The Laugavegur Trail (well, some of it)

I only had a short time in Iceland but I was determined to make the most of my time there and get out for a hike out of the city, even if it wasn’t a very long one. I decided to take a bus to Landmannalaugar for the day, where I could try a section of the famous Laugavegur trail. The whole thing is 55 km long, so there was no way I’d be able to do the whole thing as a day trip, but a few hours wandering amongst the strange landscapes would certainly be better than nothing.

I’m up bright and early to catch my bus to Landmannalaugar. Unfortunately the bus is 3 and half hours each way with another 3 and half to spare in Landmannalaugar, so there is more driving involved than actual hiking to do it as a day trip, and it involves a very early start. The start of the drive is mostly farmland, so I spend the first few hours of the bus trip napping to catch up on sleep.

Landmannalaugar - Iceland

Strange landscapes on the road to Landmannalaugar

About an hour and half out of Landmannalaugar the landscape changes dramatically and I pop up, wide awake. The hills here are striking, spectacular, and just plain weird. I wonder if its possible to photoshop real life because they just don’t quite look real. Huge black and brown mounds with bright green moss growing all over them. The soil is quite unstable and there are lots of tracks where the moss has been worn away. The patterns in the moss make the hills look like they’ve been painted with long green brush strokes. I see one that reminds me of a witch’s cauldron with sickly green potions oozing over the side. As we get closer to our destination, the hills retain their strangeness but the variety of colors increases. Bright reds and shades of orange start making their way into the soil and slabs of ice near the tops make strange formations in white. Bits of the ice sheets have soot around the edges, making the hills look like they have impossible shadows cast across them. I can’t wait to get out of the bus and wander around in this strange place.

Landmannalaugar - Iceland

Views over Landmannalaugar campsite from the Laugavegur trail

We make it to the Landmannalaugar campsite, a beautiful spot in a valley by the riverside with thermal pools out the back. I hit the Laugavegur trail as soon as I get off the bus to make the most of my time here. The track ascends into the hills straight away with great views over the campsite below. It’s a busy little trail and seems to be very popular with the locals. I see a few tourists but most of the people I pass are yakking away to each other in Icelandic. I love eavesdropping on their conversations and trying to work out what they’re saying from their tone and body language.

Landmannalaugar - Iceland

Up close and personal with ice formations on the Laugavegur trail

The track makes it’s way through a beautiful valley up in the mountains with side trails that veer off into the distance. I wish I had time to explore these as well, but time is short, so I make my way further up into the hills instead. The views open up even further as I climb higher. Wonderful vistas of the barren strange-colored hills spread out wide in front of me each time I turn around. I start to see lots of thermal activity around the place as well. In a few places I think there’s some fog coming in but it turns out to be the ground steaming enthusiastically. In spite of the warm steam, it starts to get a lot colder up here and I come face to face with the strange chunks of sooty ice that I was admiring from the bus. Good thing I dressed warmly.

Landmannalaugar - Iceland

Thermal activity

I’m making way through well packed snow by the time I make it to the top of the pass. It’s getting near time to turn back so I crank up my pace a bit so I can get a look at what’s on the other side of the hill. The landscape stretches out with ice, alpine flora and more of the strange mountains rolling away into the distance. It’s a shame I don’t have more time, the track is just starting to quiet down a little now that I’m slightly out of day hike territory.

Landmannalaugar - Iceland

Panorama from high up on the Laugavegur trail

I turn around and make my way back to the bus. Even in midsummer the trail is pretty chilly so it would be no cakewalk, but I’d love to come back and do the whole thing. I can’t get over how strange everything looks here. The odd colors and sooty fake shadows make the whole place look like someone tried to paint a mountain landscape but wasn’t very good at realism. The oddness just adds to the beauty of the place.

Landmannalaugar - Iceland

Skies clear on the return journey from Landmannalaugar

I get back on the bus, tuckered out and looking forward to the scenic drive back (and a nap once we get back into farmland). Just revisiting the mountains along the rough dirt road is a treat enough even though I’ve already seen them, but on the return trip I get wonderful bonus. As the bus gets closer to the main road a herd of Icelandic horses come racing unbridled through the lava fields with their beautiful manes streaming out behind them. A thrilling end to the day.

Listening to: Wild Horses – The Rolling Stones

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