Hiking the Laugavegur Trail: A Guide to the Heart of Iceland

Location review

Hiking Iceland’s Laugavegur Trail is like experiencing six different worlds and all four seasons in the span of one trip. There’s a reason National Geographic named this one of the most beautiful hikes in the world!

In the land of fire and ice, where brimstone rains and water streams from deep veins, Iceland’s Laugavegur hiking trail conspires with the elements to unveil all the country has to offer. 

The atomic particles of this former Viking outpost—glaciers, luscious green canopies, glacial streams, obsidian rock fields as black as a solar eclipse—forge a hike of a lifetime. Whenever I’m away, I dream about when I can return to the roots of the land where I’m from.

 

Excitement flows through my body just like the glacial water streams from the Mýrdalsjökull a few kilometers away. Brace yourself, you’ll be crossing a few of these! Photo courtesy of Saga Líf

Pros and Cons of Hiking the Laugavegur Trail

See everything that Iceland has to offer in the span of one hike
Perfect for all skill levels
Delicious home cooked, traditional meals
The weather can be unpredictable
Wet feet: you’re going to cross several glacial streams!

Enter Iceland’s Realm of the Gods on the Laugavegur Hiking Trail 

The Laugavegur trek thrusts you into the mythical heart of Iceland, surrounded by contrasting scenery, colors, and landform. But luckily, you don’t need the strength and endurance of the Gods to enjoy it. 

At 55km (34 mi) long and ranging in altitude from near sea level to 1,100m (3,609 ft), hiking the Laugavegur Trail is accommodating to different fitness levels because of its flexibility. To start, you can vary the day length to suit you because there are plenty of mountain huts along the way. Further, on most sections you won’t find more than 400m (1,312 ft) in elevation gain or loss. Besides, every inch of your walk from Landmannalaugar to Porsmork will pull your attention away from any semblance of tired legs.

To name it is to know it

In Iceland, each location’s name has a meaning. Often literal and belying the splendor. Let’s see some examples from the trail.

You start in the Icelandic Highlands at the end of a lava field enchanted with natural hot springs. Along the way to Porsmork, (pronounced Thórsmörk (“Thor’s wood”), you’ll pass Eyjafjallajökull (“glacier of the mountains of the islands”), the black sands of Mælifellssandur (something like “measuring sand”) and onto the valley of Markafljót (“boundary river”) that cuts 200m (656 ft) down into the rocks south of Hattfell. 

And sometimes, the name is something like a contraction. Laugavegur itself translates to “The Landmannalaugar Trail”, lauga being a truncated version of “Landmannalaugar”.

I watch in anticipation as the veins of lava slowly break through the crusted molten shell of volcanic memory. Photo courtesy of Saga Líf

The names speak to the Icelandic connection to the land, and it is my Viking roots that have constantly pulled me back to experience the area more deeplydipping my toes in the bone-chilling glacial streams, my ears filling with the sounds of plunging waterfalls, and the golden hour sun revealing hidden colors within the mountains. This is why I want to invite others to the Laugavegur Trail, so they can name it, and know it, too.

Unleashing My Inner Valkyrie

Years ago, as I digested the final inches of the Laugavegur Trail and the beauty of Porsmork confronted me, I came upon—could it be?—Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. She was standing beneath one of the emanant green trees at the end of the path. The world’s first democratically-elected female head of state, Vigdís had been an idol of mine growing up.

She greeted me as a fellow hiker with a charismatic charm that juddered through my body. At the time I was toying with the idea of creating a space for women to experience the outdoors, and we spoke of the idea. She gave me a big smile and said, “Saga, this is your calling, you must do it!”

From Hrafntinnusker we descend into the gullies of Jökultungur with hundreds of steaming natural hot springs, mud pools, and stunning views of the Swan Lake, and the Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers. Photo courtesy of Saga Líf

After this chance encounter, the idea that had filled me for years had to become a reality. I launched Viking Women, a female-only travel group operated by local women. As a certified guide for the past 6 years (trekking, glacier, and Wilderness First Responder), I want to welcome women to the outdoors and embark on an exploratory mission of overcoming natural obstacles (internal, external, and otherwise). 

