The Laugavegur is one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring treks in all of Iceland. It is so renowned that it has been rated by National Geographic as one of the best hikes in the world. This adventure is a 54-kilometer (34-mile) one-way route that begins in the hardened lava fields of Landmannalaugar and ends in the glacial valley of Þórsmörk. It is typically completed over two to four days with potential overnights in Hrafntinnusker, Álftavatn, Hvanngil, and Emstrur. Throughout the trek you will experience a grand spectrum of landscapes that include red rhyolite mountains, vibrant turquoise sands, bubbling thermal vents, neon green mosses, glistening white glaciers, hardened volcanic spew, cold river flows, and eroded gravel floodplains. The terrain is a dream for volcanologists and geological enthusiasts who want to experience a raw and untouched landscape scourged and molded over millennia of explosive activity. The trail is only safe to traverse between late June and early September, after high glacial water flow, during long days of sunlight, and before consistent low temperatures. It is highly trafficked with over 100 people beginning the hike each day. Wooden post markers are very clear along the route, and the amount of people seen throughout the trek makes it easy to remain on the path.
This adventure guide describes the Laugavegur from the north to the south; however, it has become increasingly popular to make a northern trek from Þórsmörk to Landmannalaugar. The choice of perspective is completely up to you! Take note that there is an overall decrease in elevation in the southern direction, and the highest elevation change occurs between Landmannalaugar and Álftavatn. The wind usually blows from the north, so you are also less likely to be facing flying sand particles in this direction.
Be prepared for all types of weather conditions on this journey! In general, forecasts in Iceland are not reliable, but especially here, throughout the highlands, it is possible to experience all of the seasons within just a few hours. Everything can change momentarily, and visibility can suddenly decrease to zero. Rain gear and appropriate synthetic/wool clothing is mandatory: Your life may depend on it! Waterproofing should be of high quality, and you will want a pack cover. There are several river crossings with knee-high water, so river shoes are highly recommended. Most trekkers also choose to use hiking poles to help alleviate the constant weight of their heavy pack on their legs; this is an item that can easily outshine its value. There are several memorials to deceased hikers along the route, those who ignored the advice of rangers and who were ill-prepared for the extremes. Heed to the recommendations of camping staff and have respect for the uncertainties that can befoul this beautiful landscape.
Landmannalaugar is at the heart of the Fjallbak Nature Reserve, an area home to volcanoes, hot spots, lakes, rivers, and a variety of vegetation. Many people visit here on a daily basis, but only a portion embark on the Laugavegur. A four-wheel drive vehicle is absolutely necessary to travel to and throughout this region. Upon arriving at the campsite, most vehicles will need to park within site of the cabins across a small river, while high buses with large tires will plow right through to the other side. There is a footbridge to help you walk back and forth. Register with the camp wardens, ask about the weather conditions, and begin exploring the area.
The campsite itself is at the edge of hardened lava field called Laugahraun: It dates back to an eruption that took place over 500 years ago. Many trekkers will arrive and immediately start the Laugavegur, however, this is an area that you will really enjoy taking an extra day to explore. There is a large variety of hiking opportunities and an incredible diversity of landscape:
If you realize you forgot something, or you need a chance to resupply, the Mountain Mall is on site at Landmannalugar: It is a small shop built into a series of dark green buses. You can buy a variety of trekking necessities or relax in their small café section with tables and benches.
The Brennisteinsalda Hot Spring is a favorite feature of the region. Many people will spend hours at a time basking in this naturally formed hot spot that has wide temperature variability around 38 degrees Celcius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). Some trekkers make their decision to hike in the northern direction solely based on the presence of this warm water at the end of their journey. This raw and untouched bathing area is at the intersection of a cold stream and geothermal runoff; therefore, the water temperature is nowhere near consistent. You will be continually amused by bathers moving about the water to find the perfect balance of temperatures. Enjoy the soothing nature of the water and relax those muscles for the long trek ahead.
Landmannalaugar - Hrafntinnusker: 12 kilometers (7.5 miles), 4-5 hrs, 530-meter (1,740-foot) ascent, 80-meters (260-foot) descent.
