Hiking is probably the best way to explore any country, especially Iceland. By walking every meter, one step at a time, you will experience totally unique moments and discover places that are hidden from those who only follow the most frequented tourist routes.
What are Iceland’s most beautiful hiking areas? When is the best time to go hiking? Is it possible to hike in Iceland in winter? What are the most crucial items that every hiker should have in their backpack? Read on for our ultimate guide to hiking in Iceland and get tips from our hiking experts on how to prepare for the most memorable adventure of your life!
Imagine that you’re walking on a lava field that is just a few years old. Black obsidian rocks decorate the path you roam, steam rises from the ground, and you are passing bubbling mud pots and hot springs as you walk along. The mossy slopes of glacier-capped volcanoes surround you, giant waterfalls are hidden among the jagged valleys, and it’s all yours to explore.
Everyone likes breathtaking views and Iceland offers some of the best panoramas on the planet. Hiking is liberating. It’s proven to reduce stress and release endorphins. This is why it creates much stronger emotions and memories in travelers than a simple road trip.
In Iceland, hiking is very popular among locals and visitors alike. The total number of outdoor enthusiasts, however, is considerably lower than the number who choose to explore Iceland from behind the wheel. Thanks to this, Iceland’s wilderness areas remain pristine and unspoiled.
When Is the Best Time to Hike in Iceland?
The Ultimate Hiking Season: Summer
The main hiking season in Iceland is in summer: June, July, and August. This is the time of year when the weather is the warmest, the driest, and the least windy. This does not mean that the summers are generally warm and sunny, but rather that the conditions are certainly friendlier than during the rest of the year.
Summer temperatures in Iceland range between 10-20°C (50-68°F) with the Highlands being the coldest where near-freezing temperatures can even occur. The wind speed, the precipitation, and the frequency of storms are lowest between June and August, providing the safest and most comfortable conditions for hikers.
In the summertime, the landscape is in its full glory. The meadows are green and vibrant, dotted with colorful Arctic flowers. Moss paints the slopes green while purple lupine fields stretch seemingly without end. Sheep and horses roam freely and loud Arctic birds fill the air with life.
The nights are completely bright and there’s no need of headlights in June or July. Starting in the middle of August, the nights, while quite short, begin to get dark again, thus offering the chance of seeing the Northern Lights!
In some areas, the short summer is the only time when the roads and hiking paths are accessible at all. The country’s interior, known as the Highlands, is one of the most remote areas in Iceland. It’s an uninhabited tundra wilderness which is home to many of the most famous hiking trails in Iceland, all of which are only accessible in the summertime.
Officially, Iceland only has two seasons: summer and winter. For practical reasons, the few weeks before June are identified as spring and the few weeks following August are considered autumn. These weeks can be suitable for hiking, but they also carry a high risk of wind, rain, and very unpleasant weather.
The weather from April to May and from September to October is notoriously unstable. It can be sunny and pleasant or stormy and freezing cold. Snow and ice are not unheard of in any of these months. For this reason, the edges of the seasons are not suitable for multi-day hikes. They are only suited for shorter day hikes that are located within a safe distance from a populated area.
The landscape is brownish both in spring and autumn, if not white. In April and May, the daylight periods are very long with the Midnight Sun kicking in from mid-May. In September and October, the nights are dark and the Northern Lights may appear in the sky.
Hiking in Winter
The mountain roads and Highland roads (also known as the so-called F-roads) that lead to many popular hiking areas are inaccessible by rental cars during the winter months. Only guided Superjeep tours can take you there in winter. This period makes up the largest part of the year and lasts from October until May or June, depending on the actual weather conditions.
Winters are no joke in Iceland. They might not be as cold as you’d imagined, but the conditions in the mountains and in the remote Highlands areas are certainly not suitable for hiking. The temperatures range between -10 and 5°C (14-41°F) often with violent winds and double the precipitation of summer.
What makes winter especially unsuitable for hiking is the length of the days. The daylight periods can be as short as 2-3 hours. The sun barely climbs over the horizon and the amount of light it provides is very slim, even for just those few hours.
