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A Complete Guide to Landmannalaugar

A Colorful Geothermal Oasis in the Icelandic Highlands

February 28, 2019
Viktória Komjáti

Remarkably colorful mountains encircle the valley of Landmannalaugar. The rich colors of the slopes strike an outstanding contrast with the glittering obsidian lava fields. What adds even more to its value is the natural hot spring in which visitors can freely bathe all year round. Exploring this extraordinary site is one of the best things any nature enthusiast can do in Iceland.

A complete Guide to Landmannalaugar

Where is Landmannalaugar located?

63.9830°N, 19.0670°W

Landmannalaugar is a geothermal oasis found in the remote tundra of the interior of Iceland, in the Icelandic Highlands. It’s located in the Southern Highlands within the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, a name that means the “Mountain’s Back”.

From Reykjavík, it is about a 3-hour drive (112 mi. / 180 km) to Landmannalaugar, even though it’s always good to count on having quite a few stops along the way as the landscape is too beautiful to drive past without stopping. Visiting Landmannalaugar can fit in a day trip. 

How to get there

The easiest way to get to Landmannalaugar is to drive south via Road 1 / the Ring Road. After a bit more than an hour’s drive along the South Coast, take Road 26 inland. It is a gravel road that leads by the stunning Hekla volcano.

Follow this road for about 35 minutes and then take the F225, called Landmannaleið, ‘the road leading to Landmannalaugar’. It eventually ends in Road F208. Follow the signs and take Road F224 to reach the basecamp.

Roads leading into the Highlands are only open during the summer months, from late June until early September. As roads in the Highlands aren’t paved and the road conditions can easily change depending on the weather, we recommend using a 4X4 car.

The road to Landmannalaugar leads across  black deserts and on wild terrain

The road to Landmannalaugar leads across black deserts and on wild terrain

When is the best time to visit?

Summer is the best time to visit Landmannalaugar as this is when it reveals its vibrant colors and its landscape is in its fullest glory. The best thing to do in Landmannalaugar is to explore the area on foot and that’s most enjoyable in summer.

Landmannalaugar is just as amazing and inviting in winter as it is in summer, though. However, for those who would like to drive themselves, the area is only accessible during the summer months.

In winter, only specialized Superjeeps can reach the Highlands. That’s why we offer adventurous trips to Landmannalaugar all winter - the weather is never an obstacle. Welcome to the only warm ice in the world.

In winter, the area shows off a completely different side. The mountains and valleys are covered with a thick layer of snow and the campground is empty. The hot spring is still warm, the Northern Lights can appear at any time, and the huts remain open for tour guests. Winter is the best time to visit Landmannalaugar for those who would like to escape the crowds and enjoy the ultimate serenity the Icelandic Highlands have to offer.

Backpackers in Landmannalaugar, hiking the Laugavegur trail

Backpackers in Landmannalaugar, hiking the Laugavegur trail

The Fjallabak Nature Reserve

The Fjallabak Nature Reserve is famous for its wild and rugged landscapes with colorful mountains and deep valleys. The glacier-topped volcano, Torfajökull, shaped the area through many volcanic eruptions and a high amount of geothermal activity, which still remains today.

This region’s the largest rhyolite area in Iceland and the second largest geothermal area after Grímsvötn, which is hidden deep within the mighty Vatnajökul glacier. The hot springs and geothermal pools at Landmannalaugar are but one of many signs of the high geothermal activity in the region.

The bedrock of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve is approximately 8–10 million years old. The central volcano has erupted many times over the last 10,000 years, with the last eruption taking place around 1480 CE. This eruption formed most of the sites that we can see in Landmannalaugar today: the lava fields of Laugahraun, Námshraun, and Norđurnámshraun as well as the crater lake, Ljótipollur.

The Fjallabak Nature Reserve was established in 1979. It covers 47,000 hectares (470 sq. km) and protects the land’s natural features so that future travelers will have the opportunity to enjoy them as we do today.

Brennisteinsalda mountain

Brennisteinsalda mountain

Natural Attractions in Landmannalaugar

The Rhyolite Mountains

The most remarkable natural attraction is the unique landscape itself. The mountains are made of rhyolite while the other geological elements - such as sulfur, iron, and moss - have painted the slopes in various shades of brown, yellow, pink, red, and blue.

The two most impressive mountains, Brennisteinsalda, the “Sulfur Wave”, and Bláhnúkur, the “Blue Peak”, are located very close to each other. This allows their colors to play off one another. Brennisteinsalda is mainly yellow with patches of red, pink, and some blue, while Bláhnúkur is dark grey and blue with patches of green. The additional patches of white snow add even more contrast to the scene.

The Lava Fields

The most impressive lava field, Laugahraun, and the neighboring fields of Hrafntinnuhraun and Namshraun were created between 872 and 1480 CE. Colorful mountains surround these lava fields that stretch across the valleys. According to the local folklore, the solidified lava is home to all kinds of hidden creatures, such as trolls and elves. When you walk among the odd rock formations, it feels like being in another world.

The colorful rhyolite mountains and the black lava field make an exceptional sight in Landmannalaugar

The colorful rhyolite mountains and the black lava field make an exceptional sight in Landmannalaugar

The Hot Springs

From the edge of the Laugahraun lava field, several hot water streams spring up and become mixed with some cold water sources to create a warm river. In the past, people created a bathing area on the warm river that is still in use and free to the public. The word Landmannalaugar translates as the “People’s Pool”, referring to the long history of travelers enjoying the benefits of this warm oasis in the middle of nowhere.

