Trails: Laugavegur

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The hiking trail between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk is one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland. National Geographic listed it as one of the most beautiful trails in the world.

It is unusual to find so much variety in the landscape. The trail goes through incredibly colourful rhyolite mountains, black obsidian lava, wheezing hot springs, lakes clear as a mirror, black sandy desert and ends in a lush forested area.

Besides allowing for plenty of time to enjoy the hike itself, it is strongly recommended that hikers use the opportunity and stay some time in Langidalur in Þórsmörk at the end of the hike. Þórsmörk is a veritable hikers paradise with great many beautiful hikes, both long and short. Hut wardens will provide all necessary information.

Many choose also to end the trek with a hike over the magnificent Fimmvörðuháls and end up in Skógar.

Below you will find all necessary information about the hike and detailed description of each hiking day. Note that at the bottom of this page you will find a map detailing the route, a list of all the huts along the way and some photographs.

How do I get there?

During summer it is possible to drive 4×4 jeeps to Landmannalaugar along the roads Fjallabaksleið nyrðri (F208) or Dómadalsleið (F225). Similarily one needs a 4×4 jeeps to drive into Þórsmörk (F249). It is entirely up to the Icelandic Road Authority to decide when these roads open depending on snow conditions and how the roads are holding up after the winter.

Those who choose to complement the Laugavegur trail by hiking the Fimmvörðuháls trail, end up in Skógar, that lies on the Icelandic Ringroad / Highway One. Skógar is accessible for all cars, all year round.

Several bus companies offer scheduled bus fares to Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk during summertime, for example Trex and Kynnisferðir. The buses stop right outside the huts and the campsites.

The bus companies also offer so-called Hikers’ bus pass / passport that is valid for a single transfer from Reykjavík to the starting point of choice (Landmannalaugar, Þórsmörk or Skógar) and back to Reykjavík again from the finishing point (Landmannalaugar, Þórsmörk or Skógar).

When is it open?

Access and passage on the trail vary from year to year depending on weather, snow conditions and when the Icelandic Road Authority opens the roads to Landmannalaugar and other huts along the way (F208/F225/F210).

On average one can assume that the trail is open from June 25 to September 15.

How long does it take?

The travelling schedule depends on what suits the hikers. Many use the sleeping bag accommodations found in the huts along the trail while others choose to stay in tents.

Similarily, some run the length of the trail in a single leg, while others use at least four days to enjoy all the fantastic and beautiful spots along the trail.

It is highly recommended to take ample time for the hike, or at least three to four days, plus two to three days in Langadal in Þórsmörk at the end of the hike, to enjoy the multiple hiking possibilities there. If hiking the Fimmvörðuháls trail as well, you need to add at least one extra day.

Waymarks and rivers

The whole trail is well marked and has enough traffic that the danger of getting lost is minimal. However, in bad weather and fog, when visibility is close to zero, everything will change. This is especially true during the first two parts of the trail, from Landmannalaugar up to Hrafntinnusker and then down to the lake Álftavatn. This part of the way sees a lot of fog and bad weather and early summer this area can also be covered with snow.

The hikers must keep in mind that they are in the middle of the Icelandic highlands, reaching an altitude of more than 1200 meters. You must be prepared for every type of weather, even snowstorm in the middle of July.

While some rivers on the way have footbridge, at least three rivers have to be waded. Generally, they are not difficult to cross but they can grow without a moments notice in rain and ablation. Be extra careful and always let the current help you get across.

The mobile connection on the trail is sketchy but you should be able to find a connection close to all the huts except for Emstur where you have to go up a hill to get a phone signal.

In which direction?

Due to the popularity of the route, it is a one-way trail during the midst of summer, the traditional way i.e. from Landmannalaugar south to Þórsmörk.

It is fair to say that almost all Icelanders who hike Laugavegur take the north to south route, from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk, as the trail slopes down in that direction. In addition, the view that suddenly opens across the southern part of the trail, Álftavatn and the southern glacier from Jökultungur, is pure magic and sits forever in the memory of those who have experienced it.

Huts and camping

There are six cabins and camping grounds along the way, all owned by Ferðafélag Íslands (Iceland Touring Association, FÍ). See the hut tab at the bottom of this page where all the cabins and camping on the trail are listed. There you will also find a detailed description of each hut.

Keep in mind that it is absolutely prohibited to pitch a tent outside designated areas inside the Nature Reserve. All the huts along the way have camping grounds.

In Landmannalaugar there are great facilities and sleeping bag accommodations for 78 people. In Hrafntinnusker 52 can sleep and 72 in the cabins in Álftavatn. In Hvanngil there is room for 60 people and the same number in the Botnar cabin in Emstrur. Þórsmörk offers a large and spacious chalet with room for 75 people.