Most of the hiking paths are not maintained in winter and any signs are not visible under the thick layer of snow which could be up to a few meters thick. Avalanches are not uncommon, either. Some shorter hiking trails near the capital area are suitable for hiking all year round, though. Hiking in winter in Iceland requires experience in wintry conditions and the right equipment, such as hiking spikes or crampons.
What are Iceland’s Most Beautiful Hikes and Hiking Areas?
The abundance of hiking opportunities in Iceland is truly impressive. More than a fifth of the total land area is part of protected areas and natural monuments. The country has three vast national parks filled with endless hiking opportunities.
Vatnajökull is the largest national park in Europe. Walking paths run around most cities and villages. There are also a great number of nature reserves and wilderness areas where thrilling natural attractions are waiting for us to explore them.
The Icelandic Highlands
Iceland’s vastest hiking and trekking trail network can be found in the interior of the country, in the Icelandic Highlands. The 40,000-square-kilometer uninhabited wilderness in the country’s interior is known for its extreme contrasts and unparalleled landscapes.
The Highlands consists of barren volcanic deserts dotted with lush geothermal oases and giant ice caps. It’s one of Europe’s last unspoiled wilderness areas, attracting adventurers from all over the world.
The Highlands are inaccessible to hikers during most of the year. Driving into Iceland’s interior is only possible between June and August when the snow and ice have melted and the roads are officially open.
Maneuvering on its rough terrain requires very good driving skills and experience. The roads are not paved, the rivers are not bridged, and the winds can be especially violent here. In winter, getting to the Highlands is only possible via guided Superjeep tours.
The wild topography and hostile weather conditions often challenge hikers. This is the reason why hiking here can only be done in the summer months. The Highlands offers the most thrilling landscapes and natural wonders to those who are willing to leave their comfort zone to seek out the pristine tundra. The county’s most famous multi-day treks and hiking areas are located here.
One of Iceland's most photographed hiking destinations, Landmannalaugar, is located in the southern part of the Highlands. Photographs of its multicolored slopes and geothermal valleys have gone viral on the internet.
Landmannalaugar (i.e. “the people’s pool”) is part of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, a highly protected natural area that is home to many outstanding natural wonders. The eye-catching rich colors of the mountains here come from rhyolite, a volcanic element which painted the slopes in yellow, blue, pink, green, and chocolate brown.
The valley of Landmannalaugar offers the ultimate base camp to hikers: huts, sleeping bag accommodation, and spacious camping grounds are available to play host to the adventurers. What makes this dreamy site even more attractive is the natural hot spring that is available for public bathing, free of charge.
Landmannalaugar is filled with amazing hiking trails. Out of the countless opportunities to choose from, the climb to the volcanoes of Brennisteinsalda and Blahnukur is the most scenic day hike in the area. Those who would not like to challenge themselves with steep climbs can wander endlessly across the canyons and obsidian lava fields. Graenagil (i.e. “the green canyon”) and the Laugahraun lava field are the sights which are closest to the campsite and are also the most scenic ones.
Not far from Landmannalaugar is a fertile oasis in the Highlands named Thorsmork or “Thor’s forest”. It’s a green forested valley surrounded by impressive mountain ranges. The valley is nestled between three glaciers: Mýrdalsjokull, Tindfjallajökull, and the infamous volcano-glacier, Eyjafjallajökull.
The latter was the volcano that erupted in 2010, causing a major disturbance in the air traffic for all of Europe. The lava that surfaced during the eruption has solidified and is accessible for hikers. Climbing up to the famous Fimmvorduhals pass and seeing the volcanic craters, Magni and Modi, from Thorsmork is one of the most thrilling adventures a hiker can complete in Iceland!
Thórsmörk valley has been a beloved recreational area among locals for decades. Sheltered by the mossy slopes, filled with rich birch forests, and enjoying a special microclimate, Thorsmork provides fabulous hikes at a variety of lengths and levels of difficulty.
There are several campsites in the area. The largest one is called “Volcano huts” and it offers excellent facilities. A restaurant, sleeping bag accommodations, huts, glamping (glamorous camping) tents, and a large campground with a sauna provide quite luxurious services for backpackers.
