We had just arrived at Kuusamo, a robust wilderness area in Koillismaa, Finland, and I was extremely excited. Despite this being my home country, I had never visited this part of it before. Finland’s bear photography possibilities in Kuusamo are marvelous. Kuusamo is famous for the large number of brown bears in the area, and we had come to photograph them from a forest hide. 

I had heard lots of stories about this area in my childhood. My grandfather and grandmother visited Kuusamo yearly for as long as I can remember. They loved fishing, and Kuusamo with its surroundings is also very famous for its excellent fishing possibilities on the many crystal clear rivers that run wild in almost every corner of this province. Significantly, fly-fishing enthusiasts come to this area frequently because of its fantastic possibilities.

After all those stories, though, I was finally here for other reasons. I’ve always loved the forests, and this area seemed like a perfect example of a classic wilderness with swamps, pines, spruce, and forest ponds. I imagined almost seeing the bears already, observing us from behind the trees. As it is said that most of the times, the bears can see you, even though you can’t see them. Despite being such giant creatures, they are masters in hiding amidst the forest foliage.

Most brown bears in Finland live near the Eastern border area with Russia, wandering back and forth across the border. Bears live almost on all regions of Finland (only not in the farthest north), but the population density is best along this eastern border area.

A portrait of a bear called Hittavainen, Kuntilampi, Kuusamo, Finland.
A portrait of a bear called Hittavainen, Kuntilampi, Kuusamo, Finland.

Driving to the Hide Cabin, Close to the Russian Border

We were picked up in the afternoon from our hotel. Our driver was Pekka, the owner of the bear photographing company – a fit man maybe in his late fifties, who had a cool hat like the Crocodile Dundee and a general presence of an experienced wilderness man.

It was about 20-30 minute’s drive to the location of the bear hide, and we had a nice chat with Pekka during the journey. He told interesting facts about the bears in Finland and how he had known most of the individuals we would probably see tonight for several years. It sounded like the bears were his friends, and I’m sure they were. He respected the bears and seemingly had a special emotional bond with them.

The hide was a beautiful wood cabin in front of a small forest pond, like a little swamp, only about 2 km from the Russian border. There were photographing and sleeping spots for eight people. However, tonight, there would be only three other people and us. We prepared our gear while Pekka went to pick up the others.

When everyone was ready, Pekka said that he would now put tonight’s food servings in place for the bears. Soon, we saw from the cabin’s window how Pekka dragged some food with a quad bike to the pond’s other shore and spread a 10 kg bag of dog food all around the pond. The food the bears usually get is fish scarps. In a short time, everything was in place, and then it was just waiting for the bears to arrive at the scene.

The Best of Finland’s Bear Photography Sites

Finland’s bear photography opportunities are best near the Eastern border with Russia. The border runs over 1340 kilometers, but the best areas for bear-watching in Finland are in the provinces called Carelia and Koillismaa.

The best and thickest spruce and pine forests are ideal living habitats for brown bears in Finland. However, despite the vast forest areas of Finland, extensive loggings have resulted in massive, cleared areas in many parts of the country. Luckily, these border areas are still places where you can find great, thick forests. And they are important bear habitats.

The brown bears may also make their nests somewhere on Russia’s side of the border, but you are almost guaranteed to see them on many of Finland’s bear photography tours. This place we visited also has a “bear guarantee”; they have a 99% chance of seeing brown bears.

Bear photography in Finland is a hobby for many locals, and many wildlife photographers are adding our country to their bucket lists. It’s a fabulous experience to see the majestic brown bear only a few meters away from you in its natural habitat. And when you are in the safety of the cabin, you can fully enjoy the experience.

Hittavainen the bear with her three cubs at Kuntilampi, Kuusamo, Finland
Hittavainen the bear with her three cubs at Kuntilampi, Kuusamo, Finland

Then, the Brown Bears Came in Large Numbers

After only about fifteen to thirty minutes, the first brown bears arrived at the spot! And I was so excited.

It was exhilarating to have the first sighting of a bear when it suddenly appeared from the middle of the pine trees. The bear raised its big, brown head and sniffed the air. The smell of the food had attracted it to the spot, even though it surely knew that there was also a vague human scent present, and the large bear went straight to check out the food stashes.

Soon after this first male, came a bear we all had been waiting for: a beautiful female brown bear with her three, adorable cubs! Pekka also had a name for her: Hittavainen. He had seen many litters by her during the 11 years he had owned the bear photography hide. Her cubs were carefully waiting in the bushes when she inspected the area, and when they emerged from their hiding to the open area, we just let our shutters sing continuously.

The evening had barely started, and we had already seen several bears – this would be a great night and a fantastic photography opportunity!

Bears at Kuntilampi, Kuusamo.
Bears at Kuntilampi, Kuusamo.

Briefly About the Brown Bear in Finnish Mythology

When the first bear walked out of the forest and went straight to eat the food available, I could easily understand why the bear is so respected in our Finnish culture and mythology. The bear had such dignity, glory, and beauty in its presence that it truly deserved its moniker; “the King of the Forest.”

The brown bear (Ursus Arctos) is Finland’s national animal, and it has a significant role in the old mythologies; it is one of the oldest Finnish gods known to be worshipped thousands of years before Christianity ever reached this far north.

The bear was also connected to shamanism and was sometimes thought to be the spirit of a shaman. I remember my grandmother always saying that the bear is a magical animal. I honestly believe her now. She inculcated a deep respect for the forest into me when I was a child, and maybe that’s one reason I still feel so unique and calm whenever I am in a forest.

The most famous of the legends tell that the bear (karhu in Finnish), as a sacred animal, was born in the heavens at the Ursa Major (or Plough or the Big Dipper), the great star constellation in the Northern hemisphere.

Finnish people are the tribe of the bear, and according to these old myths, the bear is our ancestor. During the centuries its role has faded, but today the bear is still respected in Finland, in many different forms. For example, just in Helsinki, more than fifty bear statues are standing around the city.

This bear was called Mörkö (which means
This bear was called Mörkö (which means "Boogeyman" in Finnish). He visited us several times during the night.

Spending the Night at the Bear Photography Hide

The night this far north in Finland during the summer doesn’t get dark. And the sun doesn’t even set at all earlier in the summer, from June to early July. We call it the “midnight sun”. This gives wildlife photographers perfect opportunities to take incredible pictures of the majestic forest wildlife and the beautiful landscapes.

At the cabin hide, we had comfortable amenities just to sit and watch one of the most spectacular nature shows. The cabin also had a tea/coffee pot and a gas stove, so we could make ourselves a cup of tea whenever we wanted to.

I kept a sightings diary the whole night, and while writing this, I kept checking my notes from that night.

Bears kept coming to eat the fish and pellets throughout the night. On the best of times, there were totally of nine bears at the same time! Many of the same bears kept coming and going around the hide during the night. Pekka had told us the names of many of the bears and when they emerged from the forest we were almost always able to name some of them.

A bear enjoying a night swim at Kuntilampi, Kuusamo, Finland.
A bear enjoying a night swim at Kuntilampi, Kuusamo, Finland.

The Bears Kept Coming and Going Through the Night

Hittavainen with her three cubs visited several times and we had plenty of great photo opportunities. Mörkö (a Finnish word for “boogeyman”) was another easily recognizable bear with a broad, blond fur collar around his neck, and we saw him many times during the night.

Also, in addition to the bears, several white-tailed sea eagles were always sitting on the treetops around the pond. They were observing and patiently waiting for their turn to feed. Sometimes, they make great flights across the swamp pond and grab some fish into their huge talons.

At one time, I counted the white-tailed sea eagles sitting around and got sixteen altogether! The white-tailed sea eagle is a big and beautiful bird whose wingspan can be over 2,5 meters. It’s the biggest bird in Finland and a beautiful bird of prey.

Besides bear photography in Finland, there are many other wild animals that photographers love to capture with their cameras. For example, lynx, foxes, wolves, and endangered wolverines are regular visitors to the photography hides. However, at these particular hides, you will mostly only see the brown bears, as their density is so high that, i.e., wolverines or wolves rarely come to the same area.

However, if you’d want to see these other elusive animals, I’d suggest you go for a separate tour on other areas a bit further South, like in Kuhmo or Lieksa area. These areas are more famous for their wolf and wolverine sightings.

