The mighty canyon in Alta is an awe-inspiring view, well-known by hikers in the far north. However, Magnus Askeland knows of a different route that gives a different view. Here is how it’s done.
The largest river canyon in Northern Europe surrounds one of the best salmon rivers in the world. The Alta Canyon, Sautso in Norwegian and Čávžu in Northern Sami, has been visited frequently by tourists for a very long time. Mostly – as far as I can see – from the west side of the canyon. There is a frequently used trail to the viewpoint, and the hike is about 6km one way. The views there are fantastic, but I think it looks even more impressive and photogenic from the east side of the canyon, all year round.
It starts on Lake Jotka
Drive up to Lake Jotka where there is plenty of parking. Expect about 3-4 km one way. If you don’t feel like walking in the terrain too much, you can go by bicycle on the road that goes to the Alta River dam or hike there. That’s probably the quickest way to the viewpoint. It can easily be done in trailrunner shoes. From the road there are some 800-900 meters on a quadbike trail to a celltower. From there you can almost see Alta Canyon from the best possible spot! Just a couple hundred meters walking, and you’re at the best spot.
The road can be closed because of reindeer
It’s a fantastic place to visit all year. However, the road up to Jotka closes in May and October because of the reindeer calving season and the reindeer migration in autumn. Those dates can vary a little and during spring the calving season often lasts from May to the middle of June.
This is a Midnight Sun viewpoint
It is a wonderful place to be during the Midnight Sun period in June and July. Just remember to bring mosquito repellent. It can be a real struggle to get some respite on a calm evening midsummer if you are not prepared for those Arctic annoyances. There are plenty of birds of prey species that nest in the canyon walls. They include golden eagles, rough-legged buzzards, and the fastest creature to have ever lived on planet earth. the peregrine falcon.
September is the best
My definitive favorite time to visit Alta Canyon is in September. The autumn colours just makes everything a couple levels prettier. If you are there on a clear evening you might even see the northern lights dance over the canyon walls, reflected in the Altariver below.
More about Alta Canyon
The original name is Čávžu, with modern Northern Sami spelling. The Norwegian name is an adaptation of the Sami name, but spelled Sautso. Official maps use both spellings. However, English has sneaked in, and the name “Alta Canyon” is frequently used in Alta these days.
Čávžu (Norwegian spelling Sauto), often called Alta Canyon, is around 10 km (6 miles) long, and about 300-420 metres (
The canyon is part of the big Alta-Kautokeino River system. From the Finnish border beyond Kautokeino (Northern Sami spelling Guovdageaidnu) and with countless tributaries, the rivers runs slowly north across the endless, rolling Finnmark Mountain Plateau. However, as it descends from the plateau down into the Alta Valley, it has dug deeply into the rock underneath.
The building of the Alta Power Station caused considerable civil unrest in the years 1978-81. Both environmental issues and the rights of the Sami people were factors. The dam started producing electricity in 1987. Today, an “Alta Power Station” is an inofficial measurement unit in Norway; the capacity of a nuclear power station or a windfarm somewhere in the world would be explained as “the equivalent of three Alta power stations”. Alta Power Station is thus one of Norway’s best know hydro electric power stations.
The migration of the reindeer is an annual event going back to the ice age. Reindeer spend the Winter on the Finnmarksvidda Mountain Plateau, where a scant snow cover gives easy access to nutritious lichens. However, in Summer, the lichen areas need to recover. Then the reindeer move down to the coast, where fresh grass is abundant. Since the 15-1600s, the reindeer have been herded by the Sami people, but the migration remains the same. Every spring, the reindeer pass on the way to the coast, and every autumn they move back up to the plateau. This is a time of around-the-clock work for the Sami reindeer herders, and one should take care not to disturb the work. Reindeer are easily scared, and dogs in particular are a problem.
Visit Alta runs an excellent website. Here you find accommodation, attractions, tours, dining and everything else when planning a visit in Alta.