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.
Norway’s first national park
Not only was Rondane National Park Norway’s first, it was also created due to a very special initiative. In Norway, national parks are usually created according to proposals laid down by the state. In this case, however, the protection initiative was put forth by local actors. The most important individual in this work was a mountain warden from Otta called Norman Heitkøtter. Heitkøtter worked in Rondane for over 40 years. According to him, and as early as the mid-1950s, it was clear to all who kept an eye on developments taking place in the mountains that ‘the increasing number of visitors to the area will be the greatest threat to wild reindeer in the future’.
In the Norwegian Trekking Association’s yearbook from 1960, Heitkøtter wrote the following:
“No one is going to tell me that the wild reindeer feel at home along the roadsides, or that the rock ptarmigan’s natural habitat is the garbage dumps around the countless cabins on all the mountains in this area. We do need roads, and people should be allowed to build cabins, everyone agrees on this. However, we just need to make sure that certain areas are preserved before it’s too late. Quite a few of our predators and birds are entitled to protection. Not only because it would be a shame if they became extinct, but also from a wildlife point of view.”
However, not everyone wanted a national park in Rondane. Many people wanted to retain the right to visit the mountains in order to utilize the resources that were there. Those who wanted to protect and those who want to develop had different visions, but also some similarities. The fact that both parties wanted to preserve parts of the ancient trapping culture is an example of this. The path that led to the establishment of Rondane National Park was by no means straight forward, and heated discussions took place in both local councils and mountain authorities regarding which areas should be protected and whether this was at all a sensible move. However, in 1962, Heitkøtter and his collaborators could raise a toast to Rondane National Park, and the preservation of wild reindeer habitats.
If we fast-forward to the present day, there are major challenges related to people visiting Rondane National Park and the wild reindeer’s use of the mountains. It must therefore be called a paradox that the area that was protected in order to safeguard the wild reindeer is now divided by barriers formed by our presence in the area. In practice, the current wild reindeer population in Rondane is divided into three.
One of Europe’s last, original wild reindeer populations lives in Rondane 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. Therefore, trails and waymarked skiing trails have been adapted so that some of the wild reindeer’s habitats are left as untouched as possible. If you spot wild reindeer, it is important that you stop and move away from the area.
The landscape features in Rondane were formed during the last Ice Age. U-shaped, rounded valleys were formed by the ice grinding away at the mountains beneath the glaciers, and sharp v-shaped valleys were created by the great rivers of glacial meltwater. As the ice melted, the highest mountains emerged from the sheets of ice. On the peaks of the Rondane Mountain Massif, we find ancient layers of sandstone that are hundreds of millions of years old. Because there is so little snow during the winter and the summers have become milder, there are no active glaciers left in Rondane today.
The cultural landscape in the mountains is a result of people’s use of natural resources over many centuries, and is an important part of our cultural heritage. In the past, people moved to the mountains as soon as they could graze their livestock there, and they lived there throughout the summer months. In Grimsdalen valley, which is now a protected landscape, summer mountain farming has taken place since the 16th century. The valley separates Rondane and Dovre national parks and has a road running through it that is open during the summer. The way in which summer mountain farms are used has changed, but they are still an important part of agriculture in the inland villages.
History and culture
So many discoveries and traces of the past have been found in the Rondane area that we can form a good overview of the people who lived here. Numerous paths, ancient stone huts, trapping sites and hunting hides are evidence of settlements, hunting, fishing and gathering from ancient times. However, traveling to the mountains for something other than harvesting resources was unknown until well into the 19th century. It was only until society gained more of a surplus that others followed in the footsteps of hunters and gatherers. Scientists arrived first, followed by artists and finally tourists. The idea of having a healthy soul in a healthy body and going on a walk for walking’s sake was born.
Wild reindeer trapping
If you take the time to look around while you are hiking in Rondane 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. A trip to Formokampen offers fantastic views and not least insight into ancient wild reindeer trapping. 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.
Summer mountain farming
In the 16th and 17th centuries, livestock farming increased in Norway, and uncultivated land became an important resource for farmers. In order to save grazing pastures down in the villages, farmers had to herd their animals up to the mountain farms during the early spring. Many of the places that are today best known for welcoming tourists were previously productive mountain hamlets.
Grimsdalen, Mysuseter, Frydalen and Høvringen are all old mountain farming hamlets that are rich in history. We know that summer mountain farming took place in Grimsdalen as early as the 16th century, and at its peak, the valley was home to 52 mountain farms and a dairy. There were over 30 active summer mountain farms at Høvringen, and over 20 at Mysuseter. You might not know this, but Mysuseter got its name from mysu (whey), a liquid that forms during the cheese making process. Nowadays, we can only imagine what life in these hamlets was like when all the mountain farms were in full swing. At the end of the 19th century, a new type of agriculture developed, and it wasn’t long before the majority of people thought spending the whole summer in the mountains wasn’t worth the trouble. Today, there are only a few people in Rondane who run traditional mountain farms, and mainly as tourist attractions rather than as an extra source of food for the main farm.
