There is so much more to this interesting country than just it’s capital city, but in fact, the glaciers, fjords, hiking routes volcanoes and wildlife is really what makes Iceland so special.
Iceland is a truly magical country that is on most peoples bucket list, and so it should be. Although we all know Iceland is famous for it’s incredible nature, unique geological features and Northern Lights phenomenon, most just head to the capital Reykjavík and not venture much further, rarely do we consider hiking in Iceland. To fully explore and appreciate the beauty, it is best experienced on foot on one of the many hiking routes and trails available. Due to the varied and endless amount of geographic wonders that Iceland has to offer, it may be difficult to decide which hike to do first, so we have broken down 10 of the best hikes in Iceland to make it just a little bit easier to choose.
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As to be expected with Iceland being in the arctic circle, it is significantly colder than the more southern countries regardless of season, and the weather can be a lot more temperamental. But, that doesn’t mean that you should avoid hiking in Iceland, but just be cautious when you decide to go and always be prepared with cold-weather equipment and clothing for a sudden blizzard. Iceland is very remote and once you are out in its harsh wilderness you are up against its sometimes cruel and dangerous climate.
Having said all that, the summer is most likely the best time to trek in Iceland, as the climate is a lot more stable, longer daylight hours and in some cases, the glaciers will have retreated slightly and the snow will have mostly melted. The average summer temperatures are around 10 to 15 degrees celsius but very rarely hits the 20’s, especially in the northern locations. The winter can be anything from 0 degrees celsius to -10, but of course with that brings snow and a lot of harsh wind. If you are looking to visit and see the Northern Lights, then August and September are your best chances.
Now grab your cosy fishermans jumper and let’s get going…
Trail Length: 6.9km
Best For: Day tripping from Reykjavik
If you are visiting Iceland, you are most likely visiting the awesome capital of Reykjavik, and from there you must explore the impressive volcanic geography of the area. Take a day trip using public transport, from the city to the volcanic mountain range Ejsan, also known as Mount Ejsa. On this very popular and well-marked trail, you will experience some very steep ascents which require steel cables for security, but the majority of the route is a pleasant incline. As a round trip, this hiking trail is only about 5 to 6 hours trekking, so you can be back in the city in time for a well-earned beer.
Bring a windbreaker as it can get very windy at the summit.
Trail Length: 47.8km
Best For: Those who like to go off the beaten track
The Kjolur hike is one for the experienced, fit and hardy. Kjolur is an intense 3-day hike with narrow ridges, steep ascents and unstable ground, which will test even the best hiking enthusiasts. However, this hike is worth the effort, as it is relatively quiet and has a tranquil feel about it, as its not a popular route, so you feel like you will be the master of the mountain. Along the way, there are mountain huts to stay in overnight and rest up, and of course, a great way to meet any fellow hikers. But make sure to bring your food with you, as you will be cooking and providing all your own food for 3 days.
No matter the time of year, this hiking trail is notoriously cold, so bring extra layers!
Trail Length: 55km
Difficulty: Intermediate hikers
Best For: Solo travellers looking for a group tour
The Laugavegur trek is one of the most famous treks in Iceland, and possibly the world- it is definitely one for the bucket list. Nestled into the Icelandic Highlands, in the south of the country, there are some of the most incredible views and experiences. The area is famous for its hot springs, fields of lava and colourful rhyolite mountains. The trek is one of the best ways to experience the true natural and unique beauty of the country and its powerful landscape carved out by glaciation and volcanic activity. After 3 days of moderate to intense trekking, you end up in the Thorsmork valley at the foot of the infamous Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
Try to go towards the end of August to September, as there is a high chance of witnessing the Northern Lights.
Trail Length: 6km
Best For: Sunbathers
During the summer in Iceland, you may find the sun is out and you want to go on a fun day out and have a little dip to cool down. The Reykjadalur trail, also known as the Smokey Valley trail is the ideal active day trip for a summers day. This relatively easy hike is great for beginners not looking to work too hard, but a good start to a trekking career. Along the way, you pass impressive hot springs, waterfalls and a dangerous geothermally active area. You end up in a valley where there is a secret (or not so secret) river that is a naturally hot geothermal spa, that can be around 35 degrees celsius. It is perfectly safe and very pleasant to have a dip and a swim in the wilderness.
If you have the time, carry on walking up the valley there will be fewer tourists and some hidden waterfalls and hot springs.
Trail Length: 7.1km
Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate hikers
Best For: Families with kids
When visiting Rekjavik, as mentioned before, exploring more than the city is crucial to experiencing the best of Iceland. Your first stop away from the city should be to go on an easy day hike, to visit the 2nd highest waterfall in the country. Find the Glymur waterfall nestled in the Hvalfjordur fjord in West Iceland and see the waterfall drop 198m into an impressive mossy canyon, which is, of course, an awesome sight. Although, you are rewarded with the waterfall at the end, but the journey is not to be rushed. Along the way, there are interesting caves, lush and green fauna and a testy river crossing to get the adrenaline pumping. An unforgettable and active day out away from the city.
