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Best Hikes In Iceland – An Expert Guide To The Top 9 Trails

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Iceland is home to some of the most incredible hiking trails and scenery in the world! This Nordic island in Europe is known for its dramatic landscapes complete with volcanoes, geysers, steamy hot springs, waterfalls and lava fields. The hiking trails through these landscapes are simply enchanting.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to soak in a warm hot spring surrounded by snow? Ever wanted to see the Northern Lights from the summit of a volcano? Iceland is the place to be for hiking enthusiasts and nature lovers.

There really is something for everyone and the experiences are truly unforgettable. We've put together some of the best hikes in Iceland that you should add to your bucket list today!

Best Hiking Trails In Iceland

1. Mount Esja Trail

Mount Esja is a stunning mountain that can be seen all the way from Reykjavik. Only a short 15km away from the town, this volcanic mountain range offers stunning trails and routes that lead to the summit. It’s easily one of the most popular hiking destinations in Iceland.

The trail is a 3 hour hike on well marked paths that are fairly easy up to the first viewpoint, Steinn. From here you can hike to the top of the mountain. The trail becomes steep from this point and there are sections that are exposed, so tread carefully if you choose to go further. Should you attempt to hike to the summit during winter you will need to use crampons to navigate the slippery trail.

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Photo by Kilgarron

Reaching the summit you’ll find impressive views of Reykjavik and the surrounding mountains. Because Esja is so close to Reykjavik, it’s very popular with the locals and transport by bus is easy to find to the base of the mountain.

Be sure to stop at the restaurant at the base that offers some delicious local food! You have to give the lamb a try - authentic Icelandic grub!

2. The Brennisteinsalda-Bláhnúkur Loop Trail

Set in the southern highlands of Iceland lies Landmannalaugar, which is also called the 'Pearl of the Highlands'. The area is full of incredible geothermal pools thanks to the abundance of volcanic activity so why not combine a hot spring experience with a hiking adventure? It’s a truly an amazing experience to soak in a warm pool in the middle of nowhere and these natural hot springs can be enjoyed throughout the year!

hot-springs-landmannalaugar

Photo by Claire Cox

There are three main trails in Landmannalaugar, but the most popular is the loop hike that leads you over fields of volcanic rock towards Brennisteinsalda. The peak has been claimed as the most colourful peak in Iceland due to the iron, sulfur and volcanic ash covering the mountain. From the summit the 360 degree views are mind-blowing! You can see as far as 100km on a clear day.

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Photo by Milan Nykodym

The hike will take around 5 hours to complete depending on which route you decide to take. Its a 10km trail that can be hiked by those with little or no experience, however, the higher peaks should only be attempted if you are a confident hiker. The paths are in great condition and there are mountain huts available to stock up before your hike or stay overnight. If you're wanting to stay closer to nature, you can pitch a tent and camp for the night.

The weather is known to change rapidly and snow can come earlier in the season than expected to be sure to check the weather before setting out. If you plan your hike properly and with a little luck, you may even get to see the famous Northern Lights!

3. The Hornstrandir Trek

Looking for something a little more off the beaten track? The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is known for its isolation and is one of the most pristine, untouched areas remaining in the country. Impressive fjords and fields of colourful wildflowers await along this path, and you may even come across an Arctic Fox or a Puffin!

The trek takes 6 days to complete and travels 86km through the remote landscapes of Iceland. Trails are isolated, less worn and badly signed making this moderate trail somewhat challenging.

The nature reserve can only be accessed by boat during the summer months and is inaccessible by vehicle. Preservation is highly important in the area and hiking is only restricted to June to August. Even during peak hiking period, this is as remote as you can get. It is a once in a lifetime experience that will test your strength and determination. During the winter months the area remains closed.

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Photo by Marginilo

If you want a challenge? This is it! You need to be self-reliant and physically able to manage the long days of hiking through the wilderness. You will have to be fully stocked and prepared with food, water, clothing, camping and cooking equipment. There are no services available, there is no cell phone reception and no fellow travelers are found along the route. It's a true wilderness experience.

Guided tours are available and are a safe and comfortable way to explore and experience the true remoteness of nature, with a little back up! There are shorter 2 or 3 day alternatives to the 6 day trail, however, spending a week in the wilderness is a truly immersive experience for real nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.


4. The Laugavegur Trail 

Claimed as one of the top trails in the world, the Laugavegur Trail begins at Landmannalaugar hot springs and ends in the village of Dorsmork, which is an amazing reward for completing the 55km trail. The village exists between three impressive glacial peaks and has some of the most fascinating views you can find!

The Laugavegur Trail, also named the 'Hot Spring Route', was chosen by National Geography as one of the top 20 hikes in Iceland. It gives you a hiking experience that takes you over varied terrain, wild remote landscapes, between glaciers and past incredible volcanoes.

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Photo by Neil

The trail takes around 5 days to complete depending on your pace. The elevation gain and rapidly changing weather make this hike somewhat challenging. If you have opted to hike without a guide then you will need to be able to use GPS or a compass to navigate.

Mountain huts are available to stay overnight and are located at the perfect spots to get you through the 5 day hike. There is also the option to camp in this fairytale landscape, an epic way to reconnect with nature. 

You can hike the trail from June to September, but the rest of the year sees the trail covered in thick snow that is impossible to hike in. During winter the mountain huts will be closed.