Equipment, supplies and food

The Laugavegur trail can be challenging. It lies in the Icelandic highlands, far away from all villages or farmhouses. The terrain is very varied and the weather is totally unpredictable. Thus it is not uncommon to be snowed upon in the middle of summer.

Please keep these facts in mind when preparing yourself for the hike and only bring good and sturdy hiking gear, good hiking boots (please, no sneakers) and wind and waterproof clothing. Preparation is key to safe travel in Iceland so read all the information you can come across before you leave.

All the huts along the trail sell some supplies, such as backpacking dried food, soda and candy bars as well as stoves and gas. Only in Langadal in Þórsmörk is it possible to buy beer and wine.

Please note that it is not possible to buy hot, ready-made meals in our huts along the trail so all hikes must carry their food along with them. The water in rivers and streams along the trail is in most cases potable so there is no need to carry water.

Sanitation and garbage

All the huts have toilets and running water and everywhere, except in Hrafntinnusker, can hikers take a hot shower for a fee.

It is absolutely forbidden to throw away and leave garbage, including toilet paper and leftover foods out in the open nature. You must bring it with you and dispose of it in proper garbage bins.

Please note that no garbage can be left in the hut in Hrafntinnusker, Emstrur or Baldvinsskáli. From there you have to carry your trash with you to the next hut.

Respect the nature

Those who hike Laugavegurinn do so to experience the spectacular nature along the trail. The Icelandic environment is very fragile and all hikers must exercise great care and respect for the nature.

Please stay on the trail, only pitch your tent in designated camping grounds, avoid stepping on the fragile moss or leave marks or trails where there are none. It only takes one set of footprints for many more to follow.

We emphasize that nothing can be left in nature, neither organic leftover food nor toilet paper. The general rule is to leave nothing but footprints on the trail and take nothing but pictures and memories.

Additional information

The guide booklet Laugavegur Hiking Trail offers good hiking tips and describes each leg of the way plus suggesting some interesting evening hikes from each of the huts along the way.

Fjallabak Nature Reserve is a 160 page book, mainly about the area surrounding Landmannalaugar.

Several maps cover the entire hiking trail, including the special map Þórsmörk Landmannalaugar which is in the scale 1:100 000.

In addition the Landmannalaugar Hiking Map is a detailed, drawn map for those who want to hike around Landmannalaugar.

Last but not least we suggest you take a look at a beautiful photobook of Laugavegur.

All of these books and maps can be bought at the FÍ online store, at the offices of FÍ, Mörkinni 6 in Reykjavík and in the hut in Landmannalaugar. The booklet Laugavegur Hiking Trail and the special map Þórsmörk Landmannalaugar is also available for purchase in other huts on the Laugavegur trail.

Landmannalaugar-Þórsmörk

Below is a detailed description of the classic Laugavegur hiking trail, i.e. from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk. The trail is divided into four hiking days. Everyone hiking the Laugavegur trail for the first time should allow plenty of time to finish the hike and thus being able to enjoy the varied trekking plus the many hiking possibilities along the way.

Landmannalaugar-Hrafntinnusker
12 km. 4-5 hrs. Ascent 470m

This first part of the route is the shortest in kilometres, but as the accumulated elevation is close to 500m and this is the first day of the hike, many people find this part a little strenuous. The weather is unstable in these areas, and it is often necessary to walk in snow, which further increases the difficulty. The reality is that hikers may need all the energy they have, to get through this first part of the trail.

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The first part leads up to the lava field of Laugahraun, crosses it, then heads downhill before heading up again to the plateau, just below Brennisteinsalda. It is a good idea to stop here and look around at the stunning views, flora, mountains and gorges in all colours of the rainbow.

The trail then continues further up on to the plateau, where small ravines cut into the landscape as the rivers shape the soft mountain. The way ahead is all uphill, but it not extremely steep.

The next destination is Stórihver, a beautiful vegetation spot right next to a whizzing geyser where you can stop, rest your legs and get a bite from the provision box. It is approximately an hour walk from here, up to the hut Höskuldsskáli at Hrafntinnusker. This part of the trail is often covered with snow. Here is also the greatest risk of fog. It must be stressed that hikers must be careful and follow the waymarks.

Hrafntinnusker-Álftavatn
12 km. 4-5 hrs. Descend 490m

The path from Hrafntinnusker runs along the slopes of Reykjafjöll. The area is a valley bottom which is mostly flat, but there are a few ravines that should be crossed extra carefully since they are often half-full of snow. Next, the direction is taken to the west of Kaldaklofsfjöll and up to the spine (GPS N63°55.123 ‘- V19°09.208’) between them and Jökulgil.

If weather and visibility is good, it is recommended to take the extra hike up to Háskerðingur, the highest mountain in the area, 1281m. The hike takes about 1-1,5 hours. Tread carefully, there are often crevasses in the ice just below the peak. The peak, however, is usually snowless during summer.

