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  • Writer's pictureHiker Heather

Laugavegur Trail ~ Iceland

Blog detailing my thru-hike of the Laugavegur Trail including trail information, itinerary and camping spots :)

It felt surreal to be here, stood alone amongst the hustle and bustle of Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. Whilst I'd booked my flights to Iceland back in December '22 with some Christmas money that I'd kindly been gifted, it was now September '23 and very little planning had taken place on my part in the months leading up to the trail and well, here I was, full of pre-trail nerves, anticipation and excitement... I'd wanted to hike this trail for years, even booking onto a group guided hike of the trail a few years previous only to subsequently cancel the trip out of fear of being in a group setting, since I usually embark on these type of adventures alone... Upon cancelling the trip, I promised myself that I'd make plans to hike the trail in the future, when I felt confident enough in my ability to hike the trail alone since Iceland is not amateur hiking territory... I couldn't quite believe that I was finally here...

Tomorrow I would take the 'bus' into the Highlands to start this hugely anticipated trail but first thing first, me being my crazy little self had decided to book in for a tattoo and so I quickly dropped my backpack off at my hotel and took a bus to the tattoo shop where I'd booked in for a vegvísir tattoo. The vegvísir (Icelandic for 'wayfinder') is an Icelandic magical stave intended to help the bearer find their way through rough weather (oh, what little did I know now!!!!)... The symbol was referred to in the Huld Manuscript (Dark Manuscript) in 1860 where it was declared "if this sign is carried, one will never lose one's way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known"... the rune felt significant to me in many ways, not least for the bad weather that I often find myself navigating through in the Scottish Highlands....

Tattoo wrapped up, I left and wondered the streets of Reykjavík for a while before heading to check in at my hotel, not before grabbing a slice of pizza from the 24 hour shop and having an early night as I'd need to be up early for the bus into the mountains the following day...


About the Laugavegur Trail

The Laugavegur Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland and is listed in the National Geographic as being one of the most beautiful trails in the world! The trail offers a plethora of variety in landscapes passing by rainbow coloured rhyolite mountains, bubbling hot springs and black sandy deserts strewn with obsidian. The trail is 35 miles / 54km with most hikers choosing to start in Landmannalaugar and ending in Þórsmörk. Many hikers choose also to extend the hike by a day or two to include a hike over the magnificent Fimmvörðuháls ending in Skógar, this had also been my initial plan, however, I ended up having to end my hike in Þórsmörk...


Amenities / Accommodation

There are six cabins and camping grounds along the way, all owned by Ferðafélag Íslands (Iceland Touring Association, FÍ). Many hikers will chose to stay in the huts (bookings must be made in advance) and some, like myself, will chose to camp as each hut allows camping next to the huts. Camping is not pre-bookable and is paid for upon your arrival, camping at the huts cost around £15.00 per night, some of the huts allow campers to use a shower which cost around £3.00 for 5 minutes. It is not possible to buy hot, ready-made meals in the huts so hikers must be self sufficient in terms of food. The huts sometimes stock snacks, however, this cannot be relied upon. The water in rivers and streams along the trail is in most cases potable so there is no need to carry water.


Access to and from the Trail

I booked budget flights from Manchester airport to Reykjavík, I paid around £160.00 for the return flights, including hold luggage for my backpack since I'd be carrying pegs and hiking poles which aren't allowed in hand luggage. From Reykjavík, I took the 'bus' (which is actually a 4 x 4 jeep type bus) from Reykjavík bus station to Landmannalaugar at the start of the trail. I also used the same bus service to return from Þórsmörk, you cannot access these remote places in the Icelandic Highlands without 4 x 4, roads, as we know them, don't really exist here, the terrain is rough and there are huge water crossings to contend with. I used the Reykjavík Excursions Highland Bus Service. Please note that these bookings need to be booked well in advance, they were full even at the very end of the season when I was on trail.


Navigation / Terrain

The Laugavegur trail can be challenging, especially in bad weather, it includes several water crossings which require at least a wade. The trail is extremely remote, located in the Icelandic highlands, far away from all villages or farmhouses. The terrain is varied and the weather is totally unpredictable - it is not uncommon for there to be snow even in the middle of summer, meaning that you must be prepared for all weather and eventualities. Navigation skills are essential.

In terms of planning and navigation, I used the Cicerone Walking and Trekking in Iceland guidebook to plan my hike. I also downloaded a GPX file of the route from here and also carried this map and compass.


