Geology is a rising trend in nature tourism, making Geoparks extremely popular tourist sites internationally. Geological perspective in the landscape, with its visible natural formations, offers nature experiences and helps in understanding the entities of natural and cultural history.
Geopark label indicates sustainable and great quality local products in different parts of the world. Geotourism enables both nature conservation and creation of new businesses in the region.
Discover the hidden geological treasures of Lake Saimaa!
The geological values of the Saimaa Geopark area consist of ancient and fractured bedrock and its most commonly known type of rock – rapakivi granite – and its massive ice-marginal formations known as the Salpausselkäs, formed in front of the ice sheet at the end of the last ice age. Additional geological value is provided by different drumlin variations in the Pieksämäki drumlin field. They supplement the glacial geology content to cover all key areas of the Finnish Lake District ice lobe. During the period following the last ice age, the development of the Saimaa lake area, which was formed through the combined impact of the outlined geological factors, has been particularly affected by southeastern tilting of the ground due to uneven uplift. This development and the story of Saimaa can be seen in the natural environment as ancient shorelines at various heights, rock paintings, and particularly in the Saimaa’s outlet Vuoksi and in the Imatrankoski rapid potholes.
The geology is directly reflected in the shapes of the Lake District. In the deeply fractured bedrock areas in the north, Saimaa splinters into a labyrinthine network of watercourses. In southern Saimaa, where the Salpausselkäs and related feeder eskers occur, the lakeland scenery is characterised by low sandy shores that span kilometres, and chains of esker islands which break the wide open waters.
Saimaa offers the rare opportunity to learn about all of the key types of formations appearing on the ice lobe at the edge of the ice sheet (ice-marginal formations, eskers and drumlins). In addition, geology has shaped intricate and interesting natural environments, which are linked to the significant number of natural and cultural values in the period following the melting of the ice sheet.
Saimaa Geopark tells the story of Lake Saimaa’s extensive labyrinthine watercourse from its beginnings millions of years ago to the present day. Saimaa Geopark’s sites make this unique story visible to today’s hikers.
Remnants of an ancient sea left on the shore cliffs
The primeval rock foundations of the Saimaa region were born at the bottom of an ancient sea approximately 1,900 million years ago. The bedrock was formed over time; the ancient sea withdrew and a high mountain range rose in the Saimaa area. Deep in the foundations of the mountains, magma crystallised to form gneisses and granites, and gradually the mountains eroded away. The youngest of the granite family is rapakivi, which is known globally by its Finnish name. Nowadays the roots of the mountains with their fragmented zones are visible in rocky islands and cliffs, which border and dot the Saimaa lakeland scenery.
Landscape shaped by a continental ice sheet
The Geopark area’s fractured bedrock and its varied topography is covered by a layer of soil. The soil is of varying thickness and consists of different kinds of quaternary deposits. The area’s soil was formed over the last 20,000 years as a result of ice sheet erosion and deposition processes, and shoreline displacement, river erosion and paludification following the melting of the ice sheet.
The Saimaa region was shaped into its current form during the last ice age. It left behind massive ice-marginal formations, the Salpausselkä ridges, which are visible even from space. They were formed when gravel and sand was deposited at the edge of the melting continental ice sheet. The Salpausselkäs are crossed by long and discontinuous chains of steep esker ridges, which link the northern and southern parts of the Saimaa Geopark.
The River Vuoksi changes the direction of Saimaa’s development
The Saimaa Geopark region was freed from underneath the continental ice sheet over a period of approximately one thousand years. The area was part of the Baltic Sea’s ancient sea and lake phases, before isolation and its development into an independent lake system. Around 11,000 years ago the water level in southern Saimaa was much lower than it is today, but due to uneven land uplift and tilting, the water level began to rise and shores were flooded. This Saimaa stage is called the Greater Saimaa era. The birth of the River Vuoksi 5,700 years ago changed the direction of Saimaa’s development. The water level dropped a few meters and Vuoksi started to regulate the development of Lake Saimaa and the entire Eastern Finland lake landscape. Hikers of today can distinguish Saimaa’s multi-stage history in the terrain in the shapes of the raised beaches at different altitudes.
Thousands of years of habitation around Lake Saimaa
As legacy of the isolation brought about by the ice age, Lake Saimaa still has rare endemic species, such as the Saimaa ringed seal and landlocked salmon. The Saimaa region and its sandy shores attracted human settlements already in the Stone-Age, as a reminder of which impressive rock paintings can still be found on cliffs and rocks.
saimaa geopark visitor centre
The Saimaa Geopark Visitor Centre is located in Imatra’s Culturehouse Virta, right after the main entrance. The visitor centre offers a great deal of information about geology and the developmental history of the Saimaa area. One can dive into deep history of our nearly two billion years old bedrock by observing the diverse rock samples in the exhibition. Also, a possibility for exercising basic rock identification is given. A timeline and sample collection, covering the last 13,000 years, visualize the lake-developmental stages and man’s early life in the Saimaa area. Several geological maps are displayed as well. The formation and strucure of the Salpauselkä ice-marginal formations are introduced with a scale model, giving a comprehensive viewpoint of the landscape-shaping forces of the Ice Age. Furthermore, the visitor centre offers information on the UNESCO Global Geoparks organization as well as Geopark destinations both in Finland and abroad. The visitor centre is a well suited place to start geohiking in the Saimaa region.