The naturally warm pool is an ideal bathing place all year round with temperature that remains around 36–40ºC (96.8–104ºF) even in the middle of the snowy winter.

Grænagil Canyon

There is a picturesque canyon near the foot of Bláhnúkur and close to the base camp that offers very curious natural sights. The walls of the canyon are made of a type of green rock that looks completely surreal. It’s a very easy and rewarding hike to the canyon, suitable for those with a tight timeframe, families with children, and people who are not used to hiking.

Ljótipollur, the Ugly Puddle

The name of this site is absolutely misleading. Ljótipollur is a small crater lake that is not at all ugly. It’s a stunning gem full of blue water with green mosses growing along the slopes of the surrounding crater, surrounded by red lava rock.

Ljótipollur is located 5.6 mi. (9 km) from the basecamp. To go there and back is a nice day hike or just an half-an-hour’s drive.

The view over Laugahraun lava field from the top of Brennisteinsalda

The view over Laugahraun lava field from the top of Brennisteinsalda

Epic Hiking Trails

Landmannalaugar is filled with fascinating hiking trails. The length and the difficulty of the trails are highly varied as well as the landscapes they lead across. The most popular short trails are the ones that cross the Laugahraun lava field and lead up to Brennisteinsalda and Bláhnúkur volcanoes.

One trail starts at the base camp and leads to the peaks of both mountains at approximately 2950 and 3280 ft. (900 and 1000m). The loop hike is approximately 6.2 mi. (10 km) long and takes 5–6 hours to walk as it takes about 2–3 hours to reach each summit.

Landmannalaugar is also the starting or ending point for the famous Laugavegur Trek, which has been listed among the best hikes in the world by National Geographic and many other outdoor magazines. The Laugavegur Trail leads south through the Fjallabak Nature Reserve and ends in the forested valley of Thórsmörk. This much-loved hiking route is about 34 mi. (55 km) long and commonly takes hikers 3–5 days to complete.

People bathing in the geothermal river pool in Landmannalaugar

People bathing in the geothermal river pool in Landmannalaugar

The Facilities

The tourist facilities at the base camp are fairly impressive. A big, two-floor mountain hut is located in the center of the base camp. It is owned by Ferðafélag Íslands, the Icelandic Touring Association. Downstairs is a spacious sleeping cabin with bunk beds, a kitchen, a large hall, and a storage room. Upstairs are three separate sleeping cabins and a small attic.

A large campground surrounds the lodge with space for hundreds of tents. The ground is, however, quite stony so it can be quite troublesome to stake tents there.

The campsite offers roofed cooking facilities and a dining area for campers with excellent sanitary facilities available in another heated building. The warm bathing pool is situated some 328 ft. (100 m) from the showers.

The lodge

The lodge

A Map of Landmannalaugar

Here’s an interactive map of the area. It shows the valley with huts, a campground, and its two parking lots. You can also find the Laugahraun Lava Field, the hot spring, the green canyon (Grænagil), and the two most remarkable volcanoes (Brennisteinsalda and Bláhnúkur).

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The Weather in Landmannalaugar

The Highlands are known to be the harshest region in Iceland. The ground is likely to be covered by snow for 8–9 months of the year.

Winds can be stronger here and the temperatures are usually colder than in other parts of the country. In winter, the average temperatures stay around -5 to -10°C (14–23°F). In summer, they do not often rise above 10 to 15°C (50–59°F).

The wardens at the info point in the basecamp inform travelers about the current forecast. It’s a good idea to check the forecast on the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s website 2–3 days before you plan to head to Landmannalaugar.

How to Dress and What to Bring to Landmannalaugar

For those who plan to hike in the Icelandic Highlands, we recommend the following gear:

All Year

  • A waterproof, windproof shell layer
  • A breathable insulating layer, a fleece sweater, and/or a down jacket
  • A quick-drying and comfortable otdoor undergarment (not cotton)
  • Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots
  • Gloves and a hat
  • A scarf or a buff
  • GPS and a map
  • A swimsuit and a towel

For Camping

  • A sturdy 3- or 4-season tent
  • Extra stakes
  • A mattress with good insulation
  • A sleeping bag with a comfort rating of 0–5°C (32–41°F)
Recommended gear for hiking in the Highlands

Recommended gear for hiking in the Highlands

Safety and Travel Etiquette

The natural environment in Landmannalaugar is as delicate as it is enchanting. Driving off-road is illegal everywhere in Iceland and is subject to heavy fines.

Avoid walking outside of the designated hiking paths and do not step on the moss. Remember to leave no trace! The slightest bit of damage can cause irreversible erosion that can easily spread over a larger area. Do not litter and be kind enough to pick up any trash that others have left behind.

When hiking in the Highlands, it’s crucial to have a GPS device with you. Storms, poor visual conditions, and network coverage problems can occur at any time in this remote wilderness. If you plan on going for a hike alone, always leave your travel plan behind.

Always check the weather forecast, road conditions, and safety warnings before you hit the road. Get more tips at safetravel.is.

Visiting Landmannalaugar could easily be the highlight of your trip to Iceland. Regardless of the season in which you visit, this colorful oasis in the barren Arctic wilderness will surely bring you unforgettable memories!

 

Landmannalaugar, the Pearl of the Icelandic Highlands

 

 

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