The Laugavegur Trail is Iceland's most popular backpacking trail, passing through nearly 34 miles of spectacular scenery including colorful rhyolite hills, snowy mountain plateaus, geothermal areas, black sand desert, deep canyons, waterfalls, and glacier viewpoints. Difficulties encountered on the hike include arranging for trailhead transportation, being prepared for severe weather conditions (including heavy rain, intense cold, strong winds, white-out fog, and sudden blizzards even in the summer), and making the necessary reservations far in advance if you wish to sleep in the huts. A topographical map of the hiking route (including the extension to Skogar) from our GPS tracker can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates are not provided because this is a well-established trail that is widely known and used.
The Laugavegur Trail caught my attention a couple of years before actually carrying out the hike. While researching various hikes in Iceland, I found many references to how outstanding this trail was. For instance, National Geographic lists the Laugavegur Trail as 1 of the 20 World's Best Hikes. What makes the trail so special is the great variety of terrain and scenery which is passed by during the 33.6-mile route (49.1 miles if adding the extension to Skogar). I will be detailing some of that scenery in my trail sections comments below. To help prepare for my own hike, I ordered hiking guidebooks covering the trail, watched videos of people carrying out the hike, and read online trip reports written by other hikers. The trail is generally only hiked during the summer months, with July and August seeming to be the best time. However, the biggest concern when doing the hike is the weather, which is very unpredictable and can change drastically. Most people hike the Laugavegur Trail as a 4-day backpacking trip. Having so many days on the trail means that the weather can shift greatly during the hike. Lives have been lost along the trail because hikers were not fully prepared to deal with inclement weather. Thus, a big part of my preparation process was being fully prepared for extreme colds, heavy rains, and fierce blowing winds, just in case any of those things happened. As far as clothing, it's all about having many layers that are warm, windproof, and waterproof. I generally ended up wearing between 2 to 4 layers, avoiding cotton clothing, and using waterproof hiking boots. I also bought good quality rain gear and a waterproof backpack cover. Joining me on this backpacking journey was my friend Josh, and he likewise prepared very well. One thing that we both noted on the trail is that most hikers were not really taking the time to enjoy the journey. Instead, they were focused on the destination. For instance, we would be stopped to enjoy a beautiful waterfall, pretty cascade, or sweeping view, and other hikers would rush past us and keep hiking, some without even looking up. It seemed that almost everyone was focused on rushing to the next camp and securing a good tent location. The problem with that is they were missing so much of the scenery along the way. There will still be a place for you to pitch your tent, even if you arrive late in the day (as we did every single day). So my encouragement is to take the time to become fully immersed in the landscape of the Icelandic highlands. I'm certainly glad that we did. We had chosen to pitch our tents rather than staying in the huts, which I thought worked out great. But then again, we didn't experience any heavy rain, which has wreaked havoc on campers in the past. Below, I will share some detailed information about what we experienced on each of the four trail sections.
Section 1: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker (7.5 miles). Most people hike the route from north to south, which allows for less elevation gain and a logical drop from the mountains to the ocean. That is what we did. We caught a 4-hour bus from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar, of which, half of the time was spent driving on bumpy dirt roads. Arriving in Landmannalaugar for the first time is quite an experience. All of a sudden, breathtaking scenery opens up all around you as you are dropped off in the midst of a very busy base camp area. There are many people here doing day hikes, as well as some who are stopping over for a few days before beginning the Laugavegur Trail. Landmannalaugar is surrounded by colorful hills and mountain peaks. Various river forks pass through the area. As the first leg of the trail officially began near the ranger station and hot springs soaking area, we passed by fields of lava boulders and shiny obsidian. Rhyolite hills surrounded us and we were impressed with having such an array of colors on display. This was the first of two areas along the trail which reminded us of the scenery in Death Valley. We next passed by a beautiful meadow covered by wildflowers and the first thermal steam vent. The trail then climbed steeply through a section of rhyolite hills and day hikers began to thin out, giving us a little bit of space on the trail. After reaching the top of the hills, the trail began crossing a plateau on top of the highlands. Snowfields were occasionally crossed, with a break in the middle at a very active geothermal area which contained boiling water, boiling mud, and areas of thick steam rising up from the ground. Camp was reached a short time later at Hrafntinnusker. We had dinner there and then decided to continue on, since we had such crystal clear beautiful weather and had heard that this area was often fogged in with poor visibility. Since sunset wasn't until 10:40pm, continuing on was a legitimate option.
