The Hiker’s Guide to Iceland
Iceland is a wonderful place to go hiking.
There is an abundance of waterfalls, volcanoes, canyons, and glaciers, so you’ll never get bored on the trails!
It would take a lifetime to discover all the incredible places that you can go hiking in Iceland. Unfortunately, most people aren’t able to visit for that long!
If you are eager to explore some of the Icelandic wilderness during your visit, this article will tell you some of the best places to go hiking during your visit. It will also tell you everything you need to know about planning your trip and keeping safe on the trails, so you can just focus on the spectacular scenery all around you.
Hiking in the South of Iceland
The South of Iceland is generally milder than the rest of the country. This means that the hiking trails are less likely to be blocked off by snow and ice during the colder months.
The South is also much closer to the capital city of Reykjavik than the North or East, so it’s a more convenient place to head with your hiking boots if you are visiting Iceland for a shorter time.
Here are some of the best places to go hiking in the South of Iceland!
Hiking at Skaftafell
You will find Skaftafell in the South of Iceland, about 3 or 4 hours drive from Reykjavik.
Skaftafell used to be a national park in its own right, but it has now become part of the much larger Vatnajokull National Park.
Skaftafell has a great range of hiking, from a short one hour walk to see Svartifoss Waterfall, to a grueling 14-hour adventure to the summit of Hvannadalshnjúkur. For your safety, please note that Hvannadalshnjúkur should only be attempted in the summer months, in the presence of a guide.
If you want to spend a few days exploring the trails, you can camp at the large campground right at the base of the mountains. This is one of the few campgrounds in Iceland which is open all year round.
There is also a visitor center where can pick up some maps and ask for any advice about the routes. In the summer, there are loads of hiking possibilities, color-coded depending on difficulty. In the wintertime, only a few hiking trails lower down in the hills will be accessible.
For lots more information about visiting Skaftafell, check out this article!
Hiking at Thingvellir National Park
Situated on the gorgeous Golden Circle route, Thingvellir is another very popular place to go hiking in Iceland.
The stunning National Park has got numerous hiking trails for visitors to enjoy, but the Öxarárfoss Waterfall Trail is particularly popular.
This 4.2km route follows very manageable terrain, taking you past a pristine lake and right through the canyon created between two tectonic plates. Because this hike is both scenic and fairly easy, you should expect it to be quite busy.
For a slightly longer walk without the crowds, you can try the Skógarkotsvegur and Gönguvegur Trail. This 7.6km trail is nice and flat and should take you about 2.5 hours to complete. You can enjoy the wildflowers, fault lines, and lovely pools of water with more peace and quiet than the better known Öxarárfoss Waterfall Trail.
The Laugavegur Trek
Iceland is also home to some epic multi-day treks.
The Laugavegur Trek is a particularly famous route. This trek is 55 kilometers long and can be completed in anything from 2-4 days depending on your fitness and motivation. It is possible to hire a local guide, but it is not necessary.
This awesome trek will bring you through some of Iceland’s most incredible landscapes. You will wade through rivers, pass over mountains and volcanoes, and relax in wild hot springs!
Many people choose to stay at the little mountain huts along the way, but make sure you book in advance!
The mountain huts are small, basic huts provided throughout the Icelandic countryside. You have to bring your sleeping bag and food along with you, and take rubbish away when you leave. Sometimes the huts have toilets and running water, but sometimes you have to use the small outhouse and collect water from a nearby stream.
It is also possible to camp next to the mountain huts for a small fee, but you are expected to bring your cooking utensils and not use the kitchen facilities inside the hut.
If you are planning on doing this trail without a guide, you must have the experience to do so safely. Make sure you can confidently read a map, know some basic first aid, and have previous experience with a multi-day hike and all the equipment that it entails.
Hiking In The West Of Iceland
The West of Iceland is home to a wonderful network of well-marked hiking routes. Here are a few suggestions to get you started!