The Laugavegur Trail
Iceland’s most famous trekking route, Laugavegur Trail, connects Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork. The trek, which has been listed as one of the world’s best hiking trails by the National Geographic, leads 34.1 mi. (55 km) south through some of the most wonderful parts of the Icelandic wilderness.
Most hikers start the trek in Landmannalaugar among the rainbow-colored mountains. The path leads by steaming hot springs, cuts across black lava and obsidian fields, climbs up to snow-capped peaks and descends down into green pastures and idyllic lakes. Walkers will traverse a rocky desert, cross rivers, and come across a deep canyon before they arrive in the birch forest of Thorsmork on the fourth day.
The trail is accessible from late June to early September every year. Along the way, four mountain huts and campsites offer shelter to hikers, spaced a few hour’s hike apart. Between October and May, the huts are closed and it’s not possible to hike in the area. For more info on Laugavegur trail join our Facebook group Laugagevur trail - Q&A!
The Fimmvorduhals Trail
There is another famous hike that starts in Thórsmörk, called the Fimmvorduhals Trail. Hikers often connect it to the Laugavegur Trail as an extension for the multi-day trek. The 15.5-mile (25-kilometer) trek is deservedly among Iceland’s most popular hikes.
It leads up to the two craters where the Eyafjallajökull eruption took place in 2010. The path then leads between two glaciers, Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull, before following a highly scenic river canyon to the ocean. After passing by 36 breathtaking waterfalls, the trail ends at Skogafoss, Iceland’s most epic cascade. The hike can also be taken in the other direction, starting at Skógar.
Most hikers complete the Fimmvorduhals Trail in two days, sleeping in one of the two mountain huts along the way. The hike, however, can be completed in just one day if you are in a hurry.
The Fimmvorduhals Volcano Hike
The Fimmvorduhals trail has a one-day version that is referred to as the Fimmvorduhals Volcano Hike. It takes you up the Fimmvörduháls Pass to the two volcanic craters, but instead of ending in Skogar, it takes you the same way back to Thórsmörk.
Located in the Central Highlands, the Kerlingarfjoll area lies on the top of an active volcanic system which features one of Iceland's largest geothermal areas. Its stunning rhyolite mountains are similar to those that can be seen in Landmannalaugar and its peaks are topped with small glaciers. Here, the ice literally meets the rising towers of steam.
Kerlingarfjöll (i.e. “the old lady’s mountain”) is a protected nature reserve. A few centuries ago, it was a popular summer ski resort, but it has been destroyed by global warming over time. Even though skiing in the summer is not possible here anymore, instead of the snow, matchless beauty awaits hikers along with the ultimate Icelandic serenity. Kerlingarfjöll is definitely an off-the-beaten-path Icelandic travel destination.
There are around twenty walking paths in the area, varying from 1 to 50 kilometers in length, but some of them are not marked. Hiking these trails is only recommended for those very experienced wilderness backpackers. The shorter trails lead around the most impressive parts of the geothermal area of Hveradalir while the longest treks circumnavigate the entire nature reserve.
A mountain resort offers shelter hikers in the heart of Kerlingarfjöll. It consists of a small hotel, a modest restaurant, several huts, and a large campsite with a nice location.
Askja (i.e. “caldera”) is a 19.3 sq. mile (50 km2) subsidence cauldron found in the eastern part of the Highlands, within Vatnajökull National Park. The volcano that it belongs to erupted most recently in 1961. Since then, the caldera has filled with water, making it look insanely impressive.
Another much smaller but no less amazing crater is located next to Askja, called Viti (i.e. “Hell”). Its milky-blue water attracts travelers looking to swim as it resembles the water of the luxury geothermal bath of the Blue Lagoon. Víti was, indeed, once comfortably warm for bathing, but today it’s no warmer than 20°C (68°F).
An adventurous trekking route leads to the craters, crossing over Iceland’s largest continuous lava field. This hike features unearthly landscapes and rocky deserts. There are several smaller huts in the area with limited facilities.
The Westfjords is one of the most remarkable regions in Iceland. Only about 10% of visitors ever see this region and the population density here is the lowest in the country. This quiet region, therefore, offers visitors authentic off-the-beaten-path adventures with an abundance of hiking opportunities.
