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26 January 2020
For out-of-this-world hiking vacations, there are very few destinations that hold a candle to Iceland. This Nordic island is the mecca of all things outdoors - Northern Lights, cascading waterfalls, ancient lava fields… Iceland has it all.
It’s defined by dramatic landscapes of volcanoes and geysers, and it’s an added perk that hikers have plenty of chances to warm up in steamy hot springs. Hiking is without a doubt the best way to see and experience Iceland. Many travelers plan on one visit to Iceland, but then find themselves returning for an annual hiking trip to tick off yet another bucket-list adventure.
Hiking in Iceland is like no other place in the world, especially when you focus on these top 15 best short day hikes and long-distance trekking tours throughout the island.
To fully experience the best hiking Iceland has to offer, why not trek across the entire island? The journey from North to South is doable in 18 to 21 days, but it's not a quest that everyone is fit to embark on. For hiking the entire span of Iceland, you'll need to have some major hiking experience under your belt. But if you do, there's no better way to see the country.
For hiking across Iceland, you need to come prepared. The best time to do it is in the summer - hiking in Iceland in September or later won’t be as enjoyable. If possible, try to organize a few food parcels at different points along the route. This way, you won’t have to carry 3 weeks worth of food on your back. There aren’t many Iceland hiking tours that do the full trek, but part of the fun is planning it all on your own.
Copyright: QIV / CC 2.0
If you’re not the type of hiker who enjoys long-distance trekking vacations, the Brennisteinsalda-Bláhnúkur Loop is the perfect solution. Every Iceland hiking trip should include a romp around Landmannalaugar’s Brennisteinsalda-Bláhnúkur Loop. The loop starts and ends in the same spot and this 4.1-mile trail can be completed in a few hours.
The main draw of this hike is the fact that you’ll be trekking through the lava fields of the Mount Brennisteinsalda volcano. The name Brennisteinsalda literally translates to Sulphur Wave, which makes complete sense from the massive sulfur spots that dot the side of the volcano.
There are a few different options for Iceland hiking trips when it comes to Laugavegurinn & Fimmvörðuháls. The first is to hike Laugavegurinn, the second is to focus on Fimmvörðuháls, but the third option - to combine both - is by far the most fun. The Laugavegurinn & Fimmvörðuháls hiking trails travel through spectacular scenery, and basically nothing else.
Combining both hiking tours into one excursion will take about 6 days to complete. If you’re short on time, feel free to focus on one or the other. For a more remote, off-the-beaten-path experience, the better choice is Laugavegurinn. You won’t find any cafes, restaurants, shops, or hotels on this route - just stunning Nordic landscapes as far as the eye can see.
Copyright: Rob Oo / CC 2.0
Hiking Westfjords Iceland will allow you to experience the most remote region of the island. Here it’s all about truly immersing yourself in nature, and that might even involve coming across a curious Arctic fox. Most hikers start their Hornstrandir journey at the dock in Hesteyri and then make their way towards Hlöðuvík.
When you arrive at Hlöðuvík, feel free to stay the night in one of the rustic cabins. On the second day of the hike, it's recommended that you get an early start as you make your way to the steep inclines of Skálarkambur. The views from the top offer incredible panoramas of the surrounding fjords.
Copyright: µµ / CC 2.0
Hiking the Ljótipollur Crater Lake is very similar to the Brennisteinsalda hike, but it's still worth it to try out both. This is some of the best volcano hiking Iceland has to offer, even though the literal translation of Ljótipollur is the Ugly Puddle. There's nothing ugly about this day hiking in Iceland location, which isn't a puddle at all, but rather, a deep lake that is enclosed on all sides by sloping peaks.
The Almannagjá Gorge is located in the southwestern Þingvellir National Park, which many outdoorsmen say is home to the best hiking in Iceland. This is the only official UNESCO World Heritage site on the mainland. The gorge serves as a boundary for the Mid-Atlantic Rift, which is why the park has such distinctive features.
The most popular hike in the park is just 2 miles round trip, which makes it perfect for beginner hikers who aren’t looking for too much of a challenge. When you hike along this path, the coolest part isn’t looking down into the gorge; it’s that you’ll be hiking on a continent boundary line, so you’ll technically be hiking in two continents at once!
