Have you ever dreamed of escaping everyday life and floating down a river on a raft like Huckleberry Finn? If so, you’ll find your opportunity on Klarälven in the province of Värmland in the heart of Sweden.
Together with Göta älv, with which it connects via Lake Vänern, Klarälven forms the longest river system in Scandinavia. Originating at Lake Rogen in Härjedalen, Sweden, it flows into Norway, where it gains power and is known locally as Femundelva and Trysilelva. Passing back into Sweden in northern Värmland, it flows south to drain into Lake Vänern, Sweden’s largest lake. Lake Vänern, in turn, drains into Göta älv, which flows west to meet the sea at Gothenburg.
For centuries, Klarälven was used for floating timber from the heavily forested regions inland to the sawmills and shipping ports on the coast. Driving timber down the river began as early as the 17th century and became a large-scale enterprise in the 1800s with the development of sawmills and factories. During the industry’s heyday in the 1950s, as many as 1,800 people worked as log drivers on Klarälven. By 1991, however, the era of floating logs down Sweden’s rivers had come to an end.
With adventure tour operator Vildmark i Värmland, you can experience life on Klarälven, with a nod to the logging history of the area. With help from their experienced staff, you’ll build your own log raft and set off down the river for an adventure that is sure to bring both challenges and moments of tranquility and beauty.
My own raft-building experience began on an overcast June afternoon when I arrived at Klarälvens Camping, owned by Vildmark i Värmland and located on a small peninsula in a bend of the river near the village of Stöllet. With sites for tents and camper vans, as well as cabins with cooking facilities and refrigerators (some with private bathrooms), it’s a good place for an overnight before a river trip and a convenient base for further exploration in the area.
After checking into one of the cabins, I joined other guests, including my friend Maria from the provincial tourism board, who would accompany me on the river, for a demonstration on how to build a raft. Vildmark staff showed us the process of tying logs together with ropes in a way that would hold together well but still be relatively easy to take apart at the end of the trip.
Afterward, we headed down to the beach to make our own rafts. We rolled logs from piles on the beach down to the water’s edge, where we stood in the river up to our knees and tried to remember what we’d just learned about how to bind the logs together to build a sturdy raft. Fortunately, Vildmark staff were with us the entire step of the way, checking ropes and reminding us of the correct way to thread and loop them between and around the logs. Since we were only going to be on the river for part of a day, Maria and I built just the basic raft, but for longer trips there’s the option of adding a canvas shelter.
Klarälven meanders in broad bends, with currents, eddies, and sandbanks that kept us on our toes. Much of the time we were able to relax and simply enjoy floating down the river, but there were times when we had to work hard to keep the raft away from obstacles. We were provided with canoe paddles and a long log pole to use for steering and keeping out of trouble. Because of the effort involved in building and navigating the raft, Vildmark requires that there be at least two people in a rafting party, with a maximum of six. It was definitely doable with just two people, but having more people to share the work would certainly have made it easier.
Although we always had to be alert, Maria and I did find plenty of opportunity to simply sit back and enjoy the scenery and the pleasure of floating with the current. Klarälven was flowing strongly during our day on the water, and all too soon, we spotted the sign that marked the end of our journey at Björkebo.
Now we faced a final challenge: steering the raft into the proper spot along the riverbank, unloading our gear, and then disassembling the raft and releasing the logs so that the current would carry them into a holding area where Vildmark staff would later retrieve them and transport them back to the starting point. Wet ropes and the pressure of the current made dismantling the raft more difficult than we’d expected. By the time we released the last log and stored our gear in the bins provided, we were tired and rather sore, though with a real sense of accomplishment that made up for the aching muscles.
All in all, it was an experience unlike anything else I’ve ever done, and one I’d definitely recommend to reasonably fit travelers looking for an unusual adventure in Sweden. I only had time for a one-day float, but for those who want more time on the river, Vildmark i Värmland offers trips ranging from 24 hours to seven days. All-inclusive packages include meals and accommodations in cabins and tents along the way. Other packages include equipment (including a canoe or kayak for easy shore access) but leave the details of food and where to pitch your tent each night up to you.
Whichever option you choose, the experience of building your own raft and floating down one of Sweden’s greatest rivers is one you’ll not soon forget.
For more information, visit the Vildmark i Värmland website.
Disclaimer: I was hosted on the rafting trip and at the campground by Vildmark i Värmland and the Värmland tourism board. Neither has reviewed this article before publication, nor had any say in its contents. As always, the opinions expressed are entirely my own.