The Laugavegur begins near the ranger’s hut and Ferðafélag Íslands (FÍ) Hostel, where signs will direct you down a wooden footbridge at the base of Laugarhaun. The path is wide and flattened to accommodate the high amount of traffic and preserve the surrounding delicate mosses and dark volcanic rock. (Please do not explore the various unmarked trails leading through the hardened lava field.) You are traveling through the Torfajökull caldera, a huge circular crater that stretches over 15 kilometers (9 miles) in diameter. As you approach Brennisteinsalda, a large red and steaming mountain, there is the first of many large fumaroles emitting clouds of sulfurous steam that smells of rotten eggs. An enormous scoria cone stands high above you: It is the remains of a hardened lava plume left over from the erosion of colorful sands that once surrounded it. The path becomes very steep and strenuous as you exit Laugahraun and climbs a narrow path connecting peak after peak. There is usually dense fog throughout this region, so consider yourself lucky if you are afforded the opportunity to see the surrounding mountain ridges and views stretching back across the entire Fjallbak Nature Reserve.
Climb even higher before dipping into the Stórihver hot spring area. Here you'll find whizzing geysers amidst some green vegetation. You’ll be walking past bubbling fumaroles and through thick clouds of hydrogen sulfide steam. Boiling springs run along the surface, but you should not attempt to touch them or swim because they are likely extremely hot. While the concentrations of this gas are only likely to displease your nose, if you begin to feel eye and throat irritation, just keep moving along to exit the area.
A steep slope will make you wonder how you are ever going to make it the rest of the day. Take a quick snack break and persist forward to a high and barren plateau. This increase in altitude will take you into ash highlands covered with snow. Large rock cairns mark the path and may come in and out of visibility with passing clouds. Sometimes hikers are lined up in small groups just to take turns facing the relentless wind on the slopes of Söðull. You will finally reach a high point and be struck by the change in scenery from brown sandy regions to an endless ridge of white. When you almost feel as if you can climb no more, you'll see the Hraftntinnusker FÍ hut down the valley in front of you.
The name of the hut is Höskuldsskáli, and it sits at the base of Hrafntinnusker. Höskuldsskáli is basic, with no showers, but it does offer you a nice opportunity to use the restroom and rest on a deck with walls that block some of the wind. About 100 meters (328 feet) downhill you can see a camping area stacked with high rocks to alleviate some of the harsh weather conditions for campers. If you decide to spend the night here, you will need to tie down your tent. Due to its high elevation, this will likely be the coldest camping location. There are several day hikes from the hut that include Ishellir, Söðull, and Reykjaöll. The majority of trekkers choose to have a quick lunch, get a water refill, and continue onto Álftavatn for the night.
Hrafntinnusker - Álftavatn: 12 kilometers (7.5 miles), 4-5 hours, 130-meter (425-foot) ascent, 600-meter (1,970-foot) descent.
As you leave Höskuldsskáli, the path stretches over snow covered mountains and off into the distance: It continues to be marked by tall yellow posts and large rock piles. Weather here is very unstable, and it is often necessary to walk in snow, which further increases the difficulty. Stay on the marked path and beware of the changing consistency in snow hardness as it freezes and thaws throughout the day. There are snow bridges that are likely to be in various stages of decay from the amount of human traffic, so you may need to evaluate their stability and navigate a short distance around them. Deep crevices and stream tunnels are prolific here, so you need to be wary of a potential collapse at all times. The route goes along the slopes of Reykjafjöll and heads toward Háskerðingur, Kaldaklofsjökull, and Jökultungur. If weather and visibility are good, you can hike up to Háskerðingur, which is the highest mountain in the area at 1281 meters and takes about 1-1.5 hours to summit: Its peak is usually snowless during summer.
