Iceland is a nature lovers playground and a place we highly recommend going before things stop being quaint. The unique thermal history of this continentally divided country also makes for some of the best hiking imaginable. If you're like us, you probably enjoy a nice hot shower after your trek so here is our list of must experience day hikes in the land of fire and ice.
Too many Icelandic visitors never stray outside of Reykjavik (sadly), but this doesn't exclude them from one of the most breathtaking hikes in our catalog - Glymur waterfall and gorge. What makes Glymur special is that because of the canyon walls, you can never appreciate it's full beauty at any one time. Each new height you climb or point you find provides a unique and memorable view. Oh yeah, it's also the second tallest waterfall in Iceland. Worth summiting? Absolutely!
Getting There: Roughly an hour drive from the city up Hwy 47 and around (not over) the Hvalfjaroarsveit fjord, you'll find a dirt road just past the river that leads to the trail head for this reasonably strenuous hike.
What You'll Need: Pack waterproof hiking boots, a small towel, rain gear and snacks as you'll want to be ready for weather changes and the brief but significant river crossing (the shoes-off, hang onto a cable kind).
Time Allowed: Stopping for tons of pictures and snacks, we took 6 hours to trek up and back this 198m beast, but it could take much less time depending on how high you go. The trail is less defined at higher elevations but the rocky landscape near the plateau makes one clear path less necessary.
Many of Iceland's amazing sites are conveniently located close to Hwy 1 which circles the entire country. This is not one of those convenient sites. If you love nature and big views though, it's right up your alley. Where else in the world can you get a few feet away from Puffins, see thousands of other birds, and enjoy uniquely breathtaking cliffs? Seriously - if there is another place, please let us know :-). The puffins arrive at dusk so plan for a long day.
Getting There: Off Hwy 1, take 60 northwest into the Vestfirdir region until 62 branches off just past Flokalundur - where you should fill up your tank. Turn off 62 at 612 and buckle up because paved roads are a thing of the past. Consider eating at the very tasty hotel restaurant in Breioavik before arriving at the cliffs in Bjargtangar.
What You'll Need: A coat and a camera will do just fine as you stroll along the worn dirt paths parallel to the massive cliffs. You're already on top of the cliff so there is little elevation change. To avoid having the dirt crumble beneath you, all cliffs edge viewing must be done by crawling so prepare accordingly. Bringing a camera pole or extension can make for some epic pics.
Time Allowed: Drive time is the significant commitment for this stop. If puffins and big cliffs down to the ocean aren't your thing, you'll be ready to leave in 10 minutes. Michelle and I took as many pictures as possible and were there for an hour. Bird activity peaks at dusk which can be very late during the summer months so keep that in mind. We made a day of this peninsula and walked along the "Red Sand Beach" earlier in the day (Take 614 south from 612 toward Lambavatn).
Vatnajokull Glacier Tour
Iceland if full of places to see glaciers but a guided tour is the only safe way for you or I to hike one. We decided to fasten our crampons with Icelandic Mountain Guides inside Skaftafell National Park.
Getting There: We met our guide at the Sales Cabin by the Skaftafell National Park Visitors Center 15 minutes before our scheduled time and got fitted for gear. This is about a 4 hour drive from Reykjavik.
What You'll Need: Our tour provided all the crampons, ice picks, and helmets. We only needed weather appropriate attire, boots, and snacks for the day. We brought a small backpack for our camera and for some extra clothing layers (a must in Iceland). Sunglasses are a good choice too with the sun reflecting off the snow.
Time Allowed: Our tour, listed as a half day trek, lasted a few hours. If you're coming from Reykjavik, you should allow two hours for travel one way. One thing I learned is that the glacier is literally changing and moving everyday so don't get your hopes up without knowing the conditions. We wanted to see ice caves but those are primarily winter activities for safety reasons. Our guide was fun, safe, knowledgeable and we had a blast!
Fimmvörðuháls Day Hike
If you don't consider a trek worth your time unless you can't move for a day or two after, this one is for you. Literally dozens of massive waterfalls, over 1000m of elevation change, and some of the newest land in the world welcome you during this very strenuous full day hike. In fact, many will break this into two days and I'm not sure I blame them. We received many crazy looks from others when we told them we were planning to finish in a day. While we did it, most every step hurt for the last few kilometers. Before you begin this hike, make sure the weather is cooperating as this trek becomes very dangerous if conditions aren't right. Ask the park assistants about the forecast before you go.
Getting There: Since the full trek is not a loop or an out-and-back, travel is kind of complicated. The two end points are the inland village of Thorsmork and the popular Skogarfoss waterfall just off Hwy 1. We left our vehicle at Skogarfoss in the morning, caught a quick bus to Seljalandsfoss and then a SBA-Rordurleid off-roading bus through several rivers to Thorsmork. Note - your vehicle cannot make this trip - not even close. A small hut with an attendant is where you can check in on weather and get pointed in the right direction once in Thorsmork.
What You'll Need: This hike is long and dangerous to be prepared. Lots of food and water are a must and trekking poles are recommended. Several layers (waterproof shell) are a necessity with the constantly changing weather and waterproof boots are a must. We went during the last week of June and trudged through 3-4km of snow at the top. A first aid kit is always good to have, but especially on long hikes such as this 25km beast.
Time Allowed: Starting at Thorsmork, we encountered 800m of elevation gain in our first two hours. While exhausting (and exhilarating), this meant that much of the later half of the hike was a gradual decent along the river. Nearly all travelers heading the other direction had chosen to break this into a two day hike. All that said, with 3-4km of snow in the middle and a pretty brisk pace, it took our group 9.25 hours to reach our car once leaving Thorsmork. This only worked because of the long daylight afforded by the summer season.