Top Trails for Hiking in Iceland
Iceland’s dramatic landscapes can be experienced in many ways. At the big-hitter sights, such as those on the Golden Circle, you may want to simply stand and stare. Whilst the changing landscapes of the Ring Road are a joy to experience on a road trip. But walking through a landscape is a whole other experience. When you are hiking in Iceland you get to tune into your surroundings on a deeper level. You will get to see the subtle changes in colour, the tiny arctic flowers and the weather rolling in on the horizon. Hiking is also a fantastic form of exercise. And one that partners well with a self-drive road tour of Iceland. After a few hours on the road or even several days of road tripping it is good to get out there into the landscape and get physically moving.
In this article we have covered a range of popular hiking routes in Iceland. From easy day hikes and short hikes around the Reykjavik area to much longer multi-day treks. Hiking is a fantastic way to explore Iceland so here is just a taste of the many incredible hikes on offer.
Glymur Waterfall Hike
At 198 metres high Glymur is the second highest of the waterfalls in Iceland. Hiking to Glymur is a fantastic day hike of about 4-6 hours depending on your pace. It is a hike that could easily be done if you are on route from Reykjavik to the Saefellsnes Peninsula. Along the way hikers must cross a river and take an exposed path up a steep canyon. It is a moderately challenging hike and you will need to come prepared with sturdy shoes, snacks and water. The hike up is beautiful and passes through a lovely fjord and a cave. Yellow markers and cairns mark the route of the path. There are a few linked paths though so do keep track of where you are.
Hiking Notes: A short easy to moderate hike of 4-6 hours. Great to add to your itinerary if you are heading to the Snæfellsjökull National Park. Access is year round dependent on the weather in winter.
Hiking in the Snæfellsjökull National Park
There are many short hikes to enjoy in the Snæfellsjökull National Park. This is a stunning national park in Iceland often referred to as Iceland in miniature. The national park takes up most of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and is about a two-hour drive from Reykjavik. One of the most interesting hikes is a coastal one that takes you along some spectacular cliff paths. The hike takes you between the small villages of Arnarstapi and Hellnar. Along the way you will see some incredible basalt rock formations, including columns, pillars and arches. Along the way hikers will enjoy views across the ocean and over to the Snæfellsjökull glacier. It is an easy and mostly flat route that can be done by nearly anyone. It should take about one to two hours to complete depending on your pace.
Hiking Notes: Several short and manageable hikes that can be undertaken year-round. Best visited in summer when it makes for an ideal motorhome rental camping trip of around 3-4 days.
Reykjadalur Trail near Hveragerdi
This is an easy hike amidst the beautiful surroundings of the Smokey Mountains not far from Reykjavik. The culmination of the hike is a dip in the warm waters of the geo-thermally heated river that flows through a lush valley. The starting point is the small town of Hveragerdi about a forty-minute drive from Reykjavik. From there it is easy walking through a geothermally active area of bubbling hot springs. Because of its proximity to Reykjavik it is one of the most popular day hikes in Iceland. Even so there is plenty of space and it is well worth it.
Hiking Notes: An easy hike of about three hours or less. Can be done year-round depending on the weather.
Mount Esja Hike
This is another popular day hike in Iceland. Again it can be easily reached from Reykjavik and will take between 2-4 hours to complete. Mount Esja lies only about 15km from the capital and the summit is at 776 metres. From the top there are fantastic views across Reykjavik and the surrounding landscapes and ocean. There are various routes up to the summit. This includes a longer and easier route winding its way through small areas of woodland to the peak. Then there is a steeper and slightly more challenging hike if preferred. All routes are relatively easy though and can be done by the majority of people, including children.
Hiking Notes: An easy to moderate hike of about 2-4 hours. Can be completed year round although in winter it is much trickier. You may well need crampons and should be an experienced hiker. Best walked in the summer months and in early winter before the snows.
Landmannalaugar Hiking Area
Located in the Icelandic Highlands this is one of the most popular hiking areas in all of Iceland. That is not to say that it will be overly busy though. This is a large area of stunning mountain landscapes with plenty of space for you to feel at one with nature and not come across too may other walkers. Colourful rhyolite mountains come in a kaleidoscope of pinks, reds, greens and blues creating some truly amazing views. The name Landmannalaugar translates as Pools of the People and it is a very active geothermal area with warm rivers and streams to bathe in. Perfect for soaking weary bones are for taking a refreshing dip after walking up a sweat. This is wild country though. You won’t find changing rooms and snack bars here.
Due to its highland location it is only possible to hike in the Landmannalaugar area during the summer months. Hikers can only safely access the area from about June to September depending on the weather. There are all sorts of hikes that can be undertaken from here. If you are after an easy hike then the two-hour trail to the Laugahraun Lava Field is a great option. Others might prefer to gain some height and hike up to Mount Bláhnjúkur the Blue Peak. On the way up the views across the colourful lava fields are spectacular. From the top hikers will see glaciers and mountain peaks stretching off into the distance. This hike is a moderate 2-3 hour expedition. There are many more hikes in the area, including several multi-day hikes that we will look at next.
Hiking Notes: Several hikes of varying lengths with access from June to September.
The Laugavegur Trail
The Laugavegur trek is a classic multi-day trek of 55 km. It usually takes between two and four days to complete, depending on your pace. Hikers can stay in mountain huts along the way or camp nearby if they bring their own tents. This hike will take some planning but it is a simply breath-taking route. Hiking the Laugavegur Trail is an incredible experience with impressive scenery and not too challenging terrain. You can also take a guided hiking tour of the route if preferred. If you head here later in the season it is an incredible place to see the Northern Lights far away from any form of light pollution.
Hiking Notes: Access from June to September depending on the Iceland weather. This is a multi day hike so you will need to carry all of your kit with you, including food. For safety reasons it is a good idea to let someone know your plans before embarking on this hike. You can log your travel plans at Safe Travel so that search and rescue can be alerted in the event of any problems.
The Fimmvörduháls Trek
This is another popular multi-day hike in Iceland. This one is a little shorter and can be easily completed in two days with one overnight in a mountain cabin. This hike can be combined with the Laugavegur trek. Alternatively you can start the hike at the Skógafoss Waterfall in South Iceland. The path leads hikers through some spectacular mountain scenery, including dozens of waterfalls, volcanic craters and scenic valleys.
Hiking Notes: This two-day hike can be undertaken in the summer months only. It involves and overnight camp or stay in a mountain hut so you will need full gear.