The world’s best paddlers migrate to the Sjoa Valley in the spring and summer to seek out the towering falls, endless slides and amazing Fresca-colored rivers that have made Norway a premier international paddling destination.
Situated 1.5 hours north of Lillehammer and 4.5 hours north of the capital, Oslo, Sjoa is central to nearly all of the country’s most outstanding whitewater. The valley itself is home to centuries-old wooden churches, bridge trolls and historic farms, as well as Norway’s largest commercial rafting operations and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of rivers, waves and steep creeks.
Warm up on the middle Sjoa, a 6-km, mid- to high-volume Class II-III+ play section with safe, eddy-serviced holes and a world-class wave that boasts epic playboating status in flood. Upstream, the Aseng Juvet canyon is 14 km of read-and-run Class III-IV that makes for a thrilling backyard run. Downstream, Amot Gorge provides 2 km of big-volume Class IV+ falls that can be run in a playboat or creeker.
Over a dozen more runs—including the renowned Ulla Falls, Lower Otta and Lagan— are accessible within an hour’s drive from Sjoa.
Average rent: $685
Number of gear shops/guide outfitters: 6+
Number of rafting companies: 4+
Get dirty on Lilehammer’s world-class, lift-accessed bike parks and cross-country trails.
Reach treeline in a matter of minutes on 400 km of marked trails in the adjacent Jotunheimen National Park. Tackle the classic, six-hour Besseggen circle route, which includes a stunning ferry ride on glacial Lake Gjende, and top out under the midnight sun among Norway’s highest mountains.
Grub, pub and hubbub
Sjoa Kayak Camp is the place to meet other boaters and settle in for cheap camping. Gear up and get river beta at Strie Strømmer—Norway’s largest kayak shop. Sjoa itself doesn’t offer much in the way of food or drink, but with the high price of grub in Norway, the local Statoil gas station’s sausage and endless free coffee (with the purchase of a mug) start to look pretty good.
Fifteen minutes down the road, Otta is the regional service center and the place to stock up on supplies. Don’t miss the annual Sjoa Kayak Festival, held in July when the water levels and weather are perfect, and there’s no shortage of paddling partners.
That’s brisk, baby: Sjoa’s glacial whitewater. | Photo: Graham Genge