7 Days in Iceland – Hiking the Laugavegur Trail

  • Post by Adam Driscoll
  • Jul 04, 2017

Day 1

We arrived in Reykjavík at around 6 AM Icelandic time and had to make our way to the trail head in Landmannalaugar to start our trek. The first order of business was to take a 45-minute bus ride from Keflavík to downtown Reykjavík. We took the bus to the central bus terminal, BSI, in order to stash our extra luggage and find fuel for the JetBoil.

BSI offers luggage lockers as well as a baggage check service within the visitor center. We were actually able to buy fuel right in the visitor’s center. After checking our extra bags, we walked to downtown Reykjavík for a bite to eat. On our way to the city center, we passed a very unique cathedral called Hallgrimskirkja. We settled for lunch at a small dive that offered breakfast. Everything is very expensive in Iceland. Our breakfast for two costed upwards of 50 dollars for eggs, toast, bacon and coffee.

After spending some time walking around and eating, we made our way back to BSI to catch the 1PM bus to Landmannalaugar. As our adventure started on June 13th, we were taking the first bus of the summer season to the hut. The bus ride would take about 3.5 hours. We made several stops along the way. We transitioned from a regular coach bus to a bus capable of navigating Iceland’s rugged back roads and headed towards the trail head. We spent about an hour and a half bumping along the dirt road and eventually forded a river into the camp site. The Landmannalaugar campsite, like all the huts we encountered, was very well developed. There is running water, warm showers and even a store with general items. We managed to forget tent stakes and there was a bucket of bent and discarded ones we scavenged from. We set up camp right away in a crowded chunk of grass surrounded by a large dirt field and a hilly berm.

We made dinner on the JetBoil and then walked around the area for a little bit. I was worried about being able to sleep since it never gets dark in the summer in Iceland but we managed to sleep for 14 hours straight. Jet lag and the business of getting to the trail head had done us in.

Day 2

On our second day, we decided to start hiking around 9 AM. We woke up a bit earlier than that and took a dip in the hot springs. Although the outside air temperature was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the water felt like an inconsistent hot tub. It was very hot at times and chilly at others. Either way it was very enjoyable.

We packed up our camp and threw on our packs and started our way down the Laugavegur trail.

The first section of trail consists mostly of volcanic lava flows surrounded by multi-colored mountains. There were several Sulphur vents that we passed that emit a pungent odor and visible smoke. The ground becomes encrusted with Sulphur deposits and turns a crusty white and green color. We didn’t spend much time around the vents, although we wished we had, as we moved further down the trail.

We climbed a bit of elevation up to the first snowy section of the trail. Almost immediately as we started to walk in the snow a thick fog descended over us. We would spend the next six hours almost entirely in the fog. It was hard to see 10 feet in front of you and all you could follow were footsteps. It proved to be quiet maddening. We eventually reached the hut Hrafntinnusker. It’s a small hut nestled on top of the snowy peak. We were told that the hut had a wonderful view but we didn’t get to enjoy it. We had originally decided to stay at the hut but aside from a small wood platform, snow covered pretty much the entire area. The snow reached as high as the roof of the hut.

We ate lunch and decided to make our way down to the Álftavatn lake to camp rather than pitch a tent in the snow. We proceeded to walk another 3 hours or so before reaching the valley. The fog slowly lifted and we had a great view of the area. We made our way to the hut and were relieved to take off our packs after hiking nearly 30 kilometers.

Like Landmannalaugar, the Álftavatn lake campground was also well equipped. The campground is situated right near the shore. There is a lot of area for tents, a knowledgeable warden, running water and a couple places to find shelter to eat. This campsite is known for having high winds. It rained and was very, very windy during our stay.

Day 3

We slept in to avoid hiking in the rain. Around 10 am the rain began to subside and we packed up and headed out. About 5 KM from the lake is another hut. The hut is in a beautiful valley and appears to house animals. The campsites are nestled among lava rock. This hut seems like a much better place to set up a tent than the lake but it wasn’t open when we were visiting.

