Laugavegur trail: this is what you should know
Did you know that the Laugavegur is the busiest street in Iceland? And that’s it’s right in the heart of Reykjavík? Do not worry, I’m not going to write about that particular Laugavegur today. I’ll be talking about the better Laugavegur, the the most amazing multi day hike in Iceland, as far as I’m concerned. You can do the Laugavegur trail in four days or you can do it in a couple of hours, if you participate in the annual Laugavegur ultra marathon. Today I’ll share my experience about hiking the Laugavegur trek with you. I’m sure that after finishing this read, you’ll want to go, too!
Please note this article was first published in June 2014 and updated in 2020
Why the trail is called Laugavegurinn
The Laugavegur, Laugvegurinn in Icelandic, is a very popular trail. So why is it this trail called Laugavegur then, you may be wondering wondering. Well, it’s the busiest walking trail in Iceland, that’s why. As is the Laugavegur street in Reykjavík. OK, that’s not really true, because Laugavegur actually means “way of the hot pools”. However with our suggestions you should not worry, if you handle things wise you shouldn’t really have to be bothered by herds of other walkers at all. The pictures are the proof of that!
The Laugavegur hiking trail is 55 kilometer long and stretches from Landmannalaugar to Thórsmörk, both located in the Icelandic highlands. Both can easily be reached by bus from Reykjavík with Reykjavik Excursions. As I had already been to both places before two years earlier I decided to start my hike straight away after arriving from Reykjavík, instead of staying in Landmannalaugar for a day or two, like many others to. This is still well worth it though if you have the time since there are plenty of amazing hikes in Landmannalaugar.
Landmannalaugar is an incredibly scenic place. One like you have never seen anywhere else before. The surrounding rhyolite mountains are just gorgeous with all their shades of red and brown. In addition you can get lost in ancient lava fields and climb the blue mountain called Blahnukur. Yes, if you have some time to spare, make sure you will stay a bit longer in Landmannalaugar… if only for the hot pools that are great to warm up after a cold night in your tent. If you’re hiking the Laugavegur you will see a lot of Landmannalaugur but not even close to all.
I eventually ended up hiking the Laugavegur route in three days. Here’s the itinerary!
Day 1. Landmannalaugar – Hrafntinnusker (12 km)
The distance of the first day’s hike isn’t too long but it will still take you about three to four hours, especially because you’ll be taking plenty of photographs along the way. Most of today’s hike is uphill. The first part of the hike takes you through Laugahraun, an old lava field offering excellent photo opportunities. Once you get out of the lava field, a stunning panorama will open up in front of you. You will get up close and personal with the rhyolite mountains here, the ones that Landmannalaugar is famous for.
From here, you will start to ascent the red mountain called Brennisteinsalda, or Sulphur Wave. This area is very geothermical, plumes of smoke raise from the ground in many places and the smell of rotten eggs is never far away. After reaching Brennisteinsalda you will have left most of the day hikers behind and the real fun can begin. From here, you will be climbing and descending various mountains. The views will become more and more awesome, especially once you are surrounded by nothing but mountains and plumes of smoke. It’s like you are in a completely different world, a world that cannot really exist.
Bear in mind that there is usually still quite some snow on the track. I was hiking the Laugavegur trail by mid-August when you would expect the snow to be gone, however there was still quite a lot of it left. Colored black in many places meaning snow from the previous year, when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted. This part of the trail can also be very treacherous when it’s poor weather. People have gotten lost and even died on in this section. Even though it’s clearly marked by poles, when poor weather you can’t even see the next marker. There for always carry a GPS to ensure you are still on the track.
Eventually you will start another sturdy climb and finally, after about 4 hours of trekking, you will have reached your place for the night: Hrafntinnusker. This place is simply stunning! There are mountains all over and it is very mystical. And… incredibly cold since you are at 1.070 m (500 m higher than at Landmannalaugar). They have built places to camp out of rocks and it’s wise to pitch up your tent between the layers of rocks, to protect you from the wind. It will be a very chilly night!
Day 2. Hrafntinnusker – Emstrur (28 km)
This route is actually two days combined, Hrafntinnusker to Alfavatn (“swan lake”) and Alfavatn to Emstrur. The trail to Alfavatn will take you over the Hrafntinnusker plateau you spent the night on. It means going up and down and up and down, through the little valleys and over the mountains. As I said earlier, there was still quite a lot of snow left and in those valleys you had to be incredible careful because underneath there was usually a river flowing as a result of the warmer temperatures, meaning that the snow bridge could collapse any time.
