You know what they say, a hike a day keeps the doctor away…
Mother Nature really said “hold my Brennivin*” when designing Iceland. From the turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon to the country’s highest waterfall (Seljalandsfoss), Iceland’s landscapes are some of the best in the world. And, to fully appreciate them (and to avoid all of the extra snow that comes in winter), you have to explore them on foot in the summertime (the best time to visit for hiking).
Lace up your hiking boots and leave the bumpy gravel roads behind in search of staggering waterfalls, breathtaking national parks, impressive mountain peaks, colourful landscapes and other remote destinations that a tour bus can’t reach, on these 6 day hikes in Iceland.
From duration estimates to distance travelled, we’ve put together a guide on all the best hikes in Iceland including what you can expect to see, how much fitness is required and any tips you might need to make hiking in Iceland your favourite way to see this country’s beauty. But first, you need to know what to wear.
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What to wear for a hike in Iceland
Hiking in Iceland is similar to hiking anywhere in the world but there are a few things you need to make sure you’re wearing before setting out. This is by no means an extensive list, but it’ll give you a good idea of the essential items you should be wearing if you want your hike to be a safe and enjoyable one.
– Sturdy hiking boots (that you’ve already worn in)
– Long sleeve shirt (thermal is recommended)
– Long pants that dry quickly or waterproof pants
– Lightweight jumper (as a second layer in case you get cold)
– Waterproof jacket
– Beanie or warm hat
– Woolen gloves & socks
– Sunglasses and other sun protection items (e.g/ sunscreen)
– Walking poles
1. Vatnajokull Glacier
Distance: 2km (1.2 miles)
Duration: 1-4 hours
Tip: Don’t forget your camera
If you’re seeking a glacier hike in Iceland, then Europe’s biggest ice cap should undoubtedly be your destination. Vatnajokull has around 30 glaciers flowing from it, and while hiking to this natural wonder might seem like a daunting daytime activity, no previous hiking experience is necessary to tackle this once-in-a-lifetime trek. However, you will need to wear ice crampons (sorry, regular hiking boots won’t cut it).
But nothing can prepare you for how breathtaking this hike is. Once you begin, you’re completely surrounded by blinding white ice, not to mention the impressive mountain ranges on either side and you can’t help but feel small in the face of so much natural beauty.
While the hike itself is easy, it can take between 1-4 hours to complete depending on weather conditions and accessibility, but you’ll have a good hour to an hour and a half enjoying as much of this glacier as possible. Our verdict? A definite must-hike if you’re travelling to Iceland.
2. Kvernufoss Waterfall
Distance: 1.4 km (0.9 miles)
Duration: 1 hour
Tip: Wear a waterproof jacket
We simply can’t make a guide to the most epic hikes in Iceland and not throw in a waterfall trail or two, and the Kvernufoss Waterfall is one of the best there is. Easily accessible from the Skogafoss Waterfall (another cascading body of water that should be on your Iceland to-do list), this waterfall is perfectly hidden by a neighbouring valley and is framed by moss-coated lava rock cliffs. Like, can it get any more magical than that?
Boasting an otherworldly appearance and a drop of 30 metres, the Kvernufoss Waterfall is often overlooked by visitors to the Skogafoss Waterfall, but their loss is your gain as the relative peace and quiet only adds to the serene tranquility of this special spot.
You can even walk behind the waterfall itself (one of only a few waterfalls in Iceland where that’s possible) to a small cave and marvel at the waterfall from a different perspective. Depending on the weather conditions on the day, you might also be blessed with a rainbow as the spray created from the water bounces off the lava rocks.
3. Mount Esja
Difficulty: Medium – Hard
Distance: 7km (4.3 miles)
Duration: 2 to 3 hours
Tip: Pack some energy-filled snacks, you’re going to need them
Wandering around Reykjavik is stunning in its own right but enough museum visits and colourful street strolls (we’re looking at you Rainbow Street), and your feet will start to itch for more wide-open spaces and dirt-laden trails. Luckily, this next hike is only a convenient 45-minute drive from the city centre and can be completed in an afternoon.
Known as one of the most popular hikes in all of Iceland, summitting Mount Esja is one for the highlight reel with its panoramic views of nearby Reykjavik and the Atlantic Ocean. With a height of 914 metres and an ascent of 744 metres, climbing up this mountain isn’t easy (you’ll definitely want a soak in the Blue Lagoon afterwards) but it’s well worth the effort.
4. Reykjadalur Trail – Hveragardi
Distance: 6km (3.7 miles)
Duration: 3+ hours
Tips: Pack your swimwear
Another short drive from Reykjavik lies the famous Reykjadalur ‘Smokey Valley’ trail – a trail so beautiful it’s almost as if it’s been lifted from the pages of a fairytale. Leading you between mountains into a deep valley where the waters of a warm, geothermal river await, this 6km trail is as easy as it is spectacular. And there’s no greater reward after spending a couple of hours hiking to this popular spot than spending a few more relaxing in its mineral-laden water.
But most hikes are about the journey just as much as the end destination, and the same can be said for the Reykjadalur trail. Although you’ve got the promise of bubbling hot springs ahead of you, take your time on this easy hike and marvel at the surrounding smoky mountains unfurling with each step.
Invigorating hike? Check. Soothing natural bath? Check. Impressive scenery? Check. What more could you want from a hike in Iceland?
5. Solheimajokull Glacier
Distance: 2.4km (1.5 miles)
Duration: 3 hours
Tip: Watch Game of Thrones before you go
Another day in Iceland, another glacier to walk on, and while this one might be less well known, it’s no less impressive. Part of the larger Myrdalsjokull glacier, the Solheimajokull glacier is one of Iceland’s most magnificent natural wonders and, if you’re a Game of Thrones lover, one of its most recognizable.
This hike takes you between a labyrinth of ice formations, allowing you to get up close and personal with the glacier’s unique texture and pure blue/clear colour. The best part? Despite its ‘medium’ difficulty rating, this hike is suitable for all fitness levels as progress is slow and steady to ensure safety while you’re on the ice.
6. Blahnukur Brennisteinsalda Loop
Distance: 9.7km (6 miles)
Duration: 4-6 hours
Tip: You’ll need a killer playlist and some walking poles for this one
The Landmannalaugar region in Iceland’s southern Highlands looks like another world entirely – one that’s full of colourful rhyolite mountains, lava fields and geothermal hot springs. And while there’s plenty of trails (both easy and hard) to occupy your time, the Blahnukur Brennisteinsalda loop is one of our favourites.
Technically a combination hike that climbs both Mt Blahnukur and Mt Brennisteinsalds (because sometimes summitting one mountain just isn’t enough), this 9.7km trek will take you on a mind-blowing journey through lava fields, past steaming fumaroles and to the top of mountains that promise you the best views in all of Landmannalaugar.
We’re not going to beat around the bush, this trek is hard and should only be attempted if you’ve had previous hiking experience. But for those of you who won’t blink twice at sections of steep climbs, zigzagging trails and winding switchbacks, the scenery you’ll be greeted with along the way more than makes up for the constant sweat on your forehead and the burn in your legs.