Often, we leave our guided hikes in Iceland with a renewed sense of adventure, confidence, and beauty—and the staple is the Laugavegur Trail.

What You Need to Know Before Hiking the Laugavegur Trail

As beautiful as it is, Iceland is a remote, unpredictable, and often unforgiving place. Whether you’re hiking solo or with a guide, if you want to enjoy the trail safely, you need to come prepared. To help, read on for my tips for hiking Laugavegur below.

How long does hiking the Laugavegurinn Trail take? 

I usually recommend 3 to 5 days if you do it on your own, though on my trip we make the most of six days to explore side trips and immerse ourselves in the environment.

When to hike the Laugavegur Trail?

The best season to do the Laugavegur hiking trail, from an aesthetics and weather perspective,  is from late June through mid-September. In midsummer, there are 24 hours of light, and during the day you can expect temperatures around 10-13°C (50-55° F), though it will drop dramatically in the “evening” (often close to freezing). 

June: The trail usually opens in mid-to-late June, but it varies from year to year based on how harsh the winter was. Plan a trip for late June, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get the perfect weather of July but free from the mid-summer crowds.

July: Probably the best month to hike Laugavegur Trail—if you don’t mind sharing the trail. July sees the best weather conditions with the midnight sun at its peak. However, it’s also when the trail is most crowded, so many more experienced hikers avoid it. Alternatively, consider the incredible two-week hidden trails adventure to avoid the popular paths.

August and September: If you’d prefer the Icelandic wilderness in relative solitude, schedule your hike for the small window between mid-August and early September. You’ll also find more free beds at the campsites, so you can be more flexible with where you choose to trek.

What is the weather like in Iceland?

There are two well-known sayings in Iceland, “if you don’t like the bad weather, wait 5 minutes” and “there is never bad weather, only bad clothes.”

Despite being just south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland is in the path of the warm North Atlantic Current which keeps temperatures higher than you might expect. However, this also creates unpredictable weather at times, especially on the Laugavegur Trail. Sometimes we can experience all four seasons in a single one day; you can be sweating from the hot summer sun and then a few kilometers later it is snowing. You must plan for extremes. Vedur and Belgingur are useful websites for checking the weather.

Saying that, I’ll end with a personal quote: if you’re properly prepped and outfitted, it is hard to notice the weather when the beauty has your senses on overdrive.

How long does hiking the Laugavegurinn Trail take? 

I usually recommend 3 to 5 days if you do it on your own, though on my trip we make the most of six days to explore side trips and immerse ourselves in the environment.

Do you need a trail map or guidebook for the Laugavegur Trail?

You can purchase a trail map in Reykjavík, or you can find it on FATMAP. Note that the trails are well-maintained, well-marked, and easy to follow. Maps.me and Gaia GPS are useful apps that serve as a backup (or your primary tool if you don’t want to go physical) and don’t require a signal to function. And if you need more tips for trekking the Laugavegur Trail, TMBtent has a free guide in PDF form.

A charming hand-drawn trail map of the Laugavegur Trail found in one of the huts.

How difficult is the Laugavegur Trail?

If you’re physically fit and have some experience traversing mountainous landscapes with a daypack, you should be good to go. Between Landmannalaugar in the north and Thorsmork in the south, the trail is roughly 55km (34 mi) long, with around 1,700m (5,577 ft) of total elevation gain. Expect to hike between five and eight hours a day, covering 11-18 km (6.8-11.2 mi) of varied terrain. 

Do I need a guide to hike Laugavegur Trail?

You can finish the Laugavegur trek alone—plenty of people do—but going on your hiking tours with a guide is optimal. The good thing about going with a guide is that they’ll adapt the trek to your fitness level. They’ll know how to avoid the toughest terrain should you wish, and if you’re feeling particularly tired one day, they’ll recommend easier alternatives. They’ll also make sure you don’t miss any of the highlights, and keep you safe along the journey. 