Once you pass the hut you make your way down to a river that requires fording. We switched shoes, held onto each other and moved downstream across the river. It wasn’t too difficult. Later we would ford another river that required a bit more courage on our part and managed to get wet above our knees.

After fording the second river, you make your way into a desert valley. We walked for a very long time in a very vast, flat valley before reaching anything of note. Mountains were always surrounding us but trudging through the valley was a bit like wandering through the desert looking for an oasis. Eventually, we did encounter the oasis we were looking for when we found our next hut; Emstrur.

Emstrur is literally an oasis in the desert. There is a natural spring following out of the cliff that produces a river. Campsites are situated around the river down a set of stairs from the actual hut. It was a beautiful site to set up camp. The hut is very well setup. They have bathrooms, running water and a (less knowledgeable) warden on staff.

After eating dinner, we decided to check out the canyon situated about ten minutes’ walk from the hut. We made our way back up the hill and took an alternate route over to the canyon. The canyon, Markarfljótsgljúfur, is also known as the canyon by the trees (as told to us by one of the others hiking the trail). There are no trees anywhere. The canyon itself was beautiful. It was much larger than we expected and we made the 1.5-hour loop to view the entire edge of the canyon.

Day 4

We had great weather in Emstrur and decided to get up and going in the morning to head to our next big destination; Thórsmörk. We read the warning about volcanic floods and headed on our way. This hike started out in the desert for a while longer but had some additional features such as rushing waterfalls and a view of the glacier. We walked through a lush valley where the ground was black sand. Starting in the valley you can actually see one of the huts in the Thórsmörk area. We didn’t realize this at the time and they look very far away when you first see them.

Eventually, we made it to another river to ford. This one wasn’t that bad. After getting through the river it’s about a 30-minute hike to Thórsmörk. Vegetation changes drastically as all of a sudden there are birch trees. For the first time, you are in a forest. Thórsmörk has 3 huts in the same area. We reached an intersection where the Volcano Huts are advertised. You’ll also have the option to head to Basar and Langidular.

We decided to stay at Langidular. Once arriving at Langidular, you have an absolutely spectacular view of the valley. The valley appears to be formed by volcanic foods and is very flat with a rushing river through the center. The walls of the valley are extraordinary green cliff faces and a view of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier.

The campsites are along a small river and offer spots in the grass. This was our most beautiful campsite, and the views are more dramatic than at the Volcano Hut or Basar sites. The hut is one of the nicest along the trail. A large group of tourists stayed in the hut and grilled burgers and fried fish. We were a bit jealous after eating freeze dried food for 4 days. There is also a camp store, running water and showers.

We first hiked a ~10k loop around the north-east side of Thórsmörk. We followed orange markers down through a small valley past another set of campsites. We climbed up a ridge and followed a dangerous trail around the outer edge of the valley. The trail could use some work as we were traversing scree fields that dropped several hundred feet so missteps were something we couldn’t afford. We had some great views of the surrounding mountains, and caves.

When we made it around to the back side of the small range we climbed up a cliff to have a great view of the valley of our origin. A rainy mist had started and as we got to the top of the cliff and an amazing double rainbow developed. It was one of the most vivid rainbows we had ever seen.

We followed the path down the ridge to the valley floor and returned to camp.

Day 5

We decided to stay in Thórsmörk for a second day. It was nice to have the packs off and explore the surrounding area.

We climbed up the peak just north-west of the hut to have another great view of the valley. This peak was completely packed with tweens taking selfies. We stayed for a brief minute and followed the trail down to the other Volcano Huts on the other side of the ridge. The sign had advertised a bar so we needed to see what the fuss was about. This campsite was for glampers. It had tons of huts, ample camping space, yurts, a sauna, a knowledgeable warden, and yes, a bar. There was a restaurant that offered three meals a day and a couple beers on tap. Buses could come in and out and drop people right at the hut. We stopped and had a piece of cake and a beer.

