Watching The Northern Lights Dance From A Mobile Cabin On A Frozen Finnish Lake
Probably our biggest goal on this trip was to see the Northern Lights in Lapland, and MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. But the way we did it was so unique, and I’m immensely grateful. I realize I gave you a wicked long post title, but it was hard to cram all the awesomeness of this experience into one line. In fact, I left out like half of the awesome things!
While I’m mostly laying out things chronologically in this post, I legit can’t hold all the good stuff til the end. Our night on the lake started like this…
And ended like this…I’m honestly still in awe.
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Is this the best Finland Northern Lights hotel?
If you’re trying to figure out where & how to see the Northern Lights in Lapland, I’ll start by saying that you’re spoiled for choice throughout the region. But I do think that Lake Inari Mobile Cabins is maybe the most unique.
We actually stayed our first night in Lapland at Wilderness Hotel Nangu, in their Aurora Cabins (the Aurora Village cabins also looked like a great option; I’d steer clear of Kakslauttanen). It was cool, though can’t hold a candle to the the mobile cabins. However, I’m not sure I’d do mobile cabins more than one or two nights as it’s a bit more “roughing it”.
The rest of this post is about the overall experience and provides a detailed review of Lake Inari Mobile Cabins—which I wholeheartedly recommend! I booked through Booking.com, which was a great experience offering easy communication with the property (for asking questions, booking our dinner experience, etc.). You can also see more reviews on TripAdvisor.
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What to pack / things to know
The cabins themselves stayed warm enough, but you’re also likely running outside constantly to see the Northern Lights (if you want to photograph them), so layers are key. I didn’t want to have to change to sleep, so I balanced comfort and warmth.
I recommend packing light for what you take into the cabins, as they’re quite tiny. We did pick up snacks and drinks at the supermarket, to enjoy throughout the night (including plenty of water bottles).
- Bottoms: I wore my thicker fleece-lined leggings and found that worked well enough since I wasn’t staying out for hours at a time. I have a deeper post on my fave fleece-lined leggings to see which work best for you.
- Tops: I didn’t want to have to deal with layers much, so I wore my favorite merino wool thermal tops and had a fleece zip-up in case I got too cold.
- Outerwear: I brought my intense & beautiful Helly Hansen coat, this hat (cute & warm!), these gloves (CLUTCH, with the touchscreen capabilities) and a neck gaiter just in case.
- Footwear: I fell in love with the Sorel snow boots I brought…easy to slip in and out of when needed, and layered a couple pairs of merino wool socks (these and these were my go-to’s).
- Cameras: In addition to my iPhone 14 Pro and a phone tripod that I forgot to use, I brought my Sony a6400 mirrorless camera and a light tripod, as well as a bunch of backup camera batteries with a charger (I brought 4 and it wasn’t enough!).
- I strongly recommend having one or two external batteries (this is the brand I recommend), fully charged…these were critical in charging my camera batteries when they kept dying, plus my phone.
- Microfiber cloth for caring for your camera lenses (and glasses) – these are good.
- Do be aware that every time you go from being out in the freezing cold to inside in the warm (and vice versa), your camera lens will fog up terribly. Don’t wipe the fog away! It won’t really help and can damage your lens. You just need to wait it out.
- I packed my trusty life partner carry-on suitcase and brought an Osprey daypack with camera gear, computer, etc.
- Stuff to entertain yourself that doesn’t require bright light…for me, that was my Kindle paperwhite (aka my life companion). My cousin played on her phone (with the screen dimmed). Or you could listen to audiobooks or podcasts. But you can’t have bright lights in the cabin to be respectful to other guests.
If you truly don’t have any winter gear, another option would be to rent winter clothing and gear locally. The Swiss couple who was there with us told us they rented their coats, boots, hats, etc for like 50 euros apiece for the week. Not a bad deal!
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Where to see the Northern Lights in Finland
While you can sometimes see them in Helsinki, we knew that going up to Lapland gave us much better chances. We arrived in Ivalo on a brief flight from Helsinki and easily got our rental car picked up (the Ivalo airport is, as you’d expect, really tiny; read more about renting a car and driving in winter here). I booked Rentalcars.com via Booking, and used Budget—no complaints! (Another option to explore is DiscoverCars.)
I specifically chose this more northern area of Lapland vs. the more popular Rovaniemi for a few reasons. Ivalo is a small village just north of Saariselkä (which we visited for dog sledding), and Inari is a bit north of Ivalo.
Rovaniemi can be quite touristy feeling, while this is much further north, harder to get to, so doesn’t see the same crowds. Ivalo’s position in the far north of Finland increases the chances of seeing the Lights even when the solar activity is low (they say 90% of nights September-April), and light pollution is very low as well.
BUT…I just need to state for the record that you’re never guaranteed to see them. Our first night in Lapland was cloudy and we didn’t see them at all (though the people out in the mobile cabins did see them a bit that night, so you never know).
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Our experience at Lake Inari Mobile Cabins
Coming from an afternoon of dog sledding in Saariselka, and then a quick supermarket stop for snacks and drinks, we rolled up to the base camp in Inari around 4:00pm. You can tell that we were losing the light quickly at that point.