You will begin to exit the Torfajökull caldera as the mountain colors change from the colorful rhyolite to darker palagonite, a product similar to the composition of basalt that is formed by the interaction of water and rapidly cooling volcanic glass. The path takes you up and down several ravines and minor glacial runoff streams. There are likely to be areas of thick fog and more unpredictable weather as you continue to push south. Pass a hot spot and cross a stream where you can hear the sounds of a waterfall flowing into Jökulgil. Off in the distance, you may see a glimmer of sunlight casting its golden rays over a neon green valley, a glimpse at the beauty that lies in store over a few more ridges.
Just as you are beginning to feel as if the wind and cold will never stop and you have contemplated over and over how you ended up this far from civilization, the edge of Jökultungur will suddenly appear before you as a gorgeous, treeless valley with a seemingly unreal landscape of neon greens, dark browns, and rounded ash mountains that seems only possible to exist in the movies. This is the Álftavatn Valley, one of the most impressionable views of the trek, and it is a view that will stick with you for the rest of your life. Thousands of years of volcanic activity and glacial runoff have molded the landscape into an unbelievable stretch of magnificent mountain peaks and tributaries at the bed of several large glaciers. Tindfjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Eyjafjallajökull set the high snow-capped background as your eyes are drawn to the bright blue Álftavatn, or “Swan Lake,” at the center of view.
The trail follows a steep and rocky decent into the valley and all the way to the FÍ hut at the northern edge of the lake. Torfatindar is the massively bold mountain immediately in front of you. You will head down to its base and up to the Grashagakvísl with its fresh and safe drinking water. This river may have a few wooden planks serving as a bridge, but you will likely have to get on your river shoes an wade through. The final stretch of path to the lake is a relaxing walk on moderately level ground amidst these incredibly serene mountains and some low brush. In this final hour, your mind will recollect all of the geological variety and beauty you have traversed since Landmannalaugar, a world-class experience shared amongst a unique group of adventures.
Álftavatn is an endless valley of green moss, ash covered mountains, and flowing streams: It is a favorite camping location along the Laugavegur. Compared to Hrafntinnusker, the weather is usually much calmer and the ground is much softer. There are two FÍ huts as well as a new restaurant that serves simple foods and alcoholic beverages. If you are looking to explore the area, there is a hiking trail loop around the lake that takes an hour or two to walk. You can also scramble up Brattháls, a volcano ridge, or the sister of ridges of Torfatindar and Torfatindur that you passed on your entrance to the valley. A four-wheel drive road leads to the camp and is sometimes serviced by Reykjavík Excursions.
Álftavatn - Botnar/Emstrur: 16 kilometers (10 miles), 6-7 hrs, 200-meter (665-foot) ascent, 270-meter (885-foot) descent.
From Álftavatn, the trail goes in an easterly direction over Brattháls. Not long after your departure you will come to a river crossing over Bratthálskvísl. While the river bed is rocky, the banks are covered with a soft and delicate moss. After drying off, climb a shallow mountain to a dirt road. This region is called Hvanngil, the “Angelic Valley.” The greens and yellows that paint this area glisten with an amazing vibrancy as the sun dips in and out of cloud cover. Wildflowers will cover the landscape in late July and August like the set of an endless fairy tale. Stórsúla, a strikingly photogenic volcano, protrudes above the horizon on your right. Eventually the path dips down to some FÍ huts and another camping area. This is an opportunity for a bathroom break and a water refill before moving on. Some trekkers choose to overnight at this location versus the more popular Álftavatn. Here, camping areas are surrounded by mounds of volcanic rock and stacked walls for some wind protection.
From Hvanngil there is a short walk to the river Kaldaklofskvísl, which can be crossed on a footbridge. Just a short distance away there is another river called Bláfjallakvísl, which does not have a bridge. Note that these waters can grow to become very fast depending on the time of year and the current weather. Please note the following safety precautions: 1) Cross at a wider section where the water is typically the shallowest, and 2) unbuckle your pack from your waist so that you will be able to scramble free in the event that you fall.
