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Hiking in Iceland – A Guide to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Do you want to try something different than hiking the Laugavegur trail and do you want to go off the beaten track? Then you should consider going to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is part of the Westfjords and Iceland’s northernmost peninsula, known for its dazzling cliffs, rich birdlife and arctic foxes. It takes a bit of travelling to get there, but the unique hiking opportunities in this area are totally worth it!


How to get to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

You can only get to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve from the middle of June till late August. The main ferry service departs from the town Ísafjörður, and there is also a boat service from Bolungarvík. The ferry ride from Ísafjörður to Hesteyri is 1 hour and 15 minutes and the boat tour from Bolungarvík to Hesteyri is 50 minutes. Driving to Ísafjörður from Reykjavík takes about 5.5 hours, and covers 445 kilometres.

If you come from Reykjavík, you will pass road 1, road 60 and road 61. This route is entirely paved and should not cause too many problems in summertime, even if you have a small car. If you drive on other roads in the Westfjords, you may encounter gravel roads, that often have potholes and washboard surfaces and might have steep climbs and descents without guardrails. On these gravel roads, it’s recommended to be extra careful and drive slowly. Also, be aware of sheep next to the road, as they tend to jump onto the road at the very last second.

If you don’t want to drive, it’s also possible to book a 35-minute flight from Reykjavík to Ísafjörður.

Where to go

There are many hiking trails on Hornstrandir, and it’s easily possible to hike for days in this unique area if you really want to explore it! Before you go on your hiking trip, head to the tourist information centre in Isafjörður to get all the information and maps you need!

This is an example of a popular three-day hike: On the first day you will walk from Hesteyri to Hlöðuvík, crossing one river (14 kilometres). On the second day you will hike from Hlöðuvík to Hornvík (10 kilometres), where arctic foxes are often spotted! On the third day you hike from Hornvík to Veiðileysufjörður (12 kilometres), where you can take a boat back to Ísafjörður.


Where to stay

There is very limited accommodation in the nature reserve, but in Hesteyri there is a nice guesthouse and café named the Old Doctor’s House that offers sleeping bag accommodation.

A lot of people that go to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve either stop by as part of a day tour, or go camping when they visit for more than one day. There are 16 campsites in total, 13 of which are run by the Hornstrandir office of the Environment Agency. Please only camp within marked areas and be aware of the fact that a permit must be obtained for lighting campfires.


How to prepare

If you plan to go hiking in Hornstrandir, you need waterproof clothes, good hiking shoes, maps of the area, all your hiking food and cooking equipment. If you go camping, you need a good rain and windproof tent. It can snow year-round at Hornstrandir, and storms are common. The area can be foggy, and this is why you should carry a compass or GPS with you. Be prepared for delays, as the ferry might be late because of the weather. In the nature reserve you will find emergency huts that have radios if needed. Polar bears might end up at Hornstrandir on drift ice from Greenland, but the chance of this is extremely small. It’s always good to be aware of your surroundings, and if you see a polar bear, keep your distance and report your sighting as quickly as possible.


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