Iceland hiking guide

The Ultimate Guide to Hiking in Iceland

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If you’ve ever wanted to hike on Mars, or the moon, you don’t need to be an astronaut. All you have to do is pack your hiking gear and book a plane ticket to Iceland. The land of fire and ice features unimaginable landscapes that don’t feel like planet Earth. For intrepid explorers wishing to explore the Nordic island on foot, an Iceland hiking vacation is a trip of a lifetime. 

When we visited Iceland, the contrasting landscapes left us starstruck the entire trip. The way the scenery transforms before your eyes is unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed on our travels. From glacier-capped volcanoes and lava fields to plunging waterfalls and vertical sea cliffs, it’s a hiker’s ultimate dream.

Planning an Iceland hiking trip can be a challenging task since it’s such a unique country. There are endless hiking destinations in every corner of the island, and most travelers don’t know where to begin. That’s why we’ve made an ultimate Iceland hiking guide to prepare you for the journey. We’ve highlighted what you should bring, when to visit, and our favorite places to plan an unforgettable trip. 

Best time to go hiking in Iceland

When hiking in Iceland, nothing beats the midnight sun and having daylight for nearly 24 hours. Iceland’s northerly location near the Arctic Circle produces dramatic amounts of daytime during summer. And this extended period of daylight also provides warmer temperatures that are much more comfortable for hiking. Iceland isn’t known for balmy temperatures as July has average highs around 57°F (14°C), and August has average highs around 55°F (13°C). 

And the height of summer is the best time to visit Iceland to guarantee access to all its best hiking trails. Iceland’s weather is extremely unpredictable, and some paths close outside of the summer months. And the worst part, it’s the most jaw-dropping hikes that close when the temperatures drop and days become shorter. For instance, June to early September is the only time you can reach the Icelandic Highlands. So, if you’re going to Iceland specifically for hiking, we highly recommend July or August for the best experience. 

What to bring when hiking in Iceland

An Iceland hiking vacation brings you face to face with some of the world’s most diverse landscapes. Before embarking on your adventure, it’s imperative to prepare yourself for anything. As we’ve mentioned, Iceland’s weather can be insane and change at a moment’s notice. And when there are zero facilities around, missing items from your packing list can put you in a critical situation. Here’s what we recommend you pack before hiking in Iceland:

  • Backpack – A 30 to 40 liter backpack should be enough space to carry your supplies on day hikes. But if you’re planning on multi-day treks, then plan on bringing a 55 to 65 liter backpack for extra gear. Make sure you choose a hiking backpack with waist support to relieve the tension from your shoulders. Also check out our buying guide to the perfect backpacking backpack to know exactly what to look out for when purchasing one. 
  • Waterproof Backpack Cover – In case it rains, you don’t want the gear inside your backpack to get soaked.
  • Water Bottle – Bring a 1-2 liter bottle that can be filtered. Tap water and many natural sources are fine to drink. But if you’re uncomfortable drinking water out in nature, you can always filter it to be safe.
  •  Navigational Tools – Pack a paper map, compass, GPS, or combination of the three. Don’t strictly rely on your phone’s GPS and always have a backup.
  •  First Aid Kit – Stock your kit with bandages, anti-inflammatories, antibacterial ointment, antiseptic wipes, medications, adhesive tape, and anything else specific to your needs.
  • Mobile Phone – Save important Icelandic phone numbers in case of emergencies. It would also be a smart idea to buy an Icelandic sim card and portable charger for your phone.
  • Multifunction Knife – A knife comes in handy for a variety of utility purposes to get you out of a jam.
  • Whistle – If you’re stuck in an isolated section and can’t call out for help, you want a whistle to signal others far away.  
  • Headlamp – If you’re in the wilderness in the dark, a headlamp is a must to observe your surroundings and to find your way around camp.
  • Toiletries – Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, lip balm, and anything you need to refresh between hikes.
  • Eye Shades – In case you have difficulty sleeping beneath the midnight sun.
  • Sunscreen & Sunglasses – For protection against UV rays during the extended hours of sunlight.
  • Spare Food & Water – Only to be used for emergencies in case your hike takes longer than expected.
  • Sturdy and waterproof hiking boots – It’s easy to get your boots wet when hiking in Iceland, and you don’t want your feet inside wet boots for a long time. Also check the profile of the shoes to make sure you have enough grip on the rough Icelandic surfaces.
  • Trekking Poles – Not everyone requires them but they help provide stability on difficult trails.
  • Camera – To capture breathtaking photos to show your loved ones.

Camping Gear

Iceland has thrilling multi-day treks that require camping gear to include with your packing list. If you’re planning on a multi-day hiking excursion, also include these items:

  • Sturdy Tent – Ensure your tent has a solid foundation to remain standing against strong winds.
  • Warm Sleeping Bag – Even in summer, Iceland doesn’t get very warm, and you want a sleeping bag comfortable for cooler temperatures.
  • Cooking SuppliesNothing fancy but a small, lightweight camping stove and an easy way to light it.

