Remember that time I hit you with loads of images from the beautiful Laugavegur Trail? I hope you do, and I hope it led you to immediately make up your mind to tackle this Iceland trek someday.
Considered Iceland’s most popular hiking trail, the Laugavegur Trail (or Laugavegurinn Trail) spans 55km from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk (Thorsmork). It passes through a very colorful, varied landscape: from rainbow-colored hills to black volcanic deserts, neon green valleys to ice caves. This is not a trek for wildlife spotting or tree hugging – nope, just wide open landscapes that seem to have sprung from another world.
Now that I’ve convinced you that it’s the most beautiful hike in all the land, I’m going to help you plan for the Laugavegur Trek in Iceland: everything from how to get there from Reykjavik, to where to stay on the trail, to what to pack.
1. Research Bus Timetables in Iceland
There are only 2-3 months out of the year where it’s possible to hike the Laugavegur Trail. Outside of mid-June through mid-September, the roads leading to and from the trail are impassible and buses do not run. Depending on weather, i.e. how heinous the winter was, there may be too much residual snow to make the trek in June. I highly recommend playing it safe and planning your Laugavegur Trek for somewhere in the mid-July to mid-September range.
Thus, the very first thing you should do is check to ensure buses are running on the days you want to start and end the trek. Reykjavik Excursions is the main bus company serving Iceland, but Trex also runs buses to the trailheads. You might also consult Nordic Adventure Travel which consolidates the various timetables on a very messy, confusing website.
You’ll want to check what time buses run between Reykjavik and Landmannalaugar, as well as Reykjavik and Thorsmork (or alternatively Skógar, if you want to add an extra day to your trek).
2. Map Out Your Route for the Laugavegur Trail
Then, with bus schedules at hand, it’s time to piece together your route for the Laugavegur Trek. You can do the Landmannalaugar – Thorsmork section comfortably in 4 days/3 nights, which should allow ample time in the evening to tackle the optional night hikes if you’re up for it:
- Day 1: Landmannalaugar – Hrafntinnusker (12km, 470m elevation gain, 4-5hrs)
- Optional night hikes from Hrafntinnusker hut: Mt. Söðull (20 minute walk), ice caves (40 minute walk)
- Day 2: Hrafntinnusker – Álftavatn (12km, 490m elevation drop, 4-5hrs)
- Optional night hikes from Álftavatn hut: Mt. Brattháls (1-2 hours return), Mt. Torfatindur (1-2 hours to climb 818m)
- Day 3: Áftavatn – Emstrur/Botnar (15km, 40m elevation drop, 6-7hrs)
- Optional night hikes from Emstrur hut: Markarfljótsgljúfur canyon (45min return)
- Day 4: Emstrur/Botnar – Thorsmork (15km, 300m elevation drop, 6-7hrs)
- Optional night hikes from Thorsmork: Mt. Valahnúkur, Sönghellir Cave, and many more
However, if your time in Iceland is not so limited, I encourage you to add extra days to more thoroughly explore the region. You have a few options here:
- Stay an extra day in Landmannalaugar – The only swimmable hot spring along the trek is in Landmannalaugar, so unless you’d like to kick off your lengthy first day of hiking with a dip or start the trek from the south, consider alloting an extra day to swim or do some short day hikes around Landmannalaugar, and stay overnight at the Landmannalaugar hut. Plus, this is the most beautiful region along the Laugavegur Trek – why WOULDN’T you want more time here?
- Add an extra day to extend the trek from Thorsmork to Skogar – In stark contrast to the rest of the Laugavegurinn Trail, this 25km segment is speckled with waterfalls and craters. It’s doable in about 10 hours, though you might prefer to take your time and spread it across two days of hiking.
- Add one or more days to sample the day hikes from Thorsmork – Thorsmork is paradise for day hikes, which you can enjoy without having to lug around a big backpack. There are hikes you can follow into the valley or up into the surrounding mountains, most of which run through the forest – something that the rest of the trail is sorely lacking. There’s also a hike that leads to the foot of Eyjafjallajokull glacier, which is worth doing if you won’t be taking a separate glacier tour in Iceland.
You’ll want to plan your route so that you arrive early enough on your last day to catch the bus back to Reykjavik. (I may or may not have inadvertently planned on taking a bus back on the same day I was due to fly out of Reykjavik… oops!)
Also consider the direction in which you’d like to tackle the hike. Trekking north to south is more common, as Landmannalaugar is 300m higher in elevation than Thorsmork – though it can very well be done in reverse.
I did not carry a Laugavegur Trail map with me and felt that the trail is quite obvious to follow. For peace of mind, you could always purchase a Laugavegur Trail Map beforehand and bring it with you.
Source: Nordic Adventure Travel
3. Book Your Huts for the Laugavegur Trek
As soon as you know approximately where you’ll be trekking each day, you should book your huts. Ferðafélag Íslands (FI) hosts several huts along the trail which they highly recommend trekkers book several months in advance. The huts are in full operation while the buses are still running to/from the trail; if buses aren’t running, then the huts are closed for the season.
Most huts along the Laugavegur Trek are 8000-9000kr (US$76-86) per night, but before you let sticker shock take hold, consider the value here. I don’t know about you, but there’s precious little I want more after a long, arduous, and potentially wet day of hiking than to envelop myself in warmth and sprawl out on a mattress to recover from the day. In addition to heat and beds, these huts come fully equipped with kitchen utensils, lighters, tables and benches, and well-kept bathroom facilities. Some even offer hot showers (5 minutes for 500kr/US$5).