Getting there

Fly into Keflavík International Airport, which is 45 minutes from Reykjavík and easily accessible from major hubs on the East Coast of the U.S. and from continental Europe. From there, Airport Direct and Flybus offer cheap transportation to Reykjavík, but you can also rent a car or take a taxi. 

Clients usually meet their guides at the BSÍ bus terminal in central Reykjavík. To get to Landmannalaugar, the starting point of the Laugavegur Trail hike, you’re only a three-hour drive away.

Can you hike Laugavegur Trail in the winter?

Though winter hiking in Iceland is possible, due to the difficult trail conditions and highly unstable weather, Laugavegur Trail is very dangerous during the winter months, even for highly skilled hikers. Plus, the transportation and accommodation options are extremely limited. I don’t recommend hiking Laugavegur Trail, or most other trails in Iceland, outside of the warmer seasons.

What to pack?

Your daypack should be large enough to fit all the everyday items below (around 25-40L):

    • A warm hat, sunhat, and some gloves
    • Waterproof and windproof jacket and pants
    • Sunglasses
    • Water bottle or water bladder
    • Sunscreen
    • Extra shoes or sandals for river crossing
    • Fresh food and snacks (provided by Viking Women every day)
    • An extra fleece sweater or down jacket to put on when we stop for breaks
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Hiking poles (optional)
    • Camera (optional)

In your large backpack or luggage, you’ll need to bring:

    • Sleeping bag (doesn’t have to be in your luggage, just attached to it somehow)
    • Travel pillow (optional)
    • Underwear and socks
    • Extra clothes for the trail
    • Extra clothes for the huts
    • Medicine
    • Hygiene and beauty products
    • Towel
    • Headlamp or flashlight (for those hiking between August and September)
    • Powerbank to charge your devices
    • Earplugs and a sleeping mask
    • A bathing suit ( for those doing the 3 days on the trail tour )
    • Cash or a debit/credit card

What to wear on the trail:

    • Good waterproof hiking boots
    • Hiking pants or leggings
    • Thermal top or lightweight T-shirt
    • Hiking socks
    • Mid layer
    • A buff (optional)
    • Gaiters (optional for those hiking in June)

You won’t need technical gear such as crampons, but hiking poles are a good idea, as they help maintain balance on the steeper downhill sections. Also, don’t forget to bring a power bank to keep your electronic devices charged. For more info on packing for the occasion, check out these hiking tips for beginners.

What about the food?

All of the food and drinks are provided by Viking Women. I make my famous Icelandic dishes, which I grew up eating, and all the ingredients are locally sourced, including some that come from my own garden.

For breakfast, I usually make a hearty porridge with nuts and fresh berries, and coffee or tea. During this time we will also make ourselves sandwiches to eat along our hike. For dinner, I cook the group some of my favorite traditional Icelandic meals. 

Water will be provided at the mountain huts but we will also fill up our bottles from the glacial streams, which are perfectly safe and extremely delicious. Surprisingly, you will also find several bars and small dining options along the way, so be sure to bring cash as well.

What better way to end a day than with a traditional Icelandic feast amongst your new friends? Photo courtesy of Saga Líf

Where to stay?

We will bunk in several huts along our Laugavegur Trail journey, and they are a perfect environment to wind down after a long day. The good thing is that they are heated, have electricity, and include fully-equipped kitchens—all powered by solar and geothermal power. Note: they don’t have enough power to charge phones or personal electronics so it is important to bring your own power bank.

Other than the first mountain hut we stay in, all of them have flushable toilets and showers that cost 5 Króna for a 5-minute hot shower. I highly recommend bringing earplugs, as we may be sharing with other campers, and sleeping masks since summer in Iceland is bright throughout the night. Each hut is also looked after by a warden, who will make sure that the heat is on in the evening and that everyone who reserved a bed checks in for the night.

One of the many huts nestled in between the looming mountains and green carpeting.

Keep Iceland clean

Iceland has a very fragile environment which is why following Leave No Trace policies is especially crucial here. If you want to learn more, this insightful video encapsulates the efforts to preserve the sensitive ecosystems. 

