Hiking the Laugavegur trek in Iceland is one of the best things you can do in Iceland. Laugavegur is also deemed to be one of the best hiking trails in the world. I was very excited to check myself if it’s really as stunning as people say. The challenge was that, contrary to the Vatnajökull trek, I was planning to hike the Laugavegur solo. How did it go? Was it worth the trouble? Did I manage? Read my day-by-day visual narrative about hiking the Laugavegur trek.
Hiking around Landmannalaugar
Colourful mountains of Landmannalaugar are so amazing that I just couldn’t hit the trek right after coming to Landmannalaugar. Normally, the Laugavegur trek takes four days:
Day 1: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker – 12km
Day 2: Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn (or Hvanngil) – 12km (or 14km)
Day 3: 16 km Álftavatn to Emstrur (Botnar) – 16km
Day 4: Emstrur (Botnar) to Þórsmörk Húsadalur – 16 km
I wanted to do it slightly differently. I really wanted to skip staying the night Hrafntinnusker, a beautiful, but the coldest and highest point of the whole trek. I combined day 1 with day 2 and stayed an extra day in Landmannalaugar. If you don’t like cold, fogs, and extremely strong winds, I would also suggest you to do the same.
What is more, Landmannalaugar is absolutely stunning and like nothing else in this world, seriously. Therefore, the whole first day of the Laugavegur trek, I actually hiked around Landmannalaugar. Read how I hiked the Brennisteinsalda Volcano, soaked in the hot river, and almost died of anger while pitching the tent in Landmannalaugar here.
Laugavegur Trek Day 1: Landmannalaugar to Álftavatn (24km)
I woke up around 6am, peeked out of the tent, saw thick fogs hovering everywhere above the Laugahraun lava field and absolutely no people getting ready for the trek. I guess it was only me who wanted to hit the road THAT early.
Due to the fog, it was not safe to start the trek, so I decided to stay in my tent a bit longer and take one more nap. Around 7am, I heard the first footsteps around my tent. The fogs were still above the trek, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I got ready pretty fast, ate my breakfast and started to put down my tent.
Laugavegur trek solo?
I was hoping to hike with or near someone who camped nearby just for safety reasons. The first day of the Laugavegur trek is actually the most challenging one. First, the terrain is uneven: you gain elevation pretty fast and go up and down all the time. Second, there are fogs. The fogs can get so thick, that you can’t see the next marking pole and have to rely solely on GPS. This is the moment when Laugavegur trek can become dangerous. I wanted to have a companion for that part a lot.
I was deliberately taking my tent down rather slowly, to give time to a guy I noticed was also getting ready for the trek. He was, however, being so slow, that I quickly got impatient and decided to go alone. I had 24 kilometres to cover and leaving later than 8am would mean I might not make it on time to Álftavatn. As soon as I stopped waiting and started doing, the fear went away and I felt adventure in the air.
Shortly after I passed the huts, I noticed four girls on the trek. Three of them were walking together, one was lingering in the back as if she was waiting for someone. As it soon turned out, she was, kind of, waiting for me. You can read about our first encounter here. This girl was Sophia from Germany who became my wished-for trekking companion.
Some thoughts on solo travel
People often ask me if I am not afraid to travel solo and if I don’t get bored being alone. The secret is that I enjoy being alone from time to time, but travelling solo actually means that you meet a lot of people – way more than if you travelled in a company. I travel solo and when I meet some other girl doing the same, we instantly have a pretty good ground to start a conversation – there is, in fact, something nice and big that we share: solo travel.
When you travel in a company, you are focused on your friends and the chances of meeting others are smaller. Think: would you rather approach a close-knit group and ask for companionship or someone who is alone? I bet I know your answer.
Girls conquering the Laugavegur trek
I felt relieved to meet Sofia, because the vision of getting lost in the fog seemed less scary when you have a companion. Also, when we actually left the Laugahraun lava field behind, the fogs went up and the trail became visible. We were walking at a brisk pace and quite close to other girls, the three I noticed in the morning.
As it turned out, they were from France and doing the Laugavegur was their big dream. They were really determined to complete the trek despite difficulties and some lack of preparation. We met them many times later on.
Lunch break with the best view in the world
As soon as we left the Brennisteinsalda Volcano behind, a really steep ascent started. It was so step, that I could nearly touch the ground with my head if I leaned too much forward. Technically, Laugavegur Trek is not difficult. You are not exposed, there are no steep ridges, but walking constantly up and down is very exhausting. Also, the terrain we walked on was not really solid, so each step meant fastening your feet to the ground in the first place. Hiking poles helped a lot.
