Although Reykjavík has many attractions and you could spend tons of time there, it’s still an urban centre and you don’t necessarily see all Iceland has to offer. One of the best ways to truly experience Iceland is to hike through its dynamic landscape. But where to go? The island is actually fairly large, dotted with national parks, each with seemingly dozens of potential options; so how do you choose? This guide will help you determine if the Laugavegur trail is right for you.
For me it came down to three important factors:
Taking all this into consideration, the hiking trails I completed were:
The Laugavegur Trail
The Kjalvegur (Kjolur) Trail
This post will guide you through everything you should know about the first of them, the Laugavegur Trail. For our post on the Kjalvegur Trail click here!
The Laugavegur Trail
Known as the Hot Spring Route, this trail is Iceland’s most famous. This could be bad if you are looking for solitude, because you won’t find it; the trail will be packed with other hikers especially in the popular July-August months. However, because it is such an attraction, it is one of the most well marked and groomed trails, and if any accidents occur someone would be along to assist in no time.
The trail is 54km long and runs North to South from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk. The trail meets the definition of dynamic landscape as you’ll see mountains, have views of glaciers, can take a dip in a hot spring, and come across many rivers and lakes. It will generally take 4 days to complete and has well-defined resting points equipped with sleeping huts along the way. It is recommended that you book in advance if you really want to stay in the huts, especially in high season.
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Day 1: Landmannalaugar-Hrafntinnusker
Landmannalaugar is the traditional starting place for the Laugavegur. However, Landmannalaugar is where the main hot spring is, so if you’d like to save the hot spring for the end of your hike, you should do it in the reverse direction!
The total distance of this leg is 12km and takes about 4-5 hours to complete, maybe more if you stop to take in the scenery. The elevation increases by 470m as you walk from Landmannalaugar into a lavafield and eventually up the steep slopes of Brennisteinsalda. You’ll pass streams, billowing clouds of steam and have views of glaciers all around.
Day 2: Hrafntinnusker - Álftavatn
The 12kms of this leg, starts with the trail descending through a valley with many small ravines and rivers; by the end of this leg the elevation decreases by 490m. The elevation change happens over a relatively short distance and extra care should be taken during this leg as stepping on the rocky terrain could cause injury. Also, you will have to conduct your first river crossing. Have no worry as the water should only be about mid-shin deep; but of course the time of year can drastically affect water levels.
However, it is all worth it as lake Álftavatn comes into view. If the landscape itself isn’t uplifting enough, there is actually a restaurant at this stop, with delicious and well-priced food (for the middle of nowhere). Oh, and some not so well-priced beer and coffee.
Day 3: Álftavatn - Emstrur (Botnar)
This leg is approximately 15kms and could take 6-7 hours to complete. There are two potential pit stop locations on this leg; one at Hvanngil, which isn’t far from Álftavatn at all, and the other is Botnar (also known as Emstrur) due to the river nearby.
There are also two river crossing this leg and shouldn’t pose too much of a concern with potentially knee height water levels. There is also a third river to cross, but this one has a bridge to take you over to the other side.
Day 4: Emstrur (Botnar) - Þórsmörk
The final leg of the hike is another 15kms and has an elevation decrease of 300m. Although the scenery can be breathtaking, there are two points of concern on this leg. While you're walking through the canyon of Syðri-Emstrur, be very careful as the path that leads to the only way to cross is very steep. This location tends to act as a bottleneck and you must wait your turn to descend; there is a rope and chain there to assist you down.
The second concern is another river crossing further on and this one is more difficult than the others. Although only about knee height, it flows quickly and strongly. In fact, someone fell during their river crossing while I was waiting my turn; so make sure to brace yourself. Once across the river it isn’t long to the next stop, which also has food and beer for purchase.
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Day 5: Extra leg
You can continue from Þórsmörk to Skógar on the the Fimmvörðuháls hiking trail. Although I didn’t complete it; research shows this is a demanding hike over 23kms, but it can be done in a day.
How to get there:
Although there are a few choices when it comes to bus transport, but the most simple, reasonably priced option was Iceland On Your Own. The “Hiking On Your Own Passport” allows for hikers to remain flexible during their journey since you don’t commit to a specific drop off/pick up date and time. You can take as much time as you’d like during the hike. For instance, I actually stayed an extra day in Álftavatn so I could drink coffee, and this did not interfere with any transport arrangements. The passport is 14.000 ISK, which is less than if you were to buy two one day bus tickets. The only downside is that the passport is only for the Laugavegur trail.
What to bring:
Other than the obvious things to bring when hiking, sleeping bag, tent, rum, etc. There are some key items you need to consider bringing when hiking in Iceland and specifically on these trails.
On the Laugavegur trail you will definitely have cross rivers. In an effort to keep hiking boots as dry as possible, it is recommended to change into a water or aqua shoe to cross. This type of shoe is generally made of mesh and is very light weight and therefore shouldn’t be left off the list.
A light weight tarp can come in handy. They can be used as an extra layer between your tent and the ground, good for both moisture and cold nights. If conditions are looking warm and dry, they could be used to cover hiking bags or other equipment overnight, as Iceland’s weather is consistently unpredictable and wet weather could move in at any time.
These are essentially a requirement for the Laugavegur trail and you’ll be thanking yourself on day 2 as you descent towards Álftavatn; the terrain is steep and sometimes unstable.
Three season jacket/warm clothing
As mentioned before, Iceland’s weather can vary greatly throughout the day. It is recommended to have a jacket that consists of a water proof outer layer with removable inner layer made of heat retaining material. It will definitely rain at some point while you’re hiking and it will be good to have the warm layer on those cold days, but even better to remove it on the off chance its hot out.
What do you think, will you be hiking in Iceland next? Share this post with your friends who'd be game to inspire them to come along!
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