The trail now goes up and down through few ravines until it reaches the edge of Jökultungur, with incomparable views over the whole trail and the three glaciers Tindfjallajökull, Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull.

The road down Jökultungur is quite steep and rocky, so be careful. At the bottom of Jökultungur the Grashagakvísl river awaits and can in some cases be crossed on a snow bridge. If not, you need to ford by wading on foot. The water in Grashagakvísl has fresh and good water to drink. From there is an easy route southwest to the hut in Álftavatn lake.

Álftavatn-Emstrur
16 km. 6-7 hrs. Descend 40m

From Álftavatn, the trail goes in an easterly direction over Brattháls and continues east to Hvanngil. The Bratthálskvísl river is without a bridge and needs to be forded by foot which in most cases is relatively easy. From the hill above Hvanngil the view is magnificent.

In Hvanngil hikers can use the toilet facilities. Some hikers prefer to stay there instead of Álftavatn. From Hvanngil, there is a short walk to the river Kaldaklofskvísl, which can be crossed on a footbridge. Just south, is another river, Bláfjallakvísl without a bridge. In most cases, it is not so difficult to cross but care is needed, especially during heavy rain when the river can grow fast.

Now the route lies mostly on the main road until the river Innri Emstruá is reached. It has a bridge. Occasionally you have to tread through some water as there is an overflow that bypasses the bridge. Just south of it, the trail turns from the main road to the left and south to Emstrur, where the land is practically without vegetation. If the weather is dry, with strong wind, especially from north, the sand can drift. The trail lies between two mountains called Útigönguhöfðar and in about an hour the Botnar huts in Emstrur is reached. The cabins are not visible until you are almost completely next to them.

Emstrur-Þórsmörk
15 km. 6-7 hrs. Descend 300m

The trail heads towards the east from the huts in Botnar. Shortly, the bridge over the river Syðri-Emstruá is reached. The river flows into a narrow deep canyon that reaches most of the way to Entujökull. People with vertigo sometimes struggle to get to and across the bridge. From there, the path lies along Langháls and towards the junction of the rivers Markarfljót and Syðri-Emstruá. It is recommended to walk to the edge of the gorge where the rivers meet, before hiking south through Almenningar.

Soon the trail runs through two small ravines, Slyppugil and Bjórgil. In each of them there is a little creek with drinkable water making this an excellent spot to rest and have lunch. After hiking up from the latter ravine, Bjórgil, the trail leads to Fauskatorfur and gradually to an area with more vegetation. It is called Úthólmar. The hill upwards from the river Ljósá is called Kápa or Coat, and is the last steep on the trail.

When the trails comes down from Kápa, hikers have to ford the river Þröngá which in most cases is not difficult but can be quite rocky. The river marks the boundary of Þórsmörk and now there is only a bit more than half an hour hike through the pleasant woodland Hamraskógar until you arrive at the Skagfjörðsskáli cabin in Langidalur, Þórsmörk.

A Guide to Hiking The Laugavegur Trail

Our first hand guide to hiking the Laugavegur trail, an epic trek through Iceland’s geothermal wilderness.

Dani Redd

Dani Redd

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Dani Redd

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A Guide to Hiking The Laugavegur Trail

Imagine a 34-mile hiking trail that introduces you to an astonishing diversity of landscapes: colourful rhyolite mountains, thermal pools, glaciers and volcanic slopes carpeted in emerald green moss. That’s the Laugavegur trail, and it’s one of Iceland’s most popular multi-day hikes.

Located in Iceland’s Southern Highlands, the trail begins in the colourful, geothermally-active Landmannalaugar Nature Reserve. You’ll ascend the black obsidian slopes of Hrafntinnusker and cross the sparse black ash field of Mælifellssandur. From there you’ll pass into Þórsmörk, ‘The Valley of Thor’, a surprisingly green area nestled between three glaciers.

How long does it take to walk the Laugavegur Trail?

The relatively-short length of the Laugavegur trail might lead you to believe that it’s easily accomplished within a couple of days. And of course, there are people that do that. At last year’s Laugavegur Ultramarathon, which follows the same route as the hiking path, the quickest completion time was just over four hours! We would not recommend you attempt this (without sufficient training, at least).

Dramatic cloudy landscapes along the Laugavegur trail.

Along the Laugavegur Trail, the weather is just as dramatic as the scenery. Photo: Getty

The vast majority of hikers divide the route into four segments, hiking between seven to 10 miles a day, which is what we recommend. It might not sound very far, but there are some steep climbs to contend with. And considering the route is entirely off-road, you’ll need to carry all your food and other supplies with you.

Weather along the trail route is notoriously temperamental too. You might spend the morning hopefully waiting for the rain to abate before leaving camp. You’ll be trudging through the snow, crossing icy rivers, finding your way through thick fog… tempted yet?

