Norway’s roads less traveled: Traipsing through the Scandinavian Alps

Hemsedal mountains

Photo: Siri / Wikimedia Commons
Hemsedal is most famous for its skiing, with myriad trails for both downhill and cross-country skiers.

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

This is the ninth article in our series “Norway’s roads less traveled.” The author is Kim Nesselquist, Honorary Consul General for Norway to Seattle.

The previous articles in this series are “Spitsbergen: A place out of the ordinary” by Ambassador Aas (April 15, 2016), “Ulvesund lighthouse is calm yet wild” by Elin Bergithe Rognlie (May 20, 2016), “Halden, an idyllic small border town” by Eivind Heiberg (July 1, 2016), “Tree-top adventures at Høyt og Lavt” by Lise Kristiansen Falskow (July 29, 2016), “Hvaler highlights the sun and the sea” by Hilde Skorpen (September 23, 2016), “Hiking between east and west” by Morten Paulsen (November 18, 2016), “Gallery Cylindra features the cylindrical” by Inger-Torill Kirkeby (December 16, 2016), and “Ålesund, hidden gem of the west coast” by Paul Anderson (January 13, 2017).

Consul Kim Nesselquist recommends a trip to the “Scandinavian Alps”:
My favorite place in Norway is Hemsedal, located in the mountains of Hallingdal between Oslo (a three-hour drive) and Bergen (a four-hour drive). It is best known for its great skiing and ski resorts, with its center at 650 meters and Høgeløft, its highest peak, rising to almost 2,000 meters.

My family is very fortunate to own a cabin in Hemsedal, one of the most pristine natural places in Norway. Even though Hemsedal is best known for skiing, my favorite time there is the summer. Nature is more accessible then, and the beauty is absolutely breathtaking. If you like to be active, there is plenty to do during the warmer months.

Our cabin is located on the Grøndøla River. Its crystal-clear water is perfect for fly-fishing. This river, along with the Hemsila River that it merges with, is regarded as the best place for brown trout fly-fishing in Norway. Since the river is right outside our cabin door, it is a good way to start or end the day.

Photo courtesy of Kim Nesselquist
The Grøndøla River that runs past the cabin is perfect for fly-fishing.

If you prefer to fish in lakes, you have close to 20 available. My favorite is Lake Vavatn. It has trout with a deep red color that are perfect for making rakfisk, which is used for traditional dinners during the Christmas holiday. Whenever I drive from our cabin to the lake, I am flooded with memories of fishing there with my father and uncle every fall.

Mountain hiking
Mountain hiking is the most popular summer activity in Hemsedal, where you will find 20 marked and graded hikes. These hikes (referred to as TOPP20) vary in length and difficulty. There are four color-coded difficulty levels: (1) green—very easy, (2) blue—easy, (3) red—more demanding, and (4) black—demanding. They vary from easy two-hour trips to very challenging full-day trips. At the summit of each peak, you will find a signpost with a guest book where you can proudly sign your name when you reach the top.

Right across the river behind our cabin is Svarthetta, one of the most popular peaks in Hemsedal. Its level of difficulty is red, i.e. more demanding. There are also 19 other peaks to choose from, so you will definitely find one that suits your level.

The breathtaking Sognefjord lies about an hour west by car. The mountains here are steep, and mountain climbing is, therefore, very popular. The area has a long tradition of climbing instruction and expert guides. Skogs­horn, Storehorn, and Veslehorn are great challenges that you can try with a guide if you are not an experienced climber.

Photo courtesy of Kim Nesselquist
Hytte life: relaxing in the mountains with some wine is a good time in summer or winter.

Mountain biking
Another great way to spend a day is mountain biking on some of the great roads leading to the old mountain farms. If you like more extreme biking, take the lift to the top of the ski resort and find a road back down to the valley with or without a guide and coach.

You can also play a round of golf at the Hemsedal Golf Club, a nine-hole course only three miles from our cabin. You will be charmed when you discover that in August the Hemsedal Golf Club operates on a self-service honor system. To pay for soft drinks, ice cream, and basic golf equipment in addition to the green fee and cart rental, you simply use your credit card in the credit card machine or leave your cash in the metal box provided. Tennis players can also enjoy the courts next to the Club House.

If you want to golf 18, you can drive 25 minutes down the valley to Golf Alpin.

Viewing fauna
While staying in Hemsedal, you should also visit Hydalen, a tranquil place surrounded by steep mountains, far from the hustle of everyday life. The journey from Vavatn into the verdant Hydalen Valley is breathtaking, particularly on foot or by bike or car. The area has a rich and distinctive fauna.

You may, however, want to visit Hemsedal in the winter. Skiing is the main reason many visitors come at this time of year. The famous explorer Fridtjof Nansen himself started to come to Hemsedal for this reason in the late l890s.

The skiing possibilities are endless with 49 slopes, 20 lifts, several parks for snowboarding and ski cross, and over 47 kilometers of slopes. The ski resorts of the Hemsedal Alps have fantastic views and great skiing.

If you want a smaller resort facing the sun, come to my cabin, and I will take you skiing at nearby Solheisen. It has 120 kilometers of marked and groomed ski tracks that make it easy and enjoyable for cross-country skiing in and around the town. There are also 90 kilometers of ski tracks in the mountains surrounding the valley.

Whether you decide to come in the summer or winter, let me know when you have made your travel plans for Hemsedal. I just might be there to greet you when you arrive!

Kim Nesselquist is the Honorary Consul for Washington and Idaho and has a background of politics in Norway and business and industry in the United States. He has served many years as Regent at Pacific Lutheran University and is currently Chairman of a real estate investment company.

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.

This article originally appeared in the March 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.