After about two hours you will reach the end of the plateau and it’s time to descent to Alfavatn. The descent is pretty steep so be careful here and take your time. Once in the valley, you will have to wade through your first river. It’s a small one only so no need to worry just yet.
Alfavatn is a great place for an overnight or, in my case, a lunch break. From here, you will need to cross two more rivers until you get to the Hvangill hut. Here you will find another lava field and this marks the start of a black desert, called Mosar. It’s a couple of hours of more marching through nothing but black sand. Believe me, even knowing that you are in Iceland gets boring after a while. Especially when it also starts raining really bad…
You gradually climb to a ridge, only realizing the hut is nowhere to be seen yet and descending again into the next valley. This goes on and one until, eventually, you reach Emstrur, which is another stunning place for camping.
Day 3. Emstrur to Thórsmörk (15 kilometer)
Time to leave the black sand behind and hike onto Thórsmörk. The day begins with a steep descent into a valley needing some rope and crossing a footbridge. From here, you will get views of the stunning Krossárjökull (jöküll means glacier) in the distance.
After a few hours hiking over high hills and 360 degree panoramic views you will reach another ridge. Down in the valley below lies the Throngá river, the most difficult to cross on this trek. The water is usually muddy (unlike the other rivers you have crossed) so you will have to rely on people before you to have picked the best spot for your crossing as you won’t be able to see your feet. In my case, the water came way above the knee but I’ve heard stories of people being in waist deep.
After you have waded through Thrónga, you will gradually make your way into Thórsmörk, a very pretty and green valley. After another hour and a half, you can congratulate yourself: you’ve made it! My favorite place for camping is Langidalur, which is quite a bit further up into the valley. It doesn’t have many facilities but it’s much better than the crowded place at the hostel at Husadalur where everybody else stays.
If you have more time, you can continue to Skogar from here or make some days walks. Thórsmörk is great for hiking but generally not for the faint hearted ones. I loved hiking there but crossing some really steep scree slopes was pretty nerve wrecking from time to time.
Is Laugavegur trail the best hike in Iceland?
Yes, most definitely. Yes, it’s busy but so well worth it. So, what makes the Laugavegur trail the best hike in Iceland? I’d say its diversity! You walk from rhyolite mountains through lava fields and snow to black desert and eventually a green valley. You are surrounded by glaciers, wilderness and Icelandic loneliness. And yes, eventually you won’t be the only one but does that really matter?
As we promised I’ll give you some tips about how to make the trek as quiet as possible. Unless you go before or after the high season you will meet other people. It’s up to you what to do with it. Here’s some suggestions on how to avoid most people:
– Most hikers stay in Landmannalaugar for a night and will depart the next morning. I started hiking the Laugavegur trail at about 2.00 pm and most hikers had already left by then, which was really good as I barely saw anyone else that afternoon, other than some day hikers.
– Start early on the other days. By all means, everyone at the campsite wakes up at the same time and pretty much departs at the same time. If you wake up early, you may be able to beat the crowds. If you get into a crowd, just let them pass. Iceland is very photogenic; there will always be something to take a picture of.
– Take your time walking. There is no need to rush because, unless you are doing the Laugavegur marathon, it’s not a race. Along the way there are plenty of things to see and admire, being on your campsite at 1.00 pm already is not necessary. Remember it’s light for 24 hours in the beginning of the summer so you can start early and stay up late!
– Walk from Thórsmörk to Landmannalaugar. Most hikers do it the other way around, however not many go from South to North.
Some extra advice for hiking the Laugavegur trek:
– Bring all your food as you can’t purchase any other than in Landmannalaugar or Thórsmörk. Over here, expect to pay almost double price so it’s wise stocking up in Reykjavik.
– Check for bus times on the website of Reykjavik Excursions.
– Bring wading shoes. I used Crocs (not very reliable since I lost them in a crossing) but Teva’s or running shoes would be better. I saw people going through the rivers barefoot, not a wise idea.
– Always register at the huts to let the wardens know you have made it safe and sound. It’s for your own safety.
If I haven’t convinced you by now with my story and the pictures, I’m not sure how else I can make it clear. So just get out and do it and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions!
Also read: the best Landmannalaugar hikes
Conclusion and disclaimer
Since it’s already been a while since I hiked the Laugavegur trek I made an informative post only. Things may have changed in the mean while. Always inform locally about the latest changes and additions. If you feel that the information above is no longer correct, please feel free to drop me a message. This blog contains affiliate links. If you buy something via a link, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you!
Henry | @fotoeins
So. Very. Pretty. And coming from a non-camping urbanite, I hear the call of the Iceland landscape! Thanks for writing about this!
You can sleep comfortable all over Iceland, no worries Henry – I’m sure you’d love it, it’s a a very unique place and we’ve never heard from someone they didn’t like it…
Chances of getting lost, melting snow bridges, cold nights, an the smell of rotten eggs….sounds like a pretty epic adventure, totally worth it though from the looks of your photos!
Yeah a total adventure indeed … but luckily most hikers get out of it unharmed 🙂
Wow… the photos actually look straight from a National Geographic magazine. Seriously. What a breathtaking experience this must have been! Iceland has just been bumped to the top of my “must visit” list! Thank you for sharing this.
Thanks for the compliment Alli! Iceland is just stunning, I’m sure you would love it there!
What an amazing experience it must be to hike the Laugavegur! Reading this post just makes me so ready to visit Iceland in December this year. We probably won’t be there long enough to do this hike, and December probably isn’t the best time either to do this but I am very envious of you being able to accomplish this. The pictures are stunning and I am sure that seeing the scenery and landscape in person is probably even more breathtaking than pictures can do it justice.
Wow – great to hear you are going to Iceland in December! This trail is actually closed from late September/ early October on but there will be plenty of other nice things to do, such as hoping to see the Northern Lights!!!
I am certainly convinced! How long is the hiking season for the Laugavegur? Does it stretch into September and October? I’ve been exploring the warmer parts of the world for a while and, once I arrange the funding, take some time to explore the Nordic areas. It sounds like the first thing I will need to buy is a GPS, then some quality hiking gear. I’ll be sure to leave the Crocs at home. Your shots of the terrain are very appealing and one of the best arguments to tackle this hike.
It’s a very short season Dave, usually only from June until early-mid September, depending on snow conditions. October I guess would be too late to go, which generally goes for the Nordic areas. We love going there but they all have a short season, we noticed in Norway that many hikes were still closed because of snow in early June and heard that many don’t open before mid July. If you want to go hiking, I’d definitely take this into consideration when planning your trip to this part of Europe!
Margherita @The Crowded Planet
Looks absolutely incredible. I would love to do this walk, I love multi-day hikes and the scenery looks out of a Viking legend. I really need to get back to Iceland, we visited once years and years ago.
I’m sure you’d love it Margherita, it’s typically something you guys would enjoy!
Wow!!! You had me at Iceland. I really want to go there so badly. It really is amazing how the landscape changes all within the same hiking trail! Every photo is breathtaking!
Thanks Lauren, I hope you guys can make it over to Iceland one day!
Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy
The Laugavegur is one of the hiking trails that I most want to do in the world – so jealous! Your pictures are gorgeous by the way!
Thanks Ashley, hope you get to do this trail one day, totally worth it!
Great photo’s and good and valuable information. Can definitely use this for my Laugavegur trip in July. I can’t wait walking around in this amazing landscape. Thanks for this very complete blog about your experiences 🙂
Thanks Eva, have a great time in July, can’t wait to hear about it once you are back!
Amazing pictures and writing about Iceland. My co-workers always take a trip to Iceland but they never show me their pictures. It’s really a beautiful place and I like all the volcano smoke coming out of the holes. Thanks for sharing.
Stunning pictures of Landmannalaugar! Kerlingarfjoll (http://www.northernlightsiceland.com/kerlingarfjoll/) also is a great place for hiking, with magnificent Rhyolite mountains like those of Landmannalaugar.
Stunning photos of Landmannalaugar! Kerlingarfjoll (http://www.northernlightsiceland.com/kerlingarfjoll/) Also offers great hiking trails and with colorful rhyolite mountains like those of Landmannalaugar.
Wow this looks pretty adventurous.
yes it sure was Jaklien!
Though I’ve been to Iceland twice, I’ve never made it to the Highlands. But I guess I have to go there a third time (as if that wasn’t my intention already…) and hike along the Laugavegur. The pictures look amazing. I’ve done some hiking in Northern Scandinavia and Scotland, but this is truly impressive! And four days is just perfect.
Hey, thanks for sharing those details about Laugavegur. Me and my sister plan to do this hike in two months in August and it says in your description that you had been on the trek in August as well. Do you remember how long it takes until it gets dark at night? I was in Iceland last year in June when it did not get dark at all and I was just wondering how it would be in August, so that we can plan our trip properly. I’d really appreciate if you could get back at me when you do have time.