Glymur is Iceland’s second tallest waterfall. You should only attempt this hike if you have a good level of fitness and you aren’t afraid of heights!
A wonderful 4 hours hiking loop is possible here, which goes right up to the top of the waterfall. The path is well marked but steep and challenging. You will also have to walk across a log to cross a river.
With exceptional views of the Hvalfjordur fjord, your efforts will be well rewarded.
Photo by Bromr
For a less intimidating hike, you can head up to the perfectly formed volcano crater of Eldborg.
This trail takes around 2 hours at a leisurely pace.
Using the helpful chains which are installed along the side of the volcano, you will hike up to the top of the crater for a spectacular view.
If you can tear your eyes away from the scenery then you will find lots of interesting and colorful lava rock formations.
You will find Hafnarfjall Mountain near the town of Borgarnes, around an hour’s drive from Reykjavik.
The mountain is steep, but most people with an average level of fitness will manage the hike to the summit and back in around 2-3 hours. The views are spectacular.
It can be a little difficult to find the trail. If you are driving from Reykjavik, the turn off to the trail will be on the right before you take the bridge over the fjord to Borgarnes.
This hike can be dangerous in windy weather, so avoid hiking here at these times. There aren’t any barriers to stop you falling, so make sure you keep well away from the edges!
Hiking in the North of Iceland
The North of Iceland is well known for its varied terrain. There are hiking trails for families and seasoned explorers alike.
The North of Iceland is a little colder than the South, but on the bright side, there is less chance of rain!
If you love geology, Raudanes cape is the hike for you.
This 7km trail is well marked and the terrain is reasonably easy. You should still wear hiking boots, and expect the walk to take around 2-3 hours to complete.
Along the way, you will see an abundance of cliffs, caves, and rock formations. You will be surrounded by beautiful volcanic rock arches and sea stacks throughout the route.
Take a moment to breathe in the salty ocean breeze, then make sure you sign the guestbook in the car park before you leave!
Mt Sulur is on the outskirts of Akureyri.
One option is to park by Akureyri rubbish tip. This will allow you to avoid the marshes that you walk through if starting at Falkafell. However, starting at Falkafell allows you to begin the hike higher up, so the shorter route from the rubbish tip can seem very steep.
Once at the highest peak, you will have gorgeous views of this town as well as the Eyjafjörður fjord. The fjord is home to orcas, puffins, dolphins, and even the incredible blue whale.
There is a lovely mountain hut about 11km walk from the rubbish tip car park which you could stay in for a few days to explore more of the scenic walking trails in the area.
If you prefer a shorter walk with stunning scenery, you can head to the Skútustaðagígar craters in the Lake Mývatn area. The grass-covered craters are surrounded by a pristine lake and home to lots of grazing sheep.
These awesome craters were formed over 2000 years ago by gas exploding out of the volcano.
You have some options here. You could take a one hour walk on the well-marked trails around the craters, or there is a shorter 25-minute walk if you prefer.
Hiking in the East of Iceland
The East of Iceland is the most sparsely populated region in Iceland. You won’t find any big settlements here, but there are plenty of hiking routes for you to enjoy during your stay!
If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the wild reindeer that roam the Eastern wilderness.
The waterfall circle is a gorgeous hiking route that passes by 5 different waterfalls and through a pristine canyon.
The route is 8 kilometers long and takes around 2 hours to complete.
This circular route starts and ends in Laugarfell. You can reward yourself with a dip in the hot springs after you have finished!
Keep your eyes open for seals and seabirds as you head out into the Husey Plains.
You can choose between a 6km and 14km hike depending on your personal fitness and the time you have available.
The terrain is easy and flat, and you can expect to see lots of seabirds and even some seals. The hike starts at Husey Farm, and then follows the banks of a lovely river by the sea.
Glacier Hiking in Iceland
It is also possible to go hiking on one of the Glaciers during your trip to Iceland!