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
The crown of the Westfjords is Hornstrandir, a spectacular nature reserve known for being the most isolated area in Iceland. The northernmost peninsula of the Westfjords is inaccessible by car and entering with any type of motorized vehicle is prohibited. To reach Hornstrandir, you will need to take a boat from Ísafjörður, the largest town of the Westfjords. After you arrive in the bay, you can only continue on foot.
The landscape is absolutely breathtaking here. What gave Hornstrandir its fame are the towering, jagged bird cliffs, the endless green pastures decorated by colorful flowers, and the friendly Arctic foxes that often approach hikers. In good weather, the experience of hiking here can overcome any imagination!
In bad weather, however, travelers are extremely exposed. Being the northernmost point in Iceland, Hornstrandir is cold, windy, and the weather conditions are notoriously changeable. This is why hiking here is only allowed during the mid-summer period, from late June to mid-August.
Hiking here requires extremely good outdoor skills, premium equipment, and careful preparation. Those who are uncertain about hiking alone can join a guided hike. Day hikes as well as 2- and 6-day guided hikes are offered departing from the town of Ísadjörður. The most spectacular hike in this area is the Hornvík bay - Hornbjarg cliffs hike which features some of Iceland's most spectacular bird cliffs.
The southeastern part of the Westfjords is called Strandir. The region is accessible by car and less remote but is still off the beaten path. The landscape is absolutely breathtaking and the few tiny oceanside hamlets and lonely farmhouses give the area a mystical atmosphere that can only be experienced in the Westfjords.
There are a great number of hiking trails here, but you might need to purchase a local hiking map in order to find them. You can find these maps at the larger gas stations on the way to the Westfjords.
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Iceland’s second largest peninsula, Snaefellsnes, is located only 2-3 hour’s drive from Reykjavík. It’s often nicknamed “Iceland in miniature” for showcasing all of the natural curiosities that the country is famous for. Here, you’ll find black beaches, dramatic sea cliffs, vast lava fields, impressive waterfalls, and even a glacier!
One of Iceland’s three national parks is located on the peninsula. The region offers great hiking options. Both shorter and longer trails are found here, one of them even leads all the way up to the glacier-topped Snaefellsjokull Volcano.
The climb to the 4744-foot (1446-meter) high summit is one of the best day-hikes you can do in Iceland. Climbing up to the glacier requires professional guidance and equipment, so make sure you join a safe guided tour instead of trying it alone.
The most scenic easy hike on the peninsula is the 1.8 mi. (3 km) coastal walk between Arnarstapi and Hellnar. The shoreline between the two seaside villages is decorated with eye-catching rock formations, black rock arches, noisy bird cliffs, and natural harbors.
The Eastfjords, just like the Westfjords, offer magnificent fjord scenery and ultimate serenity to their visitors as the region is untouched by mass tourism. The sight of the interesting landscapes along with the lonely rustic farms and fishing villages will make you feel as if you were in another era.
The sparsely populated area has mystical folklore, interesting history, and curious legends. Hidden people, lake monsters, trolls, and elves are believed to have been living here for centuries. You can even visit the City of the Elves, a giant rock that has its very own Elf Queen. Apparently, there have been plenty of human-elf encounters in this area. The characteristic landscapes, steeply jagged mountains, and oddly shaped rock formations may be the inspiration behind these stories.
The most recommended hiking areas in East Iceland are the trails around Borgarfjörður Eystri, Hallormsstaðaskógur, and East Iceland’s most famous waterfall, Hengifoss.
The South Coast is by far the most visited region in Iceland. As the home to Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Reynisfjara black sand beach, and the scenic outlet glaciers in Vatnajökull, the density of tourists in this area is quite high. As the most-visited spots are very easy to access, the majority of tourists will travel the South Coast by car and only leave their vehicle when they arrive at their next thrilling destination.
The region has more to offer than just those epic waterfalls and black sandy beaches, however. There are hiking trails everywhere and it’s very easy to leave the crowd behind if you’re willing to walk a few kilometers.