From the middle of the 1800s, Rondane received regular visits from artists, and the most famous work of art from the area is ‘A Winter’s Night in Rondane’ painted by Harald Sohlberg in 1914. The paintings and depictions by these artists once again aroused an interest in ordinary men and women regarding the mountains. The summit of Rondeslottet mountain was first reached in 1875, but it was not until the 1880s that interest in Rondane grew. More and more people traveled to the mountains for recreation and rest, and the summer mountain farms around Rondane were quick to open their doors to hikers. Several of the tourist cabins that are located in Rondane today were originally old mountain farms. In 1921, the railway opened, making it easier for more people to reach the mountains. Today, Rondane is one of Norway’s most popular mountainous areas.
Plant and animal life
Rondane is home to wild reindeer, wolverines, golden eagles, ravens and small rodents. Together with other species, they form a unique high-mountain ecosystem. We all have a responsibility to take care of this very vulnerable part of our nature. That is why we have created Rondane National Park and Grimsdalen Protected Landscape. Animals and plants find it demanding to live in Rondane – in scree, on lichen-covered plateaus and in the high mountains, we find species that manage to survive in this barren mountain landscape. But you don’t need to travel far north before the bedrock becomes rich in minerals and the flora lush. Grimsdalen valley is known for its rich plant life, including several rare and vulnerable species. Below, we have provided information about some of the species you will find in Rondane and Grimsdalen.
Glacier buttercup (Ranunculus glacialis)
High up in the mountains, where there is only gravel and bare rock, where other plants have had to give up – we find the glacier buttercup. This is the highest growing flower in Norway, found at 2370 meters above sea level on Galdhøpiggen in Jotunheimen The name glacialis – the one that grows next to ice – tells us that this is a hardy species. The plant takes several years from germination to seeding. During the early stages of flowering, the petals are white, but then the flower begins to ‘blush’ and the petals turn a reddish color after fertilization.
Star-tipped reindeer lichen (Cladonia stellaris)
This lichen covers many areas like a white carpet, and characterizes the landscape of the nutrient-poor soil that is found in and around Rondane National Park. Star-tipped reindeer lichen is of great nutritional importance to reindeer, especially during the winter. Reindeer have microorganisms in their digestive system that enable them to utilize up to 90% of the carbohydrates in the lichen. Star-tipped reindeer lichen was previously picked and used as an additional feed for livestock, but they can only utilize up to 50% of the nutrient content. It is also used for decorations.
Alpine bearberry (Arctous alpinus)
A dwarf shrub that can be found in the mountains throughout the entire country – the Latin name ‘alpinus’ means ‘belonging in the mountains’. It grows on barren ridges where there is thin snow cover. In early autumn, the leaves turn a deep red color that really characterizes the landscape. The plant is also called Trollberry. The black berries can be used in cooking – for example, bearberry vinegar.
Eurasian dotterel (Eudromias morinellus)
The Eurasian dotterel is a rather funny and distinctive mountain bird. If you want to catch a glimpse of this bird, you have to walk up the mountains to a height of 1200 to 1400 meters above sea level. Male and female Eurasian dotterels have swapped roles. After the female has laid her eggs in a nest on the ground, the male then takes charge of incubating the eggs and looking after the chicks. Female Eurasian dotterels have the most colorful plumage and can attract many males and lay eggs in several nests. Eurasian dotterels are not at all shy, they sit on their nests until you almost step on them. If they become scared, they run away and pretend to be injured. This is how they try to divert attention away from the nest and their chicks.
Lapland bunting (Calcarius lapponicus)
With its distinctive black and white head plumage and its reddish-brown neck and yellow beak, the male Lapland bunting is one of the jewels of the mountains. The male arrives at the breeding ground a few days before the female and claims its territory with its distinctive song. The nest is built on the ground with moss and straw and is often lined with reindeer hairs and ptarmigan feathers. 4 to 6 eggs are laid in the nest and the chicks are fed mosquitoes, flies and other insects. The Lapland bunting can still be spotted in the area, but they have experienced a sharp population decline in recent years.
Wolverine (Gulo gulo)
The wolverine is the largest animal in the Mustelid family and lives in the mountains. It has a very powerful bite which enables it to eat frozen meat and crush bones from large animals so it can get to the bone marrow. During the winter, the wolverine mainly eats reindeer, while its diet is more varied during the summer. The wolverine has a fantastic sense of smell and can smell its way to a carcass from miles away. Wolverines employ a reproductive strategy called embryonic diapause. This is where the development of the embryo is delayed until conditions are favorable (such as access to food).
