The Hardangervidda Plateau is one of Norway’s and Europe’s most wondrous open spaces, encompassing nearly 10,000 square kilometers of varied Arctic wilderness (bigger than Yellowstone National Park). Because of Norway’s exquisite system of trails and public huts, few, if any, such wide-open expanses anywhere in the world are as readily accessible. If you’re lucky, you may see one of the large herds of wild reindeer stealthily migrating through the area in search of lichen and other nutrients.
The Plateau is immense. It sits entirely above tree line and has the southernmost Arctic flora and fauna in Norway: a rugged composition of rolling mountains, glaciers, boulders, lakes, rivers, and bogs. The western portion is more mountainous and lush, and the eastern portion is flatter with colder, continental conditions. Only one-third of the total area is within Hardangervidda National Park (Norway’s largest), but most of the surrounding land is public or protected with few discernable differences compared with the park. The hiking isn’t easy, but once on the Plateau the terrain is moderate, meaning that it isn’t overly difficult either. On the whole, the Hardangervidda is home to some of the finest hut-to-hut trips in Norway, both for hiking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter.
The easiest road access to the Plateau is from the north and west via Highway 7. Another option is the Oslo-Bergen Railway, which stops in Finse, a sublime base for further exploration (see below). The bulk of the staffed DNT lodges are in the north; the terrain gets more barren and the huts and trails thin out further south. Those who desire a longer trip can venture further into the backcountry to stay in a self-service hut or camp. The journey across the entirety of the plateau is legendary, especially among the few who have done it, taking approximately 7–12 days.
Finse: Norway's Oslo–Bergen Railway
The Oslo–Bergen Railway crosses the Hardangervidda Plateau with an epic stop: Finse. This is the highest station in Norway at 1,222 meters and there is no road access. Surrounded almost exclusively by rock and ice, and with a population of roughly 35 inhabitants during the summer high season, Finse makes the short list of the world’s most interesting mountain towns. Outdoor enthusiasts pile off the train in droves with mountain bikes or skis in tow (there is a cycle train in the summer that allows bikes on board), and head off in every direction to explore all that the vast Hardangervidda has to offer.
In classic Norwegian fashion, Finse efficiently offers all the necessities but little more. The one hotel in town, Finse1222, is likeable, basic, and provides comfortable access to the area’s natural wonders. The mountain biking is some of the best in Scandinavia: the Rallarvegen, or Old Navvy Road, was used for the construction of the railway in the early 19th century and is now legendary among cycling enthusiasts (82km of road). The massive Hardangerjøkulen glacier is a short walk from Finse, offering magnificent views and a number of ice-related activities. Finse is also an axis of DNT huts galore, from which the town makes a perfect jumping off point.
Based on numbers, July through October is the peak season in Finse, but those who know it best probably envisage its’ righteous state as snow-clad. The cross-country skiing is world class and the area has long served as the training grounds for polar expeditions. Finse was even chosen by George Lucas in 1979 to shoot the ice planet Hoth in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The village is now home to the Alpine Research Center, jointly operated by the Universities of Oslo and Bergen. To be sure, Finse is alive in the winter as well.