Norway's Preikestolen is on the bucket list of so many travellers. But the high numbers making the hike are beginning to cause problems. Not everyone is happy with the increasing crowds.
Hiking opportunities are one of the biggest tourism draws to Norway.
During this year's summer season, one hike in particular has attracted record numbers. The Pulpit Rock—or Preikestolen in Norwegian—hike drew 309,956 visitors.
That's up from 288,839 in 2018 and a new record. It's also equivalent to almost 6% of Norway’s population. That's a fact made all the more remarkable when you consider that most people take the 3.7-mile hike during June, July and August.
The record number is the continuation of an upward trend that’s lasted ten years. Since 2008, the number of visitors making the hike has climbed ever upwards, increasing by a total of 61%.
There were yet more records set during the year. Daily visitors hit 5,342 on July 17, while the monthly average was 3,410.
A world-famous hike
Preikestolen is an 82×82 foot square clifftop that stands almost 2,000 feet above the Lysefjord, one of Norway’s most attractive fjords. On a clear day, the views “from the Pulpit” are simply breathtaking.
So, what's changed? Why are so many people suddenly making the trip? The answer is simple: social media.
Pictures and videos from the clifftop and accompanying hike have been shared on the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube. This led to CNN naming the cliff as one of the world's top 50 natural wonders in 2017.
Last year, the site was also featured in the sixth instalment of the Mission:Impossible franchise. Although movie producers set the scene in India, that didn’t seem to stop the fascination among movie fans. They flocked to see the site for themselves, boosting numbers yet further.
The international appeal is highlighted by the nationalities visiting. Germans were the most frequent visitors during the season, outnumbering even Norwegians!
One Swedish hiker took to TripAdvisor to report on the trail's condition in the middle of July. He said the path was extremely crowded, although they did wait to 9.45am to begin their walk. “In many places it is too narrow to go around slower people, and this was very annoying. There were hundreds of people going up.”
Read more: Hiking in Norway
Another keen hiker from the USA also commented on the crowds in the summertime, calling them overwhelming: “It is hard to commune with nature when you're surrounded by so many people. I would recommend that you try to go in May or September.”
Helge Kjellevold, Managing Director of the Preikestolen Foundation told Norwegian broadcaster NRK he was very happy with the record numbers, especially as numbers in the off-season also showed growth. “It shows that we have managed to spread the traffic a bit, and that is what we are working for,” he said.
Rescues from the hiking trail hit new heights
However, the Foundation faces a problem. The sheer numbers of people hiking the trail in June, July and August has left it difficult to manage and maintain. In only the second week of July, Norsk Folkehjelp (Norwegian People's Aid) reported more rescues from the trail than in the whole previous year.
The reason for the increased numbers could be many and varied. However, it's clear from reports that many tourists that haven't looked into their trip in any detail are unprepared for the hike. Many don't understand that to reach Pulpit Rock, a four-hour hike is required to get there and back from the car park.
If you're not expecting to hike such distances and/or you come unprepared, that's a real challenge. Many are said to be totally unprepared for the rocky trail and often slippy terrain. Some don't bring adequate food and water.
Read more: Could Norway's Preikestolen Collapse?
The Foundation conducted a survey of visitors earlier this summer. Almost 25% of those asked thought that restrictions should be placed on the numbers allowed to be on the trail at any one time. Having said that, 85% described their experience of the hike to be good or very good.
Foundation management are looking to make improvements next year. One area they are targeting is tourist buses, in particular the number allowed at the trailhead car park. Kjellevold said they will look to spread out their arrival times so as not to overwhelm the trail.
The entire route is now one of Norway’s designated national hiking trails, in recognition of the work done in the area.
So, should you hike to Preikestolen?
If you really want to make the trip, do so! But try setting off as early as possible in the morning, or consider hiking out of season. If you do this though, be sure you're well equipped and understand what the likely trail conditions.