A desert of dark basalt lies before you. The path continues to be well marked, so please respect the worn path and do not disturb the delicate flora. The route runs adjacent to a four-wheel drive road for some time and crosses another, much larger river called Innrí-Emstruá. Cross the bridge and admire the gushing waterfalls both up and downstream. Head to the base of Hattfell, where the Laugavegur now lies between two mountains called Útigönguhöfðar. Rocks from volcanic spewing are scattered all around with the speckled appearances of the sea compion flower. Round rocks cooled to solid form while being ejected through the air, while flattened ones were mid-mold and squashed upon impact with the surface.
Continue into a dusty valley that climbs and dips over subtle hills. Wind may blow from the south and grace you with waves of volcanic sand. Eventually, the path will come to a steep and stony slope that descends deeper into a brown and desolate valley. Just when you think that this leg of the journey will never end, the huts at Botnar/Emstrur are revealed far below. The path joins with another four-wheel drive road, and the Icelandic flag flaps in the wind far below, an encouraging sign of some civilization.
There are several buildings here and plenty of space for camping. You are welcome to pitch a tent far below the FÍ huts into the valley. Rocks have been pushed aside to create flat camping areas with lovely views next to a flowing stream with tall Angelica and other wildflowers. Various small hills give you an opportunity to separate yourself somewhat from large crowds of tents, if you so desire, and you can direct the opening of your tent in the direction of a massive glacier. The farther you dip into the valley, the softer the winds become.
Nearby there is a huge canyon called Markarfljótglúfur. An incredible trail traverses its cliff edges that drop hundreds of feet into a rushing river. It begins a short ways back on the Laugavegur and takes one to two hours to complete. Please respect the rugged beauty of the terrain and avoid getting close to the crumbling edges. The path comes to the end of a large plateau and overlooks a waterfall pouring down the opposite side the canyon. It is amazing to have such a grand experience in a seemingly uninhabited area. Upon leaving Emtrur-Botnar, the Laugavegur will explore more of the canyon and riverbed downstream.
Botnar/Emstrur - Þórsmörk: 15 kilometers (9.5 miles), 6-7 hours, 350-meter (1,150-foot) ascent, 600-meter (1,970-foot) descent.
This is the final stage of the Laugavegur; everything up to this point has been nothing short of an amazing experience, yet there is still more wonderment that lies ahead. Arrows by the Emstrur huts direct you across a wood-planked path and up to a small hill with a large display board. The sign shares information about the potential dangers of volcanic activity in the region given the recent eruption of the volcano under Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. If the ground is to shake again, the most imminent danger could be flash floods, so this sign depicts the safest evacuation routes to take in the event of such an occurrence. The huts have flares and cannon-like fire crackers that can be set off to warn trekkers of unsettling activity.
A gentle path leads off into the distance along the base of a series of mountains and hills. This green color is different than that in Álftavatn: It has more of a yellowish hue contrasting the dark mountains. The trail comes to the edge of Markarfljótglúfur, where there is a sudden dip over mossy banks covered with wildflowers. A bridge spans the canyons and violent glacial outflow across Fremri-Emstruá. Chains are tacked into the rock to help you with your descent to the bridge.
Upon reaching the opposite side of the canyon, you will continue on a stony path that rises and falls over several more mountains. This is your first chance to see a few trees scattered in the low lands! Around you, high canyon walls have immense polygonal columns that rise several meters per section. They are formed as lava cools and fractures. Their large diameter indicates that this cooling was especially slow and their hexagonal geometric shape is typical.
This portion of the path lies along Langháls and heads toward the junction of the rivers Markarfljót and Syðri-Emstruá. You will reach a high plateau with the Markarfljótglúfur stretching farther into the distance. Again, you are struck by an extreme panoramic view of beauty. Unicorn Mountain stands to the east and follows you along this final stretch of your trek: It has a large hook at its northern side, making it very distinguishable. The snow-covered mountain beside it was once a small glacier; however, increasing global temperatures have caused it to disappear.
