Norway's Iconic Natural Wonders
Western Norway is home to three of the country's most recognizable rock formations. Pulpit Rock, Trolltunga, and Kjerag all boast hiking trails leading to viewpoints that have inspired thousands of instagram posts. This triple crown of spectacular summits is majorly photogenic—and hence, majorly popular. Hike to your heart's content while beating the crowds with our bounty of insider info.
Tips for Beating the Crowds
With more public transportation options to the area available in recent years—not to mention all the gorgeous photos on social media inspiring Norwegian vacations—all three "rock stars" have seen a surge in popularity. Hundreds of thousands of travelers visit each year, making it a challenge to seek out solitude.
The best way to beat the crowds? Avoid peak summer months at all costs—mid-July through August see the most traffic. Instead, plan a visit for late June or early September when you're more likely to have some space (though keep in mind that weather conditions will be less predictable).
Another pro tip: get there early. Daytime comes early in the Norwegian summer months, and a sunrise start means you'll begin your hike before most of the large tour groups and buses arrive. Along the Trolltunga trail (and at the trailhead), you're even allowed to camp overnight—as long as you have the proper gear, you can have the area all to yourself before and after the crowds descend, making for an especially personal experience and a guaranteed headstart.
Having a local expert along for the hike is also crucial. While you can certainly visit these landmarks on your own, a knowledgeable guide can lead you to less-crowded viewpoints, and will also help navigate snow and other elemental conditions if you're visiting in the spring or fall. Some can also take you off the beaten track, with alternative routes like a canoe and hike combination that offers a unique vantage point and circumvents the usual Pulpit Rock traffic.
To make the most of your visit, you'll want to spend at least four days in the area, using Stavanger as your home base. Spend your first day exploring the historic town by foot before hitting the hay - you'll want to rest up for your early wake-up call. The next morning, you'll head out to tackle the strenuous hike to Kjeragbolten, followed by similarly challenging treks to Pulpit Rock and Trolltunga on days three and four of your trip. Before heading to your next destination, check out some of the other attractions nearby. Make the heart-pounding climb up the Tyssedal ViaFerrata - or if you prefer something easier on your legs after all that hiking, take an über-scenic cruise on the Lysefjord, or reach new heights on the Trolltunga Zipline.
Hike 1: Kjerag
About 10,000 years ago, massive glaciers scraped their way from the mountains to the sea. In the process, Norway’s rugged landscapes, most notably its fjords, were formed. At some point, the famous Kjeragbolten (Kjerag boulder) was wedged into a crevasse at a heart-stopping 3,228 feet (984 meters) over the fjord.
Start your early morning journey at Høgsfjord - this is where you'll board your ferry through the Lysefjord, passing waterfalls, abandoned farms, and the famous Preikestolen Cliff. Once ashore, you’ll be driven up a (very) windy road through the Sirdal Mountains to the Eagle’s Nest trailhead.
The hike is demanding, with an ascent of more than 2,500 feet. During the approximately 2.5-hour climb to the boulder, you’ll encounter 3 periods of steep climbing interspersed with 2 shallow valleys. Along the way, you’ll enjoy views of Lysebotn at the head of the Lysefjord. The final mile leading up to Kjeragbolten is relatively flat, and once you reach the edge of the mountain’s plateau you'll be rewarded with panoramic views of the 26-mile long Lysefjord. If you’re among the brave, you can even stand atop the boulder before making your descent.
Distance: 7 miles (11 km)
Duration: 5.5 hours
Hike 2: Pulpit Rock
Preikestolen, known in English as Pulpit Rock, has been named time and time again as one of the world’s most spectacular viewpoints. It's the most visited natural attraction in Norway, hanging nearly two thousand feet above the Lysefjord, and its trail will likely be the most crowded of the three rock formations on your itinerary. An excellent option is to begin your guided hike before the sun comes up - not only will this grant you a legitimate headstart and plenty of solitude, you'll also take in the sunrise from the top.