If this sounds like exactly the type of adventurous trek you’re looking for, you can even make it a little bit longer. Add on the Fimmvörðuháls trail, a 13-mile route which leads from Þórsmörk, across two glaciers, to Skógafoss waterfall in Skógar.

You’ll be trudging through the snow, crossing icy rivers, finding your way through thick fog… tempted yet?

Most people walk the route from north to south, as the trail slopes slightly downwards in that direction, and this is the order you have to book huts in. However, if you don’t mind camping there’s nothing to stop you from going the other way. You’re likely to encounter fewer people, and you’ll get to enjoy a dip in Landmannalaugar’s thermal pools at the end of the walk rather than the beginning.

The hot springs at Landmannalaugar on the Laugavegur Trail

The hot springs at Landmannalaugar are the perfect way to start or end your walk. Photo: Getty

When does the Laugavegur Trail open?

Due to the unpredictable weather in the region, the Laugavegur trail is only open from late June to mid September. The exact dates are dependent on the weather, and also on Iceland’s Road Authority. The trailhead, and some of the huts along the route, are accessed by gravel F-roads (roads that access the highlands of Iceland), which are closed during the winter months when conditions are too dangerous for driving.

It’s for this reason that most hikers will plan a trip between July and August. Attempting it earlier or later than this means you run the risk of not being able to access the trail at all. However, you will encounter fewer hikers on your journey.

How to get there

Lots of people walk Laugavegur as part of a group tour. In these cases, transport is often provided to and from Reykjavík (and your evening meal miraculously turns up at the huts every night, which is an added bonus).

Join a unique small group adventure to tackle Iceland’s classic hut-to-hut trek across mountains, gorges, glaciers & volcanoes, without the logistical headache.

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However, just as many people do the trip independently. Given that the trail is linear, rather than circular, driving yourself there is out of the question. Besides, contending with Iceland’s bumpy gravel F-roads is not for the faint hearted. Your best option is to take a bus to the trailhead.

Various Icelandic companies offer a hiking passport. This is a flexible ticket that takes you out to your chosen start point (either Þórsmörk, Landmannalaugar or Skógar) and back to Reykjavík at your chosen end point. You’ll need to ensure that you book a specific bus at the same time, as seats do fill up quickly.

Accommodation: Should I camp or use the Laugavegur hiking trail huts?

The huts and campsite at Álftavatn Lake on the Laugavegur Trail

The huts and campsite at Álftavatn Lake. Photo: Getty

There are two accommodation options along the Laugavegur trail – to stay in one of six huts, or their adjacent campsites. Both of these are owned and maintained by FÍ (the Icelandic Touring Association). Wild camping is not permitted.

The huts are located in Landmannalaugar, Hrafntinnusker, Álftavatn, Hvanngil, Emstrur and Þórsmörk. Each varies in size and comfort, but all offer a mattress to sleep on, toilets, cold running water and a communal kitchen where you can cook your evening meal. What’s more, they’re all heated! Make sure to book them in advance – they fill up several months ahead of time.

If you decide to camp at one of the adjacent sites, you’ll have access to the bathroom facilities, but not to any of the indoor space or cooking facilities.

When we walked the trail, an overnight storm caused such devastation to people’s tents that most of them were evacuated back to Reykjavik. For this reason, we will always be firmly on the side of ‘team hut’

Staying in a hut is the more comfortable option, but it’s also the more expensive one. The cost of a hut is currently 10200 krone (around £61) per night, whereas camping costs 2500 krone (£15). Our small hiking group did a mixture of both, as there wasn’t space in the huts for every night of our trip.

If you are going to camp, we’d recommend using an incredibly hard wearing tent. When we walked the trail, an overnight storm caused such devastation to people’s tents that most of them were evacuated back to Reykjavik. For this reason, we will always be firmly on the side of ‘team hut’.

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What kit should I bring?

Hiking essentials for your trip, from walking poles to a water canteen.

Trip essentials include a first aid kit, decent shoes, a map and more. Photo: Getty

What kit you’ll need to carry with you depends very much on whether you’re camping or staying in the huts; if you’re travelling independently or in a group. The kit list listed on our Trek the Laugavegur Trail adventure is a good starting point for the latter.

If you’re camping you’ll need to bring a durable four seasons tent, a heavier sleeping bag and a camping mattress (the ground’s pretty stony). You’ll also need to bring cooking equipment and utensils – a stove, a cooking pot, gas and utensils.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a packing list for all hikes? Well we’ve got you covered for hiking essentials, plus some not-quite hiking essentials.

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Travelling independently means you’ll need to carry your own food with you. This includes energy bars and other hiking snacks (twice as many as you think you’ll need!), as well as breakfast and evening meals. Dried food is much lighter than either fresh or canned produce, so can be a good option.