Note that you are expected to carry all your garbage with you throughout this multi-day hike. To make things easier, some huts have trash bins where you can dispose of your rubbish. Also, no matter how tempting it is, hiking off-trail and wild camping are strictly prohibited. Thousands of people have enjoyed the trail up until now so let’s make sure that future generations get the chance too.

Hiking the Laugavegur Trail

There’s a reason National Geographic named this one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. Brimming with rolling mountains, lava fields, and glacial valleys and fjords, make sure your phone or camera is charged as every inch of the trail offers a magnificent view!

Laugavegur Trail is marked with signposts – getting lost is not an issue if you stay on the trail.
Every time I return to the beginning of the Landmannalaugar trek I am filled with anticipation of what’s to come.

Day 1: Reykjavik – Landmannalaugar – Hrafntinnusker

Distance covered: 12km (7.5 mi)
Walking time: 4 to 5 hrs
Altitude change: +470m (+1,540 ft)

Today we wake up around 7 am in Reykjavík and take the 2-hour bus ride to the trailhead at Landmannalaugar. Although you may want to rest, it is hard not to stare out the window during the drive. Upon arrival, we load all our gear into a super Jeep which will carry our belongings to our hut. We will have time to take a quick dip in the Landmannalaugar natural hot springs to loosen our muscles for the day ahead.

During our 12 km trek, we will walk through lava build, hot and cold rivers, and past one of the most colorful mountains in Iceland—Brennisteinsalda glitters like it’s encrusted with mineral decoupage. We continue on and gain the most elevation on the trip. We end the day at 1,100 meters with a breathtaking 360-degree view of the surrounding obsidian rock field. For the night we stay in the Hrafntinnusker mountain hut.

Day 2: Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn

Distance covered: 12km (7.5 mi)

Walking time: 4 to 5 hrs

Altitude change: -490m (-1,610 ft)

After a restful sleep soaking in the medicinal benefits of the surrounding obsidian, we embark on our next 12 km from Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn. Along the trail, we typically encounter snow patches that make for a perfect photo op in the middle of summer. Then we arrive at our big descent and one of the best views of the trip.

Coming to the ridge, I love to look at everyone’s faces as their jaws fall open in awe.

Peering to the horizon we see Swan lake, the Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers, vast mountainous terrain—and a steep slope to get down. Once at the bottom, surrounded by grass and moss, I always find myself collapsing into the cushioned greenery.

To most people’s surprise, there is a little bar in the middle of nature that people can relax in after a long day before turning in at the Álftavatn hut. For those who aren’t ready to call it a day, I have an optional night hike.

Day 3: Álftavatn to Emstrur

Distance covered: 16km (10 mi)

Walking time: 6 to 7 hrs

Altitude change: -40m (-130 ft)

Prepare to make peace with the river gods today. We start with a glacial crossing, which your tired feet might love, or not, as we cover a 15 km stretch from Álftavatn to Emstrur on mostly flat terrain. Ice and fire meet at the Mýrdalsjökull glacier which sits precariously atop the Katla volcano. The volcanic ash is a thick layer of black sand for your feet to dance in.

No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. The black sands of Mælifellssandur lying beneath the green mountains are something you’ll have to see to believe.

Amid the Icelandic Highlands, the black sand of Mælifellssandur is juxtaposed by the encircled green mountain—a stark contrast of color and darkness, carbon in its various forms. This once verdurous area is where farmers used to graze their sheep in summer, and is still visited by the famous Icelandic horses. For lunch, we will go to the most beautiful picnic spot, an overhang just above a picturesque stream.

At the end of the day, there is an optional hike to the Markarfljót canyon that is about one hour long. The evening is the perfect time to visit as the fading summer light radiates in a golden glow. People often ask for photos but I like to keep it a surprise.

Emstrur to Pórsmörk

Distance covered: 17km (10.5 mi)

Walking time: 6 to 7 hrs

Altitude change: -300m (-985 ft)

Today we hike through the small valleys and gullies of Emstrur. The south of Iceland can have sparse vegetation, but we will encounter some lush greenery and budding landscape here. We will cross bridges and trek through our final glacial rivers (which at this point you will be a pro at) as we walk 16 km to Pórsmörk, the de-facto ending of the Laugavegur Trail.

