The Definitive Guide to Traveling In Iceland
From rugged landscapes to breathtaking scenery, Iceland never fails to amaze tourists. The Land of Fire and Ice boasts natural wonders such as glaciers, active volcanoes, and geysers. Many people also visit Iceland for the Northern Lights and whale watching.
Little Known Facts about Iceland
Did you know that Iceland is one of the most sparsely populated nations in the world? In fact, the Vatnajökull glacier (the largest glacier in the world) covers over 8% of Iceland’s landmass.
The country commands a whopping 30 active volcanoes. Iceland’s population is just 10% of that of San Francisco’s.
We all love geysers. Don’t we? The word “geyser” originates from Old Norse (Icelandic).Another interesting fact about the Icelandic language is that it has one of the longest words-
I will talk about visiting Iceland while you try to pronounce the tongue-twister mentioned above (Good Luck with that!)
Hiking in Iceland: The Best Way to Explore the Land of Fire
What I love about hiking is that it is an activity we all can do. Regardless of your age or hiking experience, you can find a trail to enjoy the wilderness. And what better place for hiking than the Icelandic wilderness? Imagine inhaling fresh air amidst snow-capped peaks, beautiful glaciers, massive waterfalls, and roaring volcanoes!
Exploring the world on foot is an altogether different experience. Hiking in Iceland will bring all your fantasies (that you might have heard of Iceland) come true. Forget YouTube videos and third-person stories. Head to Iceland and explore this mysterious land on foot. The refreshing ice-cold glacial water and the fresh smell of the ocean wind will leave you mesmerized, while you steadily explore the Iceland earth on your feet. While Iceland is home to thousands of tourists yearly, only a few enjoy its “real” beauty. Hikers are the ones that get to really explore the serene, unparalleled Icelandic beauty. Let’s take you through some of the best hiking places in Iceland.
Top Hiking Trails Iceland
Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls
Don’t just take my word and explore this beautiful (combo) trail. As per National Geographic, the Laugavegur and Fimmvorduhals trek is one of the best hiking trails in the world. The combined trail covers around 48 miles and has a maximum ascent of 800m. You can cover this trail in around a week, given you hike 4-7 hours a day. These trails are open from late June to early September every year.
The Laugavegur Trek
This trail will see you through hot springs, black deserts, rhyolite mountains, and black lava fields. The 34-mile hike is perfect for hikers planning a 4-5 day hike. The most beautiful part is when you actually start the hike by bathing in the natural hot spring in the Landmannalaugar Valley.
The Fimmvörðuháls Trek
Second in the “best hiking trails in Iceland” is the 16-mile long Fimmvörðuháls Trek. I recommend starting the hike in Skogar from the top of the Skogafoss waterfall. This two-day hike will take you through beautiful waterfalls, canyons, snow-capped mountains, and the famous Magni and Modi craters.
The Hornstrandir Trek
If you plan to visit Northern Ireland, the 540mile, 6-day Hornstrandir hike is perfect for you. Since cars and buses cannot go here, you will have to access this area by boat. Please also note that this trail is quite isolated. Hence, you might need to plan thoroughly before embarking on this hike. You should plan your hike, addressing aspects such as food, water, warm clothing, tents, hiking boots, and other important gear for backpacking. The Hornstrandir trail is accessible for hiking from late June to mid-August.
The Kjolur Trek, aka, the Haunted Highway
The Kjolur trail connects the northern and southern parts of Iceland. This 30-mile trail is notorious for its unwelcoming weather conditions. However, with the right hiking gear (hiking boots, backpack, food, water, etc.), you can enjoy this beautiful trail. You can also use an offroad vehicle (4x4) to get to the hiking trail, thanks to the gravel road connecting to the trail.
The Askja Trek
The Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland is home to one of the most beautiful calderas in the world- Askja. Local hikers love this area. Hiking this trail will bring you through beautiful lunar landscapes, rocky deserts, and volcanic mountains. This 60-mile hike can be covered in less than a week. The trailers mentioned above apply if you are planning a 5-10 day itinerary for Iceland. However, if you are short on time, and want to still hike in Iceland, there are a few 1-day trails as well.
One-Day Hiking in Iceland (Use Alltrails.com for trails near you!)
- The Glymur Waterfall Hike (4mile)
- The Brennisteinsalda-Bláhnúkur loop (6 miles)
- The Fimmvorduhals volcano hike (10 miles)
- The Hvannadalshnúkur summit (15 miles)
- The Snaefellsjokull hike (5 miles)
- The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve (9 miles)
- The Reykjadalur trail (4 miles)
- Mount Esja hike (10 miles)
What to pack for hiking in Iceland?
Now that we have talked about all the amazing hiking trails in Iceland, we should start planning your packing in advance. Packing smart would help you enjoy the amazing beauties of Iceland with comfort and ease. What you pack essentially depends on elevation, weather, terrain, and duration of the hike. I have tried my best to include items you will need for a 5 day itinerary, 7 day itinerary and even 10 day itinerary for Iceland. Instead of giving you a long list of things, I have divided this list into a few categories, so it is easier for you to pack:
Ah, the good old h2o. Nothing quenches thirst better than fresh, clean water. As I mentioned earlier, the refreshing glacial water in Iceland tastes yummy (delicious would be an understatement)! Keep a large-sized (1-2l) water flask with you. It is a good idea to keep the flask full before you start on your expedition. To guarantee fresh drinking water wherever the trial leads you, check out this water purifier from Evo.
