The area as a whole can’t be characterized as having one type of landscape, but instead is made up of several different types. In the westernmost parts and around the Snøhetta mountain massif, the landscape is dominated by sharp ridges that stoop into sheltered, forested valleys. Further east, the landscape is more rounded and hospitable, but the differences in height can also be large here. If we look at the national park in isolation, it is almost entirely located above the treeline in the mountains.
A mountain ecosystem that is the country’s most intact, and the fact that the area is home to the most genetically original mountain reindeer, is evidence that Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella has been equipped with exceptionally rich nature. This places great responsibility on the shoulders of those of us who use the mountains, and visitors should leave no traces behind. There are many hiking opportunities, from easy day trips for both children and adults, to several days of mountain hiking. You can experience famous vantage points such as Rampestreken and viewpoint SNØHETTA, or pack your rucksack and set off on the trail network. If you would like to experience the protected areas in the most considerate way possible, we recommend using a guide or following waymarked trails.
In Norway, national parks are large natural areas that are protected in order to preserve important natural values and cultural heritage sites. The parks safeguard these values and sites against development, pollution and other activity that could harm natural and cultural values. At the same time, national parks ensure undisturbed experiences of nature.
Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella has a rich history, and the area has been important to humans ever since the last Ice Age. The timeline goes from the Stone Age people who depended on the wild reindeer to survive, via The Men of Eidsvoll who used Dovre as a symbol of the eternal and unwavering, to today’s use where recreation is the motivation for the majority of people visiting the mountains.
The first settlers
Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella began to become ice-free approximately 9000 years ago, and traces of settlements and fireplaces dating back 8800 years have been found. Discoveries of pitfall traps tell us that the first people who settled in the area were Stone Age hunters looking for reindeer. In the area that stretches from Dombås to Kongsvoll, 1200 pitfall traps have been found – both single pits and much larger trapping systems. These not only tell the story of the people who made them, but also how the reindeer used the area.
The most famous myth from Dovrefjell tells the story of Harald Fairhair, also called Harald Dovrefostre, who as a young man was raised and trained by a troll at Dovre. It is said that it was here that he gained the knowledge that led to him being able to unite Norway into one kingdom. The Sámi people also get their place in the unification of Norway in these myths. In the Kings’ saga called ‘Heimskringla’, Snorri recounts Harald’s meeting with the Sámi woman called Snæfrithr, daughter of the Sámi king called Svási. They met at the Tofti royal estate in Dovre, and sweet music could be heard. According to the myth, Harald and Snæfrithr married and had four sons.
Agriculture and summer mountain farming
In the eastern parts of the mountains, agricultural tools have been found that may be around two thousand years old, from the time when agriculture was relatively new in the country. According to archaeologists, these discoveries may be evidence of cultivation in connection with livestock farming, where the animals were driven to the mountains in the summer to take advantage of the rich pastures. This may have been the beginning of what was later to become extensive summer mountain farming. The area is still used for grazing, and is an important resource for the local population – if you go hiking in the mountains, chances are you will meet some sheep. There are hardly any people left that continue to run traditional summer mountain farms where they milk their livestock and make cheese. Two exceptions, however, are Torbuvollen and Gammelsetra farms in Sunndalen valley, where you can take the whole family and experience summer mountain farming traditions up close.
Building a nation
In National Romanticism and nation-building, Dovre and Dovrefjell often appear as important historical symbols. When the National Assembly’s negotiations on Norway’s constitution concluded on 20 May 1814, it was with the promise that they would be ‘United and loyal until the mountains of Dovre crumble’.
After 1814, outdoor life really began to grow. The first hikers were artists and scientists from the Romantic Period, who praised the mountain scenery and everyday life in the villages. Young people then followed in their wake, and due to the large numbers of people in the mountains, the ‘Norwegian Trekking Association’ was eventually founded.
Dovrefjell depicted in art
Many artists have been inspired by Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella and the surrounding mountainous areas. Perhaps the most famous are Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Grieg. Ibsen started out as a national romantic and praised the Norwegian mountains, but later used it to shed light on narrow-mindedness and self-righteousness in ‘Peer Gynt’. Edvard Grieg composed the music for the play and everyone has heard ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’, which really has placed Dovrefjell on the international map as both an area and a symbol.
Dovrefjell as a thoroughfare
People have crossed this mountainous area from time immemorial, and the road between Dovre and Oppdal has been one of the most important and widely used mountain passes in Norway.
The Pilgrim Path
The Pilgrim Path over Dovrefjell is a historic road that dates back to the fall of St. Olav at Stiklestad in 1030. Soon after, pilgrims began walking over Dovrefjell. The journey was religiously motivated, and the goal was to get close to the shrine that held the remains of St. Olav. These pilgrimages ended when the Reformation was introduced in 1537. This historic pilgrimage route was reopened in 1997 as a hiking trail for modern-day people. In the Middle Ages, the journey across Dovrefjell was the most feared part of the trip. Today, it is the most popular route. The pilgrims of our time are open and inquisitive, and encounters with history, nature and themselves provide content to the journey.
