Hiking In Iceland: 26 Amazing Trails Not To Miss

The top attraction in Iceland is nature. Many amazing sights are right there by the road, but if you’d like to see the most breathtaking and unspoilt beauties, you’ll need to hike. We’ve taken an almost three weeks long road trip around Iceland, and we spent our time mostly hiking, staring at waterfalls or soaking in hot springs. In this post we collected the best hiking trails in Iceland, from easy and short to lengthier and more difficult ones.

Hveradalir, Kerlingarfjöll, Highlands, Iceland

One thing we noticed is that we did very few day hikes in Iceland, compared to other visits in national parks of other countries. The main reason is that Iceland has so many unique natural wonders that spending a full day on the same trail almost feels like a waste of time. We often did two-four shorter hiking trails on a particular day. With that said, we loved those few day hikes we did, and they were routes that made us jaw drop at every other step.

Fimmvörduháls Trek part I., Iceland

However, your hiking itinerary will heavily depend on the length of time you have in Iceland, and the route you’ll cover while you drive around. We brought you many hiking ideas from every region of the country. We did all of them, and we like all of them very much. So here we go:

Best easy walks in Iceland

Let’s start with the easiest hiking trails that we’d rather call walking trails. They are a few kilometres long, with minimal elevation gain and a well-established trail (often with boardwalks and fenced viewing platforms). You usually need 1-2 hours to complete them – and half of that time is for taking pictures.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Vatnajökull National Park, South Iceland

Jökulsárlón, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

You already have this on your list, don’t you? Like everyone who visits Iceland. There’s not much hiking to do here, but you’ll enjoy walking on the shore of this magical lagoon a bit.

A glacial tongue called Breiðamerkurjökull forms the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon which extends from the Vatnajökull glacier. Being 248 metres deep it’s actually Iceland’s deepest lake. Don’t miss Diamond Beach where the glacier meets the ocean, resulting in sparkling ice blocks on the black sand.

Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Vatnajökull National Park, South Iceland

Fjallsárlón, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Just about 10 minutes drive from Jökulsárlón, you find Fjallsárlón Lagoon which is somewhat less busy. It’s not that incredibly blue as Jökulsárlón, rather muddy, but the glacier is much closer to you. There’s a short loop trail from the parking lot with views of the glacier and the lagoon. Again, it’s rather just a walk than a hiking trail, but it’s a nice one you shouldn’t miss.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Fjallsárlón Glacier Parking
Length: 1.8 km loop
Difficulty: easy
Check it out on a trail map here!

Fjaðrárgljúfur, South Iceland

Fjaðrárgljúfur, Southern Iceland

Yes, this is the one featured in Justin Bieber’s song “I’ll show you”. Fjaðrárgljúfur is an easily accessible and photogenic, 100 meters deep canyon with moss-coated walls and a lovely waterfall. (Wherever you go in Iceland, a lovely waterfall is almost guaranteed.) It’s a short detour from the Ring Road in South Iceland, so expect it to be busy.

There’s a well established walking trail along the edge of the canyon, and viewing platforms give safe access to the stunning views. It’s not really a hike, because it’s so short and so easy, but the path can get slippery in wet weather. Also, please don’t leave the designated trail, because your boots damage the sensitive vegetation which then takes long years to recover.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Fjaðrárgljúfur parking lot (short detour from the Ring Road to road 206)
Length: ~3 km (~1 hour) round-trip
Difficulty: easy

Bjarnarfoss, Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Bjarnarfoss, Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Bjarnarfoss is our favorite waterfall on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and it’s a lovely hike to stretch your legs while driving around this scenic peninsula. The waterfall is backed up by large rocks, including some nice basalt columns, and is surrounded by lush greenery in the summer.

Bjarnarfoss can actually be already seen from Road 54, but it’s worth getting closer. We like standing at the bottom of waterfalls to fully appreciate them, and this one is easy to get to. There’s a short trail that climbs up to the base of the waterfall, and it gets quite steep after you cross the small bridge. You get great views from the bridge, so you might turn back from there if you find it too slippery in wet weather. We did it all the way, and it was nothing scary, just watch your steps.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: parking lot by Road 54 (type “Bjarnarfoss View Point Parking” in Google Maps, or look for the street called Bjarnarfossvegur)
Length: 1 km (~1 hour) round-trip
Difficulty: medium (very easy until the small bridge, then it gets steeper)
Check it out on a trail map here!