According to just about every Iceland hiking guide out there, the Glymur Waterfall hike is one of the most beloved hikes of all time. Along with Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, this is one of the most-visited waterfalls in Iceland.
The hike itself is rated as easy to moderate and takes only 5 hours from start to finish. There are a few steep climbs and exposed ridges, so proceed with caution as you make your way to the top. The most challenging part of Glymur is the river crossing, but if you’re brave enough to do it, the views looking down are entirely worth it.
Copyright: Jon Connelle / CC 2.0
There are very few hiking Iceland excursions that compare to the Kjolur Route, which is literally translated to the Haunted Highway. You’re probably wondering if these Iceland hiking trails are actually haunted - that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself - but here’s a bit of backstory on Kjolur.
This trek is located in the heart of the Highlands, connecting two glaciers from North to South. In the olden days, the Nordic Vikings used this route frequently, traveling on horses rather than on foot. So why is it called the Haunted Highway? Tragically, several people froze to death while embarking on the Kjolur Route back in the 18th century. But don’t let this stop you from experiencing all of its natural beauty.
Take a look at an Iceland hiking trails map and you'll see that Askja is a long-distance trek running through the northeastern Highlands. It's about 60 miles long and takes the average hiker 5-6 days to complete. The special thing about Askja is that it's one of the most famous calderas in the world. It's now filled with water, but unfortunately, it's a bit chilly for swimming (about 68 degrees year-round).
One of our all-time favorite day hikes for ice hiking in Iceland is climbing to the summit of Hvannadalshnúkur. This is Iceland’s highest peak, and it is often referred to as the best glacier hiking in Iceland. It’s about 15 miles, so it can (and probably should) be broken up into 2 days, but advanced hikers have been able to complete it in one day when they set their minds to it.
This trek is not for the faint of heart, and it’s only recommended for experienced mountain climbers. Hvannadalshnúkur is located on the Vatnajökull glacier, so you can expect an icy, snowy climb to the top. If you plan on climbing Hvannadalshnúkur, this is the perfect time to do a quick search of “hiking boots Iceland” to see what type of gear is recommended for glacier treks.
Copyright: The Turducken / CC 2.0
Hiking Mount Esja is one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland among tourists. This means you should expect a crowded trail on warm, sunny days - especially between May to September. Any hiking tour Iceland will tell you that Mount Esja is the perfect day hike for travelers staying in Reykjavík since it’s only 9 miles from the city.
The time you spend on the Mount Esja trail is up to you; the path spans from 4 miles to 10 miles depending on the route you take. The surroundings are beautiful the entire way through, but nothing beats the view from the summit.
Copyright: Geoff Alexander / CC 2.0
Similar to Mount Esja, Hveragerdi is an amazing daylong adventure that is just a quick trip from Reykjavík. Hveragerdi isn't a mountain or a gorge, but instead, it's a small town that is home to some cool natural wonders, including steaming hot springs. The main trail from the town is dotted along the sides with extraordinary greenhouses, but the main attraction is the warm-water river at the end.
Fimmvörðuháls Pass hiking trips start in Skógar and run along the river, making their way up into the mountains. It’s best to divide this trek into 2 days, but it’s possible to do it in 1 if you’re physically fit enough. Just be prepared for a lot of up and down climbing through Fimmvörðuháls, so try to focus on the ground to avoid a twisted ankle.
The 15-mile trail passes through several waterfalls, but the coolest part of all is that you’ll be walking along one of the most beautiful gorges in Iceland. If you choose to stay overnight, there’s a mountain hut located at the top of the mountain. The next day, you’ll get to explore 2 young volcanoes, Magni and Modi, that were formed from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010.
Yet another amazing day hike is climbing to the summit of Snaefellsjokull. There's no need to look into hiking tours Iceland for this one, a self-guided tour is best as you make your way up. Snaefellsjokull is a stratovolcano, which means that it has been built up from lava and ash over the centuries. This is a difficult hike with its snowy terrain and unmarked trails, but it's also an epic adventure.
Latrabjarg is Iceland's largest bird cliff, which makes it the ideal spot for avid bird watchers traveling to the country. Located at the westernmost point of Iceland in the Westfjords, this is an easy hike that's suitable for all skill levels. If you plan your trip in the spring or summer seasons, you'll see colorful wildflowers along the entire 2-mile trail.
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