Hi Nicola, Iceland is superb in August.
The sun will go down around 22:00 and will rise again at around five in the morning. So don’t forget your (head)light.
Two pluses; 1. the golden photo hour is not when your sleeping. 2. You have more change to see some (northern) stars.
Enjoy your hike.
I am visiting Iceland in summer and your posts have been getting me so excited for the trip!! Thank you for all of your advice and beautiful photos!
Thanks Sarah! I hope you will have an amazing time (but I’m sure you will, Iceland is beautiful … we are heading back once again, too!)
Wow this is an incredible hike! Of course your description of continuing on makes me curious and excited for the “not for the faint hearted” warning:)
Jacomijn - Safe and Healthy Travel
I really should go back to Iceland again and do some hiking!! Great!
Yeah, you should :p
Thanks for your wonderful description!! We are going this July. We are camping. The question is: can we use the huts for cooking or do we have to cook outdoors with our camping stoves. In this case, how challenging is it with all the wind?
You’re welcome Enrique! Nope, you can’t go inside the huts to cook. In fact when camping, you can’t really go into the huts at all. They have some picknick tables at most places and some hiding places (such as where to pitch up the tent in one of the pics) so you’ll be find, it can just become a bit of a challenge from time to time. Have a great time!!
HI. Thanks for your helpful descriptions and beautiful photos. I am worried about the 50 M narrow trail across a cliff near Heljarkambur. The Youtube video made it look horrendous!
You’ll be fine, as long as you take the weather into consideration. We just came back from Iceland and canceled our planned hike over Fimmvorduhals because the weather was too poor. Have a great trip!
My cousin and I are going to Iceland in June 2017. We’re interested in this hike, but I have a few questions I was hoping to get answered.
1. Do I need to book a hike? We we’re planning on hiking it ourselves, but I wasn’t sure if it was a law that we must tell someone that we’re hiking the trail.
2. If we’re pitching our own tent do we have to pitch it in designated spots or can we pitch wherever?
3. Is a gps needed or will a map do?
thank you so much!
Thanks for visiting our blog. Here are the answers to your questions:
1. Nope you don’t need to book it, unless you want to sleep in the huts as they are usually fully booked. You can easily hike it yourself!
2. Yes there are campsites, you are not allowed to just pitch it anywhere
3. Bring a GPS! We had good weather on the trip we blogged about but Martijn had thick fog (not uncommon) and he couldn’t define the trail anymore and the next marker was too far to see. People have died on the track in poor weather so if you have a GPS, I definitely recommend bringing it.
Hope this helps, let me know if you need any help at all 🙂
Which month did you do the hike?
In July, but we’ve also hiked it in June and August. Not too early and/or late would be best!
Hi, very well done blog. I wanted to ask whether you think that it could be possible to do it with a 10 and 12 year old children. They are used to Alps and Dolomites, but I am not sure about crossing rivers…Thanks!Sara
Thanks Sara! Well it really depends on the water level I’d say and how tall they are. I mean, the water is quite strong but I’ve seen little girls do it (as in short) and they were fine. Use common sense and never let them cross by themselves. You could also check with Icelandic Mountain Guides who do guided trekkings what their recommendation would be for this! Good luck and I hope you can make it, it’s gorgeous!
I really enjoy reading your blog post. I am doing nearly the same hike this coming August. Since I will be tenting and bringing (maybe) my cooking system, one question I have is the wind. Is it often SO windy that cooking with a gas burner would be nearly impossible…at least hard enough that it is not worth the effort to cook outside?
Happy to hear that Mickel. Yes there is plenty of wind but we usually found a place to hide behind and cook. There are shelters in some place, too. So yes, do take your stove because it’s by far the easiest way to prepare your food. Have a lot of fun on the hike, you will love it for sure!
I really like your Blog and am going to do the Trail myself this summer.
So my question is, do you have to sign up by the rangers before you start walking as some other Blogs say?
Thans Michael! As far as I can remember, we never signed up with the rangers. You can check at the office in Landmannalaugar or Thorsmork though if it will be required for the season to come, but in the past it was not …
thanks for the great information! i was hoping to do this hike starting june 21 which i understand is cutting it a bit early, and was wondering how to find out when the trail “opens” this year? i’ve searched on google but wasn’t sure if there was some official source on this.