The King’s Road
The King’s Road over Dovrefjell was built at the beginning of the 18th century. It was the first public road over a high mountainous area in Norway. Local farmers had to build the road – having to use brute force in demanding mountain terrain. The King’s Road made it easier to transport mail, goods and people over a mountain that had been difficult to cross. As traffic increased, mountain lodges became important coaching inns, also for royalty. During the 18th and 19th centuries, several large royal entourages traveled over the mountain. They found the journey both terrifying and fascinating. Queen Sophia refused to drive back over the mountain when she arrived in Trondheim, and chose instead to risk seasickness and storms along the coast of Western Norway.
The road over Dovrefjell has historically been associated with danger. The villages on either side of the mountain were a great distance apart, and it was too far to walk in a day for those who did not have a horse. There are four mountain lodges between Dombås and Oppdal: Fokstugu, Hjerkinn Fjellstue, Kongsvold Fjeldstue and Drivstua. People have traveled over Dovrefjell throughout the ages, but we know that these mountain lodges played an important role from the 17th century onwards. They provided roofs over the heads of people who were making the journey over the mountain, and no one was refused. Both bishops and hobos were welcomed inside. In 1718 during the Great Northern War, the four mountain lodges were burned to the ground by Norwegian soldiers to prevent the Swedes from crossing the mountain. All four mountain lodges were rebuilt and constitute the buildings we know today.
The Dovre Line
In 1921, the railroad line over Dovrefjell was opened, including seven stations located between Dombås and Oppdal: Fokstua, Vålåsjø, Hjerkinn, Kongsvoll, Drivstua, Engan and Driva. Today, the train only stops at Hjerkinn and Kongsvoll. Operations switched from steam power over to electricity in 1970.
The Rauma Line
In 1924, the Rauma Line was opened as a branch line of the Dovre Line. Originally, there were 12 stations along the 114.2 kilometer long stretch between Dombås and Åndalsnes. Bjorli, Lesjaverk and Lesja are the stations that remain today. The line is not electrified which means that diesel stock has to be used.
From firing range to national park – the largest restoration of nature in Norwegian history
After the development of the Dovre Line, the establishment of Hjerkinn firing range followed in 1923. The 165 km² training area was located in Lesja and Dovre municipalities. The firing range resulted in major encroachments on the natural surroundings, and was in operation until 1999 when The Storting decided that it should be closed down and returned to nature as much as possible.
The Norwegian Defence Estates Agency was responsible for returning Hjerkinn firing range back to nature. It was a pilot project for the restoration of large natural areas, and is the largest nature restoration project to date in Europe. Nature restoration of a shooting range involves a lot of work. During the clean-up seasons 2006 – 2020, crews from the Norwegian Armed Forces have combed the terrain at least twice. A total of 550 tons of metal waste was collected and 90,000 m³ of hazardous masses were removed. 19,000 unexploded charges have been found and over 75% of them measured less than 20 mm.
In addition to clearing, removing hazardous masses, buildings and other infrastructure, landscape shaping and revegetation was also required. In collaboration with the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), the Norwegian Defence Estates Agency has shaped the landscape back to its original state as much as possible and planted large amounts of grass and bushes, a total of 47,000 plants. This is how nature has been helped to reclaim the area.
In September 2020, the area was handed over from the Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of Climate and Environment. This took place during a formal ceremony at viewpoint SNØHETTA with the respective cabinet members present. Most of the former firing range is now part of Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park, and part of Hjerkinn Protected Landscape/habitat and species management area.
Parts of Dovrefjell have large ore deposits, and mining has been carried out in Folldal since 1748. In 1969, modern mining operations were started at Hjerkinn. Tverrfjellet mines were opened by the then Crown Prince Harald and were in operation for 25 years. Every day, one to two freight trains traveled from Hjerkinn to Borregaard’s factory in Sarpsborg. Most of what was mined consisted of iron pyrite, copper and zinc. In addition, 99 tons of silver and almost one ton of gold were mined! At its peak, 450 people worked at Tverrfjellet mines, so it was an important workplace for the region.
By 1993, the available mineral resources had been extracted and mining operations were discontinued. Proposals were then put forward to use the mines for storing hazardous waste, such as nuclear waste. This was met with great resistance both locally and nationally, and the plans were eventually scrapped. Below the ground in the area between the parking lot at viewpoint SNØHETTA and the vantage point, there are large halls that are currently filled with water. The largest of these is so huge that it would be able to room both Nidaros Cathedral and Folldal Church.
Plant and animal life
This area is home to wild reindeer, Arctic foxes, musk oxen, wolverines, golden eagles, ravens and small rodents. Together with other species, they constitute a unique mountain ecosystem that we all have a responsibility to take care of.
Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella has been known as one of our richest mountain areas for several hundred years. However, this richness is not evenly distributed at all – it is primarily in the eastern parts of upper Drivdalen valley and in Grøvudalen valley in Sunndal that it really abounds. Nowhere else in Scandinavia can one study as many mountain plants within such a relatively limited area as here. In the central parts of the area, the landscape is barren and demanding for both animals and plants.
Read more about the plants in the area at Kongsvold botaniske fjellhage.
The Norwegian wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) is a so-called National Responsibility Species, which we have a particular obligation to take care of. One of the last, original wild reindeer populations in Europe lives in Dovrefjell Sunndalsfjella National Park. The nomad of the mountains has been wandering through these areas for over 10,000 years, and Norwegians have hunted reindeer for more than 300 generations. Wild reindeer are extremely hardy and adaptable to natural challenges such as weather and natural conditions, but are very vulnerable to human disturbances. Our activity and presence affect the animals’ possibilities to migrate where they want to go, whether it be calving areas, or summer and winter grazing pastures. If you spot wild reindeer, it is important that you stop and move away from the area.
Wild reindeer trapping
If you take the time to look around while you are hiking in Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park, chances are you will see traces of hunting hides, pit-fall traps and large trapping sites. Many of the traces we see today are centuries old, and some may even be between two and three thousand years old.
The trapping sites not only tell us about how our ancestors hunted reindeer, but also where the wild reindeer wanted to migrate between different grazing areas. There are also many other cultural monuments in the mountainous areas, such as small stone huts, settlements, old thoroughfares and burial mounds from this period. These cultural monuments are automatically protected, which means that it is not permitted to move stones, build new cairns or otherwise disturb or destroy cultural monuments. At the Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre at Hjerkinn, visitors can study reconstructions of the various traps that were used.
Dovrefjell is the only area in Europe where a viable and wild population of musk oxen can be found. The core area for the population is located in the municipalities of Oppdal, Dovre and Lesja. Musk oxen were part of the fauna in Norway 30,000 to 100,000 years ago, but the species became extinct in Scandinavia during the last Ice Age. Today’s population are descendants of animals that were introduced from Greenland between the years of 1947-1953. If you are planning a trip to Dovrefjell, it is important to keep a good distance from the musk oxen, the safety margin is estimated at 200 meters. If you are visiting Dovrefjell to specifically see the musk oxen, we recommend that you book a place on a guided musk ox safari.
The Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is a priority species in Norway and has its own action plan. From 2004, several measures were implemented on behalf of the Norwegian Environment Agency: a breeding program aimed at rearing, feeding and releasing cubs into the wild, and controlling the red fox population through increased hunting. The sub-population at Snøhetta was considered extinct before the breeding program began to release cubs back into the wild. In the period 2007-2010, a total of 75 Arctic fox cubs were released in this area. Since then, the population has been growing rapidly, and is currently Norway’s largest Arctic fox population. It is prohibited by law to disturb, damage or destroy Arctic fox dens in both Sweden and Norway.
The landscape in Dovrefjell and Sunndalsfjella has been shaped by the Quaternary period’s many ice ages. When ice reaches a certain thickness and weight, gravity causes the masses of ice to slowly flow downwards from the highest part of the glacier. Over the course of a million years, a whole kilometer of mountain bedrock can be ground away. Glaciers have the greatest impact in valleys where the ice is at its thickest and moves fastest. Least impact is seen in the high mountains where the ice has remained frozen. The landscape in Dovrefjell and Sunndalsfjella is steepest in the western parts of the area. This is due to the fact that the movement of the ice has been strongest in that direction. We therefore see that the valleys to the west have steep sides and are deep, while the valleys further east are much more rounded. With the exception of some peaks in the far west, it is most likely that Dovrefjell and Sunndalsfjella were completely covered by glaciers during the shorter periods when there was maximum glaciation in the last Ice Age.
With protected areas stretching from the coast to inland areas, we get large climatic variations. The western part has a typical coastal climate with mild winters, cool summers and precipitation that is evenly distributed throughout the year. The sea continues to have an influence further to the east, but its effects gradually decrease the further inland one travels. The national park itself, sitting pretty much in the middle of the area, is located in a transitional zone between a coastal climate and an inland climate. East of Snøhetta, the climate becomes increasingly continental, with dry and cold winters, and relatively dry and hot summers that include some heavy rain showers and thunderstorms.
Hunting and fishing
Visitors may apply for two types of hunting in the national park – wild reindeer hunting and small game hunting. Anyone with an approved hunting license test may apply to hunt both wild reindeer and small game at inatur.no.
Visitors can purchase fishing licenses at inatur.no and at many of the tourist companies in the area.
Wild reindeer hunting
Local mountain authorities organize the hunting that takes place on common land.
Anyone interested may apply to hunt wild reindeer on common land, but local residents are often given priority. However, some mountain authorities sell many licenses to non-resident hunters, and it is also possible to buy hunting licenses from private licensees. Application deadlines vary somewhat, but it is usually around 1 May. Wild reindeer hunting usually starts around 20 August and finishes around 20 September, but there are some variations.