Follow the trail along the edge of the gorge through Almenningar. The soft red colored grasses and flowers will paint a colorful disparity between the brown valleys and the enormous glacier reaching up to the sky. Continue through two small ravines, Slyppugil and Bjórgil. In each of them there is a little creek with drinkable water. Cross the footbridge over the rushing Ljósá and through some trees up from Bjórgil, the ravine. Climb Kapa, the last steep portion of the trail, to Fauskatorfur and gradually down to Úthólmar. The Þröngá is the final river to traverse with multiple sections over a wide gravel bed. This marks the northern boundary of Þórsmörk with only a few kilometers remaining to your destination.
Trees are now prolific along the trail, wooden trail markers are painted blue, and you will continue on a gravel road through Hamraskógar. Upon reaching an unmistakable trail junction with many signs, turn left in the direction of Langidalur. (Húsadalur is a camp with many amenities and a hot pool, and Básar is home to the popular Volcano Huts.) This path ascends through low brush to the top of one final mountain the last view across the canyon.
Descend into the tree-covered valley below Eyjafjallajökull: The route winds down a steep dirt path with some wooden steps to a flat grassy area. A large cave called Skuggi will be on your right. Skagfjörðsskáli, the green FÍ hut, is set before you across several footbridges. Immediately you will become overwhelmed with a sensation of disbelief that you have finally completed the Laugavegur. You have trekked 54 kilometers (34 miles) over an incredible terrain that has exceeded all your expectations of the magnificent beauty on this earth. Congratulations; you are among a unique set of global adventurers who have finished this awe-inspiring trek and embraced one of the best backpacking trails in the world.
Þórsmörk is named after Thor, the hammer-wielding thunder god (Norse mythology). The name is attributed to the frequent history of trembling ground amid the surrounding volcanoes. This camping area is a large grassy field with some narrow worn paths. On site, there is a small shop with simple hiking supplies and basic foods. The area overlooks Krossá, a wide river, and large floral mountains beneath Eyjafjallajökull. Do not attempt to cross this very deep waterway without consulting the local ranger in the cabin; it may be necessary to hitch a ride on one of the regularly scheduled large vehicles.
This area has an extensive network of trails that is definitely worth taking some time to explore. A hike up Valahnúker takes approximately an hour and is perhaps the easiest and most immediately rewarding route in the park. Stakkholtsgjá is another hike that traverses Hvannárgil, a valley that ends with a beautiful waterfall on the Hvanná. The hut warden has a map of the various trails and can provide you more information about the region.
The nature reserves of Landmannalaugar, Þórsmörk, and Skógar are all reachable by bus during the summer. The most economical means of transport is the Reykjavík Excursions Hikers’ Pass, which offers a discounted round-trip ride to and from any combination of the aforementioned campsites and the BSI Terminal in Reykjavík. (Reykjavík Excursions and Airport Express also serve bus transportation to and from Keflavík Airport and the BSÍ Terminal.) There are two or three departures per day, and the bus is regularly filled, so it is best to be in line early or risk having to wait several hours for the next ride. There is also a bus from Hella to Álftavatn once a day during the summer.
Camping is only allowed in the designated camping areas, and there is a tariff of ISK 2.000 per person per night (2017): It is prohibited to camp elsewhere. At several of the campsites, there are large rocks that you can tie your tent to and stone walls to block some of the harsh winds. There are also cleared areas with a hard but flat surface where many others have camped before you.
For those looking to alleviate the weight of a tent, there are six cabins along the way that are owned and operated by Ferðafélag Íslands (Iceland Touring Association, FÍ). They are open from late June to mid-September and cost ISK 8.000 per person per night. These huts are typically booked long before summer hiking season due to the region’s high popularity, so be proactive and early with your reservations. Inside you will generally only have a small space of floor to sleep on: This is no luxury experience! There are impressive kitchens and cooking supplies available to use if you are bringing any food that should be cooked. You have to leave your shoes at the door, and there are usually nice drying racks. (Campers are not allowed inside unless the conditions become extreme.) Each cabin has different capacities, and you should realize that, because of the high traffic, you will likely be out of luck if you make a reservation and cannot make it to your destination on that date of your booking.
