Dust off your backpack and hiking boots, it’s time to discover Iceland on foot. Why, you ask? Because Iceland has some of the best hiking trails in the world. Just imagine the following: hiking through lava fields and colourful mountains during the day, relaxing in a geothermal river at night. Pop open a good one and enjoy the midnight sun after a long day on your feet. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Let us tell you where to find the best hiking trails in Iceland.
Hiking in the Capital Area
For Reykjavík locals, the most popular hike in the whole surrounding area is mount Esjan. The stately mountain is a short drive away from Reykjavík. The mountain is directly north of the city and people are so used to it that for many Reykjavíkians, pointing at Esjan is the only way they can be sure where north is. The hiking trail up Esjan is well worn and you’ll be sharing the trail with locals getting out of the city and into the fresh mountain air.
Although there are a few possible routes up and around the mountain, the most popular route lies straight up from the visitor centre at the roots of the mountain. Most hikers stop at the big rock ingenuously marked Steinn (Rock), since the path becomes more difficult after that. If you’re an avid hiker looking for a longer hike, there are routes up the mountain to different peaks. Those trips require more preparation, however, so if you’re interested, seek out more information. If you do go all the way to the top, don’t forget to sign the guestbook. The view from Steinn is pretty good though, so it should satisfy most hikers.
How to get there – You can take the bus. Route 57 stops at the Esjurætur hiking centre. If you’re taking a car, just follow route 1 north out of the city, through the town of Mosfellsbær and stop by the hiking centre.
Feel inspired? Read more about mountains to hike in the Capital Area.
Hiking in the Highlands
The most famous hiking trail of Iceland is called Laugavegur, a hike of approximately 55 kilometres in the highlands, from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk. You will walk through two nature reserves, with a wide variety of landscapes and several river crossings. From the red and yellow mountains of Landmannalaugar through lava fields with bubbly geothermal areas to the birch forests of Þórsmörk. This variety is what makes the trail so intensely popular. The trail is well-marked, with trekking huts along the way, but it’s also possible to camp (and since the huts are often fully booked, it might be necessary). Usually, people take four days for the actual hike, hiking from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker on the first day (12 kilometres), from Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn on the second day (12 kilometres), from Álftavatn to Emstrur on the third day (16 kilometres), and from Emstrur to Þórsmörk on the last day (13 kilometres). Of course, variations are possible, and you can go on a lot of shorter hikes in the vicinity of the huts, both at the start and at the end.
For avid hikes, it’s possible to add the Fimmvörðuháls trail to the Laugavegur trail, from Þórsmörk to Skógar. In this case, you will not stop once you’ve reached Þórsmörk, but you will add another 25 kilometres to the trail, usually split over two days. On the first day you will head to Fimmvörðuháls hut, at the highest point of the trail at 1000 metres, and midway between Þórsmörk and Skógar. On the second day you continue from Fimmvörðuháls to Skógar. Even though it’s absolutely stunning, it’s important to note that this hike is not for beginners.
How to get there – The roads are only open in summertime. Tour operator Reykjavik Excursions drives out to the highlands in summer. You can also drive there yourself, but depending on the route, you will need a good four-wheel drive vehicle, and you must be confident to drive through rivers. Only the north route (via road 208) is accessible by regular cars. You can also book a private superjeep tour to Landmannalaugar.
Hiking in East Iceland
Do you want to go off the beaten track? Then check out the exciting Víknaslóðir trail in East Iceland. This hike will take you past beautiful picturesque coastlines and through rugged mountain areas. The starting point of the trail is the village Bakkagerði. In this town you can get all the information you need for the hike, and the owners of Guesthouse Borg offer a luggage transport service. The trail is clearly marked and there are good trekking huts along the way, that have to be booked beforehand if you would like to use them. On the first day you will walk from Bakkagerði to Breiðavík (21 kilometres), on the second day from Breiðavík to Húsavík (15 kilometres), on the third day from Húsavík to Loðmundarfjörður (15 kilometres) and on the last day from Loðmundarfjörður to Seyðisfjörður (23 kilometres). Located far from Reykjavík, in the east of Iceland, it’s less travelled than some of the other trails, and the landscapes are diverse, untrodden and pristine.
How to get there – If you have the time, you can drive all around Iceland to get to East Iceland, which covers about 685 kilometres (approximately 9 hours). It’s also possible to book a one-hour flight from Reykjavík to Egilsstaðir and book a pick-up by local bus company Tanni Travel to Bakkagerði.
Hiking in the Westfjords
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords is Iceland’s northernmost peninsula, known for its dazzling cliffs, rich birdlife and arctic foxes. It takes a bit of traveling to get there, but the hiking opportunities in this area are totally worth it. From the town Ísafjörður you can take the ferry to Hesteyri, the starting point of a three-day hike. On the first day you will walk from Hesteyri to Hlöðuvík, crossing one river (14 kilometres). The second day is spent hiking 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. There are many more hiking trails on Hornstrandir, and it’s easily possible to add a couple of days to your trip if you want to explore more of this unique area.
How to get there – The ferry to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve departs from the town Ísafjörður. Driving to Ísafjörður from Reykjavík takes about 5.5 hours, and covers 445 kilometres. It’s also possible to book a 35-minute flight from Reykjavík to Ísafjörður. The ferry ride from Ísafjörður to Hesteyri takes 60 minutes.