Dynjandi, Westfjords

Dynjandi, Westfjords, Iceland

Dynjandi means “thundering noise”, and you’re right, this is the name of a waterfall, located in one of the glacial valleys of the Westfjords. With its 99 meters height it’s the largest one in the Westfjords, and probably one of the most symmetrical waterfalls in Iceland.

Actually, you find not only one waterfall here, but seven, since there are more smaller waterfalls on the river below the main one. Sounds impressive? It is! This short and easy walk from the parking lot up to Dynjandi will amaze any waterfall lover. The panorama of the fjord below is the icing on the cake.

I’d say it’s right by the main road, and it’s true. But the Westfjords is a sparsely inhabited region with few roads, and most of them are not paved, so adjust your expectations according to that. 🙂 Dynjandi is a short detour from road 60, one of the main gravel roads in the region. Do you need a 4WD? Not necessarily, at least in the summer. Most gravel roads in the Westfjords are fine with a normal car in dry conditions.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Dynjandi parking lot by road 60
Length: 1.5 km round-trip
Difficulty: easy
Check it out on a trail map here!

Kolugljúfur, North Iceland

Kolugljúfur, North Iceland

This canyon is a short detour from the Ring Road in North Iceland. Kolugljúfur is about one kilometer long and 25 meters deep, with the river Víðidalsá flowing through it, and creating a few waterfalls (like Kolufoss) on the way as a result.

The parking lot is right by the canyon, and short walking paths give safe access to different viewpoints. We could even hike down to the bottom of the canyon on a somewhat steep, but very short path. The lush green canyon with some dramatic cliffs and nice waterfalls is surely worth about half an hour of your time.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Kolugljúfur parking lot (type “Kolugljufur Car Park” for Google)
Length: several short paths to different viewpoints
Difficulty: easy

Víti Crater of Krafla, North Iceland

Víti Crater of Krafla, Northern Iceland

Iceland has its own crater lake, and you can have a lovely walk around it. When we visited a few years ago, we could walk the full loop, but since then this trail is no longer a loop due to environmental impact. It’s still worth a stop while you drive in North Iceland, because the few hundred meters walk spoils you with views of this magically blue crater lake. It’s also close to the famous Hverir geothermal area.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Viti Crater parking lot
Length: ~400 m one-way
Difficulty: easy
Check it out on a trail map here!

Hverir geothermal area, North Iceland

Hverir, Northern Iceland

Hverir is a place that feels like another planet. With its orange-red-brown landscapes it could be Mars. There’s bubbling mud. Steaming vents. The smell of rotten eggs. The short trail through the Hverir geothermal area gave us a good impression of what active volcanism means.

We did the longer loop which included some short, steeply ascending and descending sections, but the view of this colorful area from above was absolutely worth it! But keep in mind that geothermal fields are places where it’s only safe to walk on established trails. You have no idea what’s under your feet, and no one wants to end up in a boiling hot spring, right?

Hverir is just off the Ring Road and only a few kilometres from the Mývatn Nature baths.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Hverir parking lot (right by the Ring Road)
Length: short loop is about half an hour, the long one is one hour
Difficulty: easy (short loop), medium (longer loop, with some steeper sections)
Check out the longer loop on a trail map here!

Aldeyjarfoss, Highlands

Aldeyjarfoss, Highlands, Iceland

Aldeyjarfoss is one of Iceland’s lesser known waterfalls, partly because you have to drive the last ~4 km on an F-road, which means a 4WD vehicle is necessary. Alternatively, you can walk that last 4 kilometres, or drive it with your 2WD vehicle in dry weather (pssst… we didn’t tell you that). Road F26 takes you right to Aldeyjarfoss, you don’t even need to hike, it’s a few hundred meters walk from the parking area.

