The Best Hikes in East Iceland 2020
If you’re a keen walker – or just enjoy an occasional stroll during your holiday – chances are you’ve considered some of Europe’s best-known hiking destinations. The continent is riddled with classic trails, from the epic Tour de Mt Blanc and Sweden’s Kungsleden to shorter day hikes in Tuscany and the Cairngorms.
However, East Iceland is joining the hallowed ranks of Europe’s best hiking spots. The 55km-long Laugavegurinn (or Laugavegur) trail is already a favourite in Southwest Iceland, but the East offers walkers something equally exciting. With wonderful scenery, diverse hiking trails and a variety of outdoor activities, hiking holidays in Iceland are an extremely attractive option for those adventurers who are looking for a different kind of challenge.
Where: In the Dyrfjoll mountains near Borgarfjordur Eystri; trailheads from Road 94 where it scales Vatnsskard pass.
Why: Hike to a remote valley framed by saw-tooth peaks and jumbled with giant boulders. Aftermath of a troll’s tantrum or the result of a colossal Ice Age rockslide – you decide! Partly flooded by a turquoise lake, this extraordinary place makes a captivating picnic spot. Keep your eyes peeled not just for trolls, but for wild reindeer too.
How long: 5-7 hours
How difficult: Moderately strenuous with a 600m ascent/descent
2. Mt Snaefell
Where: On the edge of the Highlands, an hour’s drive from Egilsstadir using the 4WD track F909 to reach Snaefellsskali Hut.
Why: On a clear day, half of Iceland can be seen from the 1,833m summit of this dormant volcano – a spectacular desert of ash and lava stretching northwards; the brooding hulk of the Vatnajokull icecap to the south. The country’s highest freestanding mountain (one that doesn’t rise above an icecap), Snaefell offers a challenging but non-technical climb – rewarded afterwards with a soak in the Laugarfell hot springs.
How long: 6-7 hours
How difficult: Moderately challenging with a 800m ascent/descent
Where: Southern end of Lagarfljot lake, about 30 minutes drive from Egilsstadir.
Why: Two spectacular waterfalls for the price of one. Second highest in Iceland, Hengifoss swishes a 128m-tall horsetail-plume over humbug-striped cliffs – the unusual orange bands are from iron-rich clay deposits sandwiched between layers of basalt. Before you get there, pause to catch your breath and admire Litlanesfoss, a smaller cascade squeezed between corrugated cliffs of columnar basalt.
How long: 2 hours
How difficult: Gentle steady climb of about 300m, returning by same route
Where: At the mouth of Seydisfjordur on the southern side of the fjord, follow the road out of the village and park at Austdalur.
Why: Mountains, sea cliffs, waterfalls, meadows and black-sand beaches… Skalanes condenses the diversity and beauty of the East Fjords into a 1,250-hectare nature reserve. Exploring on foot, you’ll see eider ducks, arctic terns and waders such as black-tailed godwit, red-necked phalarope and golden plover. Raptors, including the magnificent gyr falcon, boost the summer bird list to 47 species; reindeer can be seen grazing the slopes, while whales and seals are sometimes spotted offshore.
How long: 2-3 hours
How difficult: Easy walking on a level track
Where: Near Borgarfjordur Eystri.
Why: The small village of Borgarfjordur Eystri has become a magnet to hikers and it’s not hard to see why. As well as tackling dozens of trails deep into the mountains (including the magical route to Storurd – see no.1), you can also set off in search of deserted inlets, like Brunavik. This circuit starts by heading out of Borgarfjordur Eystri, pausing to climb the 30m-high hill of Alfaborg (home to the queen of the Icelandic elves) and scale the wooden steps to the puffin colony on the island of Hafnarholmi. A nearby trail climbs inland to a pass, before dropping down to Brunavik. Your footsteps are likely to be the only ones on the black-sand beach of this deserted inlet. The trail returns via Hofstrandarskard pass and the colourful Helgargil canyon.
How long: 5-6 hours
How difficult: An easy 16km loop with two passes and a few stream crossings