Itinerary

Day 1 - Landmannalaugar to Hrafantinnusker (7.5 miles/ 12km)

Whilst it had been a fine day yesterday for my arrival, today was a different story completely, I woke to rain battering the window of my hotel room, the sky outside was dark and overcast... The 20 minute walk from the hotel to the bus station left me soaked to the core but the bus journey was long enough for me to at least dry off somewhat! The majority of travellers on the bus were day trippers, heading to Landmannalaugar, I couldn't help but notice the distinct lack of solo travellers but I tried to not let this concern me... Eventually arriving in Landmannalaugar, the rain continued but didn't serve to dampen my spirits... I was excited for a quick look around the infamous Mountain Mall which is an old bus that had been converted into a little hikers shop...

The Mountain Mall stocked everything and anything from snacks to freeze dried meals to gas cannisters - what a little gem this place was! (NB - I had purchased my gas at the camping shop which is located in Reykjavík bus station upon my arrival into Reykjavík the previous day). Leaving the Mountain Mall, the trail took me quickly uphill and would continue in an uphill fashion for the most of the day as I hiked higher into the mountains, soon the steaming rainbow landscapes that I had been anticipating came into view - I stood in awe, this place was something else!

Whilst the trail was busy near Landmannalauger, it wasn't long before I lost the crowds of people as I hiked further into the mountains... The rain continued for most of the day making for rough going on some of the steep inclines as the paths had quickly turned into mudslides with steep drops off either side... I quickly realised that the nature of terrain probably explained the lack of solo hikers... I continued on through the incredible rainbow coloured martian landscape, soon arriving at the obsidian cairn memorial for Ido Keinan which again served as a harsh reminder as to the dangers of the landscape surrounding me... Ido Keinan, aged 25, had set out on the trail back in July 2004, unfortunately ignoring the advice of the wardens at Landmannalauger who had warned Ido that it was too dangerous to hike the trail due to the weather, Ido lost his way in the blizzard and sadly died of hypothermia, tragically, Ido was only 1km away from the safety of the hut of Hrafntinnusker, his memorial reads 'In Memory of Ido Keinan who passed away in a blizzard so close to the safety of the hut nearby yet so far away'... how utterly heartbreaking... Soon the hut came into view, I quickly headed down to pay for my camp spot before setting pitch in one of the barren stone circles outside of the hut....


Day 2 - Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn (7.5 miles/ 12km)

This morning I woke to blue skies - what a treat after yesterday! This was enough to send me on my merry little way! Leaving my stone circle of a pitch, I continued across black ash and broken obsidian which made for easy going to start but soon I would be negotiating more tricky terrain with many gullies and a fair bit of undulating ascent...

The crossing beneath the foot of Reykjafjöll was exciting, to say the least, with steam pouring out of various hot spots and steam vents in the ground...soon climbing again before topping out on a crest, it was here that I saw my first views of the stunning Álftavatn and the glaciers of Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull, perhaps one of my favourite views of the whole trail! In fact, this day was possibly my favourite out of them all...

After spending some time marvelling at the landscapes surrounding me, I began the steep, stony descent down to the Grashagakvisl river which requires fording, this was my first major river crossing of the trail... Whilst I was used to river crossings in the Highlands of Scotland, they were a different beast entirely here, the water was incredibly fast running and of course, freezing cold with them being glacial rivers, one wrong move and you could be in a great amount of trouble indeed... I took some time deciding where to cross, soon coming across a rope further down river which I used to aid me over.... The temperature of the water and sheer thrill of my first proper Icelandic river crossing saw me skipping the rest of the way to Álftavatn where I avoided the main group of tents and set pitch beside the river....

It was here that I began to feel quite unwell, I had experienced some pain in my ears the previous night but didn't think too much of it and just put it down to the change in climate since it had been pretty warm back him in England over the past couple of months, but today was a different story and the pain was quite unbearable, I took some Ibuprofen, enjoyed the view from my tent for some time before cosying away in my sleeping bag for an early night... I started to think that perhaps getting the tattoo before the trail was not one of my best ideas! Trails are hard on the body anyway so to add the stress of a tattoo to your body and immune system before such an undertaking is probably not the best of ideas! Hindsight, eh!


Day 3 - Álftavatn to Botnar (10 miles/ 16km)

I woke today feeling unwell to say the least, I had toyed with the idea of taking a rest day here, nestled between the emerald green mountains of  Álftavatn but the wind was too much of a concern, the gusts had been picking up over night with no sign of them ceasing and the campsite here, like most places here in the Highlands, was incredibly exposed and so I felt it was best to press on to Botnar since I also heard others starting to murmur concern about the weather, apparently there was a storm heading into the Highlands... I had a slow morning at camp before eventually leaving since I had been getting to my campsites at around 2pm each day, there was really no rush... The Tolkeinesque landscape of  Álftavatn quickly served to cheer me up and helped me forget about the pain in my ears and head, not long after leaving the campsite I had my first views of the majestic Stórasúla, the sight of this might little mountain even brought me to happy tears!