And is it really worth the 40 km detour from the Ring Road? It is! It’s one of the most scenic waterfalls in Iceland, and every photographer’s favorite. Also, it’s in the middle of a very scenic lava field.

So while Aldeyjarfoss is only 20 meters high, thanks to the power of Skjálfandafljót river and the picturesque pool backed by basalt columns, the waterfall is a true beauty. It can easily compete with nearby Goðafoss, just without the crowds. We especially liked the views in the late afternoon when sunbeams illuminated the whole landscape (and it was not really afternoon, rather around 10 pm, since we were there in August).

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: dirt parking lot by Road F26
Length: ~300 meters one-way
Difficulty: easy walk
4WD vehicle required to drive to the waterfall

Dettifoss – Selfoss, Vatnajökull National Park, North Iceland

Dettifoss, Iceland

Jökulsárgljúfur is famous for its powerful waterfalls, and Dettifoss is the most powerful of all. Actually, being on the wild glacial river of Jökulsá á Fjöllum it contains more mud than water. Still, it looks stunning! It’s nickname is “The Beast”, and it roars like one.

Selfoss, Iceland

An easy walking path leads you from the west side parking lot of Jökulsárgljúfur to the viewpoint of Dettifoss. The other nearby waterfall, Selfoss, is a short walk from there. It’s smaller and calmer than Dettifoss. It takes about 2 kilometres to visit both of them on the trails marked with D1 and D2.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Dettifoss parking lot by Route 862 (west side)
Length: 2.1 km round-trip
Difficulty: easy
Check it out on a trail map here!

Fardagafoss, East Iceland

Gufufoss and Fardagafoss, Iceland

Fardagafoss is at the end of a short scenic trail that offers views of Egilsstaðir and Lake Lagarfljót in East Iceland. Had it been in any other country, it’d be an outstanding beauty, but given that it’s in Iceland, it’s just one of the average waterfalls. Yet it’s a nice hike to do if you stay in Egilsstaðir (which is a great base to explore East Iceland).

On the way to Fardagafoss you encounter another waterfall in a narrow gully, called Gufufoss. As you continue further, you get pretty views of the surrounding area. You can almost walk behind Fardagafoss in the end, but be prepared to get wet if you choose to do so. It has a small cave behind it, which was once larger and functioned as a hiding place for a female troll. That’s what legend says, anyway. (Did you know that trolls are from Iceland?)

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Fardagafoss parking lot near Egilsstaðir
Length: 2.2 km round-trip
Difficulty: medium
Check it out on a trail map here!

Sigöldugljúfur, Highlands

Sigöldugljúfur, Highlands, Iceland

The canyon of Sigöldugljúfur is a bit more challenging to access as it’s located in the Icelandic Highlands. But it also means less visitors. It’s close to a popular route: F208, the route to Landmannalaugar from the North. Right, it’s an F-road, and those are meant to be used by 4WD vehicles only.

To find the canyon, you need to find Sigöldufoss first. Yes, it’s another waterfall. (You likely know the words for canyon and waterfall by now, right?) Sigöldufoss is located close to a power plant, and this waterfall is at the beginning of the canyon. From there you are free to wander around. There’s no marked trail, but it’s easy to walk along the edge of the canyon. Don’t leave until you find the countless small waterfalls running down the canyon walls.

Sigöldugljúfur, Highlands, Iceland

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: dirt parking lot at Sigöldufoss (by Road F208)
Length: as long as you choose to walk along the edge of the canyon
Difficulty: easy
4WD vehicle required

Best short hikes in Iceland

They’re usually longer than a few kilometres, but definitely not easy walks, you need to cope with steeper terrain or more demanding routes (and have proper hiking boots!). You don’t need more than half a day for any of them though.

Since you might start or end your day with these trails, we recommend nearby accommodation, too.

Brúarfoss, South Iceland

Brúarfoss, Iceland

Amazing turquoise river, lush green landscape, underwater canyon and twin waterfalls – that’s what made our hike to Brúarfoss special. We started it right by Road 37 from a dirt parking lot, and hiked along the charming river. There are three waterfalls on the way, the third one is Brúarfoss, and it’s the real highlight with a small canyon between the two twin falls.

