The Alta Canyon is the most monumental river canyon in Northern Europe, and the best way to enjoy the scenery is by traditional riverboat.
The Alta Canyon is the name often given to the canyon carved out by the mighty Alta river working its way down from the Finnmarksvidda plateau to the Altafjorden at the coast. Several hundred metres of high cliff walls plunge down to foaming rapids, and the river banks are a mass of impenetrable scree formed of enormous boulders. From a traditional riverboat, you can view the natural splendors of this near-inaccessible canyon from the best seat in the stalls.
River boats are an old tradition on Alta river
We joined a riverboat trip on a bright sunny day in July. The trip up the river begins through a green, fertile wooded landscape of pine, birch, and aspen, with low hills, houses, and farms along the banks. We stop at fishing pools along the river and hear all about salmon-fishing on the Alta river. As we continue further upriver we spot a golden eagle soaring above the treetops.
We descend through darker and wilder waters
The scenery quickly changes character, however, and cliffs and mountains creep nearer the river. The landscape grows darker and more threatening, and we pass through a series of rapids. Suddenly, the boat is yanked diagonally off course, almost hitting the opposite bank, and we proceed carefully over the huge rocks we can see down on the river bed. Our skipper has been operating riverboats since he was very young, and he knows every rock in the river as we move upstream.
Finally we reach Sautso the Alta canyon
At Sautso we can go no further, for the rapids are simply too dangerous. Our skipper claims he would have navigated them in his youth, but that courage fails with age. Deep down inside, we are relieved. In the past, people going further upriver would often have a new boat stowed above the rapids, so they could continue to some of the best fishing places where the biggest salmon were to be found.
We go onshore and into the scree
Leaving the boat, we jump first from rock to rock, then follow an almost imperceptible track through the scree up past the rapids. Above the rapids, the river flows peacefully once more, and we see the road that leads to the famous hydropower station in Stilla. Our guide tells us about all the royalty, nobility and plain common-or-garden millionaires who have fished in the river through the decades.
The old woman demands expensive boose
Here, we make an offering to the Old Woman of Gabo ‒ Gabokjerringa. We can see her face in the south-facing wall of the mountain. She demands expensive brandy; Swedish vodka isn’t good enough. One needn’t sacrifice to her, of course, but then the salmon won’t bite. The act of sacrifice takes place on the sharp rock in the middle of the rapids and, naturally, the entire party knock back a wee dram as well. What doesn’t one do to get the salmon to bite?
We can go up when the fishermen sleep
There is one word that typifies summer along the Alta river: salmon. Local enthusiasts, as well as fly-fishermen from all over the world, have made camp here, along the river banks, for the Alta is one of the best salmon rivers in the world. Since the fish bite best at night, the fishermen sleep in the middle of the day. Then fishing is prohibited, and the river can be used for transport no-one messes with fishing times in the Alta river; it is all taken very seriously by everyone.
The trip starts every day at 12:00
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