Your Guide to Hiking in Iceland
Your Guide to Hiking in Iceland
When it comes to healthy activities and rewarding hobbies, few rival the good ol’ hike. We’d like to argue that hiking in Iceland multiplies the great benefits of hiking by supplying a real feast for the senses.
Check out our cheap flights to IcelandLink opens in a new tab and then read on to start planning the hike of your dreams.
Is Iceland good for hiking?
It sure is. In fact, Iceland is considered a top destination for hiking and various other outdoor activities. The trails are often very well marked, information is easily accessible, and Iceland has a long-standing tradition of hiking and traversing the highlands. Guided tours are aplenty and when it comes to outdoor gear, our numerous, ambitious clothing companies have got you covered. But the number 1 reason for why hiking in Iceland is considered a top experience is of course the landscapes. The island holds a great variety of natural wonders, some within shouting distance of each other. Glacier tongues, waterfalls, deserted highlands, geysers, hot springs, black beaches, dramatic mountains, narrow fjords, volcanoes and their accompanying vast lava fields, caves, ice caves, and the enormous glaciers of course. The natural wonders are then accompanied by what we consider to be the most adorable wildlife in the worldLink opens in a new tab, whalesLink opens in a new tab, puffinsLink opens in a new tab, the arctic fox and even reindeer. And then there’s a secret bonus element most people don’t realize: the lack of insects, vermin and dangerous wildlife. With the exception of a stray polar bear sailing in on a piece of glacier broken off of Greenland approx. once every decade, wildlife in Iceland is pretty much peaceful and rather uninterested in humans.
Is hiking hard in Iceland?
That all depends on the type of hike you do. You can find very easy, comfortable and accessible trails all over Iceland and you can plan for and set out for very long and demanding hikes over the highlands, glaciers, or mountains. The hardest thing about hiking in Iceland is definitely the weather. Not because it’s so cold, hot or windy although it could be all of those things. It’s the most difficult element because it can change rapidly, and you have to be prepared for a huge variety of weather conditions if you set out on a multiple day hike. That said, weather forecasts are reliable but make sure you check them rigorously before embarking on your adventure.
The best time to hike in Iceland
We’re going out on a limb here and claiming that the summer months, June – September, are the best for hiking. This limb will probably be shaken by the passionate winter hikers that love nothing more than the crisp air of frost and snow and the enchanting light of the winter sun. You can’t fight that argument but given the unpredictable weather in winter which makes planning hikes and outdoor adventures quite difficult, we’re putting our money on the summer months. An added bonus is that you have a wide-open window for daylight as the sun hardly sets over the summer and you don’t have to stress being anywhere before it gets dark. Cause it won’t really get dark.
Best hiking trails in Iceland
Obviously, this will never be a complete list of trails and “best” is a subjective term, but here’s a short list of popular and, in our opinion, some of the best hiking trails in Iceland.
Multi-day hikes in Iceland
Laugavegur – 53 km
Not to be confused with the downtown shopping street in Reykjavik, the Laugavegur hiking trail is a 53 km hike in the highlands. It is most commonly hiked in 3-4 days, but guided tours are available for up to 5 days. The trail most commonly starts in Landmannalaugar and ends in Þórsmörk. If these names sound familiar, it’s because you’ve probably seen them in captions on some of the most amazing Instagram photos you have ever seen. This hike is an epitome of magnificent Icelandic landscapes, full of rhyolite mountains, hot springs, lush green oases, glaciers, volcanoes and extraordinary rivers. The hike is moderate with some challenging parts like river crossings, but this is one of the most popular trails in Iceland and as such, it’s well marked, quite safe and accessible.
Fimmvörðuháls – 24 km
As far as otherworldly landscapes go, few can rival Fimmvörðuháls. This trail starts in Skógar, at the foot of Skógafoss, one of Iceland’s most picturesque waterfalls,Link opens in a new tab and ends in Þórsmörk. The trail weaves over the mountains, between the glaciers of Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull and the scenery is nothing less than magnificent. This is the site of the infamous volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 which grounded air traffic in Europe for six days. There are hiking huts along the way for those that want a more comfortable hike, but this can also be, albeit a rather challenging, one-day hike. Keep in mind that this is one of Iceland’s most popular trails but also one of the most treacherous. The danger isn’t because of the glaciers or the volcanoes, since we usually get a bit of warning before they stir, but rather the sudden changes in weather. It’s common for hikers to describe picture-perfect weather at the foot of Skógafoss at the start of their hike which then turns into a snow blizzard at the top. The elevation is after all 1,000 m! Keep your eye on the weather forecast, make sure you’ve got good gear and we highly recommend a guide.
Hornstrandir – Multiple trails
For the ultimate claim to hiking fame, we recommend Hornstrandir. This is where ambitious and outdoorsy Icelanders flock in the summer and if you can say you’ve hiked in Hornstrandir, everybody knows you mean business. It also means you have some organizational skills because this hike is far from accessible. Aside from Vatnajökull glacier and the peaks of the central highlands, Hornstrandir is as remote as you can get in Iceland. The name roughly translates to “corner beaches” and refers to the northern shore of the Westfjord peninsula, the far corner of Iceland. Keep in mind that the West fjords are already considered quite remote in Iceland and their road system is notoriously difficult in winter. Here’s the kicker though: there are no roads to Hornstrandir. The area is only accessible by boat and hikers charter boats, usually from Ísafjörður to one of the coves where they start their hike and organize a boat to pick them up from a cove of their choosing after a certain number of days. We recommend getting a guided tour around these parts or having adequate experience as you will be very much on your own. But that’s also one of Hornstrandir’s biggest appeals. This uninhabited area provides a tranquil setting in the wild to last you for years, if not decades, after you return. The other major attraction is of course its natural beauty. Steep cliffs meet grassy oases, meet wild arctic foxesLink opens in a new tab that seem incredibly tame and friendly and everything in between, including remnants from old and deserted villages. The birdlife is spectacular, the views unparallel to anything else on earth and no, we’re not being dramatic. We’re just stating facts here. If you’re looking for an ambitious hike and you’ve got the skills and experience required, Hornstrandir should be your number one trail.
