This long-distance trail in southern Iceland is a must trek for any real hiker visiting the Island. The surreal landscapes in the highlands are something you’ll get nowhere else on your Iceland tour, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
Intro and Background
I did this trek with my sister Olive Oil in September of 2016. We were on a 9-day trip to Iceland in which we rented a car and drove around the full ring road making all the stops. Before we got our car from Reykjavik, we spent two days thru-hiking the Laugavegur Trail and it ended up being our favorite activity of the entire trip.
I’m not writing this as a go-to guide nor any authoritative guide on hiking this trail, there is plenty of information that you’ll find for that already. I’m writing this to share our trek, document it, and possibly give a different perspective since we did this self-guided.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
What is the Laugavegur Trail?
The Laugavegur Trail is a 55km/33m trek in the southern-central part of Iceland. The trek begins in Landmannalaugar and ends Þórsmörk (we did it southbound which I believe is typical but hiking northbound would be no different).
Do you need a guide to hike the Laugavegur Trail?
No. If you’re a seasoned hiker with backcountry experience this is a wonderful hike to NOT have a guide, guide group, or tour.
When can you hike the Laugavegur Trail?
The trail is used primarily between April and September. Where the trail can be trekked outside of this time, transportation and amenities might be scarce. For instance, when we left for this trek in the middle of September, it was the last bus going out to Landmannalaugar. Additionally, the huts along the trail were shutting down and if you’re looking for a guided trek, I do not think you would be able to hike outside of this window.
How can you get to the Laugavegur Trail?
If you’re completing this trek with a guided group then I’m sure they have it all figured out for you, that is what you pay for ya know? If you’re doing this self-guided then transportation is actually very simplistic still. Reykjavik Excursions run buses out during season to both Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk.
How many days does it take?
This is very subjective on the type of hiker you are and what kind of trek you are looking to have. All the tours will say about 3-4 days with options of up to 6 days if you’re adding in an additional section to Skógar. We did the trek in two days and for us that was perfect. It was a full day of hiking our first day, and our second day we got into Þórsmörk early afternoon and got ourselves a hot meal. We felt nothing was rushed and we enjoy our days filled with hiking.
Huts or Tents?
There are several hut sites along the 33-mile stretch of trail. The huts are around $60-70 USD a night and I believe they may charge a small fee for tent camping at the huts. We ended up stealth camping (not sure on what is allowed but always practice good Leave No Trace principles)
Plenty – it’s Iceland. One could say there is a little too much water if they don’t like getting feet wet crossing streams. Bring a water filter - I recommend a Sawyer Squeeze.
Pack it in – the only place I recall getting food is at the cabin in Þórsmörk. The huts might sell food though in season.
Again, this is Iceland. It’s also the backcountry in the mountains and glaciers. The weather will always be unpredictable and you should prepare for hot, cold, rain and snow on this trail. We were pounded with rain for a few hours our first day and then had normal cool temps the rest of the trek. A great tip is to have dry bags for your gear - you can see my article on my favorite brand here.
Is the trail well marked?
Yes, this is the most popular of treks in Iceland and the trail is well marked, visible path, and proper signage.
Can you find maps online?
Yes! Well, at least now you can. Back in 2016 I quite honestly don’t remember us having a map unless it was included in our guidebook (bad move!) but I checked and the whole route is mapped on AllTrails! Details and link below.
Laugavegur: Thórsmörk - Landmannalaugar:
Distance: 33.0 Miles
Type: Point to Point
Total Ascent: 5813 feet
I’m recalling this story from five years back now so the details are vaguer than I’d like to write but this should give you a good idea of what our experience was like.
We began the trip out in the morning from Reykjavik using Reykjavik Excursions. These buses are your typical coach buses, those massive rectangular ones with the 90s style carpet seats. The ride out took us 2 hours with the last thirty minutes being a slow an extreme journey. The bus was maneuvering through a single-lane, dirt-path, pot-hole riddled, lava field! The landscape was crazy with the igneous rock features and the road was like a rollercoaster through it with the sharp turns and ups and downs.