The typical route up Pulpit Rock takes about 5 hours roundtrip on hilly terrain. You'll get to the trailhead after hopping on the Lysefjord ferry. Once you reach the mountain plateau, take some time to enjoy the spectacular view and snap plenty of instagram-worthy photos.
For a truly off-the-beaten-path experience, join a guide and visit Pulpit Rock another way, taking little-known forest trails and scrambling routes off the tourist map. You'll cross a lake by canoe before hiking in near solitude to a stunning viewpoint above Preikestolen that few people ever get to see. Then, you'll head to the plateau for a rest and enjoyment of this classic scene. It's a more challenging hike than the regular way, but certainly rewarding.
Distance: 6 miles (9 km)
Duration: 5 hours
Hike 3: Trolltunga
Trolltunga (or Troll's Tongue) is situated at over 3,600 feet above sea level, a whopping 2,300 feet above gorgeous Lake Ringedalsvatnet. This is a long, all-day hike on the Hardangervidda mountain plateau. The trek starts in Skjeggedal with 3 miles of steady uphill hiking, and you'll follow the clear-cut path to your first lookout point. Bask in the stunning view of Folgefonna National Park before continuing towards Tyssebotn. Here you'll find deep holes in the mountain, made by sand and stone that rotated over time in the now dry Tyssestrengene Waterfall - once the world's fifth tallest waterfall. The hike ends at Trolltunga, with stunning views of the lake below and the Folgefonna Glacier in the distance. Walk out to the edge of the "tongue" if you dare - though always be sure to keep safety in mind!
Distance: 17 miles (28 km)
Duration: 8-12 hours
Staying in Stavanger
Stavanger is a quaint harbor town with medieval roots, founded all the way back in the year 1125. Typically a mellow destination, the town is usually uncrowded with tourists - that is, until the cruise ships show up, which regularly expand the town's population by upwards of 5,000 people. To avoid sharing your Stavanger-based days with these crowds, check the cruise boat schedule and plan your time accordingly.
What To Do
You won't have a hard time filling a day or two exploring this historical town. A must see is Gamle Stavanger (Old Stavanger) on the west side of the harbor, consisting of 173 wooden houses built at the end of the 18th century. You'll also want to check out the Stavanger Cathedral, the only cathedral from the Middle Age that has kept its original architecture - and the only Norwegian cathedral in continuous use since the 1300s. If you have kids in tow, walk about 20 minutes from the city center to Stavanger Øst (East) and visit Freedome Park, a huge indoor trampoline playground, or head to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, filled with great exhibits about the science behind an industry important to Stavanger's economy.
Where to Eat
Stavanger is known as the "food pantry of Norway" for a reason. The town offers a bit of everything: fresh-caught shellfish, strawberries and kohlrabi straight from the farm, and fine dining with traditional flair (think lutefisk, carpaccio, and tiramisu). Try Renaa: Matbaren, a hip and laid-back bistro opened by an award-winning Norwegian chef. Order the gourmet burger, or a more traditional choice like the menu's well-executed fish soup. You can also check out cozy brasserie Fish & Cow - you'll find a consistent use of local ingredients and an impressive wine list.
For beer drinkers, new microbreweries are popping up all over the region. See what's on tap at Cirkus Bar on trendy Fargegaten (Color Street), or pull up a stool at Cardinal, known as a haven for craft beer aficionados. If wine is your jam, take a seat by the fire at local favorite Vinkontoret instead.
Where to Sleep
There are a number of solid lodging choices in town, and you'll want to choose based on convenience. The new Scandic Stavanger City hotel is great for hikers prioritizing an early start - its prime location near the Pulpit Rock ferry will get you to the trailhead bright and early. If you're interested in the comforts of a B&B experience at a budget price, book a room at highly-rated Stavanger Bed and Breakfast, which puts you close to both the bus and train stations. For quick access to waterfront activities, check out the more upscale Clarion Collection Hotel Skagen Brygge.