The view from the highest point over Landmannalaugar was worth all the sweat. It’s literally one of the most stunning images I’ve ever seen in my life. Once we were up, Sofia and I decided to take a break and eat something. The time passed very quickly and I was surprised to see we were hiking for three hours already; I thought barely an hour passed. It was even more bizarre when I looked down the Laugavegur trek and could see the Laugahraun lava field where we started. It seemed to be so close to us and, in fact, it was one third of the distance to Hrafntinnusker.
Stunning landscapes of geothermal spots on Laugavegur Trek
What came after we finished our lunch exceeded my expectations and I literally could not put my camera down. Vast spaces of colourful mountains scattered with snow, geothermal spots and rhyolite rocks. The visibility was so great that we could see miles ahead and the sun was starting to shine. Too much happiness at once. :D
Landscape change on Laugavegur Trek: from colourful mountains to black rocks
The change of landscape was noticeable. Soon, the colourful mountains were replaced with black ones covered in volcanic ash. It was also more challenging to follow the trek and the marking posts, since the terrain was so uneven, that I often saw poles in the distance, not the ones which were close to us.
There was also a spot I remembered from internet and was looking forward to. A long passage through snow that never melts. What surprised me, was that it wasn’t much colder on the snow comparing with other areas. After that passage, we walked on many snow bridges and saw a lot of snow caves.
Sofia also saved a couple that was trekking from the opposite direction from falling into a river. She noticed they were trekking right to the spot with the thinnest snow and shouted. Thanks to that, they could get back, change the route and not fall down.
Chatting with fellow hikers on the Laugavegur Trek – the best way to get relevant weather information
Meeting people trekking from the opposite direction means that you are either halfway or very close to the next stop. We would often stop and ask them about the weather, how far it was to the next stop and if there were any other difficulties we should keep in mind. There is a really nice bond between the hikers everywhere, not only on the Laugavegur trek. It’s just a few words exchanged, but it’s always nice and can help a lot.
Having a lunch break at stunning Hrafntinnusker
Soon we arrived at Hrafntinnusker. The view of mountains surrounding Hrafntinnusker, partly covered with snow, made me stop and stare for a few minutes. The temperature was noticeable lower here and I quickly felt my hands freezing – I had no gloves.
Sofia and I went down quickly to the huts because it was time to finally eat a proper lunch and get new water supplies. We still had 12 kilometres to cover that day. As much as we were planning on staying around 30 minutes in Hrafntinnusker, it turned impossible. It was so cold, that 10 minutes after we sat down and started eating, I could not move my hands. Sophia was also getting more and more cold. It was extremely beautiful all around us, but so cold, that sitting down and admiring the views became painful.
What Laugavegur Trek is REALLY about: UP and DOWN all the time
All I remember from the next few hours was just walking up and down all the time. Iceland went crazy with its terrain, really! We barely got up one hill, only to see that now we had to go down and up again.
Such landscape continued for about two hours when we reached yet another mountain that we had to climb on. It was really long and steep, but the views from the top were absolutely breathtaking. Sophia and I were literally just “ohing and ahing” all the time, because you can’t find proper words when faced with such an immense of beauty everywhere.
On top of the mountain, we also met a funny group of Americans: school graduates with a father of one. The father was clearly in worse condition than the young boys who were basically hoping up this mountain like young gazelles. We met them later that day in a hut in Alftavatn. On that mountain, we also noticed thick clouds gathering above Hrafntinnusker and I was only hoping they would not chase us. (But remember: when in Iceland, always expect rain!)
Arriving at Álftavatn: the most perfect place on Laugavegur Trek
The landscape changed yet again and after an hour or so of walking, Sophia and I took a break above the most stunning and beautiful area ever. Photos do not show the grandeur and vastness of it. It was so incredibly beautiful I could not believe my eyes.
A vast, GREEN, valley with rivers meandering between strangely shaped mountains! This was where we were to spend that night and I could not be happier at that moment. Everything was perfect. Sophia and me just sat down on top of the hill and admired this beautiful panorama over Álftavatn. If this wasn’t great enough, there was a glacier to our left.
The fact that we were looking down and the valley meant only one thing: we were close to the Álftavatn lake and there was just one very steep wall for us to go down. I went down pretty fast because I felt absolutely no fear. What an impressive development comparing with myself two weeks before where I would freak out before trekking much easier paths!
First river crossing on the Laugavegur Trek
Down in the valley, Sophia and me had to cross one small river. This was our first river on the Laugavegur trek and we took quite a bit of time to find a good place to cross it. The next day we crossed much wider and deeper river without spending so much time to find a good spot. Lesson? Humans learn pretty fast.
I got a blister on one of my legs and entering freezing cold, crystal clear water was more than pleasant. It was one of the best moments of the day, in fact.
