The Laugavegur hike is a 4-5 day hike in the Southwest part of Iceland. The trail starts at Landmannalaugar and concludes at either Þórsmörk or Skogar, depending on your route. If you want the hike of a lifetime this is the one that you should do while you are in Iceland. In fact, National Geographic named the Laugavegur hike one of the 20 Best Hikes in the World. You will have the chance to see waterfalls, glaciers, lava fields, hot springs, rivers, mountains, and so much more. Most of the surrounding area looks like what you would see in a Sci-Fi film, which makes sense because so many Sci-Fi films have used the unique landscape for their backdrop, one such being Interstellar.
- Day-back that is light weight – most backpack tops are convertible now
- Plenty of water
- Quick dry towel
- Hiking shoes or trail shoes
- Rain jacket
- Rain pants or Gators
- Food for meals
- Thermal underwear (long sleeve top and bottom) made of wool or synthetics (not cotton)
- Wool or fleece thermal mid layer
- Hiking pants
- Hiking socks made of wool or synthetic (at least 2-3 pairs)
- Waterproof and breathable (fabric such as Gore-Tex or similar) both pants and jacket (preferably with a hood)
- Gloves or mittens – wool or synthetic (waterproof gloves/mitts recommended)
- Warm hat
- First Aide Kit
- Travel sack
- River crossing shoes
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Water proof stuff sacks
- Toothbrush and personal toiletries
- 1-2 L Water bottle
- Hiking poles
- Camera, batteries & memory card
- Travel journal or Book
- Money for the showers and snacks in store
- Power bank / portable charging device
- Light weight tent and rain fly if you are tenting
- Tent spikes are a must
- Bathing suit
Day 1 (24 Kilometers)
You will likely start your day in Reykjavik. We recommend taking the bus operated by TREX to the start of the trail at Landmannalaugar (Cost about $100). The bus runs several times a day and takes about 2 hours. You should also make sure that you book your return journey from your new location and that your ticket is in a dry/secure spot in your pack.
After two hours of driving – the last 15 minutes being extra bumpy – you’ll arrive at Landmannalaugar. Landmannalaugar is a wonderful campground that has a host of Icelandic activities to enjoy. Lots of hikers will spend their first night at the campsite before venturing on to the next hut. If you spend the night here, make sure that you enjoy the natural hot springs in the area. There is also a hut where you can purchase food, and if you are into horseback riding, there are a few outfitters that start their journey here. Showers and bathrooms are available, but you will need to have some change on hand to operate them.
We had originally planned on staying the night at Landmannalaugar, but we were advised to hike due to bad weather conditions that would hit the camp. Most folks were collecting as many stones as they could to build wind walls around their tents. I definitely recommend that you do the same when pitching your tent. There are hardly any trees on the island, so it gets quite windy throughout the day.
We made our journey towards Hrafntinnusker, which is the next hut along our path – about 7.5 miles away or 12 km. The land gradually changes from lave fields to sulfuring hot springs to barren mountains to icy glaciers. Towards the end of glacier spot, there is a monument dedicated to a young person who passed away during a blizzard. He / She was just 1 km away from Hrafntinnusker. So close……a good reminder to us that nature rules these lands and must be respected.
At Hrafntinnusker we asked the porter about availability and rooming accommodation. He recommended that we keep walking as well, since there was still plenty of daylight. At this point it’s 6 pm and we’re tired, but the sun doesn’t set until 11pm, so we wonder on towards the next outpost, Emstrur, another 7.5 miles away.
Hrafntinnusker appears more to us as a hut out of necessity and an effort to reduce hiker risk, rather than a place we would want to choose to stay. It does have ok facilities, but seemed to slightly smell. Also, it’s very windy and cold at this location, due to it’s location on top of a mountain and being surrounded by ice. There are some beautiful lookouts from this point and the staff are pleasant. We recommend staying here for a quick snack or for a meal.
From Hrafntinnusker we hiked another 7.5 miles to Alftavatn. The first 7.5 miles of this hike increase the most in elevation, so most of the trail from this point is downhill. On the way to Alftavatn, we were graced by several waterfall and hot springs.
The valley of Alftavatn is easily one of the best views for the entire hike. Make sure that you take time to sit and enjoy the view. For some reason, the valley reminded me of the movie, “The Land Before Time.” Especially the scene with Little-Foot finding the hidden land at the end of the movie. (picture below).
There is one river crossing before making it to Alftavatn. Remember to unbuckle your back when crossing so that if you fall into the river you can easily get up on your feet again. The water was FREEZING COLD, but it’s only for a brief moment and then you’re on your way again.