Víknaslóðir – 41-55 km
If remote yet accessible is your game, then Víknaslóðir is your trail. Starting at the remote town of Borgarfjörður eystri in the far East fjords of Iceland, this trail weaves through an uninhabited area for three days, or four if you choose to end in the town of Seyðisfjörður, arguably one of Iceland’s most beautiful villages. The area is incredibly beautiful and the trail comfortable and it doesn’t hurt that the locals here are renowned for their relaxed and friendly atmosphere, in their gorgeous little villages.
One-day hikes in Iceland
Fagradalsfjall Volcano – 8 km
A recent hit in the Icelandic hiking world is the trail to Fagradalsfjall. This is the site of the 2021 eruption just outside of Reykjavik and it’s a relatively easy 3-4 hour marked trail. During the eruption, the area was packed with locals and tourists who all came for the fiery show. Today, it’s a site that bears witness to amazing natural forces and if you want to meet brand-new ground, this is your chance. The black lava is only a few months old (in 2022), and you can be one of the first humans to witness what will be part of this landscape for the unforeseeable future. This is a comfortable one-day hike just outside of Reykjavik, and a chance to ground yourself like never before and literally get in touch with mother nature. You might want to book access to the Blue Lagoon after your hike which is only a few minutes-drive from this trail.
Svartifoss Waterfall – 5.5 km
We’ve already stated that Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s most picturesque waterfallsLink opens in a new tab, but if it ever had a rival, it would be Svartifoss. Skaftafell National Park is something of a fairytale in nature. The glacier tongue that crawls down to the plains below, the black sands of the south and the mountains and glaciers all around this area, frame this lush, green oasis. Most Icelanders have fond childhood memories of camping at this favorite local campsite and the hike up to Svartifoss is often a highlight of those memories. It’s easy, accessible and the reward is the glorious site of this waterfall, set in an amphitheater of columnar basalt. There are numerous hiking trails in this area to suit nearly everyone and Skaftafell is renowned for its (often) great weather.
Reykjadalur Valley - 6 km+
Just 40 minutes outside of Reykjavik is a town called Hveragerði or “Steamville” in English. So named because this is one of the geothermally hottest areas in Iceland and you’ll see steam rising up from various points all around the town and even some of the sewers! Reykjadalur valley is just outside of Hveragerði and is a comfortable hike along a marked trail that ends with a hot river. Many choose to go further, and there are various options to add on to this hike but the most popular attraction is without a doubt the hot spring riverLink opens in a new tab where hikers bathe and replenish their bodies before moving on or returning back to town. Be careful around these parts as its riddled with hot springs of various sizes and various degrees so stay on the trail and carefully test the waters of the river before jumping in.
Mount Esja (Steinn) – 6.6 km
Reykjavik locals who enjoy the outdoors (and who doesn’t?) frequent and love their town mountain Esja. It’s the big mountain across the bay from Reykjavik and it provides amazing views over the city and the landscapes around it. This is a very popular trail so expect traffic in every weather. Although popular and frequented, Esja can be challenging, and accidents can happen when hikers slip or even exhaust themselves. There are numerous trails here, varying in difficulty but Esja’s highest peak is 914m. The hike up to Steinn, a very popular viewpoint at 600m, takes 60-90 minutes.
Other hikes, walks and adventures on foot
If you’re not really into hiking, transportation and gear but enjoy your urban walking and great views, we recommend some great walks in Reykjavik. Parks like Heiðmörk offer great trails in natural surroundings and then there’s the scenic and comfortable pathways along the coast of Reykjavík, that circle Seltjarnarnes peninsula for example. Getting lost in the city can also be a great and fun exercise. Wander around at will. There are no bad neighborhoods in Reykjavik and you’ll always have cellphone reception.
If you feel snubbed by our summer selection of hikes or if you’re here in summer but prefer the frost and snow, there’s always the glacier hikes. It goes without saying that these are appropriate with a guide who knows these glaciers and their crevasses inside out. Popular glacier hikes include Sólheimajökull, Svínafellsjökull and Falljökull.
What to wear for hiking in Iceland
That depends on your planned hike but regardless of where you go, you’re going to need at least the following:
- Hiking boots appropriate for the terrain
- Warm and thick socks
- Woolen inner layer
- Shell jacket
- Waterproof or water-resistant trousers
- A woolen hat for relaxing at stops so that you don’t cool down too much
Pack more than you think you need and if you arrive many days in advance of your hike, bring gear to suit anything from frosty temperatures to 20°C, sun and hail, storms and sunny, summer days.
Safe Travels – Seriously!
Stay safe while hiking in Iceland. We can’t stress this enough. Many hikes have started out in perfect weather with clear skies and ended with a snowstorm once hikers reach a certain altitude. It’s vital to be well prepared, both in terms of gear, information about your trail and the recent weather forecast. Read our Safe Travels blogLink opens in a new tab and visit the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue websiteLink opens in a new tab, where you can even submit your travel plan for first responders.
PLAY flies to Iceland from multiple cities in Europe and North America. Book cheap flights to IcelandLink opens in a new tab now and start planning the hike of your dreams.