What to wear when hiking in Iceland

When hiking in Iceland, you have to dress for all weather conditions. The forecast can change in a heartbeat, and you need several essential pieces of clothing to survive the elements. Here’s a list of what you need to wear while hiking in Iceland:

  • Several Thin Layers – Give yourself the ability to adjust your outfit based on the current weather conditions. If you need help maintaining a healthy body temperature in extreme environments, check out our guide on the layer system.
  • Waterproof Hiking Boots – You’ll make lots of water crossings and need waterproof boots with good tread.
  • Gaiters – In case you have to trek through snow or water.
  • Waterproof Jacket – The weather can be unpredictable and hiking in cooler temperatures in the rain is a recipe for hypothermia.
  • Wool/Fleece Jacket – An added layer of protection for the evenings when the temperature drops.
  • Hiking Socks – Bring socks that keep your feet comfortable, warm, dry, and blister-free. Merino wool socks are a great option for any Iceland hiking trip.
  • Waterproof Pants – Pack trousers that provide comfort, warmth, and freedom of movement while keeping you dry.
  • Thermal Underwear – An extra layer for cooler temperatures at higher altitudes.
  • Waterproof Gloves – Prevent your hands from being exposed to frigid temperatures and rainy weather.
  • Scarf or buff – An extra layer to protect your face and neck in cold weather.
  • Hat/Beanie – Protect your head, face, ears, and neck from cold temperatures and fierce wind.
  • Swimsuit – You can’t hike in Iceland without taking a dip in those hot springs.
  • Towel – To dry off if you get wet on the trail or after relaxing in the hot springs.
  • Spare Clothes – Always pack at least one change of dry clothes for each hike.

Glacier hiking in Iceland

A unique thrill that hikers can experience in Iceland is glacier hiking. Many Iceland hiking tours provide the equipment to trek across the country’s immense ice caps, and it’s a heart-racing expedition. There are several glaciers around Iceland to explore and tours that take you for an exhilarating ride. But keep in mind, many glacier hiking activities are better in winter, unlike other Iceland hiking destinations.

Vatnajokull Glacier

Departing from Skaftafell, this Vatnajokull Glacier tour lets you roam Europe’s largest glacier. Start your journey at the Falljökull glacier tongue and venture towards the mesmerizing ice caves inside the ice cap. Keep in mind if the ice caves rank high on your Iceland bucket list, they’re only accessible during winter when the waters beneath the glacier freeze.

For an alternative adventure, head to Jokulsarlon Glacier and walk along the enchanting Diamond Beach. A visit to Diamond Beach & Jokulsarlon lets you witness a glacial lake with floating ice chunks and a black-sand beach where they wash ashore.

Langjökull Glacier

Langjökull is Iceland’s 2nd largest glacier and lets you explore the world’s largest ice tunnel. This Langjökull Glacier Ice Cave Tour wanders deep inside the glacier and shows off the hidden treasures many never see. You’ll also witness the rare phenomenon of blue ice while hiking inside the glacier.

Located near Húsafell, Langjökull is one of the easiest glaciers to reach from Reykjavik. Langjökull is also near the Golden Circle and some Iceland tours combine a trip to the glacier with the popular route.

Also interesting: Complete route guide of the Golden Circle

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Located between the Katla and Eyjafjallajökull volcanoes, the Sólheimajökull Glacier attracts glacier hikers to south Iceland. If you’re looking for an accessible glacier hike great for all skill levels, Sólheimajökull is a solid option.

This 3 Hour Glacier Hike experience guides you across the ice and provides spectacular vistas of the landscape. With the help of your certified guide, you’ll gaze into ice tunnels and find volcanic ash atop the glacier.

Hofsjökul Glacier

Located in the western Highlands, Hofsjökul is Iceland’s 3rd largest glacier and the largest active volcano. Hofsjökul’s remote location makes it more difficult to access, but it’s a beautiful sight to behold from afar, which you can experience with this snowmobiling tour. The glacier’s meltwaters feed the Þjórsá, Iceland’s longest river at 230 km.

The surrounding Kerlingarfjöll Mountains rise upwards of 1,500 meters and form unearthly hiking trails featuring steep canyons, steaming valleys, and snow-covered peaks.  

6 best hiking areas in Iceland

1. Landmannalaugar

The undisputed king hiking destination in Iceland, Landmannalaugar feels like you’ve stepped on a distant planet. Located within the Fjallabak Nature Reserve of the Icelandic Highlands, Landmannalaugar turns heads with its colorful rhyolite mountains. The dazzling shades of red, blue, green, and gold make it one of Iceland’s most picturesque landscapes. As you trek the valley, the rhyolite mountains contrast against the Laugahraun Lava Field for otherworldly images. 