Alftavatn hut is adjacent to Lake Alftavatn and is a beautiful camping spot. It’s a bit windy in the area because there isn’t really anything that blocks the wind. Most of the tents are placed next to the stream, which has just a slight indention that helps with wind gusts. The bunks are nice, as well as showers and facilities. You can also purchase a meal or snack at the canteen, which will help if you need a place to warm up for a bit. Sometimes the credit card machine works, but signals are tough out in the wilderness, so it’s best to have some cash on hand. Camping for the night cost about $20 USD per a person.
We started to pitch our tent and the rain hit us rather unexpectedly. We set the tent up as quickly as we could and placed the rain tarp on as well, but most or our stuff and the inside of the tents was now slightly damp. After placing a small rock wall around our tent to protect us from the wind, I heated up some water for our our freeze-dried meal of chili and spaghetti. Katy had already secured herself in her mummy sleeping bag and was ready to sleep for the night; however, I was a bit in a miserable state because I was quite wet from setting up the tent and building the rock wall for our tent. I decided to venture off to the canteen to buy something warm to eat. I made sure that Katy was set for the night, and quickly walked over to the shop to warm myself up with a cup of tea. To my dismay, the credit card machine was down and the could not accept any credit card payments, which was all that I had at the moment. To make matter worse, there was a sign that said that only paying customers were welcomed to use the facilities. There were two other couples in the seating area, who had just finished what looked like a candlelit meal with wine. Sheepishly, I asked the hostess if I could sit for a minute to warm myself up from the rain. She agreed and motioned for me to sit in a seat close to the door. After a few minutes of muted silence, with my pitiful attempts to warm my hands with the candles on the table, the hostess came over and asked me, “Just out of curiosity, what did you want to buy?” I informed her of my intentions, and she said that I was welcome to a cookie and some tea. She then went and prepared for me a cup of tea, as well as the last cookie the canteen had on display. It was a small gesture, but I was really touched by her kindness to help a complete stranger who had no means to repay her. For me, this was one of the highlights of the hike, because in that moment I was able to experience a love that I did nothing to merit or deserve. Hopefully one day I’ll have the chance to pay it forward. I went to bed that night warmed by the kindness of this stranger and the gift of her tea.
Day 2 (15 Kilometers)
The next morning we awoke to discover that we had pitched our tent on uneven ground. I assume that during the rush of setting up our tent in the rain, we had callously placed our tent on the closest available piece of dirt without properly inspecting it. As a result, we now had almost a half inch of water in the corners of our tent. Not exactly our best start for the new day. To make matters worse, I was terribly sore from hiking 15 miles with a 45 pound backpack, and the weight had started to cause a heat rash commonly know as backpacker’s rash on my back and hips.
We made breakfast and began to back up our dry items. After breakfast, we simply took the rain tarp off and let it flop in the wind. After merely five minutes, the water was evaporated. We also poured the water out of the tent and did the same for it. Lucky for us, after another five minutes, our tent was now dry and we were able to back it up in our bag without any dampness.
We started on our journey to Emstrur after packing everything up, and made our way to our first river crossing only a mile or so away from the campsite. One thing that I wish I had brought was a pair of Crocs or watershoes. Crossing the river barefoot was rather foolish. Not sure what we would have done if I cut myself on a rock.
Our next landmark is Hvanngil hut, which I wish I had known about prior to setting up camp at Alftavatn. Hvanngil is basically in a lava field and offers wind protection for those who decide to camp. There isn’t hardly any food options that I am aware of, but they do offer some bunks for travelers. There are also some horse stables nearby. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Icelandic horses, you should definitely make the most of it at Hvanngil hut.
Leaving Hvanngil hut you will quickly hit a large river. There’s a bridge built over it and offers an easy passing. Don’t let that get your hopes up too much because there is still one more river crossing that you’ll meet in the next few minutes. The next river crossing is sizable, but the water levels are manageable. We took a good 15 minutes after crossing just to warm up our feet – all the water is coming from melted snow, so it’s cold.
After Hvanngil and the river crossing, you’ll enter into a flat desert of black sand. For me, I found this to be one of the more pleasant parts of the hike. Flat land with surrounding peaks that stand illuminated with vibrant green lichen and moss are sure to make your time passing through this barren land pleasant and memorable.