One of the bears decided to swim in the pond in the middle of the night. This scene was just magical – it was late dusk, and a little fog floated around the pond and the forest around us. And then there was the bear, swimming back and forth in the small pond, seemingly enjoying itself to the fullest!

After that, I decided to sleep for a few hours when I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, and I’m sure I missed some excellent shots while asleep. But then again, I had already got some superb photos, so I allowed myself a little rest.

The Morning Rose in Finland’s Bear Photography Hide

When I woke up early, around 4 am, I saw yet another, a previously unseen bear eating away. Most of the food was almost gone now. After making myself a cup of tea, I watched the bear and took a few frames.

At about 5.30 am Hittavainen came back with her cute, little cubs, too, and she bossed around a bit to make the scene safer for her cubs. Then, around 7 am, Pekka came to pick us up and drove us back to our hotel in the center of Kuusamo.

The bear photography experience was terrific. Even in those brief moments when no bears were in sight, I enjoyed just sitting in front of the one-way glass window, drinking tea, and listening to the forest’s silence.

It was just me and the wilderness around. And I have to say that this was one of my best birthdays ever! Not to forget that we saw well over two dozen bears during the night; it was nothing short of fantastic.

Hiitavainen the bear in Kuusamo, Finland.
Hittavainen came really close to our hide and I'm sure she smelled our scent.

The Best Times For Bear Photography in Finland

The best times of the year to photograph the bears in Finland are probably around June and July. During the midsummer months, the cubs are still tiny, and the bears will willingly come to the feeding spots, as they need to gather a lot of weight during the summer months.

Later in the autumn, the bears can be more profound in the forests eating berries and won’t necessarily come to the feeding spots in such high numbers. However, they still come as late as the end of September.

I recommend going in June or July for the best possible bear-watching and photography opportunities. But each season has its own advantages, and you can check out more bear photography tips here.

During the winter the bears are hibernating, but if you happen to be visiting in Finland and the Kuusamo area during the winter time, there are still plenty of things to do.

Research on Wild Brown Bears in Finland

The bears mostly come from Russia’s side of this wilderness area. Metsähallitus, a government organization of forestry in Finland, collared fifteen bears in 2009 to study their living habitats and movements. During the research, they discovered that the area of Kuntilampi and Kuntijärvi, where the photography hide of Karhu-Kuusamo is located, was the westernmost location where the bears visited. So, as said before, this Eastern borderland in the north of Finland is undoubtedly the best area for spotting the wild brown bears around these longitudes.

Seeing the brown bears in the wild was an exciting and extraordinary experience. And I’m already looking forward to maybe returning one day and seeing how things have been for Hittavainen and her offspring.

Update in 2023: Indeed, I have returned to this place every year since 2020 –and between 2021 and 2023, I have also been working there as a bear guide for a few months every year.

And if you like wildlife photography, you will love this Finland’s bear photography opportunity – I encourage you to come and experience it yourself! You will remember it for the rest of your life, I guarantee that.

Adventures in Kuusamo, Finland, Beyond the Bear Photography

Ruka is a beautiful fjell in the heart of Koillismaa and one of the main attractions around Kuusamo. In the summertime, you can go white water rafting and quad biking with a hot sauna afterward. Or you can have an authentic taste of Finnish nature, making fire without matches and enjoying coffee and food made on the open fire in the middle of the woods.

Where to Stay in Kuusamo, Finland

We stayed in Kuusamo’s Tropic while we were there. It’s also a full-fledged SPA with swimming pool areas and saunas. After your adventure in the wilderness, you can have a thoroughly relaxing experience in this accommodation with excellent value for your money.

The nearest place to these bear-watching hides is Isokenkäisten Klubi – a lovely wilderness lodge with saunas, good rooms, etc. Definitely check it out!

Another great option near the Ruka fell is Iisakki’s Glass Village, a unique experience.

And our last tip, but certainly not the least, is the great Ruka Peak Boutique Hotel & Restaurant with superb views and top-notch amenities in your own cabin.

Whichever you choose, we are sure that you will enjoy our stay! Just remember to book your Finland bear photography experience well in advance. Sometimes, you may find some last-minute spots, but book in advance if you only have a few days.



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Photographing bears through the night in a hide in the Finnish wilderness in Kuusamo.

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