“Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – JRR Tolkien
I wonder if this sentence was in J.R.Tolkien´s mind while hiking through the Icelandic highlands. It is said that the picturesque Fimmvörðuháls Pass, more commonly known as Laugavegurinn Trail influenced the famous author in writing both The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings. After spending 4 days hiking this spectacular trail I can understand why.
Forget previous hikes you have done. The trail from Landmannalaugar to Skogar packs more scenic variety in 80 kilometers than most hikes offer in 500. Glaciers, volcanoes, craters, green peaks, river crossings, beautiful lakes and hot springs, to name a few. Voted by National Geographic as one of the world´s best hikes it is not for the faint hearted nor people out of shape.
Mere days before I started my hike there had been an unusual amount of activity from one of the volcanoes in the area and people were warning me about going on the hike. Iceland's volcanic landscape looks and feels prehistoric - natural earth as raw as it gets.
The main hike runs between Landmannalaugar in the north to Þórsmörk in the south. The route is typically completed over 2–4 days with potential stops at the mountain huts of Hrafntinnusker, Álftavatn, Hvanngil and Emstrur.
The first route between Landmannalaugar and Hrafntinnusker is about 12 kilometer long, You hike through lavafields with a spectrum of green, orange, yellow, red, beige and brown color. After an estimated walking time of about 4-5 hours with an elevation increase of 470 meters you will reach your first destination, Hrafntinnusker . Some people choose to stay at this hut, which can accommodate up to 36 people, but a few choose to continue hiking all the way to Álftavatn in one day.
The route from Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn is about 12 km long and the
estimated walking time is about 4 - 5 hours. This route has an elevation decrease of 490 m. This part of the trail takes you through a valley with some small ravines and colourful rhyolite mountains, and continues on to dark palagonite mountains and glaciers. The trail down the "Jökultungur" is rather steep but leads down to a friendly oasis on the banks of river "Grashagakvísl". From there on the trail to the two huts by the lake "Álftavatn" is on flat land. Whether you have hiked this part in two days or one day, this hut is definitely a good place to stay for the night. Located on the beautiful Álftavatn lake, between huge mountains this place is probably the most beautiful place in Iceland where you could open your eyes to a fresh morning. Not to mention, it´s a great place to see the northern lights away from pollution and city lights.
After a good night´s sleep you start hiking towards Emstrur (Botnar). The distance from Álftavatn to Emstrur is about 15 km with an estimated walking time of 6-7 hrs. The elevation decrease is only 40 m. The trail takes you through ravines and you have to wade across both the river "Bratthálskvísl" and "Kaldaklofskvísl". The water level in these rivers vary from day to day, season to season. It is icy cold glacier water, so come prepared. Bring some sort of water shoes. Some people use neoprene booties. After a long day you will reach the nice mountain hut area located in Emstrur.
After staying a night in Emstrur the hike continues towards Þórsmörk. The distance between the huts is about 15 km with an estimated walking time of 6-7 hrs. The elevation decrease here is 300 m. You start by going around the canyon of "Syðri. The landscape and vegetation changes rapidly from desert to birchwood "forests" and all kinds of plants. After another long day of hiking you reach Þórsmörk valley. Here you will find mountain huts, a cafe and outdoor barbecue. Also you will find buses here that can take you back to Reykjavik if this much of the hike was enough for you.
If you are ready for a challenge the hike can be extended by continuing on to Skogar. On the hike to Skogar you will find yourself between two famous glaciers—one of which sits on top of Eyjafjallajökull volcano. This is the famous volcano that stopped flights in 2010 and basically put Iceland on the map. And on your way down you pass more than 20 waterfalls during the last 11 kilometers and end up at Skogafoss, one of Icelands most famous waterfalls. Not a bad way to end your hike. From here you can catch the bus back to Reykjavik.
When to Go
The huts open in late June and close early September.
How to get there
Landmannalaugar, Þórsmörk, and Skógar are all reachable by bus during the summer. A bus from Hella connects with Álftavatn once a day during the summer.
Before you head to the trail, whether from Reykjavik or other locations, pay close attention to the bus schedule as the buses only run once or twice a day to/from Skógar and Landmannalaugar.
You can book a bunk bed in the mountain huts at : firstname.lastname@example.org
Be sure to book bunks ahead of time though, because they fill up fast.
Prices for Álftavatn, Landmannalaugar, Emstrur, Hrafntinnusker and Þórsmörk mountain huts are : 8000 ISK per person.
You also have the option to tent camp outside the huts. Prices for camping at the same locations are: 1800 ISK per person.
Please do not camp outside of the mountain hut areas, as the vegetation in the area is very fragile and camping with a tent on or next to the trail is forbidden.
I feel like there is a lack of information about this hike and the dangers that you may or may not face while there, In Iceland tourism has been booming over the past decade. It is estimated that in 2016 more than 2 million people have visited the island. There has also been a significant change in the type of traveler that comes to Iceland. The Laugavegurinn trail has become a lot more popular during the past few years and the amount of people being rescued from the trail is increasing. When hiking you will pass by monuments remembering people that died on the trail. Because of exhaustion, getting lost in bad weather and freezing to death. These stories are awful, but also necessary for people to be aware of. The dangers you face on this trail are very real. From active volcanoes to sudden weather changes. Before you decide to do this hike be sure you understand what you are getting yourself into. It is long, tough and the weather can be brutal. You are in the wilderness and you are responsible for your own safety. Always let people know where you are, and in Iceland it is mandatory to register at the nearest departure point before hiking in the highlands.
What to bring
I would recommend having a GPS with you, or map and compass. Enough food and water to last at least 4 days. Warm and waterproof clothes and good hiking shoes (that you have worn before). For more information about what to bring check out the link below.
With that said, this is the most spectacular, breathtaking hike I have ever done and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to experience the last part of European wilderness.
Stay safe and have fun
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