In 2017, I saw an Instagram photo of a group of women stand up paddle boarding in the fjords of Norway and I knew I had to go. The photo showed lush green mountainsides giving way to the blue-green water of the fjords. The women smiled. The sun shone. When my husband and I started Stand Up Paddle Kentucky a year earlier, we made a goal to take two international trips a year. Norway had everything we wanted, including a five-day expedition paddle. So it wasn’t long before 11 of us boarded a plane bound for Oslo.
After multiple delays and canceled flights, our group arrived in Norway’s capital. From there, we headed to Mrydal, a mountain town only accessible by train. Next, a van took our luggage while we road mountain bikes 11 miles downhill to Flam. Along the route, we got a small glimpse of the waterfalls, green countryside and charming homes this country provides at every turn. From Flam we shuttled to Gudvangen to join the rest of our expedition crew, meet the local guides and set up camp for the night.
That evening we prepped and packed all of our gear, got to know one another and took in the incredible scenery. Our camp was nestled in between two large mountains. One had three waterfalls that came together midway down the mountain and disappeared behind the trees. It’s difficult to describe the breathtaking beauty we experienced everywhere we looked.
The next day we set off for the Nærøyfjord arm of Sognefjord, the longest and deepest navigable fjord in the world. The Nærøyfjord is undoubtedly the most spectacular fjord in the area. Sheer mountain faces and snow-covered peaks standing 1700 meters (5,578 feet) above sea level surround the fjord with picturesque villages and hundreds of waterfalls along its length.
We just missed the summer heat and arrived as a storm system had settled itself upon the area. The weather was wet and cold most days with lots of rain that turned the handful of waterfalls we saw into hundreds of waterfalls. We primarily paddled early in the morning and only for a few hours to avoid the daily wind that funnels through the fjord around lunchtime. As with any expedition, proper gear makes all the difference, and luckily we were all properly prepared.
Day 1: (9 Km) Gudvangen > Odnes
The first day we paddled roughly 5.5 miles from Gudvangen on the southernmost part of Nærøyfjord. We moved at a relaxed pace and quickly learned to navigate the wakes of the passing ferries. All around us stood incredibly high mountains with numerous waterfalls tumbling down. We reached Odnes around midday. We set up camp on the soft grassy field behind the beach below Odnesfoss, a powerful waterfall. The afternoon fell away to hiking adventures and swims in the waterfall’s majestic pools. By late evening the rain and the wind picked up, so we headed early to bed to rest.
Day 2: (15 Km) Odnes > Aurlandsfjord
After breakfast, we braved a wash in the waterfall’s pool and filled our bottles with the sweetest water we had ever tasted. We broke camp and paddled the second and arguably most beautiful half of Nærøyfjord. The rain the night before left the mountains saturated and striated, glistening with hundreds of waterfalls. Another storm threatened in the distance. We paddled fairly aggressively for nearly four hours to reach our campsite on the Aurlandsfjord. To access this primitive campsite, we had to unload our gear on the rocky shore and hike in search of a flat area to camp. A small waterfall nearby provided water for bathing and drinking. We spent most of the afternoon avoiding the wind and the rain but later emerged to bathe in the waterfall and simply take in the beauty of this amazing place.
Day 3: (9 Km) Aurlandsfjord > Undredal
The rain continued through the third day as we headed south past the entrance to the Nærøyfjord and ventured deeper into the Aurlandsfjord. Along the way, we drifted by inaccessible farmhouses perched high on the cliffs. Goats grazed on the steep banks occasionally showing off their rock-climbing skills. We even saw a few porpoises. Our day ended when we reached Undredal, a tiny village famous for its goat produce—meats, sausages and cheeses. We splurged on two group tents so we could have a warm place to spend the evening and attempt to dry our soggy gear. As the sun dipped behind the peaks, the cold began to set in but this lovely little village was a relaxing place to spend the night.
Day 4: (16 Km) Undredal – Styvi Boat Dock > Odnes
We started day four with the intent to paddle back north, up Aurlandsfjord to re-enter Nærøyfjord. But it was bitterly cold and the headwinds blew 10 to 12 miles an hour. We opted to hop on the electric ferry. We deflated all of our boards, rolled them up and booked our tickets. This fast ferry quickly transported us to Styvi dock. The transportation systems in Norway are first class, all boasting free Wi-Fi, a variety of meal options and comfortable seating and viewing areas. The other passengers got a kick out of us and our predicament and loudly cheered us “goodbye” and “good luck” as they dropped us off in the dreary weather. Upon arrival in Styvi, the area’s most important landscape managers—the local sheep—greeted us, licked our paddles and curiously questioned our existence at the water’s edge.
Day 5: (9 Km) Odnes > Gudvangen
On our final day, we rose early, packed up and started the paddle back. With calm weather and still water, our goal was to get an early start to beat the ferry traffic. We were successful, as we only met one boat on our journey. Upon reaching Gudvangen we unloaded, repacked and headed to the bus stop, ready for our off-water adventures.
Our experience wasn’t quite as idyllic as that Instagram photo that sparked this whole trip. (Are you surprised?) Our days spent on the water weren’t particularly easy. The winds and rain often kept us chilled. That combined with the physical exertion, left us exhausted at day’s end. But an expedition wouldn’t be complete without a few detours, change of plans and suffering.
In the end, all the magic I had hoped for—thundering waterfalls, quaint villages and wild porpoises—popped up when we needed it most. We laughed around campfires and drank granite-filtered water directly from the waterfalls. The beauty and calm surroundings of this place will be hard to find again. Norway is a beautiful country with many incredible places and no shortage of water to paddle. We will be back.
Editor’s Note: Guest Contributor, Heather Koch is the co-owner of SUP Kentucky. She’s also an ACA Level 1/2 Certified SUP Instructor, Certified Environmental Educator and has over 8 years of stand up paddling experience