We were warmly welcomed by Atte, who first took us to our mobile cabin to get oriented (and drop our luggage). They are such a cute concept! You’re definitely in the glamping realm, it’s super small though does have a toilet. AND WI-FI, even out on the lake!!
Lake Inari is the biggest lake in Finland, and many people asked if it was safe to stay on it. Basically, absolutely. We were staying on about 60cm of ice covering the water below (for context, about 30cm is considered “safe”). You can learn more about it at the cabins’ website.
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The base camp has showers as well as a sauna (which we didn’t get to try, as it takes 30-40 minutes to heat up and we only had about an hour total til dinner). They also offer booking for a variety of activities in the area.
Instead, we chilled in the main cabin and caught up on email and socials while dinner was prepared (you do need to pre-book dinner). I sipped hot tea and noshed on some cookies topped with homemade cloudberry jam.
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Atte had a friend in town, and she cooked us an amazing dinner over the fire in a little hut, consisting fish and vegetables (potatoes, carrots, swede), topped with some sour cream.
It was just hearty and fresh, absolutely hit the spot, and we enjoyed getting to know a couple from the Italian part of Switzerland who were also visiting. We had non-alcoholic gloggi (kind of like mulled wine) and cookies for dessert.
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Then it was time to get ready to go out on the lake. We washed up in the base camp bathrooms (I washed my face and brushed my teeth), and then got settled in our cabins. Then Atte fired up the snowmobile and dragged each cabin out one-by-one, about 1 km onto the frozen lake.
We ended up being the last cabin to go out (the whole process took close to 30 minutes), and while we were waiting for him, some faint northern lights appeared! At first we just thought they were cloud wisps, but finally figured it out.
We ran out and took some initial pics, but then he came back for us and we scrambled back in our cabin as he hooked us to the snowmobile and started dragging us.
Halfway there we realized we forgot to lock the cabin door again, and it flew open! I had to do a roll off the bed and execute evasive maneuvers to get it closed without Atte noticing since he’d so carefully cautioned us to lock it.
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He settled us on the lake and we immediately got our gear on and ran outside to watch the Lights. They were a bit gentle at first, wisps here and there, a little faint and not fully committing.
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They kept dancing across the sky on and off from around 8:00pm to just after 12:30am!!! I went to sleep at that point, but it felt like they had kind of died down.
It was freezing in our cabin for a while (especially since we kept going outside) and the temp got down to about -9 F throughout the night, but we finally figured out how to get the heat cranking.
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I normally only travel with my phone as a camera, but this type of trip is definitely the exception to the rule. I brought my Sony a6400 mirrorless camera and a light tripod. As you can see from the previous pics, and then the ones that come next, it took me a while to really get my settings right—particularly focus.
I decided to only bring one lens, and so went with my 24mm…I wanted a fast, wide-angle lens, something that would go down to f/2.8 or below. You want to get a lot of sky in the picture and shoot with as wide-open an aperture as possible to let in the most light (particularly since we were there when there was no moon, which is better for seeing the Lights).
I kept going outside to get pics & was burning through batteries like WHOA. I knew the cold would suck my batteries and brought 4, but I kept having to recharge them through the night. Wondering if my batteries weren’t great, to be honest. But the lesson here is bring like 8 batteries!
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The Aurora Borealis kept getting stronger, showing a deeper green (note, your eyes mostly can’t see the green…human eyes don’t pick up that particular wavelength, but cameras do).
And look how sharp and bright the stars were! It helped that some of the lights in the nearby town went off about an hour after we got there.
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It as a bit trickier to frame, but I got some shots straight up at the sky (vs. anchoring with the skyline or one of the cabins).
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For context, these are a couple of the best pics I took on my iPhone 14 Pro. Honestly, not too shabby for a phone.
But, to be fair, I was more focused on getting things right with my camera, so I didn’t take the time to set up my phone tripod and really play around with it. I’ve heard it can do a pretty great job with Northern Lights.
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Just for context, and if you’re thinking we just got lucky on a particularly great night, here is a pic from the next night after we were there, that one of the guests threw into the WhatsApp group.
Maybe even more amazing than the ones we saw???
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Once I finally committed to sleep, I slept well until my cousin woke me up to see the sunrise. While it wasn’t the most luxurious night I’ve had (partly because using the toilet was a multi-step process), it was such an amazing experience that I would do it again in a heartbeat.
And the capper was this stunning sunrise over the lake!
Lapland was on my list of 10 places to travel in 2023!
I threw my gear on and ran outside to snap as many pics as I could! The quiet surroundings, other than the crunch of the snow under my boots, and peachy pinks and purples took my breath away (as did the sub-zero temps!).
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Just to provide a balanced view, I snagged this pic off the group WhatsApp from the day before (don’t know how to credit the photo)…obviously the weather doesn’t always cooperate, so you might not get that sunrise.
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And then our chariot arrived! Atte picked us up around 8:00am and started the process of taking us back one-by-one. This time we were the first to get back, and that was super helpful in getting through the showers first (we had to leave by 10:00am to get to a snowmobile tour).
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Breakfast was cozy and family-like affair, some eggs, croissants, yogurt, and such. After a shower it was heavenly, and we loved watching the sunrise continue to develop. Then sadly, we had to be on our way!
If you’re looking for a unique way to experience the Northern Lights in Lapland, look no further than the amazing Lake Inari Mobile Cabins!!
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