Alternatively, if lugging a tent and enduring the cold and wind aint no thang to you, you have the option of camping outside of the huts for 2000kr (US$19) per night, plus 500kr (US$5) to use the hut facilities. Theoretically, you could save $56+/night this way and still be able to hang out and cook dinner in the heated hut before retreating to your (cold, confined, wildly uncomfortable) tent for the night. 2017 NOTE: People have mentioned that it is no longer an option for campers to utilize the hut kitchens. On the FI site it says that “Those using FÍ’s facilities, such as toilet or outdoor grill, but not staying overnight are charged a facility fee [of 500kr].”
Tents at Landmannalaugar
- Emstrur (Botnar)
- Þórsmörk (Langidalur)
* These huts are a couple km apart, so you’ll book one or the other but not both
Since Þórsmörk (Thorsmork) is a hub for several day hikes and is more easily accessible than Landmannalaugar, it actually hosts 3 separate huts. The above mentioned Langidalur is a FI hut, but there are two other hut options in Thorsmork as well:
- Húsadalur – owned and run by Volcano Huts, this slightly fancier accommodation provides private cabins as well as the standard bunk huts, with bonus luxuries like a hot pool, sauna, and restaurant. Huts are 8400kr/night (US$80) per person and can be booked on the Volcano Huts website.
- Basar – owned and run by Utivist, this is the cheapest hut option on the trail at 6000kr/night (US$57). You can reserve your spot by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few other things to note about the huts on the Laugavegur Trail:
- You are expected to carry all your garbage with you throughout the trek. Only a couple of the huts have trash bins, so it’s mostly carry in/carry out.
- Each hut is looked after by a warden, who will ensure the heat is turned on for the evening and that everyone is checked in for the night who has a bunk reserved. Wardens are happy to provide trekkers with information about the trek – be sure to ask them what the “night hikes” are at their hut!
- Some wardens assign bunks, while others leave it first come first served. The nice thing is that they tend to assign the double beds to those who have booked together and save the single beds for the solo trekkers. If you’re concerned about potentially having to share a double bed with a stranger, you might want to aim to arrive on the early side.
- Huts do not provide linens or pillows. Bring a sleeping bag!
4. Pack Appropriate Gear and Supplies for the Laugavegur Trail
You’re going to be tackling a challenging trek in the remote southern highlands of Iceland. Don’t make it any harder for yourself by being careless with your packing. Instead, take the time beforehand to procure essential gear and stock up on light yet filling foodstuff.
For the most part, you will need to pack and carry in everything you’ll be needing for the entire trek. There’s a newly-opened bar and restaurant at Álftavatn, and a restaurant and small shop called LavaGrill at the Volcano Hut at Húsadalur in Thorsmork where you can pick up extra gear and snacks.
And what exactly do you need to pack, you might ask? Read on for my best tips on what food and gear to bring on the Laugavegur Trail!
One thing you won’t have to worry about is water. As long as you are equipped with water bottles and/or a camelbak pack, you can easily refill with clean water each day at the huts along the trek.
Food, on the other hand, you’ll have to carry in with you. What you bring depends on your dietary needs and preferences, but in general you’ll want to pack food that is filling and light in weight. Consider these tips:
- For easy munching during the day while you’re on the trail, pack trail mix or protein bars. (I brought a bag of homemade trail mix from NYC, far cheaper than buying the ingredients in Reykjavik and more filling than bars)
- Bring perishable items to consume on Day 1. Cheese and meats should still be good to eat, so take advantage while you can! (We brought pitas, salami, and cheese to make sandwiches for lunch on the first day)
- The most satisfying, easy, nonperishable meal I’ve come up with for camping trips and treks? Chili! Grab cans of kidney beans, chickpeas, and some other bean with chili sauce, throw it all in a pot, and warm it up. The cans hold a lot of weight, so you might want to make chili earlier on in the trek to lose the weight in your pack.
- Tuna’s another great nonperishable yet filling food.
- Pasta is a no-brainer for an easy meal – but instead of toting along a big jar of tomato sauce, bring a tiny jar of pesto to put on it.
Weather is very unpredictable in Iceland. You should go into the Laugavegur Trek expecting to encounter rain, wind, and hail, and then consider yourself lucky if you’re not met with all three!
In addition to the obvious jacket and wool layers, be sure to include these must-pack items in your backpack for the trek:
- Comfortable, broken-in hiking boots
- A comfortable, well-fitting backpack
- Waterproof pack cover
- Trekking poles
- Sleeping bag
- Rain jacket and rain pants
- Wool socks
- Water bottles and/or Camelbak that can hold at least 2L in total
Heading to Iceland?
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Check out my other posts about Iceland:
As of December 2017 —
Via Ferðafélag Íslands (FI):
Huts along the Laugavegur Trail are 8000-9000kr (US$76-86) per night per person, while campsites are 2000kr (US$17) per night per person. A 5 minute hot shower is available at some of the huts and costs 500kr (US$5).
As of January 2018 —
Via Reykjavik Excursions:
- The bus from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar takes 4 hours and costs 9000kr ($77 US). It runs from mid-June through mid-September (exact dates vary each year).
- The bus from Thorsmork to Reykjavik takes about 4 hours and costs 8000kr ($68 US). It runs from June 1 through September 20.