Laugavegur Trail Hiking Guide
Iceland's Laugavegur Trail is likely to be one of the most surreal hiking experiences you'll ever encounter. The scenery here is otherworldly. Sometimes so much so that it is hard to imagine how it came to appear on earth. It is a geological feast, with the main ingredient in this recipe being the volcanic underbelly of this little island.
At times, the hills appear to be liquid lava frozen in time (and that is because they are!). At other times, you'll cross plateaus of black volcanic ash that make you feel like you are taking a stroll on the moon. Walking down from the mountains on this hike can make you feel like a giant - with the valley carpet far below - and numerous perfectly shaped volcanoes popping up from the under the floor.
There is no other place on earth like Iceland, and the Laugavegur Trail gives you a 3-4 day hike that covers some of the most varied scenery in the country. Although the Laugaveugur Trail is popular, it is with good reason. Consider combining the Laugavegur Trail with the 1-2 day Fimmvörðuháls Trail for one of the most rewarding hiking experiences on earth (crossing your fingers that you get good enough weather to reward you with the views!).
This hike holds a special place in our hearts, as we believe it will yours!
Amazing one-of-a-kind scenery (in good weather!)
Good hut system (for if you don't like camping)
No permits necessary
Reliable public transport to trailheads
No scenery (in bad weather!)
Huts can be booked out in peak season (but campsites are usually available)
The Laugavegur Trail is a 34 mile (55 km) one-way trail between Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork. On average it takes 3-4 days, but could be done in 2 days if you prefer long days on the trail. Most hikers then continue on from Thorsmork over the Fimmvorduhals pass to Skogar, which adds about 10 hours or 1-2 days of hiking.
Below, we describe the main features of these two trails. Note that the Icelandic Touring Association (Ferðafélag Íslands) provides a detailed route description for both the Laugavegur (see the section at the bottom of their webpage) and Fimmvorduhals trails.
We suggest taking your time, if possible. There are several small side trips that you can consider along the way. And you can even stay in Thorsmork a day or two to explore the local area, if you wish.
LENGTH: 34 miles / 55 km
DURATION: 3-4 days
FINISH: Þórsmörk (Thorsmork)
BEST TIME: Mid-July to mid-September
The 34 mile (55 km) Laugavegur Trail is the most popular multi-day hike in Iceland. You'll need to decide which direction you plan to hike and then arrange transport to the trailhead: either Landmannalaugar (northern trailhead) or Thorsmork/Skogar (the southern trailhead, depending on whether you will also hike the Fimmvorduhals Trail, more details below). If you don't have your own transport, then see our "How To Get There" section below for details about busses.
The Laugavegur Trail is usually traversed north to south. But there is no reason that it can't be traversed south to north. The northern trailhead at Landmannalaugar sits only 300 metres higher above sea level than the southern trailhead at Thorsmork, so your choice of direction has very little effect on the exertion required for the hike.
Travelling north to south has a slightly more intuitive feel for us, since you start up in the Icelandic highlands and walk south towards the coast. One benefit of this is - on your descent off the mountain plateau towards Alftavatn Hut - the views that open out in front of you are just astounding. On the other hand, if travelling south to north, you have the benefit of being able to enjoy the natural hot springs in Landmannalaugar at the conclusion of your hike!
There are six huts along the trail, and you can choose which huts to stay at depending on the distances you plan to walk each day. The huts (travelling north to south) and distances between them are as follows:
Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker: 12 km, 4-5 hrs
Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn: 12 km, 4-5 hrs
Álftavatn to Hvanngil: 2 km, 1 hrs
Hvanngil to Emstrur: 14 km, 5-6 hrs
Emstrur to Thorsmörk: 15 km, 6-7 hrs
If you are staying in the huts, then you should book early (preferably several months in advance). If you are camping, then you need to camp at designated campsites located outside each hut. "Free camping" along the trail (between the huts) is not allowed. If you are camping, then reservations are optional - if you do not make a reservation then you can just pay the hut warden on arrival. See our "Campsites / Huts" section below for more info.
For the most part, the hike is undulating (except for the Fimmvorduhals Trail described below, which is very steep, if you choose to do it). Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness should be able to complete it. And the recommended time frame of 3-4 days amounts to relatively short days on the trail.
The danger here is not the difficulty of the trail, rather, it is the weather. You need to make sure you are prepared. You must have a good waterproof jacket, and we also highly recommend good waterproof pants and gloves.
The scenery along the Laugavegur Trail is extremely varied, and - if you get good weather - you will be rewarded with mind-blowing views. But the volcanic highlands are also a harsh and relatively inhospitable place. So the views here are primarily of scenery rather than wildlife! Nonetheless it is scenery that is unrivalled. There is nowhere else on our special planet that is quite like this little volcanic island.