Wear proper hiking boots as this is a proper hiking trail with uneven ground, plus extra protection and grip when crossing the river.
Trail Length: 25km
Best For: Photography
The Fimmvörduháls trail is one of the most famous and arguably one of the most beautiful hikes in Iceland. Tucked between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers in the south of Iceland, the hiking trail is perfect for those wanting to explore Iceland and all of its natural beauty on foot. The route starts at the Skógafoss waterfall and follows you along the Skógá river, which is also perfect for refilling your water bottle with fresh mountain water. Although the trek can be done in 1 long day, it is also recommended to pace it out over 2 days so you can truly experience the spectacular volcanic scenery.
If you are staying overnight, there is a hut on the hiking trail you can use, perfect for an evening spent in nature.
Trail Length: 86km
Best For: Wildlife Lovers
Head to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve tucked away in the western fjords of Iceland, only accessible by boat. This intense 6-day trek through the reserve is packed full of history, nature and wildlife. You must be prepared to do this trek as it is fairly difficult and heavy going underfoot, as well as having to carry all 6 days of eating, and camping gear on your back for up to 7 hours a day. It is of course, worth every ounce of effort you put in for a truly jaw-dropping experience. There are ancient glaciers, craggy mountains juxtaposed with flowering pastures and the sea. But one of most epic things about this trek, in particular, is the wildlife, as some of Europe’s largest sea birds nestle in the cliff edges and seals will be sunbathing on the rocks, whilst arctic foxes scurry around looking for food- magical!
Look out for the derelict settlements that show the rustic lifestyle of fisherman back in the 20th century.
Trail Length: Multiple different routes and lengths
Best For: Groups of friends
The Hornstrandir nature reserve can also be enjoyed and experienced on foot for single-day hikes, as well as longer multi-day routes. Stay in the nearby city of Ísafjörður and grab the ferry to the nature reserve to start exploring the beautiful area. There are many different options and routes to take for a few hours of adventure, depending on ability, time restraints and interests. You can take routes along the craggy cliff edge following the coastline and see all the birds in their natural habitat, or take the Hornstandir Panorama route, where you can see the fjords across the bay. The routes are not particularly well signed, so you can always sign up to a tour, but it is also a great chance to get some peace with nature.
Take all food and drink for the day as it is very remote and there are no refreshment facilities.
Trail Length: 24km
Best For: Mountaineers
For those who are avid hikers and love an uphill challenge, then this is ideal for you, as you embark upon 12-15 hours of intense ascent to reach Iceland’s highest peak. Other than the immense sight from the summit of the Hvannadalshnúkur mountain, the main feature is the epic Vatnajökull glacier, which is the largest glacier in Iceland and actually one of the largest in Europe. The glacier lords over the area creating an incredible natural wonder and it covers the Öræfajökull, the largest active volcano in Iceland. This geographically unique trek requires little technical skill, but it takes a good fitness level, experience in uphill endurance and someone ready to take on some temperamental weather conditions.
Book a tour with a guide for group motivation and to ensure your safety, as weather can change rapidly, and the route is tough.
Trail Length: 90km
Best For: Geology lovers
Over 5 days this trek will have you embark upon an epic adventure through 90km of natural wonder. In the Northeastern part of the Icelandic highlands is home to the famous caldera Askja and the lava fields of Ódáðahraun. From start to finish, this trek is an adrenaline-fuelled adventure, as just to get to the starting point you must take a 4×4 for some of offroading and possibly tackle snow blizzards at 1300m, even in the summer. The ground is essentially lava, so it is uneven underfoot, so requires good solid walking equipment and the skill to walk on uneven terrain. Each evening you can eventually have a rest and stay in one of the rustic mountain huts and cook under the stars.
One the last day of the trek, hop back in the car for another quick 4×4 trail to the Myvatn Nature Baths for a swim in natural baths.
Well, there you have it, 10 of the best hiking trails in Iceland and these 10 have probably not even scratched the surface of the opportunities there are to explore Iceland by foot. The best part of course, is that there is a great variety to cater to all abilities and time frames, so if you are a beginner hiker and only have a day or two, then you can still have your Icelandic adventure. Whilst, the avid hikers and expert mountaineers will love to visit and tick some of their bucket list best hikes off their list.
Iceland is blessed with some of the most interesting, unique, and exciting geographies in the world, which will be missed if you go to the capital for just a short weekend break. Take the time to explore Iceland and you will not regret it!