You’re welcome! I think that will be a bit early but please drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org to check when they open the huts. There is no such thing as an official opening date of the trail but I was there early July last year and there still was a lot of snow left. I hope the guys at this email address will be able to help you and inform you of the current conditions. Cheers!
Thanks for the blog! My friend and I are also planning to hike right around the same time in June of this year. I wanted to know how easy the trail is to follow or will it also be covered in snow? Also is there a special program I can download to my GPS for the trip?
Hi Jennifer! Last year there was a lot of snow left even in early July so you will definitely encounter that on the trail. There are polemarkers everywhere but once the snow is thick, that may get tricky. For current status, I’d recommend emailing to email@example.com to check when they open the huts and what the conditions of the track are, as it varies each year. What kind of GPS do you have? I’m not that much into them but can check with Martijn if we still have the tracks or where he downloaded them. Just let me know!
Thank you so much for this post! I just wrote about my trip too (https://roseinmidair.com/2017/03/05/hiking-the-laugavegur-trail-in-iceland/) and it’s great to compare notes and relive the journey through your photos! Hoping to do more treks in the future. You’re an inspiration. What camera(s) do you generally use when you go on your backpacking trips?
Thanks for your link, I will definitely check it out. It really depends, I have a DSLR which is way too heavy and a small Sony camera which isn’t as good as my DSLR of course. Most recently I just used my iPhone 6S which does good pics imho but for my upcoming trips I will be looking for a new and lighter camera to carry along!
Thank you so much!! I used a Sony as well. Looking forward to your future posts.
I’m glad I found this post! I am going to hike this trail in late July 🙂 I am really excited, although the wading through rivers is a bit anxiety-inducing… o_0
A Woman Afoot
Awesome, have fun and enjoy, I am sure you will love it! Cheers!
Happy to hear, have a great time!
so I’m starting my trip on the 2nd of July.
I’d like to start in Skógar and add an extra day to the trip.
Is there a cheap hotel or camping ground in Skógar where I can stay the first night, because I arrive in Skógar on the 1st in the afternoon.
Sorry for the late reply. Yes you can pitch up your tent at the base of the Skógafoss easily, just in front of the trailhead. Super nice spot and hard to miss. Have fun on your trek, you’ll love it!
Hi Anto, I read your comment about not being able to go into the huts while camping. I was just wondering, will there be electricity on the campsite? To charge your phone, etc?
Love to hear. Marga
Hi, uhm not sure to be honest. I think they’ll have electricity in the huts. In Landmannalaugar I can’t recall having seen electric sockets last summer to be honest and this was by far the best campsite on the track. So I’d take a solar charger just to make sure. It may be that they have improved the sites but as I said, I don’t expect so. If you happen to find them this summer, feel free to let me know so I can update this blog. Cheers and have an amazing hike!
Hi Anto, in the meantime I found another blog. It said that you can pay to use electricity in the huts for ca 7 euro. I’d rather not have the extra weight of a solar charger. It’s 14 kilogram allready if I’ve done the math right 😉
I’ll let you know my own experience when I’m through.
Hi, ah okay thanks for the heads up Marga, much appreciated! Yes, I’d definitely choose to pay for it then, too. Have a safe trip and ENJOY! Bless bless!
My girlfriend and I are planning a trip to Iceland at the end of July and would like to hike the laugavegur trail over 5 days (first night camped in laudmannalaugar to enjoy the hot spring and then stopping at Hrafntinnusker, Alftavatn, Emstrur, and finishing in Pormorsk). Although we have both camped when we were younger we don’t have any recent experience hiking and camping. We are both in good physical condition as our work requires us to be, so Im not concerned about that, but do you think this trail would be too difficult for inexperienced campers?
Hi Hayden! I think it will depend a lot on the weather circumstances, too, which can make it a little harsh. I’ve seen people do it with cheap gear and their tents got blown away. Iceland is not to be taken lightly as it can snow at anytime of the year and there may still be snow present on the trail. However, if you are fit and have enough stamina, you can certainly do this hike as plenty of people are walking it each year, even the more inexperienced ones. Just take it easy, make sure to know how to cross rivers by foot and bring plenty of food as there is none along the trek. What also helps is to start practicing with walking with a pack on your back for a few hours at a time. This is usually what makes it hard for people who don’t hike a lot. I hope this is of any help and good luck with your trek!
Hi Hayden, I’m planning a late July, 2019 hike on this trail.
1-I’m bringing a tent for insurance but I’d like to know how do you arrange to book the huts?
2-I’m also bringing a GPS. Is there a .gpx file I can get?