Arriving at Emstrur is a wonderful sight. It’s secluded in an area adjacent to a babbling brook, with views of Mýrdalsjökull, Sólheimajökull, and Eyjafjallajökul. Eyjafjallajökul is the volcano that erupted in 2010 and caused a number of transatlantic flights to be canceled. There are a number of signs that warn of flooding should one of the volcanoes erupt again. The real danger is the amount of water that is released from the glaciers that sit above the volcanoes. Emstrur itself is easily one of the best campsites on the trail. You’ll enjoy good facilities, nice campsites, and places to eat your food with a spectacular view.
Day 3 (16 Kilometers)
Day 3 starts with glacier views in the distance and high hopes of what many locals consider the best camping spot on the trail, Þórsmörk – pronounced Thorsmork. The majority of the hike to Þórsmörk is down hill and easier than most of the other hiking that we had completed thus far. On the way out of Emstrur you’ll pass a number of signs warning of what could happen if one of the nearby volcanoes erupts. Take heed of these warning in the case of an unlikely emergency.
One of the first landmarks you’ll pass is a raging river fueled by the glaciers nearby cutting through the landscape. The trail has a number of areas that are precariously close to the edge of the gorge, make sure you have your footing secure before venturing onwards.
The rest of the hike from here is very arid and dry. For the first time on our hike, we needed to use some sunscreen. There are a few spots on this part of the hike that offer an incredible 360 view of the surrounding mountains, definitely worth a stop or two. You’ll have one river crossing on this day. It’s a small one, and several hikers found a place where you could attempt to cross without swapping shoes.
After crossing the river, you hit one of the most delightful parts of the trail, Þórsmörk forrest. It’s one of the few remaining forests on the island, and is filled with small birch trees and flowers, allowing for you to walk in the shade. Iceland was once covered with forests; however, earlier inhibitors cut down many trees for the use of heat and building materials. As a result, Many of the forests never recovered.
After venturing through the forest for about 1 km, you’ll start to see signs directing you towards Þórsmörk. Most of the journey from the forest is downhill. Þórsmörk is a beautiful campsite that sits at the bottom of a valley. There are glaciers in the distance, beautiful grass lots to pitch your tent on top of, and excellent facilities with food options. Þórsmörk was so lovely, that we almost spent two nights at this hut. Definitely worth spending as much time here as possible, and I also hear that there is a hot spring not too far from the hut. Camping here cost about $20 a person. It’s always worth checking the swap bend for any food and fuel left by hikers completing there journey at Þórsmörk – it’s located adjacent to the store.
Day 4 (25 Kilometers)
Day 4 was hard – all that down hill hiking to Þórsmörk needs to be recovered, but, on the bright side, you’ll see some of the best waterfalls Iceland has to offer, as well as a partial hike by Iceland’s famous glaciers, Eyjafjallajokull and Mýrdalsjökull.
To start your day, you’ll hike alongside the river Þórsmörk, fortunately no river crossings this day, as there are bridges that will allow you to safely hike across the waters. As we hiked out, there were a number of clouds being lifted out of the valley, which provided a beautiful sunrise stroll up to the glaciers.
After hiking past several other camps, you’ll start to ascend fairly rapidly. There are a number of photo ops that are absolutely stunning, most of the mountains have the classic neon green look to them.
Shortly after peaking at the top of the mountain range, you’ll be able to see Mýrdalsjökull to your left and Eyjafjallajokull to your right.
Some of the steepest parts of your journey will follow after passing Mýrdalsjökull. There are chain railings to assist with the steepness, which is very helpful due to the amount of loose gravel that is found on this part of the trail. Soon, snow spots will begin to morph into a single sheets of snow and ice. The trail can be hard to see at spots. Luckily, there are usually a number of poles that mark the way – follow them closely.
Your next landmark is Fimmvorduhals Pass. There is a hut here that is similar to Hrafntinnusker, which seems to have been built more out of necessity to help reduce the risk of adverse weather conditions. We stopped briefly at the hut to eat our lunch.
You will then follow a rugged road path towards Skogar. After an hour of hiking, you should hit the Skógá River. Get ready to see over a dozen cascading waterfalls. You’ll have an hour of hiking with roaring waterfalls on your right and the ocean view in the distance. The trail is typical slippery due to the mist from the falls and frequent rain. Take your time here to ensure that you don’t fall, as well as to enjoy each waterfall.
The last water fall is absolutely spectacular. There is a viewing deck at the top that offers some great cameos, as well as place at the bottom that is easy to access. At the bottom of Skogar you should be able to find your bus company. The bus company that we used allowed us to leave earlier than our departure time on our tickets, might be worth the ask for you as well. We concluded our trip with a hearty meal in Reykjavik, along with a much deserved hot shower.