When I first saw pictures of the Laugavegur trail, I thought to myself: Surely this must be photoshopped. How is it possible that a mountain has shades of yellow?
My first reaction when I finally got to see it with my own eyes was: “Like seriously?!” I was stunned by the surroundings and stoked to see what other sights awaited me along the trail.
Table of contents: ()
- When to Trek the Laugavegur Trail
- Benefits of hiking the Laugavegur trail in September
- Laugavegur Trail Gear
- Hiking tips
- Day-to-day itinerary
- Key Insights & Takeaways
When to Trek the Laugavegur Trail
As I was planning my backpacking trip to Iceland, I noticed that there was some disagreement about whether it was a good idea to do this hike in the last 2 weeks of September.
I decided to do it anyway and as you read on further, you’ll find out why I would make the same decision again in a heartbeat. If that’s not enough, I will also share some helpful tips for some of you novice hikers that will come in handy as you hike this trail.
Benefits of hiking the Laugavegur trail in September
If you are thinking about visiting Iceland, then surely you must have heard about the Northern Lights. This natural phenomenon attracts many tourists to Iceland every year. The ideal conditions for hiking the Laugavegur trail and seeing the Northern Lights differ from one another.
To increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, the sky needs to be dark and clear of any clouds. On the other hand, the best conditions for hiking the Laugavegur trail is during the summer where temperatures are mild and there is enough daylight. As such, there is little to no chance of seeing the Northern Lights if you plan on visiting Iceland in the summer. The main reason being that the sun only sets for around 3 hours per day.
Luckily, there is an option to combine the Northern Lights and the Laugavegur trail if you visit Iceland right after the summer season. This means visiting Iceland in September. I personally went during the last 2 weeks of September to maximize the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights. I would strongly advise you to do the same as I managed to see this phenomenon from the comfort of my tent and sleeping bag.
The weather conditions at Laugavegur can be harsh, and many are afraid to go there during extreme seasons. However, September is the transition period from summer to winter; thus, the temperatures are mild. Of course, you will need to carry thermal clothing just in case the odds are against you. This mild temperature also makes it more pleasant for hiking as you don’t sweat as much.
In my opinion, there is nothing more annoying than visiting a place when it is overcrowded. You miss out on your bookings and there’s not much space to get some solitude and connect with your surroundings. Everything is expensive for no good reason and facilities are overused.
If you share the same sentiments, then go to Laugavegur in September. Few people do this trail during this time, making it easier to disconnect from the world and be one with nature.
Laugavegur Trail Gear
Bring enough food
Though some huts along the Laugavegur trail sell some types of snacks, you’ll need to bring the majority of your food during this hike. To save up space and reduce your overall backpack weight, it’s best to pack high nutrient and lightweight food.
Keep in mind that you’ll be hiking for 5-7 days depending on your level of fitness. So, make sure you have the right amount of food for the duration of your hike.
The good thing is that the huts along this trail allow you to make use of their kitchen. So it’s possible to leave your cooking gear at home though I would not recommend this.
Also, the running water you come across during the hike is coming from melting glaciers. As a result, not only is this water safe to drink but it also has a distinct “natural” taste.
3 season lightweight backpacking tent
Who doesn’t want to save some bucks without sacrificing comfort? Huts are exorbitantly priced for the kind of services you get. Many hikers share one hut and even, so there is a high chance of missing out on the spot. Packing a tent is economical, and you get to spend your nights in comfort.
A 3 season lightweight backpacking tent is the best option as it offers protection against bugs, wind, and rain while ensuring you pack light. They are made of light fabric with increased breathability and airflow for comfort all through the night.
I had to learn the hard way about the importance of packing a light tent so I hope you can learn from my mistake.
There are a few rivers that you will need to cross during this trail. I can’t stress this enough but for your own good, make sure to bring along a pair of water shoes.
The water will reach up to your knees and in some sections even up to your thighs. So, don’t even think about crossing them with your hiking shoes as you will have a few hours hike left before arriving at your next hut.
Also, the bottom of the river is composed of small rocks with sharp edges so make sure to get a pair with a thick and hard sole.
A fair warning though, the water will be very cold when crossing the rivers. Yet, this might be a good thing as it will numb the pain in your feet, which helped me out a lot.
It goes without saying that you will need to dress for the weather. For this, do yourself a favor and pack thermal clothing and wear your clothes in layers. This will help keep your body temperature at a constant state. In any case, avoid wearing cotton clothing as it tends to lower your body temperature once wet from the sweat.
