky tour. Before they leave, the animals are clearly excited and bark like crazy. Minna and her employees wear ear protection until it finally starts and the dogs are allowed to run. Two visitors each share a sleigh. While one sits wrapped up warm on the sleigh, the other stands at the back on the runners and has to press the brake with his foot every now and then so that the lines always remain taut. Minna reassures Christian, who looks at the nervous dogs a little intimidated after the introduction. "Don't worry, once they start running, they'll relax very quickly.

What was a leisurely and tranquil sleigh ride for the reindeer is a fast-paced action tour for the huskies. For Susanne and Christian, both have their charm. After the trip, they proudly have their photo taken with their newly acquired husky driving license and give their team a well-deserved cuddle -which unlike the reindeer, the dogs adore.

Snowshoeing between bizarrely snow-covered trees

In the afternoon the two of them hike with Timo on snowshoes to Salla National Park - the youngest of Finland's 41 national parks. The landscape here is characterized by ancient forests, eskers (mountain ridges), gorges, moorlands and fjälls (hills). Timo stops at the foot of an old pine tree with thick bark and points at tree needles and droppings with his ski pole. “These are traces of a capercaillie. Did you know that it is the symbol of our national park?” On extremely cold days, capercaillie hide under the snow to digest their food and protect themselves for the night.

Like the reindeer, the birds also have a huge problem when a thick layer of ice covers the softer snow and makes hiding impossible."

Timo discovers more animal tracks in the snow on the way to the highest mountain peak in Salla, Iso Pyhätunturi (477m): first an otter and then even those of a rare wolverine. His feet are perfectly adapted to the icy conditions. Susanne can clearly see the tight skin between his toes, which prevents him from sinking into the snow.

“Wolverines and wolves are the only natural enemies of reindeer”

says Timo while the group takes a break at the completely icy and therefore spookily alien-looking observation tower of Iso Pyhätunturi. While Timo pours Susanne hot tea into a hand-carved “Kuksa” (a traditional Finnish wooden cup), she wants to know what he likes best about the area. Timo carefully strokes his beard and answers in his typically calm manner:

“Untouched nature, forests, lakes. But for me, the real Lapland is above all our way of life: We are in no stress and no rush ... except when it comes to climate protection.


General information about the supposedly happiest country in the world can be found at /en/ and on At the visitor can find everything they need to know about the 41 national parks must know in Finland.

Salla Wilderness Lodges glass pane northern lights evening cozy

Get there:

Kuusamo is the nearest airport. Flights with a stopover in Helsinki are available with Finnair ( There is a regular shuttle bus between the airport and Salla, which takes 1:45 hours.

At the moment, traveling by train is still very time-consuming and takes about two days. From summer there will be a night train between Berlin and Stockholm and will - hopefully - speed up the journey significantly.


Tujareisen offers flights, accommodation and many activities in the “Winter Wonder Week” package. 8 days from €1,799,

If you would like to put together the activities directly on site, you can do so on these two websites: and

Sustainable Travel Finland certified providers are marked with a green leaf.


In the Salla Wilderness Park there are wilderness lodges with large panoramic windows for observing the northern lights, self-catering kitchen and sauna. From €160 for 2 people per night.

Larger holiday homes for 2 to 10 people can be booked at the Sallatunturin Tuvat resort. From €150 for 2 people per night.


Fancy a reindeer burger? Available in the Kiela Restaurant at the Sallatunturin Tuvat Resort.

Salla Wilderness Park organizes dinner in a cozy typical Lappish hut for €45 per person.

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