- What is Tankavaara?
Today, the Gold Museum, maintained by the Gold Museum Foundation, the Gold Village, which offers accommodation and restaurant services, and the services provided by the UKK National park operate in Tankavaara area. Tankavaara also hosts the annual gold panning championships.
The area is home to the world’s only international Gold Museum with its buildings and open-air museum area, the café-restaurant Wanha Waskoolimies (Gold Village) and its accommodation services. The nature trails of the UKK National park (Metsähallitus) circulate in the Tankavaara terrain. During the summer season, there is also a traditional outdoors gold panning site (Gold Village) by the gold-rich Hopiaoja and a nature exhibition at Sompio House (Gold Village). The Gold and Mineral shop Kelokoru is open in the summer season and in the winter with self-service. Gold panning is possible in both summer and winter at the Gold Museum’s indoor panning place (see Programs, please book the program in advance).
You can get to know the nature of Lapland on the trails of the UKK National park. The trails lead to the beautiful forests and lookout spots of the Tankavaara hills, and there are two fireplaces maintained by Metsähallitus along the way. The War Historical trail presents the remnants of the Lapland War, the last actions of the Second World War in Finland. For more information about the nature trails, visit: nationalparks.fi.
Tankavaara is located along the national road 4, about 30 km south of Saariselkä. The distance to Ivalo is about 60 km and to Rovaniemi 230 km. The nearest supermarket is located in Vuotso, about 10 km south of Tankavaara. From the national road 4, there are two junctions to Tankavaara – the southern one leads directly to the Gold Museum parking.
Tankavaara is a village in Northern Sodankylä, founded by gold prospectors. The golden history of Tankavaara began as early as the 1930s, when an old Sami man Aleksanteri “Sauva-Aslak” Peltovuoma found gold along the Hopiaoja creek. After the initial gold rush, Tankavaara again attracted gold prospectors in the late 1960s, this time professionals Niilo Raumala and Yrjö Korhonen. These chaps got a great idea to start looking for gold in the pockets of tourists instead of the earth – this is how the gold panning site for tourists was established in Tankavaara in 1970, conveniently right next to the national road. They got the tip of Tankavaara’s still gold-rich soil from a local prospector Tauno Virtanen.
Tankavaara’s tourism originated from this tourist panning site and the area has expanded over the decades to its current level. The restaurant Wanha Waskoolimies and the goldfield building replicas from North America on Auraria Square were built by volunteers. The operations of the Gold Village are currently run by Tankavaara Restaurant and Accommodation Services Ltd.
The Gold Museum originated from the desire to preserve the tradition of gold prospecting for future generations, and the initiative to establish the museum was made by Inkeri Syrjänen at a meeting of the Gold Prospector’s Association in 1973. The museum was also started out by volunteer workers and today, the Gold Museum is run by the private Gold Museum Foundation.
In 1983, a Visitor Centre of UKK National Park was built in the village. As a visitor centre, the operations ceased in December 2018, but Metsähallitus still maintains the Tankavaara nature trails. The former building of the visitor centre is now known as the Sompio House.
Tankavaara as a unique travel destination in the goldfields of Lapland attracts new and old travellers year after year. The entire Tankavaara area has been built very much with the help of volunteer work, without shying away from crazy ideas. Tankavaara is home to both the Finnish Championships and the World Championships in gold panning, as well as the jazz festival Kaamosjazz, also the northernmost railway in Finland has crossed the village. The Gold Museum is the only museum in the world to present local and international gold history.
An honourable mention of Tankavaara’s builders goes to Kauko Launonen and Inkeri Syrjänen. Kauko hosted the Gold Village operations for decades and Inkeri was the museums long-term director. They both retired in 2008.