This trek is one of Iceland’s must-sees. You will not be the only ones to walk the trails, especially in summer. However, it’s hard to miss this magical place with breathtaking landscapes during a visit to Tierra del Fuego. Commonly traveled from North to South, we opted for the opposite direction, from Thorsmörk to Landmannalaugar.
Iceland, a country “fashionable” for ten years which saw its flow of tourists explode during this period. What’s more, this 54-kilometer route called Laugavegur, to be completed in three or four days, is one of the most popular hikes in the country. So no, we were not alone lost in the midst of wild and volcanic expanses. Landmannalaugar, accessible by 4 × 4, and the trek to Thorsmörk (or Skogar) are certainly among countless “top 10 places to see in your life”. Very subjective rankings and pushing the tourist of the 21st century to crowd in the same places as his peers, everywhere on the planet. Mass tourism, devoid of an adventurous spirit, reinforced by social networks and its share of stereotypical stereotypes. And yet …
However, it’s difficult to miss these emblematic and often magical places, especially when you first visit a country or region. We promise, we will deviate from the beaten track the next time we set foot on Icelandic soil.
That said, although popular, this trek is no more crowded (for now) than the Tour du Mont Blanc in France or the Trolltunga hike in Norway to name a few. However, we have taken care not to view too many images of the places when preparing our trip, avoiding Google and its selection of photographs … before adding any. Also, we decided to carry out the Laugavegur trek in the opposite direction to what is usually advised. Several advantages to this. On the one hand, the landscapes are more and more impressive from Thorsmörk. Two, we crossed many trekkers, in the middle of the day most of the time, but we followed little. One way to feel a little less sheepish. In addition, since hikers stop at the same shelters, we were often alone in the mornings leaving in the opposite direction. Finally, the last undeniable advantage, the natural hot springs that await you at the end of the trek, a little treat rewarding the days of walking. The only drawback of this South-North trip is the world of Landmannalaugar and the positive elevation greater than the negative elevation. Nothing insurmountable, however.
Go to Thorsmörk (and leave from Landmannalaugar)
A number of bus companies offer return trips from Reykjavik to Thorsmörk, and an even greater number offer trips to the Landmannalaugar site. On the other hand, only one, Sterna, seems to offer a trip to Thorsmörk with return from Landmannalaugar, which is still practical for a trek that does not loop… unless you want to hike the other way , Up to you. If you therefore wish to do this trek (and not the round trip), ask Sterna Travel. It is also possible to depart from Skogar or Landmannalaugar, and depart from one of the three destinations. All route choices are therefore possible (€ 101 for a round trip in 2019).
Food and water
A huge advantage of Iceland is that you don’t have to take liters of water with you. The water in the streams comes directly from the glaciers and is drinkable. Of course, there is also no stream every 500m, but a liter container seems sufficient for the day. To limit the weight, we opted for freeze-dried dishes for dinner (Travellunch, Happy Yak, MX3…). Unbeatable weight-calorie ratio! 250g the sachet for about 1000kcal including the necessary nutrients. For breakfast, sweet porridge (oatmeal) with dried fruits and finally many sweet and savory cereal bars and other snacks for the day.
Even in summer, you need to bring warm clothes, you are in Iceland! Fleece, puffer jacket, softshell, warm pants, small gloves, Buff headband will be appreciated in the evening. For the day, technical underwear may be suitable for the more chilly. Also provide hiking pants and not just shorts. Another essential: the windbreaker, the waterproof jacket and shoes as well as “water shoes” for crossing rivers. I was reluctant to get them before I left, not being sure I would ever use them again, I realize today that it would have been a big mistake not to take them with me. Finally, take a good sleeping bag and a very warm silk sheet, temperatures can drop to around 0 ° C at night.
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It is forbidden to leave the trail and therefore to bivouac wherever you want between Skogar and Landmannalaugar. Two options therefore, the tent, for 2000ISK (about 15 €) per person or the refuge (count about 9000ISK, or 65 € per person…). Showers are extra, for 500ISK (around 3.5 €). Some shelters also offer sweet and savory snacks, as well as gas cylinders or freeze-dried dishes. Note that you can only take a meal at Alftavatn where there is a tiny but very cozy cafe / restaurant.
Elevation: about 1,200 m cumulative
Distance: 54 km
from mid-June (but risk of snow) to mid-September
Difficulty : ★★★☆☆
Elevation: 550m D + / 200m D- (15 km)
We therefore leave from Thorsmörk, in the south of the country, after a journey from Reykjavik made by coach and then by 4 × 4 bus on the last kilometers of track. A bus will pick us up at Landmannalaugar to return to the capital (explained above).
The trek can be extended by a day, starting from Skogar, on the South coast, at Skogafoss, a stunning waterfall 60m high and 25m wide. It was rated one of the best day hikes in Iceland by Grapewine, Reykjavik’s free newspaper. Proof of his interest… and source of tourists?