Though it’s not part of the ‘traditional’ Golden Circle route, we could only recommend adding it to your Golden Circle itinerary.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: dirt parking lot by Road 37
Length: 7 km (~3 hours) round-trip
Difficulty: easy
Closest place to stay: Selfoss is the closest larger settlement, but you find some guesthouses along the Golden Circle, too (like Litli Geysir Hotel)
Check it out on a trail map here!

Svartifoss, Skaftafell Nature Reserve, Vatnajökull National Park, South Iceland

Svartifoss, Skaftafell, Iceland

Not tired of waterfalls yet? I hope so, because there are still many amazing ones left. Like Svatifoss which means Black Falls, and got its name because of the surrounding dark lava columns. They say that these basalt columns inspired the design of Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík. With 20 metres it’s not among the tallest waterfalls in Iceland, and it’s not that powerful either. But it has such a simple, pretty shape and sits in such a beautiful setting that makes it especially memorable.

Svartifoss, Iceland

And it can be reached on an easy loop trail which is a great introduction hike to Skaftafell. 

Skaftafell National Park became part of the newly established Vatnajökull National Park in 2008. This region is dominated by Skaftafellsjökull glacier and Morsárdalur valley, and it offers countless hiking trails ranging from easy and short to more difficult ones.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Skaftafell Visitor Centre
Length: 4.5 km round-trip (S2 circle)
Difficulty: easy
Closest place to stay: Hotel Skaftafell (no larger settlement is close to the park, but you can find some guesthouses in Hof, Kálfafell or Gerdi, and they’ll work as base to visit Jökulsárlón Lagoon, as well)
Check it out on a trail map here!

Öxarárfoss & Almannagjá, Þingvellir National Park, South Iceland

Almannagjá, Þingvellir National Park, Southern Iceland

Þingvellir National Park and especially the gorge of Almannagjá are the most important historic sites of Iceland. The first Icelandic parliament was founded here and assembled in each summer until the 13th century. The gorge has a significant geological value, too, because it was formed between two tectonic plates that drifted apart centuries before.

The trail starts at Öxarárfoss (yes, another waterfall), and several viewing platforms are established on the way to offer views of the surrounding landscape.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: one of the signed parking lots at Almannagjá (or you can join the other end of the loop from Þingvellir Visitor Center)
Length: 4 km round-trip
Difficulty: easy
Closest place to stay: Selfoss is the closest larger settlement, but you find some guesthouses along the Golden Circle, too (like Litli Geysir Hotel)
Check it out on a trail map here!

Reykjadalur, Reykjavík area

Reykjadalur, Iceland

Would you combine hiking with soaking in a hot river? This trail is for you then! Reykjadalur means Smoke Valley, and it’s the closest geothermal area to Reykjavík. What’s more, it’s a natural hot pool and free to visit.

The trail to Reykjadalur is steadily ascending, but relatively easy. We saw exciting hot springs, mudpots and steaming vents on the way, but the highlight was undoubtedly the hot river. So even though the hike is only 3 kilometres one-way, plan at least half a day if you’d like to enjoy bathing in the river.

Reykjadalur, Iceland

There’s a boardwalk along this shallow river to give you a more comfortable access, but that’s all the facilities you get. You can change your clothes and take a dip. Don’t expect to swim though, it’s a tiny river, so rather imagine a series of hot pools with gentle, flowing water. And guess what, you can even choose your ideal water temperature! As you walk up along the river, the hotter the water gets (until you reach the sign that indicates it’s too hot for humans from that point). 

It’s close to Reykjavík, and it’s easily accessible, so expect it to be a busy trail. Arrive early, if you want to find a free parking spot at the trailhead.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Hveragerði parking lot
Length: 6 km round-trip
Difficulty: easy
Closest place to stay: Hveragerði or Selfoss
Check it out on a trail map here!

Glymur waterfall, Reykjavík area

Glymur Canyon, South Iceland

198 meter high Glymur is one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland, and it can be accessed by a short, scenic albeit quite steep trail. It’s only 3 kilometres one-way, but don’t mistake it for an easy stroll. It’s steep, some portions of it are secured by ropes, and you need to cross the ice cold Botnsa River. We read that there’s a seasonal bridge in the summer, but we only found a rope to hold on to (take your shoes off, hold on to the rope and go!). Both Glymur Canyon and its waterfall are worth this adventurous crossing though.