We have officially finished the Laugavegur Trail, but we will continue exploring Pórsmörk!
Skál! Cheers! We have officially finished the Landmannalaugar Trail, but this isn’t the end! We get to spend another two days exploring this area. Photo courtesy of Saga Líf

Along the trail, we are confronted by the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. If people know of Iceland, it’s probably from 2010 when it erupted, halting European air travel for over a week. But this seismic power can be life-changing in other ways too (as it was for the Co-Founder of 57hours). To get to know the primordial forces of the country, consider a hike through Iceland’s volcanoes.

The last kilometer is when Pórsmörk embraces you with a green hug and a valley filled with arctic birch forests and colorful flowers. We spend the night beneath the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers. Congratulations, you can now celebrate your completion of the world-famous Laugavegur Trail!

Exploring Pórsmörk

Distance covered: 16–18km (10–11 mi)

Walking time: 7 to 8 hrs

Altitude change: +800 m (+2,600 ft)

You could explore the nature of Pórsmörk for a lifetime, but we have to fit it into just two days. After a night of celebrating our completion of the Laugavegur Trail, we embark on the first of two hikes.

Today we do part of the 25 km Fimmvörduháls circle (attempting about ⅓ of it). We hike up to the deep black craters, Magni and Móði, which were created in the 2010 eruption, and named after the sons of Þór (Thor). As we stand atop the volcanic imprints our eyes take in all the surrounding canyons with overgrown greenery. You feel like you need to sit down at every spot along the way and marvel, which is exactly what we do.

Day 6: Pórsmörk to Reykjavik

We prepare for our final day as our hearts begin to ache at the thought of leaving this beautiful world behind. Today, we venture up the Valahnúkur mountain which provides a somber ode to our farewell.

Valahnúkur mountain was formed by one explosive eruption but now resides in a forested oasis surrounded by dramatic glaciers.

We stand atop a moss-carpeted cliff that hangs over a deep glacial stream. In the distance, our eyes are met with snow-capped mountains and volcanic imprints. It’s always hard to say goodbye, but this is the perfect end to a 6-day tour of one of the world’s greatest wonders. After this short hike, we return to Reykjavík. But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be back again!

Laugavegur Awaits!

Formed by millennia of glacial and volcanic activity, the Laugavegur Trail takes the beauty of nature to a whole new level. With colors that make you think you are walking through a children’s coloring book and sights that are more vivid than any photograph can capture—you simply have to see it for yourself. 

Ready to heed the Viking call? Or maybe you need a bit more info first? Learn more about this wondrous landscape in my hour-long webinar.

Alternative treks in the North of Europe

If you’re staying in this part of the world, there are plenty of hikes in Northern Europe. Looking for photo ops? Try the Trolltunga hike, famed for some of the most photogenic cliff sides in the world. Fans of sailing, trekking, and penguins will enjoy hiking in the Faroe islands, while advanced trailblazers should try hiking the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

Multi-day hikes in Mainland Europe

Once you’re done with Laugavegur, sink your teeth into these awesome alternatives. If you want to trek through alpine scenery that changes by the minute, try the Tour du Mont Blanc. Hiking the Dolomites in Italy means winding through sharp spires and pointed peaks straight out of a sci-fi movie. The Alpe Adria trail is a fantastic option for beginners, while Corsica’s GR20 is widely known for being Europe’s toughest trail. Finally, the Via Dinarica is one of the latest additions to the bucket list.

About the author
Local Iceland Hiking Guide and Founder of Viking Women Tours

A self-described nature addict, Saga has always been drawn to the beauty of Iceland’s natural world. She became a guide to help other women unleash their inner Valkyries and make meaningful connections through awe-inspiring adventures. Her company Viking Women Tours focuses on all-female trips that combine wellness with Iceland’s otherworldly landscapes.

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