All you need to know about hiking the Laugavegur
Did you know that the Laugavegur is the busiest street in Iceland? And that’s it’s right in the heart of Reykjavik? 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 trekking in Iceland, as far as we are concerned. You can “do the Laugavegur” in four days or you can do it in a couple of hours, if you participate in the marathon. Today we’ll share our experience about hiking the Laugavegur with you. I’m sure that after finishing this read, you’ll want to go, too!
So why is it this trail called Laugavegur then, you are probably wondering. Well, it’s the busiest walking trail in Iceland, that’s why. As is the Laugevegur 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. Our pictures are the proof of that!
The Laugavegur hiking trail is 55 kilometer long and stretches from Landmannalaugar to Thórsmörk. Both can easily be reached by bus from Reykjavík with Reykjavik Excursions. As we had already been to both places before two years earlier we decided to start walking straight away after arriving from Reykjavík, instead of staying in Landmannalaugar for a day or two.
Landmannalaugar is an incredibly scenic place. One like we 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.
Day 1. Landmannalaugar – Hrafntinnusker (12 km)
Time to start hiking the Laugavegur! 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. We were hiking the Laugavegur 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, Martijn did it once without any view and he couldn’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 our 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 march on to 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. In our case, the water came way above the knee but we’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! Our 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.
So, what makes the Laugavegur the best hike in Iceland? We’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 we’ll give you some tips about how to make the trek as little with people 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…
– Most people stay in Landmannalaugar for a night and will depart the next morning. We started hiking the Laugavegur at about 2.00 pm and most hikers had already left by then, which was really good as we 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 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:
– 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. We used Crocs (not very reliable since I lost them in a crossing) but Teva’s or running shoes would be better. We 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 we haven’t convinced you by now with our story and the pictures, I’m not sure how else we can make it clear. So just get out and do it and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions!
Want to read more about Iceland and/or our hiking trips? You may enjoy the following blogs, too:
– Glacier hike on the Sólheimajökull – a must-do when in Iceland
– How to do the Icelandic South Coast in one day!
– Top destinations in Europe for experienced hikers
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Thanks for sharing!
[please note this article was first published in June 2014 and updated in June 2016]