Even though the trail is clearly waymarked, make sure you bring a map. When fog, rain or snow descends on the mountains, visibility is significantly reduced

The huts do have a limited selection of food, drink and snacks for sale, alongside other products you might need (including plasters, power banks and camping gas). However, products do sell out, so it’s best not to rely on them for your daily calorie intake!

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Even though the trail is clearly waymarked, make sure you bring a map. When fog, rain or snow descends on the mountains, visibility is significantly reduced.

The Laugavegur Trail: A 4 Day Itinerary

Day 1: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker

Distance: 7.4 miles

Time: 4-5 hours

You can either arrive at Landmannalaugar the day before and camp at the trailhead, or catch the early bus out of Reykjavik and get on the road. We’d recommend the former, if you have the time to do so.

The camp is located in the colourful volcanic hills of Fjallabak Nature Reserve, where there are plenty of short hikes to get you warmed up. Speaking of warming up, there are some geothermal hot springs which you can bathe in. The campsite at Landmannalaugar also has a charcoal grill, so you can kick off your adventure with a barbecue.

Hikers struggling up the steep climb leaving Landmannalaugar on the Laugavegur Trail

The first part of the route is one of the steepest ascents of the whole trail. Photo: Getty

Once you’re ready to strike out, you’ll start off by climbing a waymarked path up to the lava field of Laugahraun. The path is steep and strenuous, especially when covered in snow, but it soon levels out.

The lava field consists of dark basalt, ossified into strange formations and dotted with green moss. As you walk, you’ll see evidence of geothermal activity, including steam rising from vents in the ground, and puddles of bubbling mud.

Craggy volcanic mountains loom up on either side. You’ll head downhill to a plateau, just below the mountain of Brennisteinsalda (also known as the ‘Sulphur Wave’). This is a great spot for a snack break; take in the view of the multicoloured rhyolite mountains and gorges.

A hiker looking at the rainbow coloured slopes of Brennisteinsalda on the Laugavegur Trail

The colourful, otherworldly slopes of Brennisteinsalda. Photo: Getty

Continue on uphill to Stórihver, a green valley where a geyser pumps out steam across the landscape. We’d recommend a rest here, as the final part of the hike – to the hut in Hrafntinnusker – involves another elevation gain.

The scenery changes significantly as you walk; the colourful, undulating hills are replaced with stark black volcanic slopes. The higher peaks are striated with snow all year round; the temperature drops significantly as you make your way through slushy patches of snow. As you cross the slope of Söðull, you’ll find a sobering memorial to a former trekker.

“In loving memory of Ido Keinan, who passed away in a blizzard so close to the safe hut nearby yet so far at only 25 years old,” reads a metal plaque drilled into a basalt cairn.

Keep climbing up the bare obsidian mountainside until you reach the Hrafntinnusker hut. Located at an elevation of 1110m, it’s the highest point on the trail, surrounded by snow and dark mountains streaked with ice.

Hrafntinnusker hut and campsite on a particularly cold day on the Laugavegur Trail

Hrafntinnusker hut and campsite on a particularly cold day! Photo: Getty

The campsite is on a bare, obsidian slope, consisting of a few horseshoe shaped windbreaks created from the volcanic rock. This was one of the nights where we camped, and we can tell you from bitter experience that it was really rather cold!

For this reason, some hikers choose to continue onto the next campsite, which is better equipped and less exposed. However, if you do that you’ll be looking at a further four to five hours of hiking, which is a lot when you’re carrying a heavy rucksack!

Day 2: Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn

Distance: 7.4 miles

Time: 4-5 hours

You’ll be able to see the trail that leads away from the campsite towards Álftavatn (and the hikers walking ahead of you). It leads across patches of snow and bare rock, curving over rolling basalt hills as it passes below Reykjafjoll Mountain. Although the terrain is relatively flat here, do tread carefully – there are several ravines covered with snow bridges.

The path meanders towards the west of Kaldaklofsfjöll, and there’s a short but relatively steep climb up to the plateau of Jökultungur, where you’re treated to an impressive view of the varied terrain you’ve hiked across, and the three surrounding glaciers: Tindfjallajökull, Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. Well, unless it’s obscured by clouds!

Hiking across Jökultungur towards the Álftavatn Valley on the Laugavegur Trail

The hike across Jökultungur towards the Álftavatn Valley. Photo: Getty

As you walk across Jökultungur, you’ll see the Álftavatn Valley spread out below you. The terrain has changed again – Lake Álftavatn, with its gleaming gun-metal grey waters, is encircled by conical volcanic peaks carpeted in lime green moss. Rivers run through the green floor of the valley like silver threads. On a clear day, you should be able to see the faint blue and white silhouettes of the ice caps on the horizon.

There’s a rocky, slightly steep descent into the valley. From there, it’s a flat walk across the valley floor, which is carpeted with moss and grass. You’ll need to cross the Grashagakvísl river to continue along the path.

