If you like whitewater, then you’ll love Norway.
It’s certainly a place that more North American paddlers ought to put on their list, and not merely because of the quality and variety of whitewater there.
River access is as easy as it gets, flows are consistent, almost everyone speaks English, and the scenery is incredible (as you’ll see in the photo gallery below). And in the summertime, you can paddle until midnight.
On my last day in Norway we woke up at 6 am to start paddling, logged three moderately paced runs on different rivers, drove through the most stunning scenery I have ever seen, took a ferry across a fjord, scouted another river at 11 pm with enough light to run it, saw an enormous bull moose, and arrived back at the house at 1 am.
There are a lot of trip reports out there with pretty pictures and short descriptions of Norway’s amazing paddling. But few of those provide the information you’ll need to consider to plan your own trip, or address some common concerns about traveling to Norway. That’s what we’ll try to do here.
Getting There (with Boats)
Norway is significantly closer to the US than other international kayak destinations, and tickets to get there (compared to Chile, New Zealand, or Nepal/India) are moderately priced. Flights are either direct to Oslo, or include one stop from most major US cities.
Checking kayaks on a plane will usually come with a fee, though a good attitude and politeness toward the check-in agent can get you a long way. After sweet-talking the baggage clerks at Icelandair, Blister’s David Spiegel was allowed to check two fully loaded boats on a plane flight to Norway for free. I’ve also had good experiences with the airline, as they generally have the cheapest fares to northern Europe, plus you have the option to stop off in Iceland for a few days on your way to Norway.
As far as airports to fly into on your trip to Norway, the best option is probably Oslo Gardermoen, which has trains that leave directly from the airport to several of the better kayaking areas.
Gearing Up in Norway
There are relatively few Norwegian whitewater paddlers, which is surprising given the quality of whitewater, ease of access, and relative wealth of the country. So paddling partners aren’t super easy to come by, and gear is expensive and can be difficult to find. Even with good contacts in the country, it took me some effort to track down a boat to use while I was there. Most of the paddling destinations aren’t that close to bigger cities and towns, so you should also plan to bring any specialty paddling items with you in addition to your own boat.
Eating on a Budget
The country of Norway has a very high standard of living, so the cost of visiting is high, especially if you live in North America.
However, you can still travel around Norway relatively cheap if you are willing to make some sacrifices, particularly in the variety and quality of food you eat. If you want to go out every night to a bar, eat out a lot at nice restaurants and stay in nice places, you’ll pay handsomely. It’s a hell of a lot more expensive to eat well in Norway than Mexico, but you won’t have to worry about Montezuma sabotaging your digestive system. (See David Spiegel’s Trip Report (and Guide) to Paddling Veracruz, Mexico.)
If you’re on a budget, your primary staples will include bread, cheese, some variety of deli meat, and the occasional gas station pølser (sausage). You should expect to eat a lot of potato salad, beans, rice, and pasta.
If you can swing it, though, a nice meal of smørbrød (open face sandwiches eaten for brunch or lunch) is a great way to go. My personal favorites are reje (fjord shrimp) and sild (herring) smørbrød.
Beer is probably the costliest food item in Norway; the cheapest six-pack of 0.5 liter cans usually comes in around $25 USD. In a bar, expect to pay at least 70 NOK (~ $11 USD) for the cheapest beers.
Since most of Norway’s paddling destinations aren’t close to major cities, your options for finding lodging close to rivers are relatively few. Thankfully, Norway has excellent commercial campgrounds. And if you are willing to forego the showers and toilets, there is plenty of free camping on roadside pullouts and backroads.
One strategy is to stop in at a privately run camping area to shower or get on the internet, and camp for free in the mountains the rest of the time.
Traveling within Norway
While there are ways to save money on lodging and food on a Norway paddling trip, one expense that you won’t escape is fuel.
Aside from airfare, fuel has been my single biggest expense on both of my trips to Norway. The next biggest expense was usually train tickets and bus tickets. These other transportation options are convenient, but still quite pricey.
It is possible to travel with your kayak on buses and trains if you are good at sweet talking, but the most efficient way to travel is to rent a car.
The cheapest car rental rates I have been able to find are from rent-a-wreck.no and come in at roughly $40 USD per day for a Nissan Micra before any extra fees are added on. A compact Suzuki 4×4 starts at roughly $64 per day.
A few creative (and possibly masochistic) individuals have done whitewater trips through Norway entirely by bicycle, hauling a trailer with their boat, and others have done rail- and bus-only trips.
Norway’s extensive public transportation network goes to all of the major paddling destinations, but be prepared to spend a lot of time working out logistics if you choose this route.
If you go the economy route with your car, check out David Spiegel’s Trip Report from Mexico, which explains how to build your own rental car roof rack from scratch.
There are a few other things you should know about driving in Norway: Go SLOW, like dead slow.
The maximum speed limit you will encounter here is around 80km/hour, or about 50 miles/hour. Many main highways will have a maximum of 70km/hour.
Although you will see very few cops on the road, be aware of automatic cameras that will catch you speeding and send you a very expensive ticket. On top of that, the roads are full of tourists’ camper vans that often travel even slower than these speed limits.
While most paddling destinations in Norway are fairly close together in terms of distance, low speed limits and indirect roads will slow you down.
Best advice: Don’t be in a rush, just enjoy the spectacular scenery along the way.
Guide Books and Gauges
The first guidebook you’ll probably want to buy is Olaf Obsommer’s classic, Norwegian Whitewater Guidebook. The pretty pictures and brief descriptions will give a good idea of which paddling destinations to hit, when to hit them, and how to plan.
Unfortunately this guide does not always provide detailed information about flows, or putins and takeouts, and it mostly covers Norway’s gnar.
There is a more complete online guide that details flows and access. This guide typically gives a relatively low flow window, so don’t be too afraid to drop in a little higher than what the guide recommends. It also will tell you the names of the gauges that you need to check on the NVE website, the Norwegian equivalent of the USGS gauges. Find the gauge name in the online guide, then search for it in the NVE list.
One other resource worth noting is riverflow.no, which has some flows on its homepage for classic runs like Sjoa, Rauma, and a smattering of others.