Putting East Iceland on the Hiker’s Map
If you’re a keen walker – or just enjoy an occasional stroll on 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.
It won’t be long, however, before East Iceland joins 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, hiking holidays in Iceland are bound to become a very attractive activity for many adventurers.
Base yourself in the East Fjords, for example, and you could spend the morning roaming a wild and beautiful shore chiseled with sea stacks, arches and caves, before setting off in the afternoon along mountain trails leading to waterfalls straight out of The Lord of the Rings. You can also share lofty routes with herds of wild reindeer, delve into valleys inhabited by trolls and elf queens or follow ancient trade routes through valleys sparkling with salmon streams. There are ice-clad volcanoes to conquer (including Iceland’s highest freestanding peak) and large swathes of forest (a rarity in Iceland) in which to immerse yourself. You can even take gentle steps to get up-close and personal with puffins, or join a local guide to explore the culture and history of a traditional fishing village.
From a practical point of view, getting footloose and fancy-free in East Iceland has never been easier. Not only are we launching exclusive new direct flights this summer between the UK and Egilsstadir, the gateway to the East, but we’ve also added a small-group guided hiking holiday showcasing the best of the East.
- Footsteps of the Elves (7 nights | Jun-Sep)
Five of the Best Hikes in East Iceland
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