Good camera with Waterproof Bag
The views along this trail are truly breathtaking, so it would be a shame if you didn’t save these moments for later. Also be sure to protect your camera, since it can rain at any moment.
My biggest regret during my trip to Iceland is that I didn’t take a tripod with me. If you want to take a picture of the Northern Lights then you need to hold your camera still for at least 10 seconds as it gathers enough light from the surroundings, making it possible to see this phenomenon in a picture.
I wasn’t able to keep my hands steady for a full 30 seconds so my images of the Northern Lights were quite blurry. So, learn from my mistake and take a tripod with you, even a small one.
Waterproof hiking jacket
Drizzles and downpours characterize Laugavegur, and a waterproof hiking jacket comes in handy. Pack a well-made jacket that is both waterproof and windproof to keep you comfy even in freezing and wet weather. A lightweight shell option is the best as it takes less space in your bag, and you can still layer it up for extra warmth.
If you are starting your hike from Landmannalaugar then you have the option to take a swim at the nearby natural hot pool. It is famous as a people’s pool where you get a natural bathing experience with colorful rhyolite mountains surrounding you. So, don’t forget to carry your swimming gear to avoid any regrets.
Start early, around 8-9 am. Here is why:
- Maximize your time
- Beat the heat
- Be at your stopping point in time to watch the sunset
- Be safer – If you can get to the next stop on time, you have enough time to seek help
- More time for breaks and enjoying the scenery
Plan! Plan! Plan! Planning well ahead is the only surest way to explore the magnificence of the Laugavegur trail fully. Here I share the day-to-day itinerary that helped me during my visit to this iconic trail in Iceland.
Day 1: Reykjavík to Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker
- Hiking duration: 4-5 hours
- Hiking distance: 12km
- Net climb: 470m
Begin your tour at Reykjavík, the largest and the capital city of Iceland. Then, take a day trip to your first point on the trail, Landmannalaugar, 600m above sea level. Here you can spend the rest of the day soaking in natural hot springs and engaging in short day hikes. It pays off, as you give yourself time to relax and start hiking up the next day when the weather is good.
If you decide to continue with the hike late in the evening, trek to the south through narrow gorges and colorful mountain ridges. Your stop is Hrafntinnusker, where you can pitch a tent or stay in basic huts.
Day 2: Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn
- Hiking duration: 3-4 hours
- Hiking distance: 12km
- Net descent: 490m
On day one, you begin your descent trek from Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn. Here you experience the magnificent view of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and snow-capped Mýrdalsjökull. The route passes through geothermal minerals and muds that feel like glue as you walk over them. After about 4 hours, you arrive at your next destination, where you spend the night at Álftavatn. Here is a restaurant where you can stock up some more food if you’re running out of stock.
Day 3: Álftavatn to Emstrur
- Hiking duration: 5-6 hours
- Hiking distance: 15km
- Net descent: 40m
Here you trek along an unusual cone-shaped green volcano base of Stórasúla. You then proceed to Mælifellssandur, the iconic black sand desert. This eventually leads to historic shepherding regions – Emstrur – where you get a clear view of Hattfell- an ancient and glorious volcano.
On the way, there is a river crossing, where your water shoes come in handy. The water will be very cold, but what awaits you is worth it. The breathtaking Markarfljót canyon is a nice detour that takes you to Botnar hut, where you will spend your night.
Day 4: Emstrur to Þórsmörk
- Hiking duration: 6-7 hours
- Hiking distance: 15km
- Net descent: 300m
Day 4 begins with a river crossing, leading to a more exciting landscape, increased vegetation, and wildlife (birds and bugs). You will also continue your way through the spectacular Markarfljót canyon, carved out by intense floods caused by volcanic eruptions. Eventually, you will cross the big river that leads to your destination, Þórsmörk. Here you can spend your night in a tent, as I did, or get yourself a hut.
Day 5: Þórsmörk – Reykjavík
- Time: 4-5 hours
This is a day where you will head back to the city. My advice is to take time to rest and explore various mountain trails at Þórsmörk. One path leads you to the vantage point of Valahnjúku, where you get amazing views of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and ice-capped Mýrdalsjökull. Once you are ready to go back, take a bus that costs about $55, and you will arrive at Reykjavík within a short time.
Key Insights & Takeaways
If you don’t have a lot of vacation days and want to combine the Laugavegur trail with the Northern Lights, then I would say visit Iceland in September. It is possible to take a tour for this trail as well, but be prepared to cough up a huge amount of money for this service. At the time of my trip, tour operators were charging $1790 for this experience (yikes!).
On the other hand, if you prefer to travel on a budget like me, then hopefully my experience has given you valuable information for planning your trip to Iceland.