Note: when travelling between Hrafntinnusker and Álftavatn, consider the side trip up Háskerdingur, the highest peak in the area (1281m). It will take about 1-1.5 hours, and is worthwhile if time allows and the skies are clear.
LENGTH: 15.5 miles / 25 km
DURATION: 8-10 hours (1-2 days)
START: Þórsmörk (Thorsmork)
BEST TIME: Mid-July to mid-September
If possible, we highly recommend continuing on from Thorsmork to Skogar. Be warned though - the Fimmvorduhals Trail is not an easy hike - rather, it is a long and tough day. It includes over 1000 metres of ascent followed by 1000 metres of descent. And the trail passes between two glaciers and two active volcanoes. At times the earth can be rumbling under you and the sky closing in on top. Make sure you are prepared for both hard work and bad weather!
Many hikers complete it in a single day, taking about 8-10 hours. But if you'd prefer to take it easy, then consider booking a stay at one of the huts (details below). Generally speaking, in summer the trail doesn't require any specialist gear (e.g. crampons), but you do need to be prepared for all conditions. We recommend having full waterproof and windproof gear (i.e. jacket, pants, gloves).
CAMPSITES AND HUTS
The Icelandic Touring Association (Ferðafélag Íslands, FI) operates six huts along the Laugavegur Trail. They are generally open from mid-June to early-September, with the specific dates dependent on weather. Reservations for each of the huts should be made in advance. If you plan to travel in peak season, then you should consider booking several months in advance. Bookings can be made through their enquiry form, via email, or by calling +354 568 2533.
The huts provide "sleeping bag style" accommodation. So a basic mattress will be supplied, but you must bring your own sleeping bag and any other bedding you wish to have (e.g. pillow). A restaurant serving hot food can be found at each of Alftavatn and Thorsmork during the summer hiking season. The other huts sell some basic supplies (e.g. some dried food, snack bars, gas canisters) but we don't recommend relying on them. Aside from the aforementioned restaurants, food is not available. Therefore you should be carrying your own food and be self reliant - this includes bringing your own gas cooker / stove. More details on the huts can be found here.
Each hut will have a warden working at it during the hiking season (i.e. whilst they are open). They are primarily there to handle reservations, but they can also assist you with route planning, suggested side trips, etc, as well as any emergencies or other issues you may encounter.
There is a designated campsite outside each of the six huts along the Laugavegur Trail (described above). You can book these in advance through the enquiry form, via email, or by calling +354 568 2533. Away from the middle of the peak season, you should be ok just showing up and paying the warden on arrival.
The current cost (as at 6.24.18) is 2000 ISK per person/night (approx US$18). You will have access to the water and toilet. But, you will not have access to the hut. We found that even in stormy conditions the warden was not willing to let us cook our meal in the hut kitchen. Rather, we were given the cold shoulder and sent back outside.
The following only applies if you are adding on the extension from Thorsmork to Skogar (the Fimmvorduhals Trail, described above).
Many hikers complete this section in a single day, taking about 8-10 hours. But if you'd prefer to take it easy, then consider booking a stay at the Utivist-owned Fimmvorduhals Hut slightly west off the trail near the top of the pass (but book well in advance).
If the Fimmvorduhals Hut is all booked out, then another option worth investigating may be the unserviced FI-owned Baldvinsskali Hut, which was rebuilt in 2012. Until recently it didn't accept overnight reservations (but could still be used as an emergency shelter), however indications are that this may have recently changed.
If spending the night, then make sure you stock up on water before arrival, as there is no water supply at either of these huts. Note also that camping is not allowed on this section of trail, and wouldn't really be advisable anyway given the high altitude and temperamental weather of this mountain pass.
The picture below shows our final approach to the unserviced Baldvinsskali Hut, with gale-force winds, blizzard-like temperatures, and a whiteout setting in.
WHEN TO GO
The window available for hiking the Laugavegur Trail is small. And even smaller if you want to avoid the early summer snow melt and the peak summer crowds. The bus services to the starting point at Landmannalaugar run from approximately mid-June to mid-September (weather dependent). At other times of the year the roads to the highlands are impassable.
From mid-June to mid-August are the busiest times. This coincides with the slightly warmer weather and the near 24-hour daylight. However, during this peak period the huts can be full and bookings are recommended. If you are camping (our preference) then you generally don't need to book, but the campsites around the huts can be busy during peak season.
From mid-August onwards the nights get colder and darker, but the crowds begin to thin out. You may encounter the odd early snowfall (or snowstorm) and be wary that the huts are no longer serviced from around mid-September (although camping is still a viable option). But fewer people on the trail means that the second half of August is our preferred time for this hike.
