Iceland, a land of fire and ice, offers some of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes and hiking trails. From the rugged coastline to the volcanic interiors, every trail in Iceland promises an adventure for hikers of all levels. This comprehensive guide will take you through the best trails in Iceland, offering tips on how to prepare, what to expect, and highlighting the scenic views that make each hike a memorable experience.
Why Hike in Iceland?
Iceland’s unique geography makes it a hiker’s paradise. Here, you can traverse lava fields, admire towering glaciers, explore geothermal areas, and witness the power of waterfalls all in one hike. The country’s latitude also offers unique phenomena like the midnight sun in summer and the northern lights in winter, adding a magical element to your hiking experience.
Preparing for Your Hike
Clothing and Gear
- Weather-Appropriate Clothing: The Icelandic weather can be unpredictable. Layering is key, with a waterproof and windproof outer layer.
- Sturdy Hiking Boots: Invest in good quality, waterproof hiking boots for the rough terrain.
- Navigation Tools: While trails are often well-marked, a map or GPS device can be invaluable in remote areas.
Safety and Etiquette
- Check the Weather: Always check the weather forecast before setting out.
- Leave No Trace: Be respectful of nature. Take all trash with you and stay on marked paths.
- Emergency Preparedness: Have a plan for emergencies. The Icelandic emergency number is 112.
Top Hiking Trails in Iceland
Iceland’s landscapes offer an unparalleled hiking experience, with trails that cater to a wide range of preferences and skill levels. Let’s delve deeper into some of the top trails, exploring what makes each unique and why they should be on every hiker’s bucket list.
Terrain: Starts in a geothermal wonderland with steam vents and hot springs, then moves through colorful rhyolite mountains, black sand deserts, and lush green valleys.
Highlights: The surreal landscapes of Landmannalaugar, the panoramic views from Hrafntinnusker, and the lush Þórsmörk valley.
Best Time to Visit: July to September, when the paths are snow-free and the huts are open.
Terrain: This challenging trail takes you over a mountain pass, between two glaciers, Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull.
Highlights: The breathtaking views of new craters, Magni and Modi, formed during the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, and the majestic Skógafoss waterfall at the trail’s end.
Best Time to Visit: Late June to early September, for the safest hiking conditions.
Skaftafell Nature Reserve
Variety of Trails: From short, easy walks to longer, more demanding hikes.
Highlights: The hike to Svartifoss, surrounded by dark lava columns, the views from Kristínartindar, and glacier walks on Vatnajökull.
Best Time to Visit: Year-round, though some trails may be closed in winter due to weather conditions.
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
Terrain: Remote and rugged, this area is only accessible by boat and offers untouched wilderness.
Highlights: Incredible birdlife, including puffins, arctic foxes in their natural habitat, and dramatic cliffs.
Best Time to Visit: Short summer season, from late June to early August, as the area is cut off during winter.
Trail Options: Varying in difficulty, these trails offer something for everyone, from leisurely walks to more strenuous climbs.
Highlights: The ‘Steinn’ viewpoint, offering panoramic views of Reykjavik and the surrounding bay, and the diverse flora along the way.
Best Time to Visit: Accessible year-round, but the trails can be icy and challenging in winter.
Askja and Dyngjufjöll Mountains
Experience: A trek to the volcanic crater of Askja and the surreal landscapes of the Dyngjufjöll Mountains.
Highlights: The lunar-like surroundings, the explosion crater Víti, and the chance to bathe in the warm waters of the crater lake.
Best Time to Visit: Mid-June to late September.
Glymur Waterfall Hike
Length: 7.5 km
Duration: 3-4 hours
Experience: A hike to Iceland’s second-highest waterfall, Glymur.
Highlights: The stunning views of the waterfall, river crossings, and a cave along the route.
Best Time to Visit: Summer months for the best trail conditions.
Reykjadalur Hot Springs Trail
Length: 7 km
Duration: 2-4 hours
Experience: A relatively easy hike to a geothermal river where you can bathe in warm waters.
Highlights: The hot springs, mud pools, and the beautiful valley of Reykjadalur.
Best Time to Visit: Spring to fall for the best hiking conditions.
Tips for a Great Hiking Experience in Iceland:
Respect the Environment: The Icelandic nature is fragile. Stick to trails and follow all guidelines.
Be Prepared for All Weather: Conditions can change rapidly, so be equipped with the right gear.
Know Your Limits: Choose trails that match your fitness level and hiking experience.
When to Go Hiking in Iceland
Summer (June – August)
The best time for hiking, thanks to milder weather and longer days. Trails are more accessible, and the midnight sun offers extended daylight hours.
Shoulder Seasons (May, September – October)
Fewer crowds and beautiful autumn colors or spring blooms. Weather can be more unpredictable, so be prepared.
Winter (November – April)
Only recommended for experienced hikers. Many trails are inaccessible, but those open offer a unique winter wonderland experience.
Hiking in Iceland is an unforgettable experience, blending physical challenge with some of the most extraordinary natural sights on the planet. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a casual walker, Iceland’s trails offer something for everyone. Prepare well, respect the environment, and immerse yourself in the raw beauty of this remarkable land.