Some of the camps sell food and basic supplies, but each location is only serviced a few weeks per year, so you should not rely on this option. Fresh water is readily available, and 5-minute hot showers can be bought for ISK 500. If the hot water runs out, the showers are free! Take note that there are no garbage drop-offs; everything you carry in must be carried out. If you need to charge your phone, electricity may be available for ISK 1.000.
There are two additional treks that can be combined with the Laugavegur to create a 143-kilometer (88-mile) long trip that is usually completed over 9 or 10 days.
The most common is Fimmvörðuháls, which connects Þórsmörk to Skógar. It’s often completed by many of the backpackers in route to or from the Laugavegur. This trek is 29 kilometers (18 miles) and traverses a pass between two glaciers: Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. At Skógar there is a magnificent waterfall called Skógafoss that’s located along Route N1, the “Ring Road,” that is very popular among all tourists. It's an Icelandic tradition to hike Fimmvörðuháls Pass on the summer solstice, but be warned that this is an extremely popular acticity.
The Hellismannaleid is a three-day trek that begins in Rjupnavellir and goes though Landmannahellir to Landmannalaugar. This route goes through the Fjallbak Nature Reserve and it spans 59 kilometers (36 miles). There are available huts along this route, but it is much less common than Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls.
In the spring of 2010, the volcano under Eyjafjallajökull erupted and brought air traffic across the Atlantic Ocean to a halt. The Fimmvörðuháls Pass was covered with expelled debris and closed for the remainder of the year. Since then, the path has been re-routed and re-opened over bumpy landscape littered with volcanic rocks of varied shapes and sizes. The newly formed twin craters are called Magni and Móði, after the sons of Thor, the Norse god of thunder. It is impossible to predetermine when or where eruptions will happen, so you should understand this threat and be aware of evacuation routes should this volcano decide to shake the earth again.
This renowned trek gets its name from the main boulevard in Reykjavík. “Laugavegur” literally translates to “pool road,” and it was the path used for centuries en route to the city’s hot spring. Today, Reykjavík’s largest geothermal pool stands in place of the area where early women settlers would regularly wash their clothes.
A quarter of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves and other mythical creatures. Certain large scoria cones may have once been elves that didn't make it back into the earth before sunrise and turned to stone. Be on the lookout for any sightings and suspicious activity along the route.
The Jokugil and Vondugil valleys around Landmannalaugar have long been used for sheep grazing; however, there was a time when they were avoided due to the alleged presence of evil spirits. If there were sheep that strayed away into this region, they were generally abandoned. This changed in 1852 when the area was explored and mapped by surveyers who reported no mysterious activity. The following year, farmers returned to these valleys and reclaimed the lost members of their flocks. One such shepherds’ hut is located upon the hardened lava field overlooking the Landmannalaugur campground. There are many others located along the trek.
Sea campion (Selene unifloar) is a pink, cup-shaped flower with white pedals and a yellow stamen that will be present throughout your entire journey. While it is pretty, avoid the temptation to pick it for two reasons: 1) Your impact on the environment should be minimal, and 2) it’s also known as "Dead man’s bells," or "devil’s hatties," and is said to tempt death.
Each year, several hundred marathoners participate in the Laugavegur Ultra-Marathon race from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk. For many Icelanders, it is one the most favored races in the country. It has taken place over 20 times and is typically scheduled for the third Saturday in July. The race is open to both men and women of 18 years old and up. Registration begins around the start of January, and it is extremely important that participants are well trained and prepared mountain runners.
A book by Brain W. Zimmer called “The Laugavegur Trail, A hiking companion to Iceland’s famous trek,” is excellent for those seeking a more in-depth guide and educational resource for the trail. Brian is a geology teacher at Appalachian State University in the United States and has completed the Laugavegur many times, often with his students. His guide will enrich your experience and teach you more about the magnificent area that surrounds you.
IDNU produces the Þórsmörk Landmannalaugar Special Map, which covers the Laugavegur at a scale of 1:100 000 and includes detailed information about the surrounding roads and tracks in English and Icelandic. There are clear and regular signs along the trail, but you may find the high detailed elevation and route markings of value.