The Best Hikes in East Iceland

The Best Hikes in East Iceland

James Taylor James Taylor
6. Jul 2023 ∼ 9 min. read

Hiking in East Iceland: The Region’s Most Beautiful Hikes

East Iceland is one of Iceland’s quietest areas, with most travelers zipping through on their way to Lake Myvatn in the North or the area around Vatnajökull in the southeast. That’s a great shame, since East Iceland is also one of the country’s most beautiful regions. The mountains are the tallest, the fjords incredible, and the traditional villages along the coast are filled with life. The following list compiles the best hikes in East Iceland, letting you delve into this stunning part of Iceland.  

1. Stuðlagil Canyon 

No listicle about East Iceland is complete without mentioning arguably its most famous sight, Stuðlagil Canyon. This beautiful attraction emerged only a few years ago, when the river upstream was dammed, and water levels dropped to reveal the stunning basalt columns on either side of the blue water. It was immediately a hit with travelers and has been ever since. 

Hiking to Stuðlagil Canyon is relatively easy. You’ll park on the eastern side of the canyon, and then hike the 4km to the canyon across flat ground. Another option is to follow the road a bit further to a second parking area, but the road can be rough, so take it nice and slow. From here, the hike is only 2km to Stuðlagil Canyon. 

Stuðlagil Canyon 

2. Stórurð Hike

Stórurð, known as 'the Giant Boulders' in English, is a beautiful area of meadows and small pools, all encircled by towering, jagged mountains. True to its name, the landscape is adorned with numerous colossal boulders, seemingly abandoned by retreating glaciers in the aftermath of the last Ice Age. Or trolls – take your pick. 

The Stórurð area is one of the best hidden gems in East Iceland, letting you enjoy some unspoiled beauty and awe-inspiring nature. However, reaching this remote location within the Dyrfjöll mountain range demands a challenging hike. It’s about an 12km return hike from the easiest point, with a few steep sections. 

To get to the trailhead, you’ll want to take Route 94 from Egilsstaðir toward Borgarfjörður Eystri, which also happens to be one of the best places to see puffins in Iceland. After about 40 minutes, you’ll reach several trailheads, marked by small cabins and toilets. For the short hike, drive to the third trailhead, labelled Njarðvík on Google Maps. Allowing for a full day’s adventure is advised to fully immerse yourself in the stunning scenery. Afterward, you can camp at Borgarfjörður Eystri and visit the puffin platform.

Stórurð Hike

3. Hengifoss Waterfall

One of the most beautiful waterfalls in East Iceland, Hengifoss is a towering cascade that crashes down at a height of 128 meters (420 feet). The third tallest waterfall in Iceland is also unique thanks to the basalt cliffs that surround it, the grey contrasted by delicate streaks of red clay set in the rocks. 

This is a waterfall that you’ll need to hike to if you really want to appreciate its beauty and power. The parking area at the base of the mountains is where you’ll begin the hike, which should take around 50–60 minutes depending on fitness levels. The climb is steep, but you’ll pass another waterfall along the way Litlanesfoss, which is a nice little bonus for the effort. 

Hengifoss Waterfall

4. The Waterfall Circle

If you’re looking for a hike in East Iceland that will take your breath away, look no further than the waterfall circle in East Iceland. This 8-kilometer loop trail starts and ends in Laugarfell, a cozy highland hostel with its own natural hot spring. On the hike, as the name suggests, you’re going to see a lot of waterfalls. Five to be exact, all of them unique and beautiful in their own way. You’ll also get to enjoy scenic views of the Jökulsá River and the surrounding mountains.

To begin the hike, you’ll need first to get to Laugarfell. Head southwest of Egilsstaðir, and then take Route 910 as it ventures ever closer to the Highlands. After about 35 kilometers, you’ll come across the turnoff for Laugarfell, where you can park your campervan and begin the hike. 

5. Hvannagil, The Golden Valley

Back down to the southeastern corner now for another of the best hikes in East Iceland: Hvannagil, or the Golden Valley. This is one of those places that is so beautiful you’ll be surprised that there’s no one else around; except in the summer, when the summer houses along the valley are filled with locals on vacation. 

Hvannagil is an area of valleys, golden sand, rocks tinged with red and green from ancient geothermal energy, and dry riverbeds of pebbles. The scenery is stunning, and often compared to the beautiful mountains of Landmannalaugar in the Icelandic Highlands. The only difference is that you don’t need a 4x4 to get here. 