Glymur waterfall hike, Iceland

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Glymur dirt parking area (short detour from Road 47)
Length: ~3 km one-way
Difficulty: strenuous
Closest place to stay: the largest settlement nearby is Reykjavík (~1 hour drive away)
Check it out on a trail map here!

Leirhnjúkur lava field, North Iceland

Leirhnjúkur lava field, North Iceland

After visiting planet Mars (aka Hverir geothermal field that you can find among the short walks), let’s get to Mordor. North Iceland features some very cool out-of-this-world places, and the eruption field of Leirhnjúkur volcano is the next one. Walking the easy loop trail around its dark black lava field made us truly feel like visiting Mordor from the Lord of the Rings.

The trail is very easy, barely about a hundred meters elevation gain, and we passed several smaller volcanoes, milky hot pools and countless steaming vents. Actually, the steaming vents made the impression that the lava itself is steaming. It’s not. Nevertheless it’s the kind of place where you want to stay on the established trail so that your shoes don’t melt.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Leirhnjúkur parking lot (short detour from the Ring Road)
Length: 4.5 km loop
Difficulty: easy
Closest place to stay: Hótel Mývatn and a few other guesthouses in Myvatn
Check it out on a trail map here!

Stuðlagil Canyon or Basalt Column Canyon, East Iceland

Stuðlagil Canyon or Basalt Column Canyon, Iceland

Once a hidden gem, this place became very popular in the past years for a reason. The most perfect basalt columns (matched only by the ones at off-the-beaten-path Aldeyjarfoss) and the turquoise river flowing through it are particularly picturesque even by Icelandic measure. This is one of those places that will exceed your expectations, no matter how stunning pictures you’ve seen about them. However, be prepared to stand in line for your own stunning picture. It was not the case when we visited, but times change, and well, we can’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to miss a sight like this.

A hike is required to access the Basalt Column Canyon, but the trail is very easy and straightforward to follow. The length depends on how far you dare driving on the dirt road, but it won’t take more than 3-4 hours even at a comfortable pace (and while taking lots of pictures).

We’ve already written a detailed guide about this hike, the history of the basalt canyon and all the useful things to know before you go.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Klaustursel farm
Length: 4.7 km one-way (shorter if you drive further)
Difficulty: easy
Closest place to stay: Skjöldólfsstaðir guesthouse or Egilsstaðir, the closest larger settlement

Hengifoss, East Iceland

Hengifoss, Eastern Iceland

128 meters high Hengifoss is among the highest waterfalls in Iceland, and its specialty is the layers of red clay sandwiched between layers of basalt. Moreover, we could greet its sibling on the way: 30 meters high Litlanesfoss, decorated by basalt columns. They belong to the countless second-class waterfalls of the country which is only proof of what an incredibly beautiful country Iceland is!

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Hengifoss parking lot by Road 933
Length: ~5 km round-trip
Difficulty: medium
Closest place to stay: Egilsstaðir
Check it out on a trail map here!

Snækollur, Kerlingarfjöll, Highlands

Snækollur, Highlands, Iceland

Iceland, the wild and breathtaking – it is what this not that easily accessible hike made us experience at its best. In general, if you’re looking for the wildest, least busy places in Iceland, go to the Highlands. The downside? It takes time to drive there, and you need a 4WD car.

Mount Snækollur (1482 m) is the queen of the Kerlingarfjöll mountain range in the Icelandic Highlands. With peaks above 1400 meters these mountains are covered by snow even in August. We met a guy at the peak who carried his skis so that he could ski down on the north side of the mountain. (Yes, he did.) The hiking trail to the peak is steep in parts, but not technical, and the panorama from the top is fascinating. (Don’t forget to carry a windbreaker though, you’ll need it.)