The view over Álftavatn Valley. In the distance you can see Álftavatn Lake and the huts on its shore on the Laugavegur Trail

The view over Álftavatn Valley. In the distance you can see Álftavatn Lake and the huts on its shore. Photo: Getty

In some weather, you can do this via a snow bridge – otherwise you’ll have to put on your waterproof shoes, roll up your trousers and wade across. The water is (literally) glacial! According to FÍ, the water is drinkable (but we’d always recommend purifying it).

The hut and campsite are located on flat land near Lake Álftavatn. The words ‘Restaurant’ and ‘Bar’ are painted on the side – a can of beer is definitely in order. This campsite has better amenities than the previous one, including hot showers (which you’ll need to pay an extra fee for).

Day 3: Álftavatn to Emstrur

Distance: 10 miles

Time: 6-7 hours

Follow the trail in an easterly direction across the valley. After around 20 minutes of hiking you’ll need to cross the Bratthálskvísl river. It’s deeper and faster flowing than yesterday’s, especially after heavy rain. You’ll walk along Brattháls ridge on the way to Hvanngil, a green and volcanic valley where a further set of trekking huts are located (a useful toilet stop).

Hvanngil, where grass and wildflowers are encircled by volcanic hills and boulders.

Hvanngil, where grass and wildflowers are encircled by volcanic hills and boulders. Photo: Getty

After Hvanngil, you’ll cross the Kaldaklofskvísl river via footbridge, and a short while later, it’s another cold crossing of the Bláfjallakvísl river. Your fourth and final crossing of the day is the Innri Emstruá river, using a wooden footbridge.

As you continue south towards Emstrur, the green valley is replaced by the sparse volcanic desert of Mælifellssandur. The black sand is littered with pumice boulders, and is almost entirely devoid of vegetation. After you’ve been walking for around an hour, you’ll begin to descend into a small valley, where you’ll catch sight of the huts.

Day 4: Emstrur to Þórsmörk

Distance: 9 miles

Time: 6-7 hours

Head east on the trail across the volcanic landscape. The path descends down to the Syðri-Emstruá river, which runs through a deep canyon (don’t worry, there’s a footbridge for this one). You’ll climb back up on the other side, to a higher plateau above the gorge.

The volcanic black sand desert at Emstrur on the Laugavegur Trail

The volcanic black sand desert at Emstrur. Photo: Getty

If you walk out (carefully) towards its edge, you’ll be able to see the deep gorge where the Syðri-Emstruá and Markarfljót rivers meet. They’re fast-flowing rivers which are fed by the meltwater running off the Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers.

Hike south through the hills of Almenningar. You’ll cross two small ravines, Slyppugil and Bjórgil, both of which have creeks with drinkable water. Once you’ve left the ravines behind, you’ll see that the landscape begins to get greener.

You’ll soon reach the final steep climb of the day, up to the bare summit of Kápa. And shortly after that, your final river crossing, over the gravel outwash plain of the Þröngá. It might not be steep, but the ground is rocky.

You’ve now crossed over into Þórsmörk, which translates to ‘Thor’s Valley’. It’s the greenest part of the walk – you’ll even hike through your first woodland of the trip, Hamraskógar, where you’ll find dainty, stunted trees and a carpet of wild herbs and flowers. Descend down through the wooded valley for around half an hour, until you reach the end of the trail.

The green landscape of Þórsmörk - a stark contrast to the black desert of Emstrur

The (relatively) green landscape of Þórsmörk is a stark contrast to the black desert of Emstrur. Photo: Getty

There are a few accommodation options available, if you aren’t planning on going back to Reykjavik straight away. The most popular is the hut and campsite at Langidalur. But if you’re adding on the Fimmvörðuháls trail to your trek, it’s worth continuing on – you’ll find the small Baldvinsskáli hut around 2.5 miles along the route.

If you’ve finished the walk, and want to treat yourself, we recommend the more upmarket private accommodation, Volcano Huts. There’s a sauna and hot pool, plus a restaurant serving up a hearty dinner buffet.

Inspired? Check out our Trek the Laugavegur Trail adventure, and our other wild hikes!

Backpacking the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland: Everything You Need to Know

backpacking the laugavegur trail in Iceland

The rain was coming in sideways and every inch of me was soaked. I shifted my weight from leg to leg, trying to get the pressure of my overweight backpack off my sore hips. Looking behind me I could see the faint shapes of Max and Louisa, the German couple I would meet in the coming days.

“As long as they stay behind me, I will be okay,” I kept telling myself, feeling the slight panic of being alone in the middle of the Icelandic wilderness. Looking ahead, all I could see were grey skies, rain coming in sideways, and the faint shapes of snowfields and red and gold streaked hills.

