Laugavegurinn - Hiking Trail
Laugavegurinn, or Laugavegur hiking trail (55 kilometres), is Iceland’s most popular hiking trail, connecting the nature reserves Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk. It is maintained and serviced by Ferðafélag Íslands (FÍ), the Iceland Touring Association (www.fi.is).
The trail offers a great variety of landscape: mountains in almost every colour of the rainbow, great glaciers, roaring hot springs, big rivers and lakes. Generally the hike lasts four days and the starting point is Landmannalaugar. Limited accommodation is offered in six huts along the track (reservations necessary) or on the campsites located at the huts. Wild camping is not allowed within the nature reserves and not recommended in the surrounding area due to nature protective reasons. The difficulty of the track depends extremely on the weather conditions.
Laugavegurinn is located in the southern highlands. Most hikers traverse it from north to south, starting in Landmannalaugar at an elevation of 600 metres above sea level and ending in Þórsmörk at an elevation of about 300 metres.
Over high season, daily scheduled busses drive to and from Reykjavík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur to the starting and end point of the track. Fimmvörðuháls hiking trail connects Þórsmörk with Skógar at the south coast (23 km from Básar to Skógar. Skógar-Langidalur 25.9 km).
Due to its location in the southern highlands, Laugavegurinn is serviced only a few weeks a year. The huts usually open around June 25th and close in the beginning of September. Weather conditions and snow melt can change those dates. Due to security reasons and with regard to nature, hikers are highly requested not to walk the Laugavegurinn when the huts are closed.
Ferðafélag Íslands operates 6 huts along the track: Landmannalaugar, Hrafntinnusker, Álftavatn, Hvanngil, Emstrur/Botnar and Langidalur in Þórsmörk. Hut wardens take care of huts, guests and the track and are keen to give information and first aid.
Hut guests can expect:
- bunk accommodation in rooms for up to 20 people
- shared kitchen with stoves, pots, pans, crockery and cutlery
- running cold water
- gas heaters
- showers (except at Hrafntinnusker) it costs 500 ISK for 5 minutes.
- water toilets (except at Hrafntinnusker: outhouse)
- garbage can be left at the huts in Landmannalaugar, Álftavatn, Hvanngil and Langidalur
- no pillows, blankets or bed linen are available
- no food can be bought
- guests will be charged a hut fee, payable by credit card or cash
The huts are usually fully booked as Laugavegurinn has become Iceland’s most popular hiking trail. It is recommended to book accommodation several months in advance to be sure of getting a place to sleep.
Attached to the huts are campsites with minimum facilities. Hut wardens take care of campsites, guests and the track and are keen to give information and first aid. Camping guest do not have to book in advance.
Camp guest can expect:
- use of toilet facilities
- running cold water
- showers (except at Hrafntinnusker) it costs 500 ISK for 5 minutes.
- garbage can be left at the huts Landmannalaugar, Álftavatn, Hvanngil and Langidalur
- no use of hut facilities, i.e. kitchen
- to pay a camping fee, payable by credit card or cash.
Wild camping (camping outside of campsites) is forbidden by law inside the nature reserves Fjallabak and Þórsmörk. Due to the growing number of hikers and therefore nature protective reasons it is strongly recommended to camp exclusively on the camp sites at the hut. Your camp fee will help to preserve nature.
The sparse vegetation of the Icelandic highlands is very sensitive to stress and erosion. Even thick layers of moss, that look soft and sturdy, can be destroyed by a single step. Therefore hikers are asked to stay on the track and to not step or sit on plants and mosses. For the same reason, people are requested to use toilets and accommodation provided at the huts. If it’s not possible, take all your rubbish with you to the next hut, even toilet paper. Please protect and respect our natural heritage and show care for animals and plants.
Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints!
Can I do it?
Physical fitness and good equipment will make the difference to your enjoyment of your trip, regardless of the weather. It is suggested that walkers start a fitness programme at least two months before departure, including carrying a full pack up and down stairs or hills.
Hikers can expect:
• to carry a pack weighing up to 20 kg for up to 16 km each day
• a 10km climb up to 1000m on the first day to Hrafntinnusker
• steep declines
• rough, rocky and slippery surfaces
• at least one day of rain while on the track
• non-bridged river crossings of icy glacial rivers through water up to a metre deep
• beautiful views and high temperatures when the weather is good, no views at all, horizontal rain and freezing temperatures when the weather is bad
• to start the hike with up to 100 others during high season in July and August
Weather and Security
Every hiker is asked to write his/her name into the list in the entrance room in Landmannalaugar hut. This list is mainly thought as a security device in case you should not show up at the next hut.