The world-renowned Laugavegur hiking trail is the most popular trek to reach the Landmannalaugar valley. This multi-day route takes most hikers around 3 to 4 days to complete and starts in the rugged Þórsmörk valley. At 55 km (34 miles), the Laugavegur Trail is a bucket list hike for visitors to the Icelandic Highlands. The journey traverses around enormous glaciers, crater lakes, black-sand deserts, and jagged mountains. And don’t forget your swimsuit to soak in the soothing hot springs around Landmannalaugar.

Hiking the Laugavegur Trail independently requires expert knowledge of navigation and the terrain. If you don’t have the experience to embark on this life-changing hike without a guide, tons of Iceland hiking tours follow the trail. 

2. Reykjavik

If you’re on a short itinerary, many Iceland hiking tours let you explore the gorgeous trails around Reykjavik. Although the artsy Reykjavik is Iceland’s most populated area, there are tons of nature escapes. Before you hit the trails outside of the city, use our Reykjavik sightseeing guide for the best places to visit. 

Móskarðshjúkar is a striking rhyolite mountain with spectacular vistas, and the Reykjadalur Trail takes you to a rejuvenating thermal river. Just 10 km outside of Reykjavik, the flat-topped Esjan mountain offers a thrilling day hike. The volcanic range stands at 914 meters for a hefty climb while you’re visiting the capital. And for another exciting ascent near Reykjavik, Vífilsfell is a geological masterpiece. 

Also check this out: The very best guide to sightseeing Reykjavik

3. Westfjords (Hornstrandir Nature Reserve)

One of the most remote settings in Iceland, the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve lets you escape reality. There are no roads, and the nature reserve is only accessible in summer via boat ride. Few tourists visit the sheer mountains, dramatic cliffs, and quaint fishing villages of the Westfjords, and hiking the region feels like you have Iceland to yourself. And due to the lack of facilities around Hornstrandir, you must be prepared.

Take a boat from Ísafjörður or Norðurfjörður to start your trekking adventures around the pristine nature reserve. Climb the Hornbjarg sea cliffs to feel on the edge of the world or spot birds hanging around Hornvík. The steep trail to Hælavíkurbjarg can be nerve-wracking but leads to spectacular vistas atop vertical cliffs. And follow the cairns marking the trail towards Veiðileysufjörður to gaze at one of the mesmerizing fjords of the isolated wilderness.

4. Lake Myvatn

Situated in north Iceland, Lake Myvatn is a hotbed for Iceland’s geothermal wonders. Hiking trails around the volcanic lake reveal steaming mud pits, volcanic craters, and lava fields. Walk along the lakefront, and you’ll also be treated to a birdwatching paradise. Around Lake Myvatn, steep mountain climbs and treks into volcanic craters should be high on your list. 

The hike to the Hverfjall Crater rim tests your cardio, and the emerald Viti Crater Lake is an out-of-this-world sight. Explore the Námafjall Geothermal Area to see smoking fumaroles and whiff the stench of sulfur. The trail coursing through the Námaskarð Pass exposes a kaleidoscope of colors caused by the area’s natural hot springs. 

5. Snæfellsnes Peninsula

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula earns the moniker “Iceland in Miniature” to highlight its unbelievably diverse scenery. From lava fields and black-sand beaches to cascading waterfalls and spooky caves, you’ll find most of Iceland’s scenery rolled up into this single peninsula. Just a 2-hour drive from Reykjavik, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula opens your eyes to Iceland’s natural wonders.

Mount Kirkjufell is Iceland’s most photographed peak, and the Gerðuberg Cliffs feature beautiful basalt columns. Climb the stairs to the Saxhóll Crater for mind-blowing vistas or trek the rugged coastline between Hellnar and Arnarstapi. Don’t forget to visit the picturesque Djúpalónssandur black-sand beach and the eerie Berserkjahraun Lava Fields.

6. East Fjords

The East Fjords of Iceland stretch from Berufjörður to Borgarfjörður Eystri and offer a majestic strip of less-traveled coastline. Fishing villages dot the rugged landscape, and sharp cliffs present breathtaking vistas of sparkling fjords. Most tourists overlook the East Fjords to give hikers the bliss of solitude in untamed nature. 

Borgarfjörður Eystri attracts avid hikers with trails coursing into the jagged mountains or deep-blue inlets. The 16 km loop through Brunavik takes you to a beautiful black-sand beach and into the stunning Helgargil Canyon. Head to the Dyrfjoll Mountains to face the boulders and sharp peaks at Storurd. Climb the 1,833-meter Snæfell to conquer Iceland’s tallest freestanding mountain or admire the colorful basaltic strata around Hengifoss waterfall. 

We love to hear from you

Thanks for checking out our ultimate Iceland hiking guide. Hopefully, this has provided the information you need to plan an exhilarating trekking adventure in Iceland. If you have hiking experiences from Iceland or other tips to recommend, please leave us a comment below.

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