I boarded my plane to Iceland without really knowing where I was going to hike. Initially I wanted to take it easy. After 18 months of adventuring with my backpack, I wanted to go through some low-key, chilling hikes.
Of course by the time we landed my mind had completely changed and I had decided I would hike Iceland from one of the Southernmost point to one of the Northernmost point by cutting right in the middle on the island.
After all my solo adventures such as trekking Mongolia, and cycling New-Zealand from North to South, and reaching Bolivian summits, and sea kayaking the Canadian west coast, that’s the least I could do.
Make no mistake however, despite the last minute decision I was (somewhat) ready for that. My backpack was full of warm clothes and appropriate gear.
– Hike type: Point to Point
– Packing: (3 / 3) Big backpack (~70L)
– Hike length: (5 / 5) – 450km / 280 miles. Doable in 14 days
– Hike elevation: (2 / 5) – 3000m / 10,000ft (concentrated on the first 4 days)
– Accessibility: (1 / 5) – Use of shuttle recommended
– Overall difficulty: (4.5 / 5) – Very long, very lonely, very harsh weather
Let’s be clear with one thing: Iceland has some ROUGH weather. Take that warning seriously.
Do not go on that hike without appropriate gear (see article about what to carry on a multiple day hike).
You will need:
- Warm and rain+wind-proof gear, even if hiking during summer.
- -5°C (19F) sleeping bag bare minimum
- Inner liner for sleeping bag
- Insulated inflatable pad
- Emergency blanket
- Sandals, for all the river crossing
- There’s plenty of lakes and streams in Iceland and the water is pure. No need for heavy filtering system.
GPS coordinates: 63.529957, -19.512328
The trekk starts in one of the southernmost point of Iceland: Skogar, famously known for its waterfall. On map it might be easier to find Skogarfoss (Skogar’s Waterfall) than Skogar.
Since the hike is point to point, the best way is to either hitchhike there or to take a bus that will drop you there.
/!\ Beware however, as the transportation options once you reach Husavik are extremely limited. You’ll either have to fly from Husavik airport at a high price, or hitchhike for 600km all the way back to Reykjavik (if you finish your hike before early September, you might be able to only hitchhike to Akureyri and from there take a bus to Reykjavik).
For this reason, you might want to do that journey the other way around: from north to south.
Hiking Iceland from Skogar to Husavik
The start is rough as you begin your journey almost at sea level, with the aim of going through a pass located at 3,504ft. That pass divides 2 volcanoes/glaciers: the Mýrdalsjökull and the now infamous Eyjafjallajökull (you heard about it in the news in 2010).
After the pass you then begin a very wind prone descent towards the Thorsmork valley.
Some people do that 15 miles hike in one long day, other cut it in half and sleep at the ranger’s hut located near the pass.
Note: In the area, and until you leave Landmannalaugar, camping is either on a payed campground or prohibited.
After reaching Thorsmork campground, you will start a 34 miles journey on the very famous (and touristy) Laugavegur hike to the Landmannalaugar hot springs (they’re free to use!).
Most people hike the Laugavegur from north to south. I personally found it to be much more enjoyable for my legs and for the view, the way I did it: from south to north (plus, you get the hot springs at the end to chill and relax).
The hike is touristy enough that I can guarantee you won’t get lost. Just be aware there’s a bit of hiking up to do.
Leaving Landmannalaugar is when things start getting different. You leave the people-filled hike for a no-man’s land with barely any signs to follow for the next 220 miles.
First, you must hike 20 miles to reach a bridge 3 miles West of the Olis gas station on F26. To do so, start on the F224, then turn left on F208 and stay on it until you reach the F26 (after 15 miles). Turn left on F26 until your reach a bridge on your right (after 5miles). – Alternatively, you can turn right on the F26 road and just follow it for 27 miles. It might save you some 10-11miles overall. But I didn’t do it, so I can’t advise on it.
Once you cross the bridge, follow the road for 2 miles then take a right on the first obvious 4×4 tracks, quickly followed by a left turn. You are now on your way to a long, slow, constant way up.
After 10 miles, you should reach some 4×4 tracks intersection, just keep straight. Keep straight until you reach the Storaversion lake. At that point make a left on what looks like a better 4×4 track. You’ll follow the North part of the lake and move towards the Kvislavatn lake. You will be following it in its entirety, zigzaging through the dunes until you reach its northernmost point.
