An Evening Bear Watching Excursion with Martinselkonen Wilds Centre
We never expected to be just two meters from a brown bear in Finland. Not one, but seven of them at once!
The bear watching excursion with Martinselkonen Wilds Centre was one of our most memorable experiences in Finland. Definitely worth extending the road trip by a few days to explore the east of Finland along the Russian border zone.
The afternoon bear watching commences with a short van transfer from Martiselkonen Wilds Centre in Kainuu, Finland. The van departs from their main building at around 5pm with a group of 6 other people. The excursion groups are limited to 8 people in total so that it’s never crowded.
You’re dropped off in the middle of the woods. No signs, no directions. The guide starts walking down a narrow dirt path armed with a knife on her belt, she knows exactly where to go.
The 500-meter walk through the forest descends a hill and crosses a bog filled with wild berries. The mud is probably knee-deep, but the wooden boardwalks keep your feet dry so that you can easily get by with a comfy pair of sneakers.
Every minute or so the guide stops to check over the group. However, it is only once we reached the bear hide at the bottom of the hill that I understand why. The small timber house is surrounded by 7 brown bears, literally meters away from us.
“Inside the building please” she requests. The bears could change their meal preference from berries to a human at any moment, so we don’t waste much time outside.
Once inside the bear hide, we are just 2 meters away from the closest brown bears. It’s so close that you can hear them chewing their food and breathing.
There are younger and older bears in the sleuth. The youngest, probably about 1 year old, still seems to be figuring out that mud isn’t food.
The bear watching excursion runs for about 5 hours in total. Half an hour of travel each way including the walk, and about 4 hours in the bear hide. If you see bears shortly within arrival, then the time in the hide is reduced to about 3 hours. I personally wouldn’t want to be in the bear hide much longer than 4 hours.
Where to see wild brown bears in Finland
Brown bears live along Finland’s far east, nearby the Russian border region. Bear’s don’t know international borders, passports, or immigration stamps, so they roam free between Finland and Russia.
It’s very uncommon to run into bears in the woods by yourself. All Finns I talked to said you’d be very lucky if that were to occur as the bears can smell you from kilometers away and prefer to stay out of the way.
Although only one person has ever been killed by a brown bear in Finland, I’d still consider myself unlucky to run into one in the woods by myself.
The best place to see wild bears in Finland is between Oulanka National Park and Kuumu. The popular 90 kilometer Big Bear hiking trail starts in Oulanka National Park. Again, even though this is called the Bear Trail, you’re still unlikely to see a brown bear by chance on your walk.
The surest way to see brown bears is with the Martinselkonon Wilds Centre which is located about 1 hour south of Hossa. Yes, the bear watching center scatters food about near the hide which attracts the bears, but they are not fed directly by humans, which I hope keeps them undomesticated.
Here are a few photos of the bears we saw on the evening excursion.
How much does bear watching excursions in Finland cost?
Martinselkonen Wilds Centre offers a range of bear watching excursions for different purposes.
The quickest trip for those that want to see a few bears is the afternoon excursion, which runs for about 4-5 hours in total. You will walk about 500 meters through the forest to a hide where you’ll see wild brown bears roaming around, eating, and perhaps interacting with each other. This trip costs 90 euros per person.
Longer trips take avid bear watchers and photographers to more scenic locations deeper in the forest. The hides are smaller so accommodate a group of fewer people. The bear photography trips will have you in the hide overnight, with options for up to 3 nights in a hide. For me, this is far too long as I haven’ plenty of other things to see too. These bear photography trips start from 170 euros per person.
Our trip was sponsored by Martinselkonen Wilds Centre. As always, all opinions are my own. I do highly recommend their excursions. If you have any further questions, please ask in the comments section below.