For your safety, this should never be attempted without the presence of a certified local guide who will provide equipment like crampons.
It is possible to go glacier hiking all year round, although it is certainly more spectacular in the wintertime. You also have the chance to see the Northern Lights in the winter months, but conditions will obviously be a lot colder.
Make sure that you wrap up in lots of warm layers, and your guide will take care of the rest.
What to Wear When Hiking in Iceland
Iceland’s weather changes extremely quickly.
You should always bring warm and waterproof layers with you. It is also a good idea to bring walking poles if you are doing a longer trek, as the ground can often be steep and rocky.
There isn’t a big problem with ticks or other biting insects, so don’t worry too much about covering up all of your skin.
Dangers of Hiking in Iceland
One good thing about hiking in Iceland is there aren’t any dangerous animals!
No bears, no wolves, no poisonous snakes. Even no mosquitos. That being said, there are some dangers that you should be aware of.
Don’t just jump into any hot spring you find on your hiking adventures. Many of them are too hot to bathe in and could cause you serious burns.
Do a little research before each hike so that you know whether the hot springs here are safe to enter. For some ideas of where you can go for a geothermal bathe, check out this article!
Make sure you stick to the paths in any geothermal areas to protect you from the risk of lava or boiling water under the earth’s surface.
Like we mentioned before, the weather can change suddenly in Iceland.
Make sure you check the forecast just before going out and bring plenty of warm layers with you in case of an emergency.
On a very windy day, it is not a good idea to hike into the highlands, and you should try and find a walking route closer to sea level.
You should exercise extreme caution before going hiking in the wintertime, and bear in mind that the vast majority of trails will not be safe to complete outside of June to August.
Don’t forget that the hours of daylight are very short in winter.
Bring a torch with you if you are hiking at this time, and make sure you tell someone when you expect to be back from the trail.
If you are hiking in winter and you find the trail more icy and snowy that you are comfortable with, it’s a good idea to turn back. The mountains will be there forever, but your life should be protected at all costs!
If you are hiking out in the sparsely populated areas of Iceland, you may not have any phone signal to call for help.
For this reason, you must tell someone you trust where you are going and when you plan on returning. They should be prepared to call the emergency services on 112 if you do not get in contact at the designated time.
Bear in mind that emergency services may take some time to reach you in the more isolated places, so don’t forget to bring along a first aid kit and emergency blanket if you are hiking well off the beaten track.
For lots more information about keeping safe in Iceland, you can check out this article!
How to Travel to the Hiking Routes in Iceland
The best way to explore Iceland’s hiking routes is to hire a car from the airport on arrival
Only you know your fitness level and interests, so by hiring a car you will have the independence to pick out the hiking routes that are more suitable for you. Do make sure you book your rental car in advance because Iceland now has over 2 million visitors every year!
You can easily incorporate hiking into a self-drive tour of Iceland, which you can book through our website!
Remember that most rental cars are not insured on the smaller f-roads, so bear this in mind when planning your hiking routes.
The Best Time Of Year For Hiking In Iceland
Summer is the best time of year to go hiking in Iceland.
Many of the trails get closed due to snow and ice during the winter months, and the long hours of darkness can make exploring the trails much more challenging at this time.
If you do want to go hiking in winter, the short trails at Skaftafell leading to Svartifoss waterfall and the glacier tongue are often open when the other trails are too dangerous to pass.
Most trails will be extremely challenging and even dangerous in the winter. If you are a big hiking fan, try to come to Iceland between June and August and the possibilities will be endless!
See you soon!
We hope you enjoyed this article about hiking in Iceland
If you would like to find out more information about exploring this beautiful country, we have loads more helpful articles and videos to help you plan your trip.
We also offer some wonderful self-drive tours to help you get the most out of your stay. Whether you’re planning on a short easy trail with your family or an epic multi-day hike through the wilderness, we look forward to welcoming you here soon!