Guide to Hornstrandir Nature Preserve - Remote Wilderness in Northwest Iceland

The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is a remote wilderness in the northwest claw of Iceland’s West Fjords. A wild gem of green slopes, snow-capped glacier peninsulas, and slate-blue bays, Hornstrandir is largely uninhabited and accessible only in during summer by daily ferry. It’s precisely these features that make it one of the best-preserved parts of Iceland--nothing for miles except green valleys, tufts of dandelions and Angelica, and pebbled shores. If you’re lucky, you may just spot a flying goose or an Arctic fox.

History

Though occupied for some centuries, famine and hardship left Hornstrandir abandoned in the mid-20th-century. Today it remains free of any people, except in the summer, when families of the original homestead-makers set up temporary homes in old foundations. A handful of renovated farmsteads, withered gravestones, and crumbling churchyards are all that remain. Hornstrandir is the perfect place to hike for a few days, relatively undisturbed. Chances are you will not meet another soul for miles.

Activities

Hiking

By far the most popular activity in Hornstrandir is hiking across its otherworldly terrain. Whether you choose to go with a certified guide or on your own is up to you. Our partners Borea Adventures offer tours into the heart of Hornstrandir that span 1-6 days, depending on your allotted time in the Westfjords. Traveling with a guide is a stress-free way to explore the remote terrain at your leisure--your itinerary, schedule, and route are predetermined to optimize your time and effort.

If you do go by yourself, remember to keep close tabs on your map and the ferry schedules, and prepare for changes in weather by bringing extra layers, waterproof clothing, and plenty of food and water. You will be in a very remote area, and we recommend hiking with a guide unless you are very experienced. Keep the fragile landscape as clean as you find it--no waste or rubbish. If you’re traveling between April 15-June 15, it’s recommended to register at the tourist office, as weather conditions aren’t as favorable as they are in summer.

Purchase hiking maps at the Westfjords tourism office in Isafjordur. These have a wealth of trail information with practical tips and descriptions.

Kayaking

Our partners Borea Adventures offers single- or multi-day kayak trips around the Hornstrandir Peninsula, combined with some hiking excursions during the days. Join their 4-day glacier fjords kayaking trip that combines kayaking adventures with wildlife sightseeing for a chance to see the elusive Arctic fox.

Wildlife

For such a remote destination, Hornstrandir is certainly no stranger to wildlife. It’s easy to feel at one with nature in the middle of the Westfjords’ greatest wilderness. You’re likely to spot whales and seals while crossing on the ferry. During the summer, Hornstrandir is also the breeding ground for thousands of seabirds: puffins, Arctic terns, black guillemots, kittiwake, razorbill and fullmar.

Trails

Adalvik to Hesteyri (5-6 hours)

This simple day trip is one of the most convenient trails in Hornstrandir. The ferry drops you off once a morning in Adalvik, and leaves from Hesteyri in the afternoon, so you just have to get from one end of the wilderness to the other in a full day. You’ll cross the abandoned settlement of Adalvik, and onward through green slopes and past the withered church. Hiking past a huge lake, you’ll ascend up misty hills for spectacular views of the snow-capped fjord fingers and the bays below. Here you can see the remnants of an old stone road and cairns. Navigate through muddy slopes down to the black sand pebble beach, and onward to the abandoned village of Hesteyri. During the summer months, the “Old Doctor’s House,” as it’s called, is inhabited by a small family that will cook up coffee and hot Icelandic pancakes for you. Chill out here for a warm interlude from the wind and rain while you await the ferry that will take you back to Isafjordur.

Hesteyri to Kögur (3-5 days)

After you arrive in Hesteyri via ferry, hike 10 miles (16 km) to the campsite of Sæból. You can choose to camp overnight here or push on 7 more miles (11 km) to camp along the coastline at Látrar. The following day, hike 9 miles (15 km) to Fljótavík and onward to beautiful Kögur Mountain, which curves in on itself like a breaking wave. The trail then loops back to Hesteyri over 16 miles (26 km) via the campsite at Álfsfell.

The Green Cliffs of Hornstrandir (photo by Borea Adventures)

Hesteyri to Hloduvik (4-6 Days)

The magnificent trek from Hesteyri to Hloduvik is for the experienced hiker. Catch a boat from Isafjordur to Hesteyri. Alternatively, you can take a private boat from the tiny fishing village of Bolungarvik with the Borea tour company, just be sure to reserve your spot in advance. You’ll have to get there the night before and take a boat in the morning. Once you arrive in Hesteyri, hike 9 miles (15km) or 4-6 hours. After you reach the northern coast, continue along the beach until you reach the cabins and campground at Budir for an overnight. The next day, hike up the steep hill of Skálarkambur, where you’ll be rewarded with some incredible views of the bay. Hike down the other side and walk over to Rekavik Bay. At the intersection, if you’re looking for a challenge, you can opt to turn left for a detour to Hælavíkurbjarg.

This steep and narrow slope is not for the faint of heart. The trail narrows dramatically, to the point of being dangerous, so much that you have to grab on a small rope to keep yourself steady. Leave your big packs behind and hike as light as possible, and only in good, dry weather. At the end of this trail, you’ll arrive at the hidden Hvannadalur Valley and the incredible Haelavikurbjarg cliff that plunges 258m (846ft) suddenly into the ocean. Thousands of seabirds nestle into the cliffs over frigid Atlantic waters. It’s a surreal, breathtaking, adrenaline-fueled sight.

Once you’ve had your fill of the view, return back to Reykjavik (the small town, not the capital) and take the right fork at the intersection onto Hornvik for your camp for the night. If you’re still feeling energetic, you can continue for a few more hours and camp closer to the old farm of Horn. Hiking to both the detour and Horn will extend your day to around 12-15 hours.

On day three, hike along the edge of Hornbjarg cliff for more magnificent vertical cliffs. The trail will take you to the Kalfatindar summit, a fairly simple but steep ascent, for a panorama at the top. The next day, hike up over a mountain pass, into the fjord Veidileysufjordur. You’ll need to prearrange for a private boat to pick you up at this fjord back to Isafjordur.

If you have a few extra days, extend the itinerary by a couple days by journeying on to Hornbjargsviti. This ancient lighthouse is a great base where you can set up your campground and explore the surroundings.

When to Go

As the northernmost tip of Iceland’s mainland, the West Fjords get chilly. Snowfall can be an issue, and some ferries and tours don’t start until late June. For these reasons, it’s best to go in late June and July (although guided tours are offered until September, but are sometimes cancelled due to weather and difficult boat crossings).

How to Get There

Hornstrandir is only accessible by boat. Ferries cross over from Isafjordur in the summertime, sometimes only on specific days of the week. You can easily sign up for a guide, who will share their knowledge of the area and get you to and from locations. If you choose to go alone, make sure you know the boat schedule by heart, as you’re dependent on it to get back to town. 

What to Bring

As Hornstrandir is well-isolated, it’s important to bring enough gear and supplies to make it through your journey. Weather is fickle, so dress in warm woolen or fleece base layers, with a wind- and waterproof jacket to protect from the elements and keep the heat in. Good hiking boots with traction will keep you from slipping on the muddy hillsides. Be sure to pack rainproof pants, day bag with enough food and water, a map, camera, and GPS and compass.

Where to Stay

Other than the Old Doctor’s House in Hesteyri, where you can set up your sleeping bags overnight, there’s no formal accommodation. There are however 13 official camping sites equipped with outhouses throughout the park, where you can pitch your tent at no cost. Camping outside of these areas is restricted. Note that if you plan to light a campfire, you need to obtain a permit before you go.