The bus arrived in the valley area of Landmannalaugar which consists of about a singular cabin with information, registration, and bathroom facilities. We probably took a picture of the map to avoid the cost of buying one – but the signs pointed south and we took off after a few snaps of the camera and looks at the landscape.
The trail goes over a small ridge and you’re slammed with this insane scenery that lays upon the other side. The mountains that are colored rainbow, the glaciers atop, and small geothermal lakes of the deepest aqua blue. The first section is an ascent with some steep inclines but a lot was rolling hills or long stretches between mountain passes.
I bought my first DSLR camera for this trip, and with this being the first stop on our trip I couldn’t stop taking pictures and playing with the settings. I’m laughing going back through some of them and recalling the type of shots I was looking to take. These first couple miles I was awfully slow stopping everywhere to snap some photos.
When we reached the high point where a set of huts were the weather was picking up quite heavily. We had just gotten across our first section of glacier walk and the rain was starting to come at us sideways. The hut caretakers were nice and let us come in to get warm and offered a bite of leftover food. This was end of season and the trail was empty. Like vacant empty, like these were the first people we had seen besides a few day hikers around the Landmannalaugar camp.
We knew we had to keep moving forward so after getting resituated we departed the hut. The storm hadn’t let up at all and was now coming at us head on. I was thinking at this time this could be a bad situation, like we were properly prepared but also in such a foreign area to us that who knows what was capable of happening. Luckily, after this gloomy thought the storm began to break and fizzled out into a drizzle. It was good timing because one of the most insane parts of the trail began which involved crossing the glacier run off streams. It wasn’t that these streams were rushing with force at this time but more so that the glacier streams created such steep embankments with cliffs of fifty feet deep or more. The loose black sand that made up these banks also made for easy blow outs and some close calls of skirting where the path had fallen out.
After a section with several of these annoying ‘pointless ups and downs’ (PUDs) the trail returned to normal and the elevation even tapered off from the earlier section. Another hour or so and we arrived at the next set of huts located in a valley along an alpine lake called Álftavatn. I wanted to call this home for the night but Olive Oil was the planner and had finished her Appalachian Trail thru-hike less than a month ago and was hungry for more miles. I reluctantly puttered along behind knowing we didn’t have too much further to go.
Funny thing was though – we didn’t really know where we were going. We had only seen one other hiker on the trail the entire day so far which meant we surely wouldn’t have any problem pitching tent in any of the flat sand valleys that lined this section of the trail. We forded a couple of streams before arriving at this unexplainably vast plot of land that felt like a desert of black sand and rock. It was enclosed by green mountains in the distance and that felt like a place to call home for the night.
We woke up to a promising break in the clouds but no sun, regardless the weather was considerably perfect for a 13-mile trek to Þórsmörk today. This section was my favorite, again we were hiking for miles through this desert like landscape before arriving at the last camp of huts. Here we met some other hikers on their way out. This last section to Þórsmörk included some incredible bridges, glacier melt streams, and rainbow-colored hills.
One of the most picturesque sights were of the sheep grazing alone in these hills and the surrounding trees breaking out in fall foliage colors. This landscape was so different from everything before it and almost felt closer to New England hiking in the fall. Such a cool last mile or two stretch coming down to Þórsmörk.
In Þórsmörk we stopped in the cabin for a bite, a good deal on some hot soups and fresh bread. I think some greens and other pickens as well. The Reykjavik Excursions bus arrived right here and we found it with ease. Our bus ride out was equally as insane as the way in – the massive coach bus quite literally forded multiple glacier streams! Seeing that alone was worth whatever ticket price we had paid for the journey.
All in, this was an epic trek and not even bad weather could take away from the landscape and epic geological and geothermal features along the way. It was the least touristy activity we felt, possibly because we were at the end of season, but I think it is still a remote trek in the highest of season.
Have any questions or liked this story share? Drop me a comment below!
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