Section 2: Hrafntinnusker to Alftavatn (7.5 miles). The second leg began by crossing through a long valley surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks. There were a lot of mini ups-and-downs to cross drainages, which required caution because small snow bridges had formed which were starting to collapse. At the end of the valley, there were more rhyolite hills, a tremendous view looking back across toward the camp, and several prominent peaks that we could see up ahead. Steam vents were visible at various spots and we soon reached our first stream crossing. However, this one did not require removing shoes because the flowing water did not cover the rocks we crossed on. Just past this spot, we enjoyed perhaps the most spectacular viewpoint of the entire hike. Looking far into the distance, a vast valley opened up before us which was covered with green-colored peaks rising up and surrounding Lake Alftavatn, while massive glaciers were visible on the left. What added to the charm was that we were approaching sunset, and the light colored the valley in a unique way. After stopping to watch some Icelandic sheep grazing, we descended into the valley. Icelandic sheep generally roam the countryside freely from May through October. Once on the valley floor, we had our first mandatory stream crossing, a process that was slow and painfully cold on the feet and lower legs. Lake Alftavatn was then in plain sight and grew larger as we approached it from a far distance away. At Lake Alftavatn, a fierce wind was blowing.
Section 3: Alftavatn to Emstrur (9.3 miles). Leaving Alftavatn, the third leg began by crossing a seasonal footbridge and wrapping around the dramatic peak on the south side of the lake. The fierce wind continued, as it would throughout the day. Rain soon began coming down upon us as well. The second mandatory stream crossing was reached, after which we explored a small slot canyon with a pretty waterfall. The terrain began transitioning from green meadows to lava rock and dirt while passing through Hvanngil, which is an alternate camping area. A large river is crossed on a bridge and then a slightly smaller river is crossed by walking through it, at the third mandatory stream crossing. Nearby is a spectacular waterfall that is not marked or visible from the trail, but which I consider to be the highlight of this section of the hike. To reach the waterfall, cross the river and then turn right and follow the river to the spot where it plunges over. Just keep a safe distance from the eroding rock cliffs along the edge. Next begins the long desert crossing section of the hike. This was the second area which reminded us of Death Valley. For many miles, except for the occasional river crossing, endless stretches of black lava and sand desert must be crossed. Breaking up the scenery are the small green hills rising up from the flatlands, but these are passed very slowly as the miles go by. It is a strange feeling to be walking through such vastly different scenery than what is found on the first two sections. Eventually, we reached an area which overlooked a deep canyon on the right and Emstrur camp on the left. We descended into Emstrur and set up our tents. Emstrur has amazing glacier views and I really enjoyed spending time in this area. Nearby, there is a side hike along the rim of the canyon which has impressive views.
Section 4: Emstrur to Thorsmork (9.3 miles). The fourth and final leg of the hike starts out by heading toward the terminus of the glacier which is visible from camp. Before reaching the glacier, the trail crosses a river gorge in dramatic fashion. The hiking direction then changes and a valley is crossed which contains an abundance of Icelandic sheep. After climbing out the valley, we took a side hike to check out the spot where two rivers merge, blending two different water colors into one. We slowly worked our way down into another very long valley which had to be crossed. At this point, the weather really warmed up for the first time on the trip. The views of Eyjafjallajokull (a volcano fully covered with an ice cap) were increasing in beauty as we continued getting nearer to Thorsmork. It would be easy to imagine hiking through this area back in April of 2010 when the volcano erupted and sent ash up into the atmosphere. That must have been an incredible sight. After crossing through some more desert terrain and past some meadows with red-colored grasses, we reached a rest area by a small river. We then crossed it on a bridge, climbed a hillside to follow a ridge, and could see our final mandatory river crossing below. This river crossing was the widest yet and some other hikers were having trouble finding a safe spot to cross. After crossing that with some difficulty, we entered a forest, which once again provided for completely different and unique scenery. The forested hillsides led us to an overlook of Thorsmork valley, a truly incredible place surrounded by glacier-covered mountain tops. We finally descended into Thorsmork, which is the end point of the Laugavegur Trail. We enjoyed dinner at Langidalur, which is one of the two camps in Thorsmork (and definitely the one with the better view). We walked down to the multi-forked river below the camp and looked over to see the sunset glowing off of Krossarjokull glacier in the distance. It was the perfect ending to a near-perfect hike. We had successfully completed the Laugavegur Trail, but our journey was not yet over. After enjoying the included full set of photographs (I was only able to include about 1/8 of the 830 photos taken), continue along with us by reading our follow-up report covering the Fimmvorduhals Trail, which is a 15.5 mile extension of the Laugavegur Trail. Also, click here to watch a 5 minute video that Josh made of our backpacking trip. Our hike took place from July 28 through August 1, 2017.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT