Iceland’s interior is by far its most rugged area. The terrain can be tough, and the F-roads are only accessible by jeeps with 4WD (in Winter, only by modified “super jeeps”). But the increased difficulty level means you will have the place to yourself, as few tourists reach the highlands. Here you will find some of the best hiking destinations: the red and orange volcanic landscapes at Landmannalaugar, strange canyons and other-worldly landscapes at þórsmörk (Thorsmork, “Thor’s Valley”), and some of the top geothermal areas at Hveradalir Geothermal Area where you can wander through the hills walking past steam vents and mud pools.

Highlights:

  • Hiking through Volcanoes at Landmannalaugar, including 4-day Laugavegur trek to Thorsmork
  • Þórsmörk (Thorsmork)
  • Explore steam vents, mud pools, and bright colors at Hveradalir Geothermal Area
  • Askja Crater (and warm Viti crater)
  • Drive Iceland’s infamous “F-Roads” to the most remote and desolate areas with no tourists

Þórsmörk (Thorsmork, the “Valley of Thor”)

A view over the glacier rivers in Thorsmork

As one of the premier hiking destinations in Iceland, Þórsmörk deserves some room on your travel itinerary.  This valley, named after Thor, the Nordic God of Thunder, has been carved away by glacial river floods that were caused by volcanic eruptions under the glaciers. You will notice ash and lava flow from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, which halted all European flights for a week. The viewpoints are endless, and you can spend days hiking up mountains, along cliffs, to waterfalls, volcanoes, and glaciers. The trails and terrain will vary, sometimes with necessary glacier river crossings (Do not attempt to cross the glacial river Krossá by foot, always use the bridge).

Stop by the mountain huts to obtain detailed hiking maps and information of the area.

Hiking the Fimmvörðuháls Trail from Skogafoss to Þórsmörk

One of the best ways to appreciate the area is to immerse yourself in the southern highlands with a long day hike from Skogafoss waterfall to Þórsmörk. The trail begins next to the waterfall and continues along the Skógá past "waterfall way", with around 20 waterfalls. You continue between two ice caps, Eyjafjallajökull (which erupted in 2010 and halted European flights), and Mýrdalsjökull which sits about Katla volcano. After hiking between the youngest craters, Magni and Móði, you will have a grand view over Þórsmörk before hiking to the end of the trail.  You can camp in mountain huts after the long hike, or one-way transport can be arranged to take you back to your vehicle at the start of the trail.

This route is intense: 25km with 1000m of elevation gain. Come prepared with plenty of water, food, a map and GPS, waterproof clothing and warmth. For more details, check out our Hiking Guide to the Fimmvörðuháls Trail.

Finishing the Laugavegur Trail from Landmannalaugar

This popular 4-day hike ends in Þórsmörk (For full details, see info for Landmannalaugar). If you’re short on time you can start in Þórsmörk and hike part of the trail in reverse and back in one day, or explore some of the day hikes in the area as well (see below)

Spending a night in Þórsmörk

If you’re ending a long day of hiking along the Fimmvörðuháls Trail from Skogar or the Laugavegur Trail from Landmannalaugar you may want to spend the night in the remote Húsadalur Valley to reflect on your accomplishment before re-joining the larger crowds back along the Ring Road. Consider spending the night in the Volcano Huts, where you will find a nice balance of nature and comfort (which you definitely deserve after a full day of exploring!).

Landmannalaugar

Hike or Trek through the lava fields in Landmannalaugar

For an equally impressive, but significantly different experience from þórsmörk, consider a day hiking around volcanic craters, steam vents, and geothermal hotspots around Landmannalaugar. The red and orange rhyolite mountains surround you as you hike around the start of the popular Landmannalaugar trail, which takes 4 days to þórsmörk (for an additional day, you can do the Fimmvörðuháls in reverse and end at Skogar).

To get here, you must drive about 2 hours along the F-roads where you will have a few river crossings (easiest via F-29 to F-208 to approach from the north of Landmannalaugar). Just before arriving, you will approach one final river. It’s recommended to park here and walk the final 1/4 mile, as many rental cars have lower clearance and the cars are not covered by the rental insurance in the highlands.

Once in Landmannalaugar, you can spend a day hiking the trails and soaking in the natural hot springs in the river.  Stop by the small information center at the base where you can obtain a hiking map and information about the area. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 2-hour hike through the Laugahraun lava field to Mt. Brennisteinsalda
  • 1-hour hike up Mt. Bláhnjúkur
  • Ljótipollur: a beautiful blue pool surrounded by bright red mountains.
  • Frostastaðavatn: a large lake, popular for fishing. A hike around the perimeter takes about 3 hours or so and passes through a lava field.
  • The start of popular Laugavegur Trail (4 days to Thorsmork, or turn left after 10-20 minutes to make a loop.
  • Soak in the hot springs at the base. The closer you get to the source the hotter the water will be, so find an area that has the right temperature and relax for a while.

Askja Crater (and Viti)

A view down into Viti with Askja Crater in the background

Visitors to the Lake Myvatn in the north of Iceland may want to spend a full day exploring the Highlands area in the north of Vatnajökull National Park. The star attraction in this area is Askja Crater, a 5-mile wide flooded caldera. The lake is the deepest Iceland with a  maximum depth of more than 200m, and was formed by an eruption in the south of the caldera in 1875.  You can walk from the parking area to Askja in about 40 min, and the trail is well marked. A longer hike is also possible from Drekagil, over the Dyngjufjöll Mountains to the Víti crater, about 2-3 hours each way.

Most visitors come for the smaller caldera, Víti ('Hell'), where you can hike down the (slippery) slope and bath in the warm, milky-blue geothermal waters inside the crater. The small lake inside averages about 30 degrees Celsius, but varies based on the snow melt. You can hike around the crater and out to Askja along a couple trails in the area

Getting to Askja

It takes approximately 4 hours to drive from Mývatn to Askja (one way) on a fully-equipped 4WD jeep. You can reach Askja 2 different ways, both via a detour from the Ring Road about 30 minutes east of Lake Myvatn. The route along F-905 to F-910 has smaller river crossings, while the route from F-88 may have crossings too difficult for smaller SUVs (you cannot reach this without a 4WD vehicle). If you don’t have a suitable vehicle, there are several day tours that leave from Akureyri and the Myvatn area.

Dreki Mountain Huts at Askja

If you wish to spend more time around Askja, consider staying in the nearby mountain huts at Dreki. The two mountain huts can hold about 60 people in total, but you must bring your own sleeping bag. You will also find a camping site nearby if you bring your own tent.  Seasonal availability depends on weather and snow melt, often not opening until July, and closing down again in early September, call ahead to check on weather conditions and availability.

Kerlingarfjöll, Hveradalir, Hveravellir

Two Hikers explore Hveradalir Geothermal Area

You’ll find one of the largest geothermal and hot spring areas in Iceland by driving about 2 hours north from Gullfoss along F-35. In this “valley of hot springs,” you can spend a day exploring a network of days along red and orange mountains, past steam vents and around hot pools. For a longer hike, consider the 7-mile upper Hveradalir Trail that gives a great overview of the top sights in the area. While you can also see some geothermal sights at Hverir Hverarönd near Lake Myavtn (north), or at Geysir Geothermal Area (near Golden Circle), nothing compares to this geothermal wonderland, with the added bonus of very few other tourists sharing the experience.

Geothermal pool at Hveravellir

For a truly unique, away-from-it-all experience, take a relaxing soak in the geothermal pool, surrounded by the geothermal area, Kjalhraun lava field, and Langjökull. The temperature is "regulated" by a mixture of hot and cold water, both flowing into the pool. While it's possible to fit about 20 people total, but you may have it all to yourself.

Getting there can be a little tough, as the 2-hours on F-35  from Gullfoss to F-347 are slow-going and pothole filled, but afterward, you will have a much better appreciation for the vastness of the interior, an area few travelers ever experience.

If you prefer to spend more time, you will find a Lodge in the area as well as some camping sites.

Caution and Warnings

These are the highlands, and you will not find the same support that you will elsewhere in Iceland. It can be far to the nearest location for supplies. here are a few things to always pay close attention to when traveling in this area:

  • You must have a 4WD that is rated for the Highlands (check with your rental car company). You will face steep fines otherwise, and there are cameras in some sections to check (do not think you can do this in a compact rental car).
  • Stick to the marked roads, there are high fines for going off-road in Iceland, don't do it.
  • The roads can be quite bumpy, slow going, and there are river crossings at times depending on the route
  • Most of the following areas are within National Parks, follow the marked paths when hiking and camp only in designated camping areas. 
  • Bring extra food and water with you, you will not find it here.