There is also a 6-day version of the Laugavegur Trail which includes the Fimmvorduhals Trek.

5. The Glymur Waterfall Hike

Craving a hike with a waterfall ending? The Glymur Waterfall Hike is just that! Located only an hour from the city center in the Valley of Hvalfjordur and ending at the second highest waterfall in Iceland, the trail offers some epic views along the way. 

The path follows the edge of the canyon and from here the views are absolutely breathtaking. It’s a 4 hour hike and 6km long. No experience is necessary to hike this trail and it’s very easy to follow. Some sections are steep and there are areas along the trail that are exposed so take care at these points.

The Glymur Waterfall Hike is not necessarily a trail for tourists, but rather for hiking enthusiasts. You will also need to be able to confidently cross a river on a log or on foot. 

The trail will even pass through a cave called Þvottahellir, “Laundry Cave”. Through the cave you have an incredible view of the route and the path becomes steep and exposed. Views from here are remarkable!

Remember to bring your camera because this trail is truly breathtaking and it’s almost constant views the whole way. If you have the opportunity to book an overnight stay at Hotel Glymur, you may even be lucky enough to catch a sight of the Northern Lights.

6. The Reykjadalur Trail

Hiking the Reykjadalur Trail is one of the more popular hikes in Iceland. This is an easy, 3 hour hike through the ‘smokey valley’. Paths are marked well and easy to follow. Follow the trail as instructed to avoid a nasty accident with one of the boiling hot springs that surround it.

When you arrive you will be hit with the smell of sulfur which grows stronger as you move further along the trail. Bubbling hot springs that are multi-coloured and smoke pillars are spread throughout the area which is why it is aptly named ‘The Smokey Valley’.

While on the trail, take a look around and soak in the views over the Southern Coast and on a clear day you will even be able to see Westman Islands. As you get higher up the valley the river water becomes warmer. There are bridges built on each side of the location where the most comfortable temperature springs are located.

Guided tours are available and guides will fill you in on local knowledge, the geology of the area as well as it’s history. They have the best insider information to make your experience informative and immersive.

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Photo by Farruquitown

7. The Kjolur Route

Often referred to as ‘the haunted highway’, the Kjolur route is a challenging and remote 3 day hike. Having experience is essential for this hike and it is best to bring along a reliable guide on this 48km journey.

The path is well marked but unpredictable weather and the remoteness of the trail make this a challenging trek. You’ll hike between glaciers and volcanoes that exist in the center of Iceland.

This is the traditional Viking route connecting the northern and southern areas of Iceland. With proper equipment and planning, good experience and a good attitude, this hiking trail can be extremely memorable and fulfilling.

We recommend starting your hike in Hvítárnes and ending in the hot springs of Hveravellir. A welcomed reward after a demanding hike.

8. The Askja Trek

Askja is one of the most famous calderas in the world! In the Northeastern highlands of Iceland, within the Vatnajokull National Park, lies this impressive 50km2 caldera which is now filled with water.

Next to Askja is a smaller crater with amazing milky-blue water that also attracts many tourists.

Askja is a volcano and is a much loved hiking destination for local outdoor enthusiasts. The trek takes 5 days to complete and is 97km in total. The trek takes you across Iceland's largest continuous lava field.

There are mountain huts available along the trail but you will need to book months in advance to avoid missing out.

9. Hvannadalshnúkur Summit

Hvannadalshnukur is the highest peak in Iceland! A trek to the top takes a challenging twelve hours (without camping) to reward you with incredible views from the highest point in Iceland.

The trail takes 12 hours to complete and is 24km long. You will be hiking to 2,000m above sea level and while it is not the highest peak in the world, climbing to the summit of an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is a whole new world!

The route to the summit is physically and mentally demanding and taking on the challenge is only recommended if you are an experienced mountain climber. You’ll be hiking on the Vatnajokull glacier which is very difficult terrain. If you are hoping to reach the summit, you will need to have good stamina and be physically fit. You will need proper equipment and an expert guide to join you on this hike.

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Photo by Raymond Ling

Best Time To Hike In Iceland

Typically the best months to hike in Iceland are during the summer months, July and August, but this can depend on the area you are wanting to explore.

During this time the weather is warm and dry, and you'll have the least windy conditions. Temperatures range from 10 - 20 degrees Celsius, which is the most comfortable hiking conditions in Iceland. 

You won't need to hike with headlamps in the summer nights, the sky is bright and the nights are short. Heading into September it gets darker earlier and if you are lucky you'll get to see the Northern Lights.

Different areas can have different peak times for hiking. Hornstrandir is usually good to hike from mid-June to August, whereas the Laugavegur area is accessible from July to early-September. If you are planning to hike during September, then keep in mind the weather can be unpredictable and changes rapidly.

Hiking during Iceland's winter months, October to May, is not suitable. The days are extremely short, sometimes only seeing around 3 hours of sunlight a day. Paths are not maintained and visibility is low. The weather is highly unpredictable and temperatures are below freezing point! Avalanches are prevalent during winter and so we suggest sticking to the summer months for a truly exceptional Iceland hiking experience.

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About the Author Kayla Gallocher

Kayla lives in sunny Cape Town, South Africa. She loves wildlife and being in the mountains! Anything to get away from the city and relax in the peace and quiet of nature.

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