Snækollur, Kerlingarfjöll, Highlands, Iceland

And how to get to the trailhead? Guess what, Google Maps gives you the perfect directions if you type in “Snækollur”. You can also look for signs towards Ásgarður campground. However, it’s a long drive on an F-road, F35 in particular. It takes time, and it’s bumpy, but nothing scary. No river crossing required to get to this trailhead. It makes things much easier, because river crossing in the Highlands usually means you need to drive through the river, there’s no bridge. (Of course, you need to be able to assess whether it’s safe to cross the river or not. So we chose routes in the Highlands without river crossing.)

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: dirt parking lot by Road F35 (not far from Ásgarður campground)
Length: 6.5 km (~3 hours) round-trip
Difficulty: strenuous
Closest place to stay: guesthouses on the Golden Circle (like Litli Geysir Hotel)
Check it out on a trail map here!
4WD vehicle required

Hveradalir, Kerlingarfjöll, Highlands

Hveradalir, Kerlingafjöll, Highlands, Iceland

Our very favorite geothermal area in Iceland was Hveradalir, the Hot Spring Valley. I know, all of these geothermal fields look otherworldly, but none of them does it as well as Hveradalir. It’s the kingdom of steam and snow and giant red hills!

Though you won’t find hot pools where you can have a dip, there are bubbling mud pools and clouds of steam, and the whole area is hissing and boiling around you. Parts of the vibrant orange hills look like they’re rotting. (They’re not. Algaes of many different colors grow in the hot springs.)

Hveradalir, Kerlingarfjöll, Highlands, Iceland

The trail is well-established, and wooden steps and bridges ensure you stay on safe terrain. As in any geothermal field, don’t leave the trail, because the ground is often unstable, and the thin crust can hide boiling hot water under your feet.

You can choose to do a 5 kilometres loop in the Hveradalir geothermal area, or you can extend your hike to Hveradalshnúkur summit which makes it a 13 kilometres round-trip. The trailhead is the same as for Snækollur, so read the previous section about how to get there.

Hveradalir, Kerlingarfjöll, Highlands, Iceland

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: dirt parking lot by Road F35 (not far from Ásgarður campground)
Length: ~13 km round-trip; 5 km if you choose the small loop
Difficulty: medium
Closest place to stay: guesthouses on the Golden Circle (like Litli Geysir Hotel)
4WD vehicle required

Látrabjarg cliffs, Westfjords

Látrabjarg cliffs, Westfjords, Iceland

What makes Látrabjarg a fascinating hike is the sea birds. The trail on the top of the coastal cliffs is scenic, but this wouldn’t be enough to make it a special hike in Iceland. However, those high cliffs are home to millions of birds!

The cliffs of Látrabjarg mark the westernmost point of Iceland, and being about 14 kilometres long and over 400 meters high they’re most probably Europe’s largest bird cliff. And when I mentioned millions of birds, it was not an exaggeration. Over five million birds nest here in the summer. Skuas, Arctic terns, guillemots, eider ducks, razorbills, and also Atlantic Puffins find shelter and nest at these cliffs.

Látrabjarg, Westfjords, Iceland

Yes, puffins steal the show, and you have a high chance to spot them. We did, several times, on our visit in August. They are more common on the smaller islands surrounding Iceland, but the high and steep cliffs of Látrabjarg are exceptions. However, you can only find puffins here between May and August.

The trailhead is very easy to find as it’s a dead end road (number 612). The westernmost point is called Bjargtangar. You choose the length of the trail, but we recommend hiking at least a few kilometres. There are some ups and downs, but it’s a relatively easy coastal trail. The main danger is falling off the cliff if you get too excited for a bird photo and get too close to the edge.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Látrabjarg parking lot (Bjargtangar)
Length: you choose
Difficulty: medium
Closest place to stay: Hotel Breidavik Guesthouse; the closest larger settlement is Patreksfjörður (and it’s laughably tiny, but hey, this is the Westfjords)
Check it out on a trail map here!

Day hiking in Iceland

So is it worth spending a full day on one trail when there are so many wonderful sights to see? It’s a legit question in Iceland, and if you only have a week to visit, the answer is probably no. But plan a longer trip, or come back! Because there are day hikes in Iceland that are worth every minute of your time.