It was the first day of my first solo hiking trip, and I was backpacking the Laugavegur Trail, smack dab in the middle of Iceland. The trail runs 55 kilometers from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork, passing through a variety of out-of-this-world landscapes. From red, gold, and green hills dappled with snow, to black lava fields, to plummeting canyons with waterfalls, this trek covers some of the most spectacular terrain on earth. It’s a trip that anyone who loves to travel and hike will dream about for years to come. Just don’t forget your camera!

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Why Hike the Laugavegur Trail?

The Laugavegur Trail travels about 35 miles (55 kilometers) from Landsmannalauger to Thorsmork. As you traipse across black sand basalt fields with mountains towering above you, you will feel like you are on the moon. You will pass by glaciers stretching to the horizon. The trail brings together people from different countries who come to explore this out-of-this-world area in the Highlands of Iceland.

For many, including myself when I hiked it in 2016, this trail challenges every fiber of your being. But why do we hike? Why do we travel? For some, it may be to relax and recover from a stressful job or lifestyle. But if you are even considering hiking for four days in Iceland, you probably find satisfaction in pushing your body. In stepping outside of the norm, and exploring places that few get to see. If you are someone who looks back on a challenge and sees the beauty, the joy, and the fun — even in the pain — this trip is for you.

Of course, like any backpacking trip, it helps to be in good shape. If you’re comfortable carrying a pack and hiking long distances over rugged terrain, this trip will be more enjoyable in every way. Although I could’ve been way more prepared for my Laugavegur trek, it was still one of the most memorable and life-changing experiences of my life.

And then there’s the weather. I could feel the water squelching in my boots, and may have even shed a tear or two that day as I hiked the first 10k (~5m) from Landmannalaugar to the Hrafntinnusker Mountain Hut. Arriving at the hut, soaked to the bone, I immediately abandoned all plans of setting up my tent, and headed inside to get warm.

It was in the hut, after I changed into dry clothes and strung all of my wet gear around the wooden walls, that I met Adelaide. We were sitting next to each other at a long wooden table, both writing in our notebooks. We struck up a conversation, connecting over the fact that we were the only young, female solo travelers in the hut. Neither of us had done anything like this trip before, both having purchased sleeping bags and backpacking packs specifically for this trip. We ended up hiking together for the rest of the trail. For both of us, it changed our lives.

What to Expect

Whether you are planning to hike the trail on your own, or as part of a guided trip, the journey will typically take four days/three nights. Of course, if you are speedy, or want to take your time, you can extend or shorten it as you wish. I followed the detailed itinerary below, and it is the itinerary we run as our Laugavegur Classic Trip.

Typically, you start in Landmannalaugar and head to Thorsmork, going north to south. From Thorsmark, you can take a bus back to Reykjavik. Or, you could continue hiking an extra day or two to Skogar ( Laugavegur to Skogar ). You could also go south to north, starting in Skogar or Thorsmork and heading to Landmannalaugar. However, this direction would have more elevation gain.

Whichever direction you decide to hike, you can easily catch busses to and from to and from Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork at the start and end of your trip.

Pro Tip: Before you head out, make sure you check out the hot springs in Landmannalaugar! Or, if you finish in Landmannalaugar, a post-hike recovery soak would be perfect.

Day one on the Laugavegur Trail

Day One: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker

Distance: 6 miles, ~1300 feet of elevation gain

Hike through red and gold rhyolite hills frosted with snow. If you are lucky enough to have good weather (unlike my experience), you will be able to see glaciers in the distance. The trail weaves over hill after hill, steadily climbing and descending throughout the day. Keep an eye out for evidence of the geothermal activity — like steam rising from the warm ground— underneath this otherworldly landscape!

Day 2: Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn

Distance: 8 miles

Start the second day at Hrafntinnusker Hut, high in the Icelandic mountains. Continue hiking over rolling terrain, crossing a few small creeks before arriving at a ridge overlooking Alftavatn. The huge valley and lake mark a turning point in the landscapes along the Laugavegur. Suddenly green mountains and mossy tundra dominate the views. The trail descends into the lush green valley where you can camp or stay at the Alftavatn hut for the night.

Markarfljótsgljúfur Canyon with friends

Day 3: Álftavatn to Emstrur/Botnar

Distance: 10 miles

The third day of the trek takes you through a black volcanic rock desert. As you pass grassy mountains and endless black rock, you’ll feel a bit like you’re on the moon. Snow-covered mountains in the distance remind you of where you came from. A few river crossings keep you humble; changing in and out of river shoes is just another part of the wet nature of hiking in the Icelandic Highlands.

When you arrive at your destination for the evening, you can choose between the Emstrur or Botnar Huts, or you could set up camp by a small creek. Make sure to check out Markarfljótsgljúfur Canyon, a stunning gorge only a short distance from the huts.