This short and relatively easy hike that leads to a hot river may be the most famous and most traveled hike in the entire country. We can’t say that it’s not crowded, though, especially in summer. Many travelers have discovered this amazing bathing site and the warm river is certainly not a hidden secret anymore.
Hiking in the area and bathing in the warm river are both amazing experiences. The landscape is beautiful, the path is well maintained, and the area is well traveled. Near the end of the walk, shortly before the river, hikers must cross a highly active geothermal area. The path leads between bubbling mud pots and huge hot springs. The dangerous part is fenced off and those who don’t cross the closures are perfectly safe.
The hiking trail doesn’t end at the bathing site, it continues in two directions. One of these trails leads to another geothermal area up on a hill, which offers great views over the valley. The other trail leads to a small but impressive canyon where you can see more geothermally active spots.
The bathing area itself is a few hundred meters long, so there is plenty of space for many bathers here. There are, however, no changing facilities, bathrooms, or garbage cans. Due to the heavy traffic on the trail, the vegetation around here is extremely fragile. The hiking path is often closed in spring and autumn when the conditions are wet and muddy.
We ask you to be especially environmentally conscious when hiking the Reykjadalur Trail. Please never step off the path and do not leave any waste behind. If you can, pick up the trash others may have left behind and carry it to the nearest garbage bin.
There’s a hiking path that starts at the top of Skógafoss and leads towards the mountain. This is the trail we introduced earlier, called Fimmvorduhals. You don’t necessarily have to walk the entire distance up the mountain. The first few kilometers are incredibly scenic, showcasing a great number of waterfalls in a breathtaking canyon. If you don’t want to do the whole trek, you can turn around at any time.
The trail, however, is often closed in spring and autumn due to muddy conditions. If you find the trail closed, please do not ignore the closure as it’s there to preserve the fragile flora. It only takes one set of footprints for thousands to follow.
The area near the village of Vík offers amazing hiking options. The most scenic hike here is on the seaside mountain next to the village. Reynisfjall offers an excellent view of the Reynisdrangar sea stacks from above.
Skaftafell is one of the most beloved nature reserves in Iceland. Today, it’s part of the Vatnajökull National Park, the largest national park in Europe. Surrounded by glaciers, this green valley has stunningly diverse geological features and scenery.
Iceland highest peak, the 6922-foot (2110-meter) high Hvannadalshnukur towers above the wide tree-blanketed valley and scenic glacier tongues descend from the heights to the lowlands. A first-class hiking trail network covers the entire area from the dense bushes all the way up to the best viewpoints over the glaciers.
There are a number of great hikes in the nature reserve, ranging from 1.8 to 18 mi. (3 to 30 km). The most popular short trail in Skaftafell is the 3.4 mi. (5.5 km)-loop that leads to Svartifoss, the black waterfall. The highly picturesque setting of the cascade surrounded by black basalt columns appears in many photographs and postcards about Iceland.
Hvannadalshnjúkur: Iceland’s Highest Peak
For the expedition-minded, experienced hikers, and mountain climbers, the best adventure is definitely climbing Iceland’s highest peak. The 6922-foot (2110-meter) tall Hvannadalshnúkur is located next to Skaftafell. The mountain is actually Iceland’s largest active volcano, Öræfajökull, which is hidden under the Vatnajökull glacier ice sheet.
Climbing this peak is not for the faint of heart. The climb takes place on glacial terrain and the elevation gain is quite extreme. For those who are in great physical condition and have tested themselves on difficult terrain, glacier hikes, and mountain climbs, this adventure is both safe and truly unforgettable – as long as they have the proper equipment and an expert guide. To climb a really high summit is one thing but to climb a grand summit on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is a whole new world!
The Capital Area
Reykjavík is a tiny city, so the wilderness is always within reach. There are several nature parks within the city out of which Elliálaðalur and Öskjuhlíð are the largest. Both offer short but stunning walking paths. A small mountain, Úlfarsfell, and two islands, Geldinganes and Viðey, offer plenty of hiking and walking opportunities for those who don’t want to leave the city but still want to hike.
A 3000-hectare nature reserve, called Heiðmörk, is located on the outskirts of Reykjavík. This nature park has a large forested area filled with hiking paths and other offers. Some outstanding volcanic formations can be spotted from the road leading south. The red hills are truly stunning to explore.