What a place, what a sight to behold, gosh I felt lucky to be here! How grateful I was. I soaked up my surroundings, took so many photos and videos of Stórasúla before making a promise to myself to come back and climb her one day... Soon the emerald green of Álftavatn would disappear and the landscape instead would change significantly to a black volcanic ash desert strewn with lava and obsidian, where was I? Had I landed on the moon? Barren, desolate and harsh but also incredibly beautiful, the odd green mountain would appear alone out of this black landscape but you wont find birds, trees or even much in terms of plant life, this place truly is for the hardy, it would take a lot to thrive here!

Arriving in Botnar, I paid for a camp spot before attempting to find the most sheltered camp spot possible, I managed to tuck myself away at the side of the stream. I couldn't decide whether or not to get a shower, I didn't know if it could potentially make my illness worse or if it might help, I went to chat to the hut warden - don't take these chaps for granted by the way, it is always worth speaking to them about the weather, your intended plans or in my case, asking their opinion on weather a shower might help my woes hahaha! The warden thought that a hot shower would help me and so I followed his advice, he asked what my plans were for the next few days since the storm was due in, I told him that tomorrow I would continue onto Þórsmörk and then hopefully onward to Skógar, via Fimmvörðuháls, the warden stopped me there - he told me no, that would be foolish, the storm coming in is serious, he recommended that I got back to Þórsmörk as quickly as possible tomorrow and attempt to get a 'bus' back to Reykjavík as the storm would stop the buses being able to operate so this might be my last chance to get out of the Highlands before the storm arrived prior, potentially trapping me there for days, keeping in mind that I only had my tent for shelter, the huts were all fully booked. I took head of his warnings and made it tomorrow priority to get to  Þórsmörk as quickly as possible and pray that I could get booked onto one of the buses back to Reykjavík.


Day 4 - Botnar to Porsmork (9.5 miles/ 15km)

I had woke early as it was my intention to reach Þórsmörk as quickly as possible today in hope that I might be able to get bus back to Reykjavík. Today was another huge contrast in terms of landscapes and there was plenty of undulating elevation to contend with today too, in addition to the most remarkable canyons I have ever witnessed...

Soon I would arrive at the river Pronga, a huge glacial river that requires fording, whilst others faffed taking their shoes off, I did as I always do and just 'went for it' with my shoes on, much to the amazement and amusement of other hikers, it was written all over there faces - 'What is that mad solo woman doing - does she not know how to cross a river properly?'... At least I gave some folk a laugh - I'd have laughed at myself too, I realise how feral I must seem to others at times... Ascending up through a birch forest, the trail rises and falls many times before eventually dropping down into Þórsmörk, it was here just as I was dropping down into Þórsmörk that I read a sign warning that hikers should not hike solo, that the terrain was too dangerous!!! But I had done it, I was here - at the official end of the Laugavegur Trail! How incredible it had been...

I arrived slightly broken and in a lot of pain but I was here! I had completed this magnificent trail! Although, my adventure was not quite over just yet... I now had to attempt to get out of the Highlands and back to Reykjavík, the buses for today were all fully booked and the storm was coming in proper tomorrow... The signal here in Þórsmörk was not strong enough to allow me internet access to attempt to book a bus so I made a couple of desperate calls to my mum and sister who eventually managed to book me a bus out of Þórsmörk tomorrow, just as the storm was arriving - thank god! My tent most certainly would not survive the 80mph winds and rain that the storm was bringing with it! I was lucky to get out of Þórsmörk when I did, I was on the last bus out of the Highlands before the rest were cancelled for the coming days.... I arrived back in Reykjavík and booked into a cheap hotel for the last couple of days of my trip where I spent time hunkered down in the hotel eating crap food and looking around the beautiful city... What an incredible trip this was and whilst I wasn't able to continue onto Skógar as originally planned, I had truly had the most amazing time and experience! There is no doubt that I will come back to Iceland in the future, we have unfinished business and there is so much exploring to do on this incredible little island! I can only recommend that you visit at least once :)

If you have any questions then please do use the contact form to drop me a line, I will get back to you as soon as possible. You can follow my adventures live over on my Instagram @hiker_heather

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