Day 4: Emstrur/Botnar to Thorsmork

Distance: 10 miles

The last day of my hike was, inevitably, pouring rain just like the first. My Columbia rain jacket — designed for light rain in a city — completely wetted out, soaking me to the bone. We hiked the ten miles to Thorsmork, and I barely remember the scenery. If we had been able to see, we would have witnessed spanning views of another glacier stretching into the distance. We crossed the largest river on the trip and then descended into a rare stretch of Birch forest as we headed towards the Thorsmork Valley. Soaked through, Once I arrived in Thorsmork, I once again splurged on a bed in a hut, despite having prepared for camping.

Know Before You Go

trail culture

One of the most memorable aspects of Iceland trekking is the other travelers you meet in the huts. On my trip, we formed a little trail family. Adelaide and Romi, both solo travelers from France, had been hiking with me for the past few days. Romi’s uplifting spirits motivated Adelaide and me as we dragged through the last miles of pouring rain. The three of us joined Max and Louisa, the German couple, in the hut that last night. It was Max’s birthday, and we all pooled together the hiking food we had left. That night, we feasted on lentils and rice, mashed potatoes and gravy, stew, and a bite of chocolate. Louisa had brought streamers and decorations, and we had the hut to ourselves as we celebrated Max’s birthday — and the end of our Highland adventures.

Other than Adelaide, I would never see the other travelers again. But the memory of the community and support I found on that first solo backpacking trip has lasted through the years.

weather on the Laugavegur Trail

The weather on the Laugavegur Trail is, at the very minimum, unpredictable. Wind, rain, and snow are common on the trail at any time of year. Heavy winds could cause a pleasant day to turn bitterly cold. Quickly, a light drizzle can become soaking rain.

The trail is only accessible from June until mid-September. I hiked the trail at the end of August/early September — nearing the end of the Iceland Highland season. July is the most popular time, as you are most likely to have pleasant weather. Even in the middle of summer, you will hiking across snowfields, and the weather can change at any moment.

Hrafntinnusker Hut along the Laugavegur Trail in IcelandWhere to Stay

The options for lodging on the Laugavegur Trail are limited. You can camp or stay in the huts. The huts consist of bunk beds with single and double mattresses. Some of the huts have the optional showers for a small fee. They all have kitchen spaces and cooking supplies, as well as gas heating (so cozy when it’s brutally cold outside!) The huts are also stocked with snacks and essentials available for purchase.

By choosing to do a guided trip, we take care of all of the the accommodations for you. You’ll lessen the stress of planning and be able to fully enjoy your adventure!

If you travel solo, the huts cost 9500 IKR (about $80 USD) per night. Camping costs 2300 IKR ($19 USD). It is recommended to reserve your spot at the huts ahead of time. Sometimes you may find an open bed upon arrival, but if you leave the camping gear at home to stay in the huts, definitely make a reservation .

what to bring

On any backpacking trip, it is vital to have the proper gear. Knowing what to bring could not only be the difference between comfort and discomfort but could be as serious as life and death.

Some necessities to backpack the Laugavegur trail include (but are not limited to):

  • Waterproof everything. Make sure to have a raincoat! Rain pants would also be worthwhile. Also, you should bring a backpack rain cover to protect your gear. To keep everything dry, you can use a dry bag on the inside or just line your backpacking pack with a plastic garbage bag (cheap waterproofing!)
  • Worn in hiking boots or shoes (also waterproof!)
  • Water shoes for river crossings (river sandals like Chacos are perfect for this)
  • Wool socks (wool stays warm even when it gets wet so it is crucial for Iceland hiking!)
  • A warm jacket (down or synthetic)
  • A sleeping bag (even if you stay in the huts, you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag! Synthetic insulation stays warm when wet, compared to down)
  • Water bottle. (You can treat water from any of the streams along the trail, but the huts also have potable water.)
  • Camping equipment (Only if you are planning to camp)

Guided or Independent?

Having a guide can give you invaluable insight into the natural history and landscape of the local area. Plus, you trip will be brightened by jokes and stories on the trail. Guides know the best trail snacks, the best lunch locations, and the off-the-beaten-path destinations. Overall, a guiding service will lessen the stress on you as a traveler so you can fully immerse yourself in the experience.

Guides love the places they travel and work, and this is contagious! Taking a guided trip can not only relieve the stress of planning and preparing for your trek, but also amplify the experience by providing entertainment and a built-in community.

Going independently can also be incredibly rewarding. With added responsibility often comes added reward, and planning and executing a trip on your own is no different.

However you decide to backpack the Laugavegur Trail, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will never forget.

Source https://www.fi.is/en/hiking-trails/trails/laugavegur

Source https://www.muchbetteradventures.com/magazine/a-guide-to-walking-the-laugavegur-trail/

Source https://wildlandtrekking.com/blog/backpacking-the-laugavegur-trail-in-iceland/

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