Iceland is an adventurer’s paradise. Few other places around the globe feature such striking natural beauty, such untouched rugged landscapes. Volcanic peaks and majestic blue glacial lagoons dot every horizon, beckoning to the travelers who make the voyage to the brilliant north Atlantic island.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an outdoor enthusiast, no trip to Iceland is complete without spending some time exploring its breathtaking landscapes. From quick and easy, picnic-friendly day hikes to multi-day treks that immerse you in the sprawling countryside, here are six of the best hikes in Iceland.
With its lush green gorges and trickling streams, Gjáin is like something out of a fairytale. Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful spots in the country, this Icelandic treasure has yet to see the same kind of tourist foot traffic as Esjan or Laugavegur. The short and easy trail is less of a hike and more of a quick jaunt, allowing you ample time and energy to drop your packs and explore the area that many Icelanders believe is home to elves and other natural spirits. After spending time there, you’ll understand why — magic seems to be woven into the vibrant highlands, which bear a striking resemblance to Tolkien’s Rivendell.
Distance: 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers)
At 198 meters (649.6 feet), the Glymur Waterfall was, at one point, considered the tallest waterfall in Iceland, until it was surpassed by Morsárfoss in 2007. But don’t get caught up in the statistics — all you need to know is that this is still one of the most stunning spots on the island. The short but steep hike will take you on a humbling tour of Iceland’s landscapes, through caves, across roaring rivers (make sure to bring a durable pair of hiking boots!), and into majestic green canyons. At the end, you’ll be rewarded with a staggering view of the waterfall plummeting into the bay below.
Distance: 3.1 miles (5 kilometers)
If you’re looking to get off the beaten path and escape the crowds, Mount Esja might not be for you. The peak dominating Reykjavik’s skyline is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Iceland, attracting major crowds of tourists every day — but for good reason. Compared to some of the more difficult climbs around the country, Esjan (as it’s referred to by locals) offers an accessible summit, one that will showcase stunning views of the capital and beyond. Though the hike itself will only take a couple hours, make a day of it if you can. Bring picnic supplies and a camera, and take your time exploring the highlands above the city.
Distance: 4.3 miles (6.9 kilometers)
In 1750, two scientists set out to hike to the top of Hekla. Their goal? Prove that it wasn’t, in fact, the entrance to the Underworld. Because of its violent eruptions, many Icelanders used to think the volcano was an unholy portal for malevolent spirits, a belief that eventually earned the mountain the nickname, “The Gateway to Hell.” Ever since this was disproven, however, hikers and explorers have flocked to the peak, climbing to the summit to enjoy sprawling views of the surrounding countryside. Hikers be warned, though. The volcano is still active and, with its most recent eruption less than 20 years ago in 2000, another could be right around the corner. How’s that for an adrenaline rush?
Distance: 9.9 miles (16 kilometers)
For those adventurers who won’t be satisfied by a meager day hike, the 33-mile (53-kilometer) Laugavegur Trek provides the perfect opportunity to strap on a pack and take on the rugged Icelandic wilderness in one of the most popular journeys on the island. Those who choose to conquer Laugavegur will traverse orange and green mountains, frigid snowscapes, gushing rivers, and black-sand deserts as they travel from the highlands of Landmannalaugar to the glacial fjord of Thórsmörk. Plan to hike for two to four days to complete the entire trek. You can either book reservations at the backcountry huts that line the trail or pack a tent and brave the elements.
Distance: 33 miles (53 kilometers)
Meaning “Trails of the Inlets,” Víknasló∂ir in the far east offers over 93 miles (150 kilometers) of trails, allowing you to design your own one-of-a-kind experience. Whether you settle on a breezy day hike or elect to plan out a 10-day trek, you’ll find yourself enchanted by the region’s glacial valleys and towering peaks. Whatever you decide, make sure to save time to visit Stóru∂, a gorgeous blue lake peppered with massive boulders.
Header Photo by Whitney Justesen