Laugavegurinn is an alpine hiking trail. Rocky, steep and slippery ground causes accidents every year. During high season, more than 100 hikers start the track each day, so help is near if anything happens on the track. The track itself is well marked and is usually easy to follow.
The highest crossing awaits the hiker on the first day on about 1100 metres above sea level. In Iceland’s arctic environment this equates more than 3000 metres in the European Alps. Therefore weather conditions are extremely changeable. Please check for current conditions and weather warnings before departing on your trip.
In good weather conditions, the hike is suitable for most persons and one of the most beautiful trails of the country. In bad weather conditions however the track can turn out dangerous to even experienced hikers. Fog is very common in the mountains and snow can be expected even in July and August. During cold, wet and windy conditions, hypothermia can affect anyone and can kill. From initial signs to unconsciousness can take as little as 30 minutes. Correct clothing and the correct estimation one’s own capabilities are essential.
Four glacial rivers have to be crossed by foot. Usually those crossings are harmless, but extreme weather, inexperience or bad luck can cause serious problems. Do not cross the rivers where they are narrow, there they are usually deepest.
Every year, people hurt themselves badly and suffer hypothermia, every second year someone dies on the track. Laugavegurinn is a track of extremes: extremely beautiful in good weather, extremely dangerous in bad weather. Hikers should be well prepared when intending to tackle it.
Campers should be well aware that there is little shelter on the campsites nor anywhere on the track. The ground anywhere in the highlands is usually sandy, causing tent pegs to not support the tent as much as while camping on turf. Tents should be wind- and weatherproof with attached strings to secure it in case of extreme winds.
A navigation device like GPS or compass with a good map can save lives. Make sure you enter the correct position of the huts before you start your hike. Coordinates can be found in the Day by Day description and on the information tables at the huts.
Maps can be bought in book shops and petrol stations all around the country and at the office at www.fi.is. A booklet “Laugavegurinn - the Laugavegur hiking trail” with day by day descriptions, side tracks and pictures is for sale at the office of Ferðafélag Íslands.
What to Take
You will need at least one set of clothes to walk in and another dry set to change into at night. It is not always possible to dry clothes in the huts.
Cotton clothing such as jeans, T-shirts, socks and sweatshirts is not suitable for the Laugavegur. Polypropylene, which is quick drying (but can be flammable) or merino wool, which warms even when wet (but dries slowly), is recommended.
The following gear is essential, no matter how warm it is on the day of departure.
• Hiking boots: should be comfortable and well broken in. Raincoat / waterproof jacket, over trousers (wind and water proof) and a woollen had should be taken everywhere in Iceland. Sunglasses are recommended in early summer due to extended snowfields on the track.
• Pack: should be supplied with large waterproof/plastic liner
• Sleeping bag: has to be carried of all guests. Campers need good quality down or hollofil bag as temperatures can drop to 0°C even in midsummer.
• Campers: need to bring all cooking gear as they cannot use the kitchen facilities of the huts.
• Campers: tents should be wind- and weatherproof with attached strings to secure it in case of extreme winds
• Toilet paper is supplied at each of the huts.
• First aid kit: sunscreen, blister kits, pain relief, assorted bandages
• Survival Kit: survival blanket, whistle, paper, pencil, high energy snack food
• Drink bottle: 1 - 2 litre capacity (you need to drink regularly during the day). No water filter equipment is needed.
• Optional extras: GPS navigation device/compass and map, camera, lightweight shoes for in hut and river crossings, hiking poles for steep descents and river crossings, ear plugs for communal bunkrooms (you will be sharing huts with up to 70 hikers).
• Swimwear: is only necessary for the hot spring in Landmannalaugar. Hot springs will be crossed elsewhere on the Laugavegur but are unfortunately too hot and small to bath in.
A little shop with the most essential food can be found during high season in Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk Langidalur. Apart from that, no food can be purchased along the track.
Track Notes - Day by Day
Following a short description of the day hikes and possible side trips. More Information can be found in the booklet “Laugavegurinn - the Laugavegur hiking trail” which is for sale at www.fi.is and at each hut. Price 1900 ISK.
Times are approximate and will vary according to fitness, pace of group and weather conditions.
Usually one walks the track in 4 days. If attempting it in shorter time, it is recommended to do otherwise the first two days in one day (Landmannalaugar - Álftavatn, 22 km) or the second and third (Hrafntinnusker - Emstrur, 27 km).