After lunch back at our campsite, we followed a set of stairs right outside the site. The path took us along the valley and up a “difficult trail” mostly consisting of ground up lava rock. It had a great view of the valley.

We headed back to Langidular and had an awesome sleep next to the gentle river.

Day 6

We had two options when heading out the final stretch of trail. We could hike up onto the glacier pass and stay at the Fimmvörðuháls hut but had some word that the conditions were not ideal. The other option was to hike all the way to Skogar where we would be catching our bus the next day. We set to climb up onto the glacier and see what happened.

This day was the most uphill section of the trail that we covered. It was about 800 meters of elevation gain with most of it in the first 10 kilometers. We were extremely lucky to have great views during our entire climb. We could see all the way down into the valley and even see the hut in Thórsmörk for nearly two hours. Although pretty steep the trail was well marked and easy to follow. Eventually we came up to the edge of the glacier. We had to traverse some steep snow fields in order to get onto it but once we arrived at the plateauwe were walking in snow again.

Much like our first day of hiking we had limited visibility and mostly followed footsteps all the way to Fimmvörðuháls. Before reaching the hut, we encountered the two craters of the volcanos that erupted in 2010. The ground was a crazy orange color and there was a ridge you could climb to view the crater itself. Our visibility was still pretty poor so we really couldn’t see it very well.

Fimmvörðuháls was about 600 meters off the trail. The hut was surrounded by snow so we immediately knew we wouldn’t want to camp there. Normally, the hut space is segregated from the campground space– people only paying for tent space are not welcome inside the huts, which are much more expensive. However, this warden, isolated by his hut’s elevation and the glacial conditions, was eager to have some company, and warmly welcomed us in. He even offered melted snow to drink and warm pipes on which to dry our clothes. We stopped inside to warm up and have lunch. After lunch, we headed back out on the pass and through the snow. We slowly made it out of the fog and into a gentle rainy mist that would be our biggest complaint for the next 3 hours.

As you make your way off the pass you butt up against a canyon with a rushing river and tons of waterfalls. There were 17 marked falls on our map but there were many more smaller falls. After walking for days and now walking in rain, we didn’t find it fun to stop and really take in the sights and sounds of the falls. We were soaking wet by the time we got to the most popular parts of the trail and were walking faster than ever to get to Skogar. I took some pictures but didn’t appreciate the area at the time. The trail was muddy but well-traveled. Eventually we made it to Skogafoss, the largest waterfall at the end of the trail.

Skogafoss is a popular tourist destination and we encountered a great deal of people. We followed some metal stairs down off the ridge to the parking lot and campsite below. The Skogar campsite is right next to the parking lot and path that tourists take from the buses that drop them off. It was busy but we were happy to set up camp and change into dry clothes. Also at the Skogafoss area was a restaurant and bar. We stopped in and had a burger and beer before calling it a night.

Day 7

Our bus back to Reykjavík didn’t leave until 4:30 so we decided to check out the area. We took a very long walk to the ocean. We didn’t realize how far away it was at the time, since we had been able to see it while descending into the campground. It took nearly 1.5 hours to walk all the way to the shore. You walk across a rocky field that turns to sand for most of that time. It’s extremely flat and seems to extend endlessly away from you. Eventually we reached the beach and it was all black sand. We found a beached whale skeleton. We made our way over to the crashing waves and sat in the sand for a while. It was very peaceful compared to the busy Skogar campground. There were no people on the beach besides us. You could see for miles.

We headed back to the campground, took a nap (ie. Adam napped, Sarah read a book) and then packed up our campsite. We hopped on our bus and headed back to Reykjavík. The bus ride was about 3 hours and stopped at another waterfall and a few other campgrounds on the way back. We checked into our AirBNB and headed downtown to grab a bite to eat and a beer.

We stopped at the bier garden in the Fosshotel. It was great. They had a great selection of beer but expect to spend at least 10 dollars a pint. After finishing our beer and our fish and chips, we made it back to the AirBNB. It was strange because it was 11 PM at night and still light out. Not usually the sight I see when opening up a bar door late at night.

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