Don't forget that the Icelandic highlands are known for their temperamental weather. Even in "peak summer", you might be unfortunate enough to encounter a whiteout or storm. That might mean a somewhat uninspiring (and potentially uncomfortable) hike. So always travel with an open mind and remember that nature offers no promises!
HOW TO GET THERE
A number of major airlines fly through Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, on their Trans-Atlantic journey. In addition, Iceland's low-cost airline Wow Air offers cheap fares direct to Reykjavik from a number of major US, UK and European cities.
Once in Reykjavik (or before), you will need to arrange transport to Landmannalaugar for the start of the hike. There are three bus operators: Reykjavik Excursions, Trex, and Sterna Travel. At the time of writing (6.21.18), Reykjavik Excursions offer the cheapest one-way fare between Reykjavik and Landmannalaugar (8500 ISK / US$77).
If you want a round-trip ticket taking you from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar and then either Thorsmork to Reykjavik or Skogar to Reykjavik at the end of your hike, then consider buying the Trex Hiker's Bus Pass (14900 ISK / $136) or the Sterna Highland Hiker's Passport (14000 ISK / $127). However, note that by booking your return ticket with a single operator you won't be able to just "hop on the next bus" passing through Skogar or Thorsmork at the end of your hike, which may or may not be an issue for you, depending on whether you've come straight off the trail.
In any case, there is no need to rush back to Reykjavik after the hike! There are plenty more amazing spots to check out. For example, the renowned Vatnajökull Glacier (at Skaftafell) is only a few hours by bus.
There are several hiking maps covering this area. We used the Landmannalaugar, Porsmork, and Fjallabak Hiking Map published by Mal Og Mennig and it was fine. You can pick up at bookstores and other outlets (e.g. petrol stations) in Reykjavik. Or if you want it for planning beforehand then it is usually available through Amazon. It has 1:100,000 detail for the entire length of the Laugavegur and Fimmvorduhals Trails, as well as a 1:50,000 inset for just the Fimmvorduhals Trail. It wasn't waterproof, but I think they may publish a waterproof version.
Another option is the Thorsmork / Landmannalaugar Map published by IDNU. It provides 1:100,000 detail for both the Laugavegur and Fimmvorduhals Trails. It can be purchased direct from the publisher, from the Iceland Touring Association, or from various other online retailers (type "IDNU Thorsmork Landmannalaugar map" into google).
The Laugavegur Trail is pretty well trodden and marked, so it is probably possible to walk the trail in peak season without a map. But we wouldn't recommend it! We always recommend carrying a trail map and compass. Beyond basic navigation, a map can also be useful for route planning, distance checking, water finding, identifying possible campsites, planning side trips, and more. Not to mention in case of bad weather, debatable junctions, emergency situations, improving your understanding of the area, and piece of mind.
There are no services at Landmannalaugar aside from the hut, camping ground, and some hot springs (so bring your swimwear if you want!... although a hot bath isn't what I usually feel like at the start of a hike). Make sure you buy all your supplies before departing on the bus to Landmannalaugar.
In Thorsmork there is a small shop selling very basic supplies. There are also several (basic) accommodation options - in addition to the usual Icelandic Touring Association (FI) hut, several other commercial operators exist (e.g. Volcano Huts offer several accommodation options). Volcano Huts also operate a buffet restaurant that serves hot food.
Perhaps more importantly, Volcano Huts have a shower / sauna / bathing pool setup that can be accessed by non-residents for a small fee. This is a great option if you are camping or staying in the FI huts but just want to refresh and relax after your hike (and before taking on the Fimmvorduhals Pass!).
There is camping available at Skogar, just near the base of the popular Skogarfoss waterfall (the finishing point for the Fimmvorduhals Trail). The campsite has a basic toilet block with showers. You just need to pay at the nearby Skogar HI Hostel.
If you wish to enjoy some luxury on arrival in Skogar, including a shower and a warm bed, then you have a few options. The Skogar HI Hostel has both dorms and private rooms. We'd also highly recommend the Skogar Guesthouse. The owner's were lovely, the stay was comfortable, and they have a hot tub! And on the shoulder season their prices were far more reasonable than the two accommodation options down the road, the Hotel Skogar and Hotel Skogafoss.
But beware that Skogarfoss waterfall is a popular attraction for car tourists, and Skogar is only a small village with limited options for accommodation. If you plan to stay, we suggest you book ahead. And note that prices can be high in peak season.
Also note that there is no supermarket in Skogar at the end of your hike. There are a couple of restaurants that serve food during meal times. Outside of standard meal times we found that food is pretty much unavailable in the village.