Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Landmannalaugar and Hiking the Laugavegur Trail

If you love the outdoors, then Iceland is the place for you. Sweeping lava fields, plunging waterfalls, dramatic fjords...you name it, Iceland’s got it. So where should you go once you’ve explored the capital of Reykjavik, dipped your toes into the Blue Lagoon and stared in awe at the sheer power of Dettifoss waterfall? You could head to Landmannalaugar, an extremely popular spot for hiking in Iceland. It’s here in the Icelandic Highlands that you will find the Laugavegur Trail, one of the country's best hiking trails. There are a few things to know before you go, so here’s your ultimate guide to hiking Iceland’s famous Laugavegur Trail.

Two hikers overlooking colorful volcanic mountains in Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar is part of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve and lies at the edge of Laugahraun lava field. While the scalding magma has since cooled, this magnificent area was formed after a spectacular volcanic eruption over 500 years ago. The region is also known for its hot springs and landscapes that seem like something from out of this world. The name literally translates to “the hot springs route”, most likely due to the large influx of people who bathe in the thermal waters of Landmannalaugar.

The Laugavegur Trail is located in the south of Iceland and connects Landmannalaugar with the Þórsmörk valley. Meaning Thor’s Valley or Thor’s forest, Þórsmörk derives its name from the Norse god Thor and the impressive mountains you see all around you. The idyllic landscapes are both varied and beautiful, from rolling green hills to steep paths of rock and lava. As soon as you have the opportunity to trek this immense territory, you will understand why it is listed as one of the most stunning hiking trails in Iceland.

What’s hiking the Laugavegur Trail like?

The route is 55km (34mi) long and extends a further 30km (18mi) if you want to continue to Skógar. Normally, hikers finish the route in about 4-5 days. An added bonus is that the trails are well-worn and not too strenuous.

Dramatic view of lake and mountains in Landmannalaugar

The trail is actually quite varied and there are many different types of terrain along the way. You will see black and ash-colored volcanic fields, green elysian meadows and deep blue glacial caves. The area is pretty deserted and the notable lack of wildlife gives it a bit of a ghostly feel.

There are many different types of terrain and a wide variety landscapes, so it helps to know each one’s type and difficulty while planning your trip. The routes usually vary between ascending and descending. At one point you can even enjoy the views from the Háskerðingur mountain (around 1,281 meters or 4,203 feet above sea level). Each section is usually a 5-7 hour trek with the longest taking up to 9 hours.

You can start the route from two points – Landmannalaugar or Þórsmörk valley. If you decide to start in the south heading north, then there will be more climbing than if you hike the route heading north to south. Naturally, the first option is a bit less popular. Choose that one if you’re looking for a bit more solitude to contemplate the nature around you. The north-south direction tends to have more people on it, so it’s easier to meet fellow hikers along the way. This is the perfect option if you don’t mind the company of others or are looking to make friends.

How do I get to the Trail?

Of the various options available, the most economical would probably be bus transportation. Regardless of the direction you choose for your hike, you will have transportation that takes you to either end of the trail. The buses usually depart from Reykjavik and we advise you to have a copy of the schedule with you and to reserve your tickets well in advance. There are several companies that travel these routes and the most well-known are Trex and Reykjavik Excursions.

Bus on a mountain pass in Iceland

If you want something a bit more private and therefore slightly more expensive, there are also trips run by various tour operators. They usually offer both guided and non-guided routes with an option for accommodation along the way.

Where should I stay when hiking the Laugavegur Trail?

If you decide not to use one of the aforementioned tour operators, then you'll have to do a little more work on your own. Once you have planned your route and how to break it up, the next step is choosing your accommodation. As the Laugavegur Trail is quite famous, there are quite a few options for where to stay. Among them are campsites where you can spend the night in your tent or hostels and mountain huts. As with bus travel, if you decide not to use a tour operator then we recommend deciding your route as soon as possible and booking your accommodation far in advance.

Typical Icelandic mountain huts with grass on the roof

When choosing a place to stay, keep in mind that Iceland can be expensive. While there are small houses (known as mountain huts) along the trail, they can reach the price of a night at a hotel (50-60€ or $60-75). After a long day of hiking and facing inclement weather, you’re going to be tired. You’ll be thankful to have a hot shower, a quiet place to eat and a warm bed to rest in.

When is the best time of year to hike to Laugavegur Trail?

When you decide to go is a huge consideration given that your accommodation options will depend largely on the dates of your trip. The Laugavegur Trail lies in Iceland’s highlands, an area which is completely closed in the winter. It can only be accessed by F-roads, which are less like roads and more like trails. Typical Icelandic winters leave them totally blocked, so no service is offered to these areas in the colder months. If you plan to hike the Laugavegur Trail, you should know that you can really only do it from mid-June to mid-September. The weather changes during this period, and these are the optimal months. The bus routes and the options for accommodation also tend to close down outside of these dates.

What should I take with me for my hike?

You should be prepared for the Icelandic climate if you are going to Laugavegur. The weather is unpredictable and constantly changing. A safe bet is that it will probably be wet, windy and rainy. It’s essential to wear waterproof clothing, dress in layers and have some sort of windbreaker. Your shoes should be comfortable and specially designed for hiking and long walks. It’s also possible that you will encounter some snow along the way, depending on the time of the year.

HIking boots and water bottle for Laugavegur Trail hike

There really aren’t many places to stop for food on the Laugavegur Trail. Most of your options for buying food will be at the beginning of the route. You’ll have to prepare your snacks in advance and bring a portable stove with you.

Apart from all of these tips, our main recommendation is that you enjoy this unforgettable experience to the fullest. One-of-a-kind adventures like hiking the Laugavegur Trail are what make Iceland great.

Hiking in Landmannalaugar and the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland


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