Esja is the mountain that provides a stunning backdrop to Reykjavík. About 9 mi. (15 km) from the city center, Esja is the closest adventure you can find for yourself near the capital. The 2998-foot (914-meter) high mountain offers a variety of hiking options and several scenic peaks to climb.
Glymur is the second-highest waterfall in Iceland, located only one hour’s drive from Reykjavik. The 650 ft. (198 m) tall waterfall is lesser known because only hikers can reach it. To get there, you’ll need to cross a river (either on a log or on foot) and hike a steep, exposed trail alongside a very deep canyon.
The waterfall is located in Hvalfjörður, the “whale fjord”. Hikers will have a spectacular view over the fjord and the ocean from the top. The 3.8 mi. (6.1 km) trail is probably the most scenic hike in the capital area.
Hiking the Esja trail in winter. Photo: Norbert Zoho
Practical Tips for Hikers
Anyone that is planning to hike without an experienced local guide is advised to use a GPS device or a compass. This especially applies to the Highland trails. It’s possible to rent a GPS in many places in Reykjavik. Using a compass is also an option for those who know how to do so.
In Iceland, however, all compasses must be calibrated due to magnetic declination. Magnetic declination ranges from 12 to 18° from east to west. Before heading out, you should first find out the magnetic declination of the area where you plan to hike. Paper hiking maps are sold in bookstores and at many gas stations all over the country.
More than 200 campsites await hikers in the summer. Campsites are cheap and easy to access with no need to pre-book. Even though many travelers believe that they can camp anywhere in Iceland, this is, unfortunately, false.
There are a few, very remote wilderness areas where hikers who travel on foot are allowed to pitch their tents and camp for the night. In the entire South Coast as well as all of the national parks, nature reserves, and private land wild camping is restricted. This basically means it is restricted in most of the country. Learn more about the rules on wild camping in Iceland.
Campers are advised to have sturdy four-season tents. Being wind- and waterproof are the most important features when it comes to tents in Iceland. Make sure to bring extra pegs and poles as well. For your sleeping bag, we recommend the comfort temperature rating be at 0ºC (32ºF) in summer. To properly isolate yourself from the cold ground, you’ll need a good inflatable sleeping mat.
Hiking the Esja trail in winter. Photo: Norbert Zoho
Clothing and Equipment
For hiking in any colder areas, the four crucial bases to cover are waterproof, windproof, good insulation, and breathable. The base layer should be breathable so that any sweat doesn’t stick around to cool your body. Insulation is important to keep your body heat in. Waterproof and windproof shells are important to protect your clothing and your body from the elements.
- Base layer: thin, long-sleeved, wool or breathable synthetic (no cotton)
- Mid-layer: fleece, down or wool
- Water- and windproof outer layers
- Wool socks
- High-cut waterproof hiking boots (that have been broken in before the trip)
- Gloves or mittens
- A buff, hat
- River crossing shoes
- Long-sleeved pajamas
- A swimsuit
Use waterproof bags inside your backpack to put clothes and your sleeping bag in. This will keep them dry even if you lose your balance while crossing a river and fall in.
- A backpack (anywhere from 30-75 L based on the type of trek)
- Hiking poles
- Sunglasses, lip balm, sunscreen
- A reusable water bottle
- A towel and toiletries
- Camping kitchen set
- A first aid kit
- A personal location beacon
- A compass, a map, a GPS, and extra batteries
- A 3- or 4-season tent with extra pegs and guylines
- A mattress (with an R-value of at least 3)
- A sleeping bag (down bags are the warmest)
Join Our Hikes
Iceland is a hiker’s paradise. Anywhere you go in the country, you’ll find spectacular landscapes and truly beautiful places for hiking. With some planning, you’ll surely find the hike that is most suitable for you.
If you are uncertain of your capacities or if you don’t have much time to put into planning, we strongly advise you to join one of our guided hikes. Our highly experienced local guides will keep you safe and assure that you have the best possible experience on your hike. Join a group of like-minded hikers and explore Iceland’s breathtaking nature with us!