As we left the river behind, I turned back and noticed that on the hill we came from, there was a thick and dark cloud and it was actually raining. The clouds we had seen earlier were chasing us. Some 20 minutes before we finally reached Álftavatn, it started raining heavily and I just couldn’t stand the thought of sleeping in a wet tent yet another night.
Booking a hut in Álftavatn
We had to enter the main hut to pay for the camping anyway, so not really expecting to hear any confirming answer, I asked if they had any free spots in the huts. To my utter surprise, the lady answered that they had PLENTY of free beds in the huts and I made the decision in a nick of a second to pay whatever it takes and just sleep in a warm and dry place that night. I also wanted to dry the tent after the previous night. Sophia wasn’t sure if that was a good idea initially and I absolutely agreed with her: the huts were expensive. Around 50 Euros per night. It is more than I ever paid of ANY accommodation in my life, but at that moment, I could even pay more. Sophia soon got convinced that for her it would also be a good option to stay in a hut and we both went to one.
There were four Americans there already: three guys and a girl. Soon after, the high school guys came with their father, another American girl trekking solo, another girl from Germany who had super interesting love stories to tell. And us.
This was a really, really nice evening. We were all talking about different things, but mostly about Iceland and the Laugavegur trek. It was warm (the heating was on all the time), we ate dinner sitting BY THE TABLE which was a nice change to sitting on the ground. :D We drunk a lot of hot tea, ate chocolate and basically made it a very nice evening.
By the Álftavatn lake
As it was already getting darkish, I decided to take a final walk around the area. I wanted to see the Álftavatn lake up close and maybe take some photographs. I went alone since Sophia was slowly getting prepared to sleep.
The lake was as silent and as calm as painted on a picture. There were darkening mountains surrounding the lake and something which looked like a glacier behind the lake. There was one other girl just admiring the views and two photographers shooting a time-lapse on a tripod. And me.
I felt extremely happy just standing there and looking at the Álftavatn lake. All in all, all my worries were sorted out: I found the best companion I could have dreamed of. A really amazing and interesting woman with whom trekking was pure pleasure. We covered the distance we wanted without any major injuries or bad incidents. The weather was brilliant and the rain only contributed to us spending a nice evening socialising with people from different countries in a nice, warm, cosy hut. Solo travel yet again proved to be the BEST way to explore the world for me.
When I came back to the hut, everyone was already in beds. I noticed someone was also sleeping on the floor in the kitchen and I thought it was someone from the camp site who couldn’t take the cold. How shocked I was the next morning to see it was one of the American high school graduates who went to sleep there because he snored and didn’t want to wake others up.
I nearly told him I loved him. Really, that was absolutely admirable and I wish all the people who snore would follow his example.
Laugavegur Trek Day 2: Álftavatn to Emstrur (Botnar) – 16km
After a perfect night of sleeping in a WARM place, I felt super energised to hit the road again. Just as we passed the cosy huts, there was a river that we had to cross. It was a perfect chance to beat the crowd that was growing behind us – an organised trek was on our back.
We quickly crossed the first river Blafjallakvisl and continued through green and pleasant terrain until we reached Hvanngil – yet another spot with huts and camp site. If you want to combine the third and fourth day of the Laugavegur trek, it’s better to stay in Hvanngil since it’s closer to Emstrur and gives extra time to reach Þórsmörk.
As we were trekking, we saw sheep and lots of horses. Soon after the Hvanngil hut, there was yet another river crossing, a much more challenging one. Read my post on how to cross rivers here but also remember this bit: don’t cross the river where the cars do – water is much deeper there. On the Laugavegur trek, just when you see the river Emstrur, turn LEFT and walk up the stream. Usually, there’s a crowd of people getting dressed by the bank, so you will easily see the spot. It’s, however, crucial, for the safety sake, not to wade the river where the cars go.
This river was rather rough and the current was strong. Although it wasn’t deeper than my knee at the deepest point, strong current made the waves crash at a thigh-height. A second of being careless and I can well imagine falling down into this river.
This one part where Laugavegur trek is really boring
Let me explain first! After we crossed the Emstrur river, we saw a vast, dark plain scattered with some lovely pink flowers. A few mountains here and there. Initially, I enjoyed that landscape a lot. I stopped enjoying it when yet another hour passed, the landscape was still the same and because there were no natural elements to stop the wind, it was blowing very strong.
Also, the terrain was playing tricks on us. As we were coming near to a hill, it looked as if from that hill there would be some nice panorama to admire. Each time, however, when we climbed a hill, we would see another five ahead of us. That was just a plain dark desert and I basically felt as lost in time. Finally, after a few hours of walking though this black desert, we reached the huts.
The plan was simple: find a good camping spot and make another hike – to the Markarfljótsgljúfur canyon.
Hiking around the Markarfljótsgljúfur canyon
It’s a grand one! I would not recommend it to someone who is afraid of heights. :D It’s deep and rugged and the fact that it’s always so windy up there, doesn’t help. There were moments when I was literally afraid that I would lose my balance and fall down.
Sophia and me hiked around the canyon before we decided to have dinner. Just as we came back to the camp site, bright sunshine went out. Until we went to sleep, it was basically shining and raining in small intervals.
Another funny fact: I’ve read many reviews suggesting to ask “wardens” for some advice and weather. Well – here is the truth. “Wardens” are in fact young folks who somehow have to earn their money. In the hut of Emstrur, the girls were so tired with answering all the questions of the quests, they basically put out a piece of paper saying “Weather for tomorrow: sunshine with showers and some clouds”. I asked them when they put the information out to figure out if it was about the current day or the next day. Well – it didn’t really matter. The girls put this piece of paper out long time ago, because weather in Iceland is “always” the same: very changeable. There’s always sunshine, rain, clouds, winds, and it all changes very quickly, so why bother checking the forecast?
As Sophia and me were slowly getting ready to go to sleep, we met the French girls. They were doing absolutely fine, even though one of them was slightly sick. We also had a pretty unpleasant situation when some drunk, old man came out of the hut and started talking to us. I can no longer recall what exactly he was saying but some sexist remarks. If this is the type of people who book trekking tours where they carry all their staff for them, I don’t want to ever take part in something like that.
Shortly after that, we went to sleep. I can’t emphasize enough how pleasant it is to be falling asleep to the sound of a river floating nearby.
Laugavegur Trek Day 4: Emstrur (Botnar) to Þórsmörk Húsadalur – 16 km
The first few kilometres of the trek, are in fact, around the canyon. It’s also where the famous bridges and lines are located. I was initially slightly afraid of that part, but as it later turned out, it was really easy and the “tough” part with climbing down using a rope is actually short and sweet.
I will not keep repeating that the landscapes were great – you know that by know. There’s was finally some green areas, higher grass and even a few trees! As we reached the valley of the river Þröngá, we knew we are very close to Þórsmörk.
Crossing Þröngá was something I was afraid of. This was the widest, the coldest, and the least predictable of all rivers. And since we were walking pretty fast, there were no other people who could show us the best spot to cross the river. Since Þröngá is a glacier river, you can’t really check its depth before getting inside. The water is absolutely grey and not transparent. I managed to see a small group of people gathering by the bank of Þröngá when Sophia and me were still on the hill around 1.5 kilometres away. Only thanks to that, I knew where to navigate us.
Prepared for the worst, Sophia and me held arms when crossing the river. In the middle, the current was so strong, it was difficult to make another move. Slowly, step by step, we managed to wade through it. Also, the thing I was most afraid if when starting the Laugavegur was over.
After Þröngá, there was just 40 minutes before we reached Þórsmörk – the official end of the Laugavegur trek.
Hiking through Þórsmörk
I wish I had more time to spend only in Þórsmörk. It’s green, it has TREES and green grasses and a lot of hiking possibilities. The paths are rather narrow and we walked close by the abyss for most of the time, but at that point, I felt absolutely no fear, just adrenaline and excitement.
I completed the Laugavegur Trek!
Arriving to Volcano Huts in Húsadalur was symbolic! After months of preparations, weeks of worrying about everything from weather to possible trekking companion, we were standing in front of the big sign post saying we just trekked 55 kilometres. That IS impressive!
Just to have a spectacular ending of the trek, I had one more funny situation. Before starting the Laugavegur Trek, I put my Iceland By Buss pass to the back of my mobile phone – so as not to loose it or make it wet. Of course, I forgot about it. I basically searched for my card everywhere, I unpacked all my stuff only to remember where I placed my ticket some 30 minutes later. :) Who else does it: you hide something to protect it and then you forget where you put it? It’s like being too smart for one’s own self. :D
Sophia was staying in Húsadalur until the next day and after we said goodbye she went to the sauna. After all those days of staying outdoors in the cold, it was her big reward. I waited in the warm hut and also chatted with the American girl we met two days ago in Alftavatn.
These were really cool days! Laugavegur has every right to be deemed one of the best hiking trails in the world. It’s grand, versatile, beautiful, and challenging. If you want to hike in a company, you can easily do this by keeping close to larger groups. If you want to do it alone, just get up earlier and beat the crowds, it’s also easily possible. Laugavegur Trek meant leaving my comfort zone but I already feel I want to hike it again! This time, starting in Landmannalaugar and ending in Skógar. :)
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