Two-color sedge (Carex bicolor)
This plant grows in sand and gravel, often on the banks of streams and rivers. In Southern Norway, it is most prevalent in Grimsdalen valley along the banks of the Grimsa river. The leaves are bright green, the stem is triangular, the seeds are yellowish-white and it often droops all the way down to the ground. Storrvatnet lake is located just south of Grimsdalen, towards Haverdalen valley. Storr means grass, and the lake got its name because the surrounding areas were used for producing hay. Previously, the locals harvested the sedge marshes to obtain additional fodder. There are over a hundred species of sedge in Norway, and two-color sedge can be seen along the Grimsa river.
Dovre draba (Draba dovrensis)
There is an important geological divide between Rondane and Grimsdalen. The bedrock in Grimsdalen valley consists of rocks that disintegrate very easily. This process releases minerals and other nutrients that the plants need. This is one of the reasons why Grimsdalen valley is so rich in plants, some of them being very rare. Dovre draba is one of these. It is a rare species, but visitors can see it growing along the roadside in Grimsdalen valley. Small tufts with four-petalled white flowers – you might just have found a Dovre draba – especially if you are close to the Verkses mountain farms.
Field gentian (Gentianella campestris)
Grimsdalen is a mountain farming valley. There are five farming hamlets with a total of over 100 farms. Intensive grazing has taken place here in the past, and some plants are dependent on being cut and grazed. One of these is the field gentian. It has beautiful purple flowers that arrive late in the summer – often when most other plants have finished flowering. A sharp decline in grazing has led to declining numbers of field gentians.
Dung beetles (Scarabaeinae)
These are beetles that squeeze parts of cowpats together into a ball, roll them away and bury them in a suitable place. These might be places where the beetle’s larvae are located. Naturally, you will find these beetles in pastures where there are cattle.
Common crane (Grus grus)
Common crane populations have been strongly increasing in recent years. Common cranes come back to Grimsdalen valley every year to breed. They are very easy to spot and can be 120 cm tall. They also have a very loud call that sounds a bit like a trumpet. The common crane’s call can be heard from far away, not least during the mating season. During the mating season, visitors might be lucky enough to see the cranes performing their dance ritual. Common cranes usually lay two eggs and they build their nests on the ground, often on marshland.
Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica). This is a beautiful bird that has a blue throat with a reddish colored spot in the middle. However, the song is even more impressive. It is not without reason that this bird has been called the nightingale of the mountains. It has a powerful song with varied tones, hisses, trills, and mimicry other birds. The bluethroat also has a third characteristic – two orange bands or spots on its tail which make the bird easy to recognize in flight.
Hunting and fishing
Visitors may apply for two types of hunting in the national park – wild reindeer hunting and small game hunting. The wild reindeer in Rondane are very shy, which makes the hunting very demanding. Wild reindeer hunting is considered ‘sacred’ in the villages around Rondane, for many people however, ptarmigan hunting provides the greatest mountain experience. Ptarmigan populations vary from year to year and are affected by several factors. Anyone with an approved hunting license test may apply to hunt both wild reindeer and small game at inatur.no.
Both trout and Arctic char can be found in rivers and lakes in the national park. Rondvatnet lake is one of the most popular fishing lakes, and great fishing spots can be found close to Rondvassbu.
Another good fishing lake is Atnsjøen lake which is located towards Rondane. Each year, trout between two and four kilos are caught here, and Arctic char around half a kilo are not uncommon. Atnsjøen lake is a good place to fish during both the summer and winter. Visitors can purchase fishing licenses at intatur.no and at many of the tourist companies in the area.
Wild reindeer area
Rondane wild reindeer area is organized through two wild reindeer boards, one for the northern part and one for the southern part. The northern part includes licensees in the municipalities of Dovre, Folldal, Sel, Nord Fron and Sør-Fron, while the southern part includes licensees in the municipalities of Ringebu, Øyer, Hamar, Åmot, Ringsaker and Stor-Elvdal. Approximately 90 percent of the area is state-owned land within Rondane National Park. 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.
Small game hunting
Good ptarmigan years often occur during years when there are a lot of mice and lemmings. Theory has it that birds of prey and predators catch rodents instead of ptarmigan and their chicks during these years. In addition, hunting and weather conditions during the hatching period are also of great significance for ptarmigan populations. There is often a lot of competition to get hold of hunting licenses, and limits may be set regarding the number of ptarmigan you are allowed to shoot each day, a so-called bag limit.