The southwest of Iceland offers an interesting hiking route of 54 km, called the Laugavegur Trail, which can be completed in 4 to 8 days, depending on weather conditions and your general fitness. It starts from the geothermal springs of Landmannalaugar in the heart of the Highlands and extends to the Þórsmörk Nature Reserve at the foot of the active volcano Eyjafjallajökull.
Interested in learning more about the country’s most popular hiking route? Its challenges and specificities? If so, then read on.
What is the Laugavegur Trail?
The Laugavegur trail passes by gorges, glaciers, and cascading multi-coloured rhyolite mountains, through black obsidian lava fields and bright vegetation. Its highest point is Hrafntinnusker, 1050 m.
It is along this trail that the country shows visitors why Iceland is considered one of the most wonderful parts of the world. It is the most popular hiking trail in the country and was included in National Geographic’s list of the top 20 “Dream Trails” in the world. Those wishing to see an extraordinary beauty are many, but the time to do so is very limited – only three months of the year from mid-June to mid-September. In late August-September, and with a bit of luck, the Northern Lights can be seen. The usual route is from Landmannalaugar in the Highlands to Þórsmörk or from north to south and is traversed in most cases in four to six days.
How hard is the Laugavegur Trail?
The trek itself is a little over 30 miles long, or 55 kilometres. It is considered moderate to difficult as there are some steep inclines and rivers to cross. Although you can successfully complete the trek with a moderate level of fitness, it is advised to first do some shorter hikes around the area to get accustomed to Iceland’s rugged landscape. Elevation can vary from 40 meters to 500 meters on any given day and you’d be expected to walk on average 10 to 15 kilometres per day. You should also factor in the weight of your backpack and most importantly tent gear and food supplies if you’re planning on camping throughout the trek.
Huts are often sold out during summer therefore if you intend to use them at any point during your trek, be sure to book them well in advance.
If you’re planning on bringing children along, make sure that they’re already accustomed to covering long stretches of distances on uneven terrain to avoid any mishaps.
Landmannalaugar - Laugavegur's starting point
Landmannalaugar is a stunning valley sitting next Laugahraun lava field. It’s found right in the heart of Southern Highlands within the Fjallabak Nature Reserve.
Its colorful mountains display a full spectrum of dazzling colors with the shades of red, pink, green, blue and golden yellow. The rich colors of the slopes prominently stand out in contrast with the glittering lava fields nearby. The Landmannalaugar highland mountains are made of a type of volcanic rock called rhyolite. They are bright, eye catching and surrounded by an abundance of otherworldly landscapes. The area is surrounded by high geothermal activity, with bubbling mud pots, steaming fumaroles and hot springs dotted all around.
Once used as a stopover point for settlers to bathe and relax, Landmannalaugar is nowadays mostly known as a starting point of the northern end of the Laugavegur Trail, one of Iceland’s most popular hiking routes, also one of the top 20 hikes in the world.
The roads to the Highlands are only accessible during the summer months; in between June and October therefore if you’re planning on hiking the Laugavegur Trail, it is highly advisable to be done within that period of time.
What will I see during the hike?
During these 55 kilometers, you’ll get a chance to see Iceland’s most breathtaking natural backdrops from multicolored mountains, to mesmerizing ravines and vast lava fields as far as the eyes can see.
The trek is divided into 4 main sections, each having its own particular charm.
From Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker
You’ll generally start your trek from Landmannalaugar, surrounded by striking rhyolite mountains. The region immediately amazes with its contrasting colours and the clouds of vapour present all around this geothermally active area. The 12 kilometers to Hrafntinnusker is generally all uphill, but the views make the physical effort a bit more worthwhile. The next lava field along the way is Laugahraun stretching across multi-coloured rhyolite mountains before reaching Stórihver hot spring with surprisingly bright foliage beside it. You can also stop at Stórihver hot spring along the way for a much-needed break before continuing onto Höskuldsskáli hut. The hut is set across two floors and accommodates 52 hikers in total. There are no shower facilities in the building or electricity to charge your phone/camera but the views are one like no other.
Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn
Further on you continue to Álftavatn for another 12 km. The area is geothermally active and is framed by the red and yellow ridges and canyons of the Reykjafjöll mountains. The trail leads you up and down ravines, with an elevation of just under 500 meters. You will reach Jökultungur peak with magnificent views over the entire trail as well as Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Tindfjallajökull glaciers. Álftavatn also has a nice hut with quite a few facilities, and a good camping area is set up next to the lake’s shore.
Álftavatn to Emstrur
This part of the Laugavegur trail takes a little over 7 hours to complete, or 16 kilometers to be exact. You’ll pass by dark landscapes of endless lava fields followed by flowing rivers and enthralling volcanoes. The difficulty here is crossing several rivers – on bridges, but also on foot. Several huts are available along the route, and the views are again unique. Upon reaching Emstrur, you’ll be greeted by three identical huts, with a small but nice campground found in the valley behind them. Unlike Hrafntinnusker, 4×4 vehicles can reach Emstrur.
Emstrur to Þorsmörk
The last section of the classical Laugavegur trail is a 16-kilometer hike all the way up to picturesque Þorsmörk. Shortly after leaving Emstrur, you will head downhill along a steep path leading you from the canyon towards Syðri-Emstruá river. A small man-built bridge allows for an easy crossing over the raging river below. Rivers, forests, mountain slopes, and volcano craters, follow your journey every step of the way before finally reaching Almenningar hilly region. You will then have to wade through Þröngá River. If you have never crossed a river before it is advised to cross downstream, walking hand in hand with other fellow travelers and supported by hiking poles.
Soon after crossing Þröngá, a surprisingly lusciously forested area greets you before finally reaching your end destination Þorsmörk. You can either choose to spend a day or two relaxing at Þorsmörk’s volcano huts, opt to sleep at the neighboring huts a few kilometers away, or continue your hike for another 16 to 18 kilometers all the way to Fimmvörðuháls.
What do I need to pack for the Laugavegur Trail?
Your packing list will greatly depend on whether you would be camping and cooking alone, joining a trekking tour, or sleeping in huts along the way. A perfectly fitting hiking backpack is essential to be able to easily and safely carry all the weight. It’s best to bring all-season tall hiking boots as you’ll be hiking through all types of terrain and crossing rivers. Waterproof outerwear is essential in Iceland any time of the year, so are merino base layers. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to bring light quality layers of clothing rather than bringing one heavy winter jacket.
The Laugavegur Trail found in the heart of the highlands, starting at Landmannalaugar and ending at Þorsmörk is by far Iceland’s most popular trekking route. This 55-kilometer trek takes you across Iceland’s finest natural backdrops, from contrasting rhyolite mountains to luscious greenery, rugged volcanic lava fields, and mesmerizing glaciers all of which can be seen in the space of a couple of days.