Introducing Trollstigen, one of Norway's top driving experiences. This mountain pass full of hairpin bends is only open in the summer months, making it a perfect addition to a summer road trip around the Norwegian fjords.
I rarely drive in Norway, so when I do, I like to make the most of it! One of my regular road trip destinations from Trondheim is Geiranger. To get there, I use the hairpin bends of Trollstigen.
Thanks to the visitor centre and outstanding viewpoints built at the top of the mountain, the road is now an enjoyable destination in itself.
You can easily use up several hours just for the drive and time spent on the walkways and lookout points. I recommend driving both up and down, as long as it's not too busy. Some of the walkways are longer than they seem, too!
One of Norway's most scenic drives
Trollstigen is surrounded by mighty mountains. To the west: Bispen (1450 m), Kongen (1614 m) and Dronninga (1701 m). To the east: Stigbottshornet (1583 m) and Storgrovfjellet (1629 m).
The mountain pass is the starting (or ending!) point of the Geiranger-Trollstigen national scenic route, one of 18 Norwegian roads that has received substantial government investment. I'd argue it's one of the best.
Along with Trollstigen, the route incorporates the hairpin bends of Ørnesvingen and the spectacular lookout over the Geirangerfjord.
There's also the attractive Gudbrandsjuvet gorge and varying mountain landscapes around every bend. Plus, there's a short ferry trip across the Norddalsfjord thrown in too.
You must allow plenty of time for the trip on what is also known as Norway's “golden route.” Technically it takes as little as two hours, but you are going to want to make several stops. Trust me on that one!
As you drive southeast from Åndalsnes toward the Trollstigen mountain pass, you get closer and closer to a sheer rock face rising high up into the sky. You won’t be the first person to think, “surely this is the end of the road?”
But then you spot a car crawling up the mountain face. “Wait a moment, there’s a road there?” Indeed, there is.
Trollstigen loosely translates into English as “The Troll’s Path”. The road links Åndalsnes with the Valldal valley and Geiranger, replacing a historic yet very challenging hiking trail.
Read more: Driving in Norway
The hiking trail remains popular with keen hikers and has recently been restored, improving conditions on the climb. However, most people are going to be driving, so we'll stick to talking about the road!
Such is the steepness of the mountain that Trollstigen requires eleven hairpin bends at an incline of 10 percent on its climb up to the 700-metre-high plateau.
The road is mostly single track and although there are several passing points, they're often clogged with parked cars. Where are the drivers? Outside taking photographs.
Approximately halfway up, an old stone bridge crosses the Stigfossen waterfall. The water tumbles more than 300 metres down and depending on the snowmelt and other conditions, the flow can be very impressive indeed.
The viewing platforms
Primarily known as an attraction for drivers, Trollstigen surprises many by its offering at the summit. The wooden paths around the summit connect you with the rugged mountain landscape.
Three impressive viewing platforms allow you to peer down onto the road and valley below. Personally, I recommend you take the walk to all three, as the view and experience is slightly different from each of them.
The largest platform dangles above a sheer drop of 200 metres, but the glass and steel construction keeps you safe as you take in the spectacular view of the racetrack-like road below. Just be aware that given the landscape, foggy weather is not unusual!
Opened in 2012, the striking visitor centre designed by Reiulf Ramstad Architects provides useful facilities for the increasing numbers of visitors. Inside you'll find a cafe and gift shop packed with all the troll-related merchandise you never knew you needed…
When to visit Trollstigen?
The most important factor when planning a trip here is the time of year. That's because Trollstigen is one of Norway's roads that is subject to a winter closure.
The stretch of the scenic route between Langevatnet and Geiranger is typically closed from November to May. Trollstigen itself closes up to a month earlier.
However, the actual dates vary each year, sometimes considerably. The decisions are made based on snow cover and weather. You can get the latest information from the website of Norway's Public Roads Administration.
Time your drive to arrive early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid tourist buses. They struggle with the hairpin bends. This can turn an otherwise incredible driving experience into a frustrating one!
The history of Trollstigen
Historically, Trollstigen used to be an important transport passage between the villages Valldal in Indre Sunnmøre and Åndalsnes in Romsdalen. When the road opened in 1939 it wasn’t long before Trollstigen became a tourist attraction.
After the construction that lasted eight years, the road was opened in July 1936 by King Haakon VII. Many of the road's bends are named after the construction supervisor of that particular section.
The road has required constant maintenance throughout its life due to the location and risk of rockfall. In 2005, an investment of 16 million Norwegian kroner saw comprehensive improvements and rockfall protection added.
Named for the trolls
Nearby Trollstigen, you'll find a mountain face known as Trollveggen. What's with all the troll references? Well, Norway’s folklore is extensive. Much of it dates back to the pagan era, but these oral stories were only written down much more recently.
The supernatural creature known as a troll plays a major role in Norwegian folklore. Portrayed as spirits of the underground, trolls are able to help or hinder humans, but often choose to do neither.
Norwegian trolls may be described as small, human-like beings or as tall as men depending on the region of origin of the story. Many tales describe the creatures as being extremely old, very strong, but slow and dim-witted.
As creatures of the countryside they favor peaceful environments and so won’t be found in cities. So strong was the belief in the troll folklore that as recently as 300 years ago, villagers would ring church bells for hours in an attempt to keep the trolls away. Funnily enough, it always worked.
Where to stay near Trollstigen
I said earlier to time your trip to arrive early or late. That's much easier when you stay nearby! There are several campsites in the area to choose from. I've personally stayed at both.
The riverside Åndalsnes Camping & Motel is a one mile walk from the town of Åndalsnes, yet it feels like you are in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by the steep ragged peaks of the Romsdal mountains, the campsite offers a wide range of cabins and motel rooms for small groups, along with tent pitches.
The reception building doubles as a restaurant selling beer and wine along with a menu of simple hot meals. If you bring your own food, the riverside benches are the perfect picnic spot. Trollstigen is just a 20-minute drive away.
Located at the foot of the Isterdalen valley closer to the road, Trollstigen Camping has a range of cabins for rent. Tents pitches are also available. The summer restaurant serves basic hot food all day. The same company operates the café at the top of Trollstigen, so staff are well-placed to answer any questions you might have about your onward journey.
Camping not your thing? Check out the famous Juvet Landscape Hotel, a forest hideaway with floor to ceiling glass walls. It's a bit further away from Trollstigen, but well worth a stay.
What the press say about Trollstigen
Do you still need convincing? Last but not least, let's take a look at some comments from others about this driving experience.
“Once part of the trade route that crisscrossed through the country, this passageway, called Trollstigen, or the troll’s path, remains a spectacular example of the power of engineering in a remote region that is basically impassable from early November to May, when the snow falls” – New York Times
“History buffs should note that for several centuries the Geiranger-Trollstigen road was an essential line of transport between Valldal and Åndalsnes, before the advent of cars. Parts of the original tracks that horses and their goods plodded along are still visible” – The Telegraph
“Despite—or perhaps because of—the inaccessible nature of the site, the project entails designing an entire visitor environment ranging from a mountain lodge with restaurant and gallery to flood barriers, water cascades, bridges, and paths to outdoor furniture and pavilions and platforms meant for viewing the scenery” – Dezeen