As you drive from Höfn on the Ring Road, you’ll cross over a large riverbed of glacial streams and black sand. On the other side of the bridge there’s a small dirt road that leads you into the area, taking you past the summer homes (mind you don’t park on someone’s private land). There’s a parking area at the entrance of the valley. The hike will take you in, and then up onto the ridge to one side. From here, you can either choose to retrace your steps, or continue over the mountain range and loop back to your campervan. 

The golden valley Hvannagil

6. Strútsfoss Waterfall Hike

We’ve covered Hengifoss, which is the most famous waterfall in East Iceland. But like most things in the country, around the big attractions are several quieter ones that see far less traffic. And the hike to Strútsfoss Waterfall is one of those, located at the end of remote valley near Lagarfljót Lake.  

This is one of the best hikes in East Iceland thanks to how quiet the trail is. You’ll be following the river, eventually reaching the waterfall as it plunges down a massive cliff of lava and sediment layers. The waterfall is divided into two parts, the upper one dropping about 20 meters and the lower one about 100 meters.  

The hike is about 8 kilometers (5 miles) long and takes about 6 hours to complete. To get to the trailhead, drive southwest of Egilsstaðir along the Lagarfljót Lake to the Strútsfoss Carpark. You won’t be able to reach the waterfall, but you will get a decent way into the gorgeous valley, and you’re likely to be pretty much alone. 

7. The Víknaslóðir Trail

If you’re looking at stringing together an epic multi-day trek in East Iceland, then the Víknaslóðir hiking trails are for you. This adventurous network of trails is well-marked, a diverse bunch of routes that span the entire region of the East Fjords, from Borgarfjörður Eystri to Loðmundarfjörður. This is a hiker’s paradise, where you can explore the stunning scenery of the fjords, mountains, valleys, and coastlines. 

The Víknaslóðir trail is not a fixed route, but rather a collection of trails that you can freely combine or bypass. You can hike for a few hours or a few days, depending on your preference and fitness level. There are several mountain huts and campsites along the way, where you can rest and meet other hikers. You can also find local guides and tour operators that can help you plan your hike and provide transport and equipment. No matter how you choose to hike the Víknaslóðir trail, you’ll be amazed by the beauty and variety of this region. This is easily one of the best hikes in East Iceland. 

8. Þerribjörg Sea Cliffs

 Another hidden gem that, if it were in any other region of Iceland, would see a lot of visitors. But since this is East Iceland, this quiet and easy hike to the Þerribjörg Sea Cliffs remains delightfully under the radar. This ancient volcanic area is stunning, with beautiful and tall rhyolite mountains sloping into the sea, showing off colors of yellow, orange, brown, and red.

To get here, you need to drive along Route 917, which branches off the ring road toward the peninsula. From the parking area, the out-and-back trail is 15.6km (9.6 miles) all the way to the golden sand beach at the base of the cliffs. You don’t have to go that far though, as you’ll get to see the cliffs before you reach the beach. 

9. Brúnavík Beach

For a stunning hike to a remote black sand beach, we head back to Borgarfjörður Eystri. From here, you can cross over the peninsula to the stunning Brúnavík Beach, following a scenic trail over a mountain pass into the uninhabited bay east of Borgarfjörður Eystri. You’ll enjoy stunning views of the fjord, the mountains, and the sea. You’ll also see a variety of wildflowers and birds along the way.

The hike to Brúnavík beach starts from the village of Bakkagerði, where you can visit the colorful harbor and the puffin colony. The hike is about 15.9 kilometers (9.9 miles) long and takes about 5 hours to complete. It’s a moderate hike, and it can be challenging in some parts, especially when crossing the pass. But if you’re up for the adventure, you’ll be rewarded with a peaceful and pristine beach where you can relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. 

10. Skalanes Nature Reserve

Rounding out this list is the long hike to the Skalanes, a beautiful nature reserve at the tip of Seyðisfjörður. This hike takes you to a once-abandoned farmstead that has been restored and turned into a center for research and education. You’ll enjoy the rich flora and fauna of the area, as well as the cultural heritage and history.

The hike to Skalanes Nature Reserve starts from a parking lot near the Austdalsa river in Seyðisfjörður. To get here, take the bumpy road leaving Seyðisfjörður along the southern edge of the fjord. From the parking area, the hike is about 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) long and takes about 2 hours to complete. It’s an easy hike and offers wonderful views of the fjord along the way. At Skalanes, you’ll be able to enjoy the Skalanesbjarg bird cliffs, teeming with around 40 species of birds. You can also visit the Skalanes center and learn more about their projects and activities. This is one of the best hikes in East Iceland.

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