The departure from the capital is quite early and I take advantage of the trip to take a nap. When I open my eyes, stupor, the bus is wrapped in a mist to cut with a knife. The driver rushes into this cottony decor from which nothing stands out. There is a famous saying that you can live all four seasons in one day in Iceland. I look forward to spring. An hour’s drive later, the fog rises and the view clears slightly, but it is pouring rain. We change vehicles in Hella to get on a 4 × 4 bus with huge notched tires. Small wet photo break at Seljalandsfoss, impressive waterfall behind which a path has been created, before taking a stony track, with several fords crossing. A first experience in itself if you are not used to it!
The rain has stopped and gives way to a greyish tail sky when we arrive at Thorsmörk, which is actually the name of a mountain range. The refuge / hotel where you can fill up with water and buy some food is called Husadalur, the starting point of the trek called lui Laugavegur (or “path to the source”). It is noon. Time to have a picnic before setting off into the forest of the god Thor. The toponym Thorsmörk comes from Thor, god of thunder in Norse mythology, and from mork, wood.
The well-marked path sinks into a scattered birch forest no more than five meters. The ground is lined with moss and ferns sporting a bright green. After about a kilometer of regular climb, the path reaches a first point of view. No trace of human presence 360 ° around except the cairn and the small sign planted there to indicate the direction to take. Only a few squawks of birds gently disturb the surrounding silence. Mountain ranges and glacial tongues surround the place. The sky is threatening, speckled with gray clouds. Suffice to say that we do not collapse in a scorching heat, far without false.
Only place on the trek where the marking is not ideal, take a left at this junction so as not to get lost on the many trails (the map at 1: 50,000 is not of much help here). The route ends on a 4 × 4 track that must be followed for a few meters before turning into the forest. A handful of day hikers catch up with us and we meet our first trekkers who finish their routes.
After a short descent we have to cross the Thrönga river. No bridge or beam across the torrent, you have to ford the foot, feet (and calves) in the cold water from the Myrdal glacier. Water shoes and trekking poles are not luxury here. The current is quite strong and the water freezing, it is better not to drag, or even fall, during the crossing. We leave after having dried the arpions and having put back our rising boots.
During this first day, we progress on the East bank of the Markarfljòl river. As we go up the stream, its bed widens to finally form a real fairly deep canyon. The path rises very gently and steadily in the middle of a vast expanse of charcoal black sand, speckled with sparkling gray rocks. The vegetation is sparse and short, but green, contrasting with the dark soil. These black sediments remind us of the need for the path to wind between many active volcanoes.
The wind picks up at the end of the day and blows hard when passing a small pass. From there, the view of the Cirque de Sandar is splendid, the rocks taking on beautiful reddish and purple hues. We descend quickly to take shelter from the wind. A short distance away, the route plunges into a narrow gorge carved by the Fremri Emstrua river. The flow is impressive, the torrent rumbles before our eyes and under our feet during the crossing via a small suspension bridge. Small climb on the other bank, steep but short. At the crest, the panorama is once again breathtaking.
The day ends with a final climb to Botnar refuge, at around 500m above sea level. Unfortunately, no bag-free room, but toilets and plenty of water. The bivouac being prohibited outside the zones close to the refuges, we pitch the tent there and pay fifteen euros (2000ISK) to have the right to sleep under canvas, under a starless sky. The price to pay to admire a remarkable site?
We put ourselves in our sleeping bags as soon as the lyophilized pasta is engulfed, exhausted by this first day of walking. The sun, which has been playing hide and seek with the clouds since our departure from Reykjavik, is still high in the sky. The sun wakes up late in July, going to bed behind the Icelandic mountains around 11:30 p.m. and getting up from 3:30 a.m. Carrying eye masks is not without meaning.
Elevation: about 150m D + and 100m D- (15km)
So it is broad daylight when we wake up around 6am. Like the day before, the sun and the clouds fight a fierce battle in the sky. For now, the rays are struggling to pierce the stratocumulus shield above our heads. But the fight could tip over to either side at any time.
We start slightly uphill to reach a plateau of blackish rocks on which tall green cones seem to have been placed in harmony. In front of us stands Hattfell, culminating at 924m, with its flattened and atypical summit. This volcano is aptly named (Hatt means hat) since it seems to be wearing a headgear. Its steep slopes are lined with greenery, a few streaks of black sand emphasize its relief like mascara. Bewitching.
After going along Hattfell, a slight climb in a valley brings us to a pass. We then leave our little valley to face a real desert, black, speckled with white flowers and bordered by green mountains. The panorama is breathtaking, unique, of somber beauty, the clouds that cling to the summits reinforce the harsh and inhospitable side of the place.
Fortunately the landscape is incredible because the crossing of this vast plain is quite long, especially since the clouds won the battle and a light rain started to hydrate our skin. Above all, at the heart of such an immensity, the scales are completely skewed. The mountain we see in the distance seems to be half an hour’s walk away… but it will actually take us two hours to reach it.
Finally we leave this deserted area and approach the Hvanngil refuge. The rain has not stopped and the peaks of the surrounding mountains are covered with thick fog. After crossing a river via a bridge which was washed away a few years ago and then rebuilt, we have to cross a new ford. A little upstream of the path, a small sandy island separates the torrent into two branches, we decide to go to this place, which seems shallow.
The current is not too strong and we have mid-calf water. But the water is freezing! In barely ten meters, I can no longer feel my toes and the cold grips my calves. When I get to the other side, after a life-saving break on the islet, I quickly dry my feet and put on a big pair of socks. An improvised cryotherapy session which I would have done well.
From there, the Hvanngil farm / refuge is very close. It’s still quite early, we just want to stop for a hot tea and a snack, sheltered from the wind and rain, but like in Botnar, no bag-free room. We therefore continue our road towards Alftavatn in a very gloomy weather …
The path goes up slightly then continues in a balcony before descending into a grassy valley where a torrent flows. New ford. We are a little apprehensive, but the stream turns out to be less cold than the previous one. Phew, I want my toes!
The sky is still mouse gray and the summits are not clear. The universe in which we live is however very exotic and morale is high since the rain has stopped harassing us. The sides of the volcanoes are deep green while here and there streams tumble lined with bright yellow green moss.
We arrive at Alftavatn, the refuge faces the lake and the view must be splendid when the weather is nice … Unfortunately it is blocked this evening. A small restaurant / cafe allows you to eat or quench your thirst. It’s aperitif time, but we opt for tea and hot chocolate after this cool and humid day. As in Botnar, you will have to choose between the dormitory bed at around € 65 or the tent at € 15 per person. We will be satisfied with the tent and freeze-dried dishes.
Elevation: about 600m D + and 450m D- (24 km)
Hardly installed in the hollow of our duvets, drops drumming the tent canvas (provide a perfectly waterproof tent!). The night is cool and rainy, ominous for our last day of trek, a priori the most spectacular …
After a rough night, luckily, the rain stopped and a few rays dart through the clouds. The one-roof tent even has time to dry during breakfast. The sky is dotted with beautiful cumulus clouds, but the weather is dry. We set off for this last day, with the 24 km program and the biggest drop of the three days. But nothing insurmountable if you are used to hiking in the mountains.
Two small flat kilometers then the path rises in front of us. No zigzags facilitating the climb, the path goes straight up the slope, very steep. Fortunately, the soil is dry. The hikers who passed yesterday must have skated and waded well in this clay which sticks to shoes like chewing gum at a school table.
The climb is brutal but allows you to quickly take the elevation. Arrived on a green shoulder, the view is clear and our eyes wide before the landscape that awaits us. The path winds between fumaroles that escape from the bowels of the earth, the sandy mantle that we stride has taken on beige, ocher, pink hues, while the surrounding peaks, covered with eternal snow, point to a sky adorned with elegant clouds. Here, steel gray water shivers in the heart of a small crater, there, a crystalline source springs from an orange basin. Everywhere, a characteristic smell of sulfur scents the site, a scent to which we quickly get used.
We advance in admiration at the spectacle offered by nature and the drop is swallowed without our realizing it. The snow is more and more present at this altitude (about 1000m) and the snowfields are more and more extensive, however the crossings are carried out without problem since the white coat is well packed. Now we have to walk through a windy plateau to the next refuge, Hrafntinnusker. A small table sheltered from the wind allows us to take our picnic while being a little protected. But as before, no bagged room here. We resume our journey after a short break with a small downpour.
After crossing the last few meters of ascent, we only have to descend to Landmannalaugar. First across a still snow-covered plateau, then on a fairly steep path from where we have a breathtaking view. The rocks are multicolored, shades of red-orange, purple cliffs, mountain in shades of gray, hills covered with green moss, turquoise blue pool. The relief is chiseled, precise, sharp. Each mountain, each ridge, each valley, is precisely drawn. We continue our descent to the refuge and campsite in the middle of this unique panorama magnified by the evening light.
Here too, the mountains rumble, roar, bubble. Fumaroles sprout here and there and a delicate sulphurous scent emanates from a living land. Lower down, the path crosses a huge lava field, half covered with pale green moss. The fields of extinct lava are impressive, a sort of huge jumble of pebbles and rocks placed there in a chaotic order. Not very photogenic but surprising.
We finally arrive at the campsite. This last stage of the Laugavegur trek was trying, we are washed out and very happy to have finished it. Ultimate reward: hot springs. A small grating path has been laid out to the pool where you can relax. We jump in our swimsuits and enjoy this end of the trek in this natural pool with breathtaking views.
color games around Landmannalaugar
The landscapes are superb around Landmannalaugar, a site which is accessible by 4 × 4 and by bus from Reykjavik. No need to draw a picture, you won’t be alone in the mountains here. There is a refuge, a large space to put your tent (2000 ISK, around 15 € per person), showers and toilets, as well as a barnum under which there are picnic tables. Many more and less long and demanding walks and hikes (from family walks to long day hikes) are possible.
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