Hiking in Iceland: Exploring the Land of Fire and Ice
A mountainous terrain with an extraordinarily lush landscape, hiking in Iceland is the perfect way to explore this untamed wilderness. From full-day hikes to multi-day treks, the vast selection of Iceland hiking trails invites visitors of all ages and fitness levels to discover the country’s true beauty. While the best hikes in Iceland are always up for debate, there are undoubtedly several alternatives that provide both nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts with an experience of a lifetime.
The Gjáin Valley (Easy)
Unknown to most tourists, Gjáin is one of Iceland’s best kept secrets. This 2 kilometer stretch is nestled in the Þjórsárdalur valley at the edge of the Highlands with a landscape that is straight out of a fairytale. Don’t be afraid to stray from the beaten path, this mystical oasis lies only a half hour from the more well known Viking longhouse called Stöng. Look out for elves and trolls as you pass by the elegant Gjárfoss waterfall and enjoy the breathtaking views, it won’t be long before this place is flooded with tourists.
The Fimmvörðuháls Pass (Moderate)
Often number one on the list of day hikes in Iceland, the Fimmvörðuháls Pass is a 25 kilometer trail that weaves between two glaciers called Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. While the hike can be done in a single day, some choose to spread the journey out over two days and spend one night at the Fimmvörðuháls Mountain Hut which is the halfway point between Skógar and Þórsmörk. The decision to hike from Skógar to Þórsmörk (south to north) or vice versa is yours to make, although if you start in Skógar be aware that the staircase to the top of Skógafoss waterfall will leave you gasping for air before the trail even begins.
The Glymur Waterfall (Difficult)
Thousands of waterfalls span Iceland’s diverse landscape, but few can compete with the majestic Glymur waterfall. This natural wonder stands at a height of 198 meters and is Iceland’s second tallest waterfall, after the recently discovered 240 meter tall Morsárfoss. Other famous Icelandic waterfalls include Seljalandsfoss, Gullfoss, and Godafoss. This is a particularly challenging hike involving multiple stream crossings that will test your balance and many vertical climbs that will have you holding on for dear life. Allow 3 hours to ascend into the lush green landscapes and take extra caution if you’re afraid of heights, this hike is not for the faint hearted.
The Svartifoss Waterfall (Easy)
On the southern edge of the enormous Vatnajökull National Park, Svartifoss is fed by the Svínafellsjökull glacier and is known for its striking backdrop of black basalt columns. These lava formations gave this 12 meter waterfall the name Black Falls and made it a popular destination for tourists hiking in Iceland. Just beyond Svartifoss is the lesser known view point at Sjónarnípa, a beautiful location to admire mighty glaciers and rich black sand beaches. The 5 kilometer loop that includes Svartifoss and Sjónarnípa starts at the Skaftafell Visitor Center and is one of the easier, if not the easiest, hike within the mountainous region of Skaftafell.
Mount Esja (Moderate)
Just on the outskirts of Reykjavík, Mount Esja dominates the city’s skyline to the north of the capital. This nature area is easy to reach by public transport and all its routes are marked according to their respective level of difficulty. The most popular hike reaches a large rock about 200 meters below the mountain’s peak called Steinn. The majority of people turn around at this point because the terrain on the final stretch becomes increasingly difficult, but experienced hikers do have the option to continue to the summit.
The Laugavegur Trek (Difficult)
A 55 kilometer trail with an extremely diverse landscape, the Laugavegur Trek has been named one of the world’s best hikes by National Geographic. From Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk Nature Reserve (or vice versa), this trail passes through multicolored rhyolite hills, black sand deserts, and geothermal hot springs. The Laugavegur Trek is indisputably one of the best hikes in Iceland, but due to unpredictable weather conditions and varying terrain, it is only open for two months during the summer so plan accordingly.
The Icelandic wilderness is as diverse as it is vast. Fortunately, Iceland hiking trails invite locals and tourists alike to discover the country’s natural beauty on foot. With easy, moderate, and difficult trail options, the possibilities for hiking in Iceland are endless. Whether you have a few hours or a few days, this captivating land will certainly lend itself to memories that will last a lifetime.