At that moment, keep going north, not east, towards the Sprengisandur airport (not an actual airport. Merely a place flat enough to land). Don’t go too much to the west either though.
If the weather permits it, you should see that you’re getting closer and closer to the Hofsjokull glacier on your left. You will indeed walk past its western border for 2 or 3 days (before cutting through the land towards the Vatnajokull glacier).
As you’re walking along the Hogsjokull glacier, should you follow the 4×4 tracks, you should reach a sign that says “Dead end”. Disregard it as the path you follow can be done on foot.
After a while, you’ll reach a water dam followed by a river that needs to be crossed. The 4×4 tracks sort of vanishes after that. Go North-East for 10 miles and then cut straight East towards the Vatnajokull glacier (there is a ranger’s hut there called Nyidalur should you need help).
If you keep walking East toward the Vatnajokull glacier you’ll eventually end up on route F26 -which isn’t paved anymore and can now only be driven by 4×4- which you should follow North for just 4 miles before turning right on F910.
/!\ If you feel it’s been too hard for you so far and you’re getting lonely, then stay on the F26 track, because the tough part only starts now.
This journey ends at the same spot anyways. Otherwise, keep on reading.
After walking on route F910 for 17miles, and having to constantly switch shoes to cross rivers, you’ll reach an actual bridge (finally!!) to cross a waterfall. Go left right after the bridge.
/!\ The part you’re starting to walk on now cannot easily be accessible to emergency vehicle and there is no cell network. It’s a 50 miles walk with a lot of rivers to cross and 4×4 tracks looking like they got lost because of a 2010-14 eruption that modified the landscape.
Keep walking North, sorta following the stream you just crossed, until you reach a lava (dry) field. It’s a bit of a maze to go through it, but there’s still some 4×4 tracks here and there. You can follow them as long as you aim for north.
Once out, keep going north (slightly east) and up. You should reach a place filled with water holes, pools and a few small rivers. Cross the damn thing towards the east. Don’t rely on any track you might see. Once crossed, walk North-East and you should see a few 4×4 tracks once again. Cross more rivers (shoes off, pants off, sandals on, sandals off, dry, pants on, shoes on. Repeat.).
Roughly 9 miles after the water pools you’ll reach a flat area with a vertical 12ft sand wall in front of you and a little stream turning into a gorge on your left (going North-Northwest). Follow that stream and then keep going north.
In front of you should there should be some hills (East of the stream). You’ll have to go through these hills in order to walk back down in the valley behind. You could try to follow the stream, but there might be waterfalls to cross, so I don’t know if it’s worth it.
It takes a full day to go up the hills and down in the valley. And there are still a few rivers to cross once you get down.
Once you’re starting to hike the hills down, you should see some sort of station/wooden house down in the valley (though still far away). Aim for it as you’ll have to pass in front of it.
When you reach that wooden house, go in front of it and keep North. DO NOT go East-NorthEast. I made a mistake of following a path there and ended up in front of the Suthura river which is nearly impossible to cross. After hours going up and down the river I finally found a potential path. The water was freezing and way too powerful. I had never seen my feet so white in my life. I immediately set up my tent and dug into my sleeping bag with an emergency blanket around my body.
Anyways, if you keep north and follow the Skjalfandafljot river you should, 14 miles after the wooden house, see a farm or two on your left. Turn right (East) and you should reach a bridge. Cross it and follow the clear path to the paved route 843.
From there, there’s quite a lot of options. I think the best is to stay on that route 843 going north for the next 21 miles to reach Geitafoss and route 1. Then aim for route 845 and follow the trails on the side of the road for 33 miles until you reach Husavik.
I would advice against going towards Myvatn lake. Looking at satellite images of the area, I noticed a few 4×4 trails crossing large rivers (all part of the Kraka river) yet couldn’t see any bridges. That was exactly what had happened to me with the Suthura. I’d followed 4×4 tracks, yet once in front of it, realised the crossing path was way to deep even for a truck.
It’s one thing to cross a stream going up to your knees, but like the Suthura, it’s a whole different story to cross a powerful river going up to your buttocks.