A guide to 5 of the most amazing hikes in Iceland

Though the country may be small, the hikes are mighty. Iceland won’t disappoint if you are looking for short hikes, day hikes, multi-day treks or even hikes to hot springs.

Lace up your boots, pack your bag, and head out into the lava fields, wildflowers and lush landscape of Iceland. Here are the top five hikes both near the main city of Reykjavik and beyond.

Mt. Esja

A hike on Mt. Esja among wildflowers. Photo Credit: Mattie Schuler
A hike on Mt. Esja among wildflowers. Photo: Mattie Schuler

Mt. Esja is Reykjavik’s hometown mountain. It’s just outside of the city, covered in both wildflowers and snow, and has a bus stop right at the trailhead, along with Esjustofa, a cafe that serves delicious lamb stew and hot coffee.

If you are lucky, you’ll see some sun in Iceland, but most days will be filled with rain and clouds. I did this hike on a rainy day, but even then, the landscape was beautiful.

The main hike takes you up to The Steinn, or stone, which has a guestbook to sign. The easily-marked trail is about seven kilometers round trip, and is steep but easy. Above The Steinn, the path does continue, though it becomes more technical and even steeper.

Laugavegaur Trek

Day one of the Laugavegur trek, which starts in Landmannalaugar. Photo Credit: Mattie Schuler
Day one of the Laugavegur trek, which starts in Landmannalaugar in Iceland’s Highlands. Photo: Mattie Schuler

The Laugavegur 53-kilometer trek is the most famous multi-day hike in Iceland.

It’s a four-day, three-night hike that starts in the highlands at Landmannalaugar and ends in the Jurassica Park-esque Thórsmörk.

The trek is well marked and not too difficult, but a map or a GPS device is recommended. Take one of the bus tours from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar, like Reykjavik Excursions or Trek, which gets you a ride there and back, whenever you reach Thórsmörk.

The roads to Landmannalaguar aren’t always open though, but the bus companies will know the details. Most likely, the roads will open in mid-to-late June, and stay open until sometime in September, depending on snow.

Huts on the trek get booked quickly, but camping is easy if you have a secure, wind-proof tent. Be prepared for snow, rain, wind, fog … and hopefully a little sunshine.

I did the hike two days after the roads opened, and encountered other hikers and tour groups, but still felt plenty alone in the wilderness. After that first week though, and before the last week, rangers say the trek is packed with people practically hiking in a line.

Though busy, the trek is still worth it as you hike through the orange mountains of Landmannalaugar, over snowfields that open to lush, green mountains and across a black sand desert with a few rivers to ford.


The vast canyons of Thórsmörk that lead the way to Skogar. Photo: Mattie Schuler

For an extra day tacked onto the Laugavegur hike or as a nice day hike on its own, continue on from Thórsmörk to Skogar over the Fimmvörðuháls pass, between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull ice caps.

This popular 25-kilometer hike, which can be done north to south or vice versa, is grueling but doable, and takes between eight and ten hours. A GPS device is recommend, which can be rented in Reykjavik from Gangleri Outfitters, as storms roll in quickly and fog can obscure the trail. Along the route, you’ll encounter jagged cliffs and canyons covered in dense green moss, countless waterfalls and still-steaming lava fields from the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption.


Hike to the hot river in Hveragerði. Photo Credit: Mattie Schuler
Hike to the hot river in Hveragerði. Photo: Mattie Schuler

The Hot Spring River Trail in the Reykjadalur Valley in Hveragerði is a quick hike that gets you out of Reykjavik and into lush wilderness pluming with steam.

Just 40 minutes east of Reykjavik lies the small town of Hveragerði, which is easily accessible by the city’s bus system. It’s teeming with geothermal activity, and greenhouses, too.

The trailhead starts at the end of town, past the golf course and horse stables. The hike isn’t technical, though it is steep in parts, and is a little over seven kilometers roundtrip. Bring your suit and towel because the rewarding hot river is a must.

Glymur Waterfall

The beautifully cascading Glymur waterfall, only accessible by foot. Photo: Courtesy of Matito/Flickr

There are plenty of powerful waterfalls to see in Iceland, but you can only get to Gylmur, the country’s second highest waterfall, by foot.

The trailhead is about an hour north from Reykjavik, near Hvalfjörður, a fjord that offers up a gorgeous drive. The roundtrip 7.5-kilometer trail is moderately difficult, taking about three to four hours, and is full of mossy green canyons, caves, wildflowers, bubbling streams, and endless vistas.

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