Hiking in Iceland is the best way to explore the country and to experience its unique wilderness. The naturally crafted mountains, kaleidoscopic terrain, snow-coated peaks, active volcanoes, black lava fields, glittering glaciers, gigantic waterfalls and geothermal hot springs – who wouldn't want to see this heaven on earth?
However, you need to make sure that you have done your research, packed the right kind of gear, and are ready to conquer the trails. Should you start with some easy trails in Iceland before trying the more daunting ones? How challenging can this experience get, and what are the best hiking routes in Iceland? What kind of stuff should you pack and what hazards should you look out for? It is natural to have so many questions, and you will find all the answers here.
How to Prepare Yourself for Hiking in Iceland?
Just like in any other part of the world, hiking in Iceland requires planning, packing, and being prudent. You need to have a good estimate of how long you are going to hike for, what the weather conditions are like, what the worst-case scenarios that you could experience on the trails are, and how you are going to contact anyone if something goes wrong.
Start by evaluating your health and fitness. Research the Iceland hiking trails and go through the reviews and pictures to know what you are signing up for. If you are hiking for a few hours, pack lightly and know the estimated return time. If you are going to hike for a couple of days, you need to make sure you have all the things you may need.
You must tell someone about your trekking plans. In case you don’t return on the estimated time or day, the concerned person can inform emergency services. If you are using a car rental in Iceland, make sure that the trails you are going to have a parking lot (some trails do while others don’t). During trekking, keep your cellphone with you so that in case something goes wrong, you can contact the Icelandic emergency service at 112.
What to Pack for Iceland Hiking Trails?
What to pack depends on the length of your trekking adventure and how much stuff you can carry. If you are going to hike for a couple of kilometers (a mile or so), you only need to take some warm clothes, a camera, a pair of boots, and a water bottle. Most of the trails here have spring water along the way where you can refill your bottle.
On the other hand, if you are planning to hike for days, you will need a bigger backpack that can store all the necessary items. You need to pack a first aid kit with you as sometimes things don’t go as planned, and it is better to be properly equipped. Also, make sure you have a cellphone with you with the emergency number saved in it. You also need to pack a map with you which can come in handy when you go hiking in unknown territories (and if your phone dies).
The Best Hiking Trails in Iceland
Every single region of the island has unique trails that challenge you to come and conquer them. Whether you are interested in hiking Northern Iceland trails or you have a list of the best hikes in South Iceland, you have so many paths to choose from. The national parks, as well as most of the campsites, have access to hiking trails with different levels of difficulty. You can also go for half-day hikes in Iceland, especially in areas around the capital city of Reykjavik.
Some of the most popular hikes span 1 to 6 days, such as the hikes in Fimmvorduhals and Laugavegurinn. Many experienced hikers challenge themselves for an 18-20 days’ hiking adventure that takes them hiking all across the country from the north coast to the south. Whatever your level of expertise is, make sure you are properly packed, as well as mentally and physically prepared for some of the best hikes Iceland has to offer.
Landmannalaugar Hiking Trails
Landmannalaugar is one of the best and the most famous hiking destinations in the country due to its beautiful landscape and geothermal rivers and streams. It is in Central Highlands, which is only open to hikers in the summer months, provided that the weather conditions are favorable.
You have the option to go for three main hikes in the area. The first one is an hour-long hike to Mount Blahnjukur (“The Blue Peak”), where you get mesmerized by the black and blues from the lava rocks and ashes. The second is a two-hour stroll from the Laugahraun lava field to Mount Brennisteinsalda. Brennisteinsalda is believed to be the most colorful mountain in Iceland as it showcases a rainbow of natural elements: deep red from the iron, green from the moss, and dark blue ash from the volcano. The four-hour long hike to Ljotipollur Crater Lake is the third option that you can take from Landmannalaugar, and it takes you to a beautiful lake surrounded by red slopes.
The Laugavegur Trail
Laugavegur is Iceland’s most famous hiking trail between Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork. It lets you enjoy the breathtaking views of multicolored mountains, moss-covered slopes, jet-black lava fields, and a natural hot spring. The hike could take 2 to 4 days covering a route that is 34 miles (55 km) long. You can stay overnight at the Alftavatn, Emstrur, Hvanngil, and Hrafnitinnusker mountain huts. The best time to go trekking here is from late June to early September. The rest of the year the trail is covered in a thick blanket of snow.
The Fimmvorduhals Trail
Considered to be the country’s second most famous trail, the Fimmvorduhals hiking trail starts from Thorsmork and finishes off at Skogar, covering 15.5 miles (25 km). The word Fimmvorduhals means ‘five cairns pass’. Although the original cairns are no longer in use, the path is popular among Icelanders as well as the travelers. This trail takes you along a river into the mountains, and you can see several waterfalls on your way. You can trek it in 10-12 hours, but it is better to spend 2 days exploring it and taking in the beauty.
One of the best parts about hiking in Iceland is that you can connect to different hiking routes. For example, you can extend your Laugavegurinn hike by adding the Fimmvorduhals trail to it.
The Hornstrandir Trek
In the Westfjords, you will find the remote area of Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, which is famous for its untouched natural beauty, bird cliffs, and arctic foxes. There are no shops, roads, or any such development, so you will need to bring everything (you will have to stay here for at least one night). You are only allowed to hike here from June to the middle of August.
As it is one of the most daunting places to hike in Iceland, you may not see any other person for days while you trek here. You can only access this nature reserve by boat. You will then hike 9 miles (15 km) from the harbor of Hesteyri to the stunning Hloduvik bay, taking somewhere between 4 to 6 hours. You can set up your camp there for the night, and the next day climb the steep Skalarkambur slopes to get a picturesque view of the nearby creeks. Trekking through Rekavik and Hornvik, you will reach the top of the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve and witness the most amazing bird cliffs of Europe.
The Viknaslodir Trails
There are many hiking trails in the East fjords that may take between 5 to 10 days for you to explore. These trails are collectively referred to as Viknaslodir, which means the “trails of the deserted inlets”. With the trails totaling 90 miles (150 km), Viknaslodir is considered to be the best destination if you want to go hiking in Iceland. You can only hike here in the summer months as the roads going towards East Iceland are closed in winter due to heavy snow.
Best Day Hikes in Iceland
Snaefellsjokull, Thingvellir, and Vatnajokull national parks offer some of the finest places to hike in Iceland. In addition to this, you also have plenty of options for day hikes in Iceland, especially from Reykjavik. You can trek in the Reykjavik peninsula, the geothermal Reykjadalur Valley, Glymur waterfall, the country’s second tallest waterfall (you can cross a river there as well), or the Esjan mountain that overlooks the capital’s outskirts. The mountain of Helgafell is also a famous Icelandic hiking spot and is located a 30-minutes’ drive from the capital.
Some other hiking trails in Iceland include Dimmuborgir, Hverfjall, Kerlingarfjoll, and many locations in the south of the East Fjords.
Iceland may be famous for its mesmerizing Northern Lights, but if you love to hike, summertime in Iceland may be the best season to explore this land of colorful landscapes. However, Iceland will always have something to explore for every year round. So, put on your boots and go hiking, Iceland is one of the best places you could explore.