Day hike in Jökulsárgljúfur, Vatnajökull National Park, North Iceland

Jökulsárgljúfur, Iceland

Being 25 kilometres long, ~500 metres wide and ~100 meters deep, Jökulsárgljúfur is the deepest and one of the largest canyons in Iceland! It’s also incredibly picturesque, and it’s possible to hike down to the bottom of the canyon. Well, not to the very bottom, because there’s Jökulsá á Fjöllum, a powerful glacial river flowing, but you can get to the shore of that river and explore the lowland.

Hike to Hólmatungur

Though hiking all along Jökulsárgljúfur takes two days, there’s a day hike option to get a taste of it: the loop from Dettifoss to Hólmatungur.

Jökulsárgljúfur, Vatnajökull National Park, Northern Iceland

It starts at the two amazing waterfalls I’ve already mentioned: Dettifoss and Selfoss. But you don’t need to end your hike once you took all the pictures you wanted to take about them. Instead you can climb down into Jökulsárgljúfur, then hike through the Hafragil lowland.

This was the part when we truly felt the giant size of the canyon. The climb down was steep and supported by ropes, but once we were down, the trail got much easier, so we could fully concentrate on enjoying the views. Oh, and there were views to enjoy! We looked up to the canyon walls as we hiked, and then we reached the next waterfall: thundering Hafragilsfoss.

Hafragilsfoss, our favorite waterfall in the canyon

Hafragilsfoss, Northern Iceland

We found it even more impressive than Dettifoss, probably because we could get very close to it and truly appreciate its size and power. Hafragilsfoss has a single drop of 27 meters and an average width of 91 meters. It left us speechless – and we had it all to ourselves. (Find me in the above picture. It gives a good sense of the size of this waterfall.)

The loop trail turns back not long after Hafragilsfoss. We climbed up to the top of Jökulsárgljúfur, because the backward section of the loop runs there, right by the edge of the canyon. It was the perfect hike to fall for Jökulsárgljúfur, offering us views both from below and above.

Jökulsárgljúfur, Vatnajökull National Park, Northern Iceland

Hiking essentials
Trailhead: Dettifoss parking lot by Route 862 (west side)
Route: L3 loop from Dettifoss to Hólmatungur through Hafragil lowland
Length: 23 km round-trip
Difficulty: strenuous
Closest place to stay: Mývatn

Backpacking in Jökulsárgljúfur

You need two days to complete the full trail from Dettifoss to Ásbyrgi. You’re allowed to camp at the official campsites at Dettifoss and in Ásbyrgi and Vesturdalur. But it’s a point-to-point route, so you need to arrange your transport back to the trailhead yourself.

Kristínartindar via Svartifoss, Skaftafell, Vatnajökull National Park, South Iceland

Kristínartindar, Skaftafell, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

So I told you about beautiful Svartifoss with its with black basalt columns, but we didn’t actually finish our hike there. We did a challenging day hike to Kristínartindar peak in the Skaftafell area, and it rewarded us with a dramatic landscape of glaciers, waterfalls and snow-capped peaks. But we had to work for the views, it’s a demanding trail and becomes very steep at the end.

We started the trail at the Skaftafell Visitor Centre, and the first section was to reach Svartifoss where we took a short break. The trail then continues further, offering wonderful views as you cross lush green meadows (at least they were lush green in August). It gets steeper, and sometimes you walk on loose rocks.

Kristínartindar, Skaftafell, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

The last section towards the summit is extremely steep, and the loose rocks make it even more challenging, so watch your steps. (This section is only open in the summer.) At the same time, it’s hard to pay attention to your steps when the views are mind-blowing. Skaftafellsjökull glacier appeared below us, and we got a broader and broader panorama of the surrounding peaks after each step. So we took plenty of short breaks to enjoy the views. Then we reached Kristínartindar at 1126 meters, and we had no doubt it was worth all the effort.

Who can do this trail?

Kristínartindar, Skaftafell, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

So this is a stunning trail, but the elevation gain is ~1055 meters, and the terrain is often not easy. It’s not for beginners, and not for those who have a fear of heights. Ironically though, Csaba has a fear of heights, and he came to the summit with me. So it depends, but beware that you need to face your fears here.

