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Norway´s National Parks are regulated by the laws of nature. Nature decides both how and when to do things. National Parks are established in order to protect large natural areas - from the coast to the mountains. This is done for our sake, for generations to come and for the benefit of nature itself.


Counties: Hordaland.

Established: 2005

Size: 545 km2

Folgefonna is the third largest ice cap in Norway, all of 168 km2. It probably reaches a maximum thickness of 300-400 m. If we take 150 meters as an average, Folgefonna has about 30 km3 of ice. Its highest point (1662 m a.s.l.) is believed to be one of the wettest places in Norway, receiving an estimated annual precipitation of around 5500 mm. The natural environment surrounding Folgefonna is dominated by the proximity of a large ice cap. There are numerous rushing rivers, and many lakes and rivers have the characteristic opaque emeraldgreen colour of glacial meltwater. The park includes the next largest area lacking major infrastructure in the county of Hordaland.

From fjord to ice cap

Folgefonna is famous for its dramatic and beautiful scenery. The Folgefonna peninsula with its fjords, mountains, rivers, lakes and icefalls is one of the greatest tourist magnets in Norway. Its diversity is immense, offering a vast choice of scenery to enjoy. The national park is traversed by ancient tracks and paths used for centuries. Most are still in use today, mainly by hikers enjoying the mountain scenery for some hours or days. They can also take advantage of four self-service mountain huts inside the park, Fonnabu, Breidablikk, Holmaskjer and Sauabrehytta, which are open for everyone throughout the year.

Folgefonna is most easily accessible from the Nordfonna glacier, where you can even ski on a beautiful day in summer. The Buer and Bondhus glaciers are less easily accessible, but these beautiful, famous glaciers can also be reached. You can contact a local guide and have a strenuous but very rewarding trek in the most challenging terrain in Norway. The local mountaineering association holds courses every year for those who want to learn more about walking on glaciers. You can book a place on treks which the association and various private companies organise.

Folgefonna is especially well known for fantastic skiing trips in spring, but you can ski there practically the whole year round. You can ski and walk both along and across Folgefonna. The route from Sunndal to Odda, which is suitable for inexperienced walkers, is particularly well known, and there are guided trips daily in midsummer. You can continue over the glacier to Holmaskjer and down the wooded hillside to Tokheim. The national park has many rivers, but they are often steep, rushing torrents. Yet some still offer good opportunities for fishing, even for salmon and sea trout. The Ænes river has beautiful meanders and is suitable for canoeing and kayaking. The innermost part of its valley is almost pristine and has a marked wilderness character.

A great variety of rock types

The national park has areas that are particularly interesting for studying the bedrock and Quaternary geology (superficial deposits). A great many different rock types, many with complex structures, provide information about a variety of geological events. The rocks and structures span an enormous period of time, right back to 1.5 billion years ago. Studies of superficial deposits dating from the last Ice Age and later show how glaciers have shaped the landscape. Many landforms in the area were moulded by the glaciers during the last Ice Age. Virtually the whole of Norway was covered by ice until 10.000 - 12.000 years ago. The highest peaks in the Rosendal "Alps" seem to have been an exception, as their flat summits were shaped much earlier and remained insignificantly modified through the last Ice Age.

Glaciers dominated the landscape around Folgefonna during the last Ice Age, but it is probably wrong to believe that those we see today are remains surviving from that cold period. Evidence suggests that Folgefonna melted completely during the Stone Age, 8000 to about 5200 years ago, and has returned since as a consequence of climate change. The Folgefonna National Park Centre occupies a central position in Rosendal and offers an insight into the numerous geological processes that have taken place in the area. Rosendal also has a geological park where you can study many rocks, polished to clearly visualise the fantastic structures they contain.

Great contrasts

Most of this mountainous area has comparatively few species of plants, because acid rocks dominate and the growing season is short. Hardy species like three-leaved rush, dwarf willow and stiff sedge thrive despite the poor soils. Mossy mountain heather, rufine sedge and arctic cottongrass are specialists at tackling the extreme snow conditions, and can grow right up to the edge of the glaciers. Decorative plants like yellow saxifrage, purple saxifrage, moss campion and alpine bartsia grow on steep rock faces just above the screes. Mountain avens are found in a few places, such as Skjeggesnuten and Sauanuten, since these two mountains have calcareous bedrock and are therefore botanical oases with a rich alpine flora.

Purple gentian does not require nutrient-rich soil, and is common here and there in the upland woodlands and the lower parts of the alpine belt. Hikers often notice this tall, stately plant. Mountain queen, with its large clusters of white flowers, is also an attractive sight when it grows in its hundreds. No other plants are so well adapted to the steep cliff faces close to Folgefonna.

Precipitation is high on the west side of Folgefonna and down in the valleys, and you can find many plants there that thrive best in a moist climate. Even Wilson´s filmyfern, an extreme westerly plant, grows as far east as the Fureberg waterfall, because of the constantly wet local climate in the spray zone. Coastal plants like foxglove, bog asphodel, cross-leaved heather, hard-fern, lemon-scented fern and great wood-rush characterise the vegetation from the fjord up towards the tree line.

Animal life on the barren mountains and in the woods

High in the mountains, it is too barren for many creatures to thrive, but this is precisely where we find many hardy ptarmigans. The supply of ptarmigans to prey on is an important reason why golden eagles nest in several valleys that reach up towards the glacier. In years when small rodents are plentiful, the rough-legged buzzard is a common bird of prey. Meadow pipits are the most abundant species above the tree line.

Red deer are abundant in woodlands on the Folgefonn peninsula, and more are shot in Kvinnherad than anywhere else in the country. Black grouse are common near the tree line, and you may come across capercaillie a little lower down in the pinewoods. The natural woodlands in western Norway are one of the last refuges of the white-backed woodpecker in Western Europe. Avalanches have left numerous dead trees on the Folgefonn peninsula and such sites are particularly favoured by woodpeckers.

A popular area for tourists

The natural environment has formed a good basis for permanent settlement in the valleys surrounding the Folgefonna glacier ever since prehistoric times. Most of the cultural heritage relics we see today are significantly younger, often linked with the period when transhumance dairy farming was widespread in submontane districts. This provided a vital supplement helping lowland farmers to eke out a living, but today this traditional practice has largely died out. Organised tourism began as early as 1833 when tourists went by foot and, for a time, by horse-drawn sledges over the glacier from Sunndal to Tokheim in Odda.

A century ago, many cruise ships sailed into the fjords. The Bondhus and Buer glaciers and the many impressive waterfalls were tourist magnets and Odda was the most important Norwegian port of call for cruise ships at that time. Rosendal Barony is just outside the national park. The manor house dates from the 1600s and has been listed since the 1920s. Norway has never had another barony, and the buildings, standing in a beautiful rose garden, now form a unique cultural heritage site which is one of the major tourist attractions in Norway.


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Dovrefjell - Sunndalsfjella


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