Friday, October 24, 2014

Dalsland: Conclusion and tips

Dalsland gets a weird conclusion from me: I highly recommend and advise against it at the same time. Why is that? Well, Dalsland is the perfect paddling area - but unfortunately half of Europe and almost all Germany knows about this. As a result Dalsland get swamped with hordes of paddlers in summer. And this type of paddlers is not exactly my cup of tea. As a ranger has put it: you'll find a lot of boot camp mentality. Or as I would put it: a lot of wanna-be outdoorsmen trying "born to be wild". Each to their own - let them have fun in summer but I would not recommend going there then.

Now this has been enough of negative comments about Dalsland: Beside the summer tourist rush Dalsland is indeed the perfect paddling destination. So go there in spring or even better in fall and enjoy. The main tour operator stops running tours to Dalsland in mid-September. After that you'll be almost alone - and you can paddle far into October there. I finished my trip on October 19th. Water temperature was still a balmy 10 degrees Celsius and nights were still above freezing. But you should bring a bit of determination and a lot of cold weather gear as day time temperatures ranged from a very nice 15 degrees Celsius to a not so nice 4 degrees. Spring has the disadvantage of much colder water temperatures but longer day light hours. In mid-October I still had more than 10 hours of daylight and I did not find the lack of daylight restrictive.

But what makes Dalsland such a perfect destination: For me personally the most attractive factor was the extensive shelter network. There are over 100 designated campsites in the Dalsland canoe area. They all come with a dry toilet, fire wood and campfire rings. Most of them also come with a shelter that is big enough for 4 to 6 people. The only drawback is that none of the official maps tells you which campsite has a shelter and which doesn't. But as the ranger told me that they are working on that. But as there are so many campsites you can just paddle on to the next if one site has no shelter or should be occupied. Despite the masses of summer tourists the campsites were in really good condition when I visited. There was not much trash left. These campsites cost 60 SEK per person per night (about 6 EUR) and 40 SEK if you rent a canoe from a local business. This money is used to maintain the sites and the ranger system. But in October it was basically impossible to pay this fee because there was no one around whom to pay - at least if you don't rent a boat.

Other logistical aspects are good as well: It is easy to get to and away from Dalsland. The main transportation hub is Gothenburg from where you can get to many places in Dalsland by train and/or bus. You can easily plan your trip here. You will also come through several towns and villages and most have a little supermarket, so resupply is easy.

Electrical outlets at a lock
The only logistical challenger are the locks. In summer the locks are all staffed and as a paddler you are even obligated to go through these locks for a fee of 30 SEK per lock chamber. But the locking season finishes end of August and then you are on your own. There are no official portage trails around the locks. Often the locks have been blasted into rock and are therefore very narrow with no space to portage. There are no decent take out or put in places and  often you will have to carry your boat over steep embankments. Still - I did every single of the Dalsland locks on my own. For that you need a good boat cart - and plenty of time to scout out the best portage route. Often it is impossible to get in and out around the locks. Lock at your map for other possibilities in the vicinity like swimming beaches or guest harbours. But there is one good thing about the locks: there is usually a freely accessible electrical outlet - ideal for recharging batteries while doing the portage.

Dalsland lock
There are also portages other than around locks in order to get from one lake into another. These official portage trails are marked on the ground - but not on the maps. It is usually easy to take out and put in there, but some portages are long - the longest being 3,4 km. You can even get from the Dalsland canoe area into Glaskogen canoe area but then the portages are even longer. I personally found the portages with no locks much easier and even faster than the shorter lock portages. Therefore if you only want to spend a short time in Dalsland I would chose a route with few locks because they are very time-consuming and frustrating.

Dalsland is a relatively easy paddling terrain. Most lakes are sort of longish in a North-South direction and only 1- 4 km wide. The wind can still kick up waves there but this is nothing compared to the Vänern and Vättern. I had very few days when the wind confined me to a (half) rest day. If a really strong wind comes up you will usually learn this a couple of days before from the weather forecast and can then plan accordingly. There are numerous small and narrow side arms and fjords in the Dalsland canal system where you can still paddle when it gets too iffy on the bigger lakes.

There are no other "obstacles" like rapids or water falls in Dalsland. There is no commercial boat traffic either, only recreational boats. In summer there are plenty of yachts, but this dies down with the end of the locking season. After that there are only the locals left: In October this meant only and occasional fishing boat and some sailing boats on the bigger lakes.

I have used the Tyvek maps from Utekartan.se and found them to be great for such an extended trip like mine. Unfortunately, this map does not show the official campsites. They are only marked on the official Dalsland paddling atlas which I found less than ideal. It is printed on normal paper and has an inconvenient sheet line system.

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