Hiking in Iceland in the Autumn

Hiking the endless trails scattered across Iceland is always a rewarding experience, but doing so in Autumn is even more magical. During this time, the most beautiful colour change is sweeping across the volcanic island: violent bursts of rusty oranges, reds and yellows come out in strength, and the endless sunlight that marked the summer is fading into the darkness of winter, bringing with it the magical reappearance of the northern lights. Moody skies, chilly weather and bouts of showers all work together to take the unreal landscapes amid their own making to the next level. This article explores all you need to know about hiking in Iceland during the autumn months, what to expect, and everything else that goes into organizing a camper van holiday in this time.  

Iceland in September and October – the Weather

Autumn is often Iceland’s most dramatic season, with quick changes in weather that can happen at the drop of a hat. Fierce winds buffeting the country might whip up a storm, only for it to be beaten away half an hour later by the emerging sun. It’s exciting, but for the most part, expect the weather to be overcast, cool, and windy. This is another of the reasons why hiking during this season is so good.

September has an average low temperature of 6°C (43°F), and high of 11°C (52°F). October is Iceland’s wettest month, with an average low of 3°C (37°F) and high of 7°C (45°F).

What to Wear in Iceland During Autumn?

Obviously when the weather is all over the place, that means that you must pack for all types of conditions. A strong pair of waterproof hiking boots are recommended year-round, but the Autumn also calls for you to have a rain jacket, weatherproof pants, and an extra layer or two if there’s a cold snap – think of a pair of long johns underneath your pants and a thin thermal shirt as one of your top layers underneath a woollen jumper and jacket. A beanie and gloves are also recommended.

Bottom Layer:

  • Thermal leggings
  • Active, weatherproof pants
  • Rain pants for heavier rainfall

Top Layer:

  • Thermal base
  • Light fleece
  • Wool sweater
  • Thick parka
  • Rainproof jacket for heavier rainfall

Autumn Daylight Hours

Wondering when it’s dark enough to settle into your cosy camper? Look no further. September marks a return to ‘regular’ light conditions for Iceland. At the beginning of the month, sunrise is around 6am, whilst sunset is just before 9pm. At the beginning of October, sunrise has shifted to around 7:30am, and sunset is around 7pm. But by the end of October, winter is well and truly on the horizon, with a sunrise just after 9am, and the sun setting around 5:15pm.

September: Between 14–11 hours of daylight.
October: Between 11–8 hours of daylight.

The dark nights mean that yes, you can see the northern lights during September and October. In fact, the weather is often calmer during this season than it is in the winter, meaning they might appear more than they do in December and January.

Iceland’s Most Scenic Hiking Trails in the Autumn

While many people might have their eyes on completing the Fimmvörðurháls hike, come October this isn’t possible, and only accessible in September if the snow stays away. Instead, we recommend sticking to these tried and tested hikes for your campervan trip in the autumn.

Reykjadalur Hot Spring Hike – South Iceland

Now one of the most well-known hiking trails in the country, autumn is the last chance to experience this beautiful and easy hike to the rewarding hot spring river. The colours in the landscape here are spectacular in this season and mixed with the already fascinating geothermal features makes this one of the best hikes to do in the autumn. The trail is a bit quieter than the summertime, but we still recommend either going early or late. If you’re there in the evening, there’s always a chance to catch the northern lights whilst you soak in the 40°C water.

Arnarstapi to Hellnar – Snæfellsnes Peninsula

This has long been one of the most popular hikes to do on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, thanks to it being accessible most of the year. The trail is easy, takes in some rugged and beautiful coastline, and has hot coffee waiting at either end. It’s also a great area to witness the changing of the season – the lush green grass is fading into yellow, dramatically clashing with the black volcanic rocks of the coastline and stormy grey waters.

Glymur Waterfall – West Iceland

The already fantastic colours along the trail to Glymur waterfall make one final blaze before the winter closes in. This is the last chance to clamber up to Iceland’s second tallest waterfall, as during the winter the trail is closed. However, great care must still be taken on this trek. The river that you cross on the log is dangerously close to flowing over it, making the crossing slippery and wet. But if it’s OK, this is a spectacular hike that gives you great views over the fjord and a real taste of the changing colours of the Icelandic Autumn. 4 hours round trip.

Skaftafell Nature Reserve – Southeast Iceland

Another great area to really enjoy the Autumn scenery is Skaftafell Nature Reserve in far southeast Iceland. This is year-round one of the coolest places to hike, the little pocket of awesome nature offering plenty of different trails of varying difficulty right beneath Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. The muted tones of autumn and dramatic weather in the area bring a real sense of foreboding about the winter ahead, a very raw and powerful experience. Try the trail to Svartifoss, or if the weather allows, go all the way to the Sjónarnípa viewpoint for the best vista of the glacier tongue spilling out between mountains.

Hverfjall Volcanic Crater – Lake Myvatn, North Iceland

One of the most spectacular views of Lake Myvatn can be found at the top of Hverfjall, a black volcanic crater on the eastern side of the lake. It’s tough going up to the top, so the cooler weather and overcast days are welcome. This entire area in the north is one of the most beautiful in Iceland, and the autumn is no exception. Snows usually come a bit earlier to the north, but also clears quickly if it does, meaning that you can expect patches of white amongst all the orange and brown of the mossy lava landscapes.

Driving a Campervan in Iceland in Autumn

If you’re planning on visiting Iceland during these months, be aware that the conditions on the road are usually wet and slippery, so great care must be taken when driving around the country. There can also be banks of fog that hover over the mountain passes, making visibility difficult. Most of Iceland is still accessible, however the highland routes have closed. It also pays to watch out for large groups of sheep, as the first two weeks of September are when the Icelandic farmers are rounding up their herds for the winter.

During this time, it can be sometimes hard to tell through research beforehand whether a campsite is open or not. Most campsites that close over the winter only do so when the traffic has slowed down, which means that if it’s still busy, they’ll stay open longer. However, most of the main campsites around the ring road will be open – check out our useful map of year-round campsites for more information and help planning.

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