The Best Day Hikes in Iceland
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There’s no doubt that most travellers come to Iceland to experience the otherworldly nature. From the glittering glaciers to jagged mountains framed by geothermal plumes, there’s no shortage of wonderful scenery to take in during a campervan trip to the country.
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the awesome nature of Iceland, a day hike is one of your best options. It’s all about getting out there and putting yourself in the middle of these powerful landscapes – something that’s easier to do here than in any other country. To get you started, here are 7 of the best day hikes in Iceland.
1. Fimmvörðurháls Pass (South Iceland)
One of the most popular day hikes in Iceland is the Fimmvörðurháls Pass, and with good reason. This trail crosses the mountain pass between two glaciers, Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull, taking you from the waterfall Skogafoss into the incredible Thórsmörk Nature Reserve.
It’s a long day hike, stretching for 25km over the towering mountain pass. The scenery along the way is incredible, with waterfalls, epic lava formations, volcanic craters, and views of the glaciers and surrounding landscape. As you descend into Thórsmörk valley, the scenery is even more stunning. Jagged valleys filled with moss-laden cliffs and sparkling glacial rivers cut through beds of black sand and birch forests, with the ever-present glaciers glittering above.
It’s a long hike, taking anywhere between 8 and 14 hours depending on your fitness level. Once you’ve arrived in Thórsmörk, you’ll either need to get the bus back out to your campervan or stay a night or two for some more epic hiking. For more details, we’ve written an article about how to hike the Fimmvörðuháls Pass with a campervan as well.
2. Reykjadalur Hot Spring River (South Iceland)
One of the most pleasurable aspects of journeys around Iceland are soaking in the country’s hot springs. There’s a wealth of hot water bubbling forth from underground being channelled into the swimming pools and hot tubs across the country, making for some steamy soaks after a long hike. The Reykjadalur hot spring river combines the two, making for a perfect day hike in Iceland.
Reykjadalur is a valley found in the mountains behind the town Hveragerði, just before you reach Selfoss. A river flows through the lush valley, perfectly warmed thanks to the geothermal activity in the area. The hike itself takes you past steaming craters filled with mud and bright blue pools of water (far too hot to go swimming in). Eventually, you’ll reach the part of the river that sits at a comfortable temperature, surrounded by boardwalks and partitions for changing.
3. Glymur Waterfall (West Iceland)
Another popular day hike in Iceland is the trail that leads to the waterfall Glymur. This waterfall is exceptionally beautiful, charging off a cliff to fall 90 meters into the gorge below, filled with dark rocks contrasted by the bright green moss and white birds who nest there.
The hike itself first meanders along the shores of the river, which at one point you’ll have to cross via a log with a cable handy to keep your balance. From then on in, the trail gets a bit more difficult, tracking up and down some muddy hills before a steady descent up one side of the gorge. Once at the top, the waterfall reveals itself at the gorge’s base, crashing down over the edge and disappearing into the riot of black rocks, bright green moss, and whirling birds below.
Once you’ve reached the waterfall, the hike isn’t over yet. One of the coolest things to do is to make your way above the waterfall itself and wade across the river where it’s shallow. It’s a popular way to mark the top of the hike, and this way you’ll also get to come down the other side of the gorge to reach your campervan waiting below.
Looking for something a bit longer? We’ve also got an article about the best multi-day hikes in Iceland.
4. Mt. Esja (Capital Area)
One of the most popular day hikes in Reykjavik is the trail that leads up Esja, the gorgeous mountains seen across the water from downtown. It’s a rite of passage for those living in the city to do, so if you want to feel like a true local and have a spare day before or after your campervan trip, this is the day hike for you.
The trail begins right next to the road leading out of town heading in the direction of Borgarnes. It’s steep, but the views along the way are well worth the trouble, taking in the capital and surrounding coastlines. Eventually, you’ll reach a large stone which has a guestbook you should sign but isn’t the end of the hike.
The final scramble to the top should only be attempted in fair weather, and when the wind isn’t blowing too strongly – otherwise, it can be dangerous. If you do make it up there, you can enjoy panoramic views of the area though, one of the most special views in Iceland. At the trailhead there’s also a café that serves up hearty Icelandic fare, from soups to waffles and coffee.
5. Stórurð (East Iceland)
One of the most underrated day hikes in the entire country is the trail that leads you to the area known as Stórurð in the country’s eastern region. East Iceland itself sees very few visitors, with campers usually only spending a night or two in the region before coasting off to the more popular north and south areas for some adventure. But this day trek is a worthy addition to any ring road campervan itinerary you’ve planned.
Stórurð roughly means ‘large rubble’ in English, and that’s pretty much exactly what awaits you at the end of the trail. The area was likely created by a landslide in the ice age, sending large boulders tumbling across the mountainous landscape and into the bright blue glacial pools dotted across the area. To get there, the trailhead begins at a place called Njarðvík (GPS: 65°33.05 -13°58.24) and takes about 3–4 hours one way.
6. Geldingadalir Volcano (Reykjanes Peninsula)
The newest day hike in Iceland is the hike to the Geldingadalir Volcano.
Due to the nature of the volcano, this day hike has gone through many different variations. As lava continued to flow over the trails made by the Icelandic Search and Rescue Team, new ones have been carved out, providing access to view the lava fields and, if you go far enough, the volcanic crater itself.
The Geldingadalir volcano is easily accessed from Reykjavik, located on the Reykjanes Peninsula. To find out more information, we’ve written a detailed guide about visiting the volcanic eruption in Iceland.
7. Skaftafell (Southeast Iceland)
The Skaftafell Nature Reserve in South Iceland is one of the hottest hiking destinations in the country. With easy access right off the ring road, this area should be on your bucket list if you’re an avid hiker looking for some excellent day treks in Iceland. Most people stop here for a fly-by visit of the waterfall Svartifoss, and while impressive, it’s only an hour and a bit return hike. For something a bit more time-consuming and rewarding, we highly recommend heading up to the peak of Kristínartindar mountain.
This is around a 17.9km round trip, so make sure that you’re prepared for the weather (things can turn quickly) and are carrying enough food and water for the day, as it will take around 7-8 hours. From the top of the mountain, you’ll be able to enjoy incredible views of the glacier Vatnajökull, and on a clear day, Morsárfoss, Iceland’s tallest waterfall. For more information, we’ve also written an article about all the different hiking trails in Skaftafell.
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