Day One: Landmannalaugar - Hrafntinnusker
12 km, 4 - 5 hours
Elevation increase: 470 m
Starting point is the hut in Landmannalaugar (75 beds, GPS N63°59.600 - W19°03.660). From there it’s an easy hike through the lava field of Laugahraun towards the colourful mountain Brennisteinsalda. There the gradual climb starts through dissected hills with views offering an incredible spectrum of colours. After 3 - 4 hours you arrive at Stórihver, a geothermal area with hot spring (unfortunately too hot to bath in).
About 2/3 of the way are very likely to be covered with snow until late summer. At an elevation of around 1000m fog can show up suddenly and without warning. The trail is clearly marked but hikers must be careful.
Hrafntinnusker hut (Höskuldsskáli) can accommodate 52 persons (GPS N63°55.840 - W19°09.700) and will show up suddenly and unexpected about 2 km after the memorial of an Israeli who died of hypothermia close to the track.
Evening walks: 20 minutes walk to Mt. Söðull (beautiful views) or 40 minutes walk to ice caves (collapsed in 2008). Ask hut warden for more information.
Day Two: Hrafntinnusker - Álftavatn
12 km, 4 - 5 hours.
Elevation decrease: 490 m
The first part of the trail takes us through a valley with some small ravines but be careful as they may be filled with snow. A short and steep incline leads to the highpoint of today’s walk. If the visibility is good, a side trip to the summit of mountain Háskerðingur (1281 m) will reward your with a breathtaking view. This is best done from its western slope, but care must be taken as a glacier is crossed. Ask the hut warden for further information.
If you stay on the main track, you’ll soon leave the colourful rhyolite mountains and enter an area with dark palagonite mountains and glaciers. You will also notice a considerable increase in vegetation. The trail down the Jökultungur is quite steep and care must be taken during the descent. The last few kilometers to the huts by the lake Álftavatn is on flat land. The two huts take up to 52 persons (GPS N63°51.470 - W19°13.640).
Evening walks: a hike up Mt. Brattháls, which takes 1 - 2 hours return. Wet feet included as it’s necessary to wade the little stream coming from Lake Álftavatn. Another hike is up Mt. Torfatindur (818m), estimated walking time 1 - 2 hours.
Day Three: Álftavatn - Emstrur (Botnar)
15 km, 6 - 7 hours
Elevation decrease: 40 m
The trail takes us over the ridge Brattháls into Hvanngil ravine, wading across the small river Bratthálskvísl. In Hvanngil are two huts, one built for sheepherds in 1963 and one for tourists, built in 1995. As Álftavatn and Hvanngil are only 5 km apart, Hvanngil can be used as an alternate accommodation. The huts can accommodate xx people, provides toilet facilities, showers and a small camp side inside an old lava field.
Leaving Hvanngil, a bridge crosses the river Kaldaklofskvísl. On the eastern bank of Kaldaklofskvísl the trail splits, one branch leading eastwards to Mælifellssandur (Road F 210) but the other one southwards to Emstrur, and we choose the latter. Soon, another river has to be waded.
For a few kilometers, Laugavegurinn joins a road until it separates again, leading further south than the track. It is possible to simply follow the road until a sign shows the way to Emstrur-hut.
The powerfull glacial river Nyrðri Emstruá can be crossed on a bridge. Another few kilometers on flat land and we will suddenly be overlooking the huts in Emstrur (Botnar) which can take 40 persons and offers a nice and grass-grown camp site (GPS N63°45.980 - W19°22.480).
Evening walk: small poles lead onto a panoramic walking trail to Markarfljótsgljúfur canyon. It’s an easy walk of 1 ½ hours if doing the circle or 40 minutes if going the same way back.
Day Four: Emstrur (Botnar) - Þórsmörk
15 km, 6 - 7 hours
Elevation decrease: 300 m
45 minutes on the track, a steep path leads towards the canyon of Syðri-Emstruá which then can be crossed on a spectacular bridge. A rope helps to overcome the last meters of the steep descent, so be careful. Most of the track you’ll be walking through a hilly area known as Almenningar. At the very end, the river Þröngá has to be waded which uses to be the deepest river on the track. When wading it is good practice to go hand in hand and head downstream or to use hiking poles to keep balance. After crossing Þröngá, Landscape and vegetation change once more. A walk of 30 minutes brings trough a small forest to an intersection on a hillside. Signs will show directions to different huts in Þórsmörk. From there, Langidalur hut is only a few minutes away. It takes up to 75 people (GPS 63°40.960 - 19°30.890).
Evening walks: there are many possibilities for evening walks; the shortest is up onto Mt. Valahnúkur (xxx m) east to the hut. The track is clearly marked and one will be rewarded with spectacular views over the neighbouring valleys.