This would, for the most part, depend on “when” you are planning your trip to Iceland. Make sure you check the weather in Iceland before packing. I have talked about some of the hikes earlier and even mentioned when are they best suited to visit. To recall, most of these trails are great to venture from July to October.
Let’s quickly cover the weather in Iceland by month to give you a better idea:
- Iceland weather in August: The average temperature varies from 46F to 55F
- Iceland weather in September: You should expect temperatures between 41 and 50F.
- Iceland weather in October: Temperatures between 36 and 44F are common in this month.
- November Temperatures: 30-38F
- Weather in December: 27-36F
-Start with packing a thermal underwear set (both top and bottom). Having a minimum of two pairs of shirts is great. I am a big fan of layering when hiking in colder areas. Hence, for the mid-layer, wool or fleece should do the job.
-Stay away from cotton hiking pants. Due to their poor heat retention, they do not make good hiking pants. Go for a windproof jacket like Patagonia's Nano Puff Hoody that packs easily into its provided small travel pouch. Or go full waterproof with REI's Co-op Groundbreaker Rain Jacket 2.0.
-The same goes for your hand. Make sure you have either a woolen or synthetic pair of gloves. I’d recommend keeping an extra pair just in case. Check out the NY Times list of The Best Touchscreen Winter Gloves to be able to snap pictures and texts with ease.
Hiking Boots & Shoes
A hiking trip to Iceland is almost impossible to imagine without the right set of hiking boots. Go for a pair of sturdy and waterproof hiking boots. Make sure the boots have a strong sole and provide good ankle support like the Merrell's Thermo Glacier Mid Waterproof hiking boots. In addition to a pair of hiking boots, keep a pair of river crossing shoes. Your old shoes can serve a purpose.
Backpack, Sleeping Bag, Pillow
For a one-day hike, you might not need a sleeping bag or a pillow. However, for longer hikes, these are almost a must-have on the trip. There are so many sleeping bags to choose from, and all claim that they are the warmest and most durable. The Big Agnes Lost Ranger 3N1 0 combination sleeping bag has a comfort zone between 20 and -1 degrees (F) with a built in pillow and inflatable mat that ties in to stay secure under you while you sleep. A backpack with a 25-40l capacity should suffice for most hikes. And in Iceland, you can bet that you'll see rain or at least the shower of a waterfall. IDRYBAG has backpacks and hand held dry bags to keep your goods dry while out on the trails.
Tracking and managing time is important during hiking. Keeping on a good schedule essentials boils down to timing. You want to stay organized during your adventure trip to Iceland. While a smartphone can tell time, it can run out of battery. A strong, sturdy, durable, and waterproof watch would weather Icelandic conditions and help you on your journey. Take, for example, the VERO Workhorse Chrono. This beautiful watch comes with built-in chronograph features, which track time elapsed in hour intervals.
Check out this post on how to use the chronograph function.
This is a great way to make sure the 21 hours of daylight don't fool you into packing too much in or spending too much time in one place with so many must-see places on the list. With VERO on your wrist, it is time to get moving! Check out more waterproof gear here.
If you want to make beautiful Instagram-approved professional shots of Iceland that look like they are straight out of a Nat-Geo documentary, you need to have a sturdy drone on the packing list. The DJI Mini SE Quadcopter with Remote Controller can fit in the palm of your hand and only weighs a whopping 0.55 lbs.
Keep a toothbrush, toothpaste, hand/face wash, and a small easy-to-dry towel. A small deodorant doesn’t hurt either.
You can keep a portable power bank or charger for your phone. If you plan on camping at night, make sure you have a flashlight as well. Here is a combo solar charger bank, flashlight, and compass from Taoxiwave.
Some other items I recommend for your hikes in Iceland include a fire starter, a first aid kit, earplugs, and a map, or a handy all-in-one kit with the VSSL camping gear utility flask.
I recommend having a pair of hiking poles, gaiters, your favorite book, and a set of playing cards. These are optional items for your backpacking.
Best Hotels in Iceland
If you are going to Iceland for vacation, you should check the accommodation in advance. It could be difficult to find a place to stay at times. There are some nice hotels in Reykjavik, Iceland. Hotel Ranga is another popular place to stay in southern Iceland. While not a hotel, the Ingólfsskáli Viking Restaurant is popular with visitors who want to try traditional Icelandic dishes. This eatery is located in Ölfus, near Selfoss in South Iceland. You will enjoy its Viking decor. Imagine eating out of Viking-inspired utensils, and drinking out of animal horns. And you get to throw axes like a Viking too.
A lot of tourists flock to the Blue Lagoon to enjoy the popular hot spring. Hotels near the Blue Lagoon offer a wide range of options, both for people on a budget and for those seeking luxury. If you are visiting the Thingvellir National Park, you can stay at the Ion Adventure Hotel. Almost forgot to mention; make sure you get a car rental from Iceland airport. And if you are looking for cheap Iceland flights, January is the best month. However, you can also find inexpensive plane tickets to Iceland during other months.
Whether you visit Iceland for hiking or for the northern lights, you would fall in love with this spectacular country. There are so many things to do when hiking in Iceland. And when you come back from your trip, do share your experience with us on our Insta or YouTube channel.
And if you're planning on sticking close to home in North America, check out our recent post - "Top 10 Jeep Off Roading Trails for the Adventure Lovers!".
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