Hiking essentials
Trailhead & route: S4 trail from Skaftafell Visitor Center
Length: 17.7 km loop (~1055 m elevation gain)
Difficulty: strenuous
Closest place to stay: Hotel Skaftafell (no larger settlement is close to the park, but you can find some guesthouses in Hof, Kálfafell or Gerdi, and they’ll work as base to visit Jökulsárlón Lagoon, as well)
Check it out on a trail map here!

Fimmvörduháls Trek, South Iceland

So this can be a one-day trek, because it can be accomplished in 8-10 hours, however, you need to take care of your transit back to the trailhead. (Book it from Basar to Skogar in advance.)

Skógar Valley, Iceland

This is the only trail in this list that we didn’t do, just the first 5 kilometres of it. During that we hiked in a lush green canyon and passed 25+ waterfalls, and we were in awe all the way. If we ever return to Iceland, Fimmvörðuháls Trek will surely be on our list!

It’s actually a popular hike that’s best to do in July or August. It starts from the top of famous Skógafoss and runs in the Skógar Valley for the first few kilometres. This is the section I’d recommend to anyone, because it’s not that difficult, not that long, but is breathtaking all the way. Not that it changes later, because the full trek runs through an unforgettable landscape of canyons, volcano plateaus and grass tundra, we just didn’t have first-hand experience of that. But it’s said to be a hiking trail that requires stamina.

But look, how could it not be perfect if it starts like this?

Skógar Valley, Iceland

Or this? (Find me again, just to get a sense of the true size of the waterfall.)

Skógar Valley, Iceland

Hiking essentials
Route: from Skógafoss to Thórsmörk
Length: 25 km one-way (the first part is about 5 km one-way in the Valley of Skógar)
Difficulty: strenuous (the first section is medium)
Closest place to stay: Skógar
Check it out on a trail map here!

Iceland hiking tours

Finally, let’s talk about hiking tours. If there’s a country where they are worth doing, it’s Iceland. I mean, we don’t usually do guided hiking tours, because we are good company to each other, we prefer having our own pace, and also, we’re confident on most trails.

Glacier hiking on Sólheimajökull, Southern Iceland

But Iceland offers things we didn’t have experience in, like glacier hiking. Actually, no one is advised to walk on glaciers on their own, and it’s not hard to see why (it’s a frozen river!). You have to be professional to do that safely. You also need special equipment, like crampons, helmet, ropes or an ice axe, to stay safe.

Or you can join a glacier hiking tour led by professional guides. That’s what we did, and we had such a great experience on our guided hike on Sólheimajökull! With blue ice, black volcanic ash, crevasses, glacier mills and knowledgeable guides who didn’t only make sure we were safe, but also educated us about glaciers. We chose the tour that included ice climbing, as well, and it made the experience even more memorable.

Snækollur, Kerlingarfjöll, Highlands, Iceland

But it’s not just glacier hiking. If you’d like to do multi-day treks in remote areas of the country, you might need some support – on the trail or getting to the trail. Like hiking a part of the 84 kilometres long trek in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve that’s completely isolated and only accessible by boat. Or doing the Laugavegur trail which takes about four days to complete, but you need a 4WD vehicle to access the trailhead (it starts from Landmannalaugar), and bad weather or snow-covered areas can be challenging even in summer.

When is the best time for hiking in Iceland?

Látrabjarg cliffs, Westfjords, Iceland

Summer – which means July and August. There are shorter trails that you can do year-round, and you can get lucky in June or September, too. However, Iceland can be harsh enough even in summer. Furthermore, many minor roads – and all the F-roads in the Highlands – are open in the summer only.

We visited in July and August which made Iceland the most expensive country we’ve ever visited, but it was worth it. Because of the lush green landscape, the accessible roads and the beautiful hikes.

Any questions left?

Read more Iceland travel inspiration:

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By Beata Urmos

Bea is the co-founder of Our Wanders. She’s the writer and the trip organizer, and she’d love to help you plan your own amazing trips! She likes hiking, good novels and chocolate, as well. Her motto is: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)

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