On every trip we take, we always plan at least one half-day hiking trip. Not only does the exercise serve as a wonderful justification for an extra portion at dinner or at least a few additional drinks, but the views are always some of our most lasting and mesmerizing memories. While Iceland has a nearly endless array of hikes for all kinds of skill levels, we were so glad that we made a last minute itinerary change and spent a day of our Iceland trip visiting Landmannalaugar. In fact, our full day’s adventure/quest/journey spent getting to, hiking in, and returning from Landmannalaugar ended up being one of my top 5 travel days of all time. We like finding the parts of Europe that transport us to imaginary worlds or to a different period in time, but Landmannalaugar has been the only place that has transported us to another planet. The hike we took was part fantasy, part space travel, and entirely awe-inspiring. This remote environment in central Iceland is indescribably magical – the very definition of what should be a “bucket list” experience.
We began the hike in a low-lying river-bed area with both ice-cold glacier streams and some volcanically heated pools that are used like hot tubs by the myriad of eclectic campers that set-up shop at the start of the trails. While you can hike the entire Laugavegur trail over a week’s time, we did the 5-6-hour “red” leg that began at the Brennisteinsalda sign (see pic).
As if going to Mordor in Lord of the Rings, we began by traversing through black, volcanic terrain, made it through the snowy hills and down to the grand valley before climbing, seemingly straight up, to a Saturn-like peak with a rainbow of red and blue sand and views unlike any we had ever seen. We then slowly navigated down the path, having to avoid steam pockets rising ominously from the trail reminiscent of the “fire swamp” in “The Princess Bride”, crossed another lava field, and finally we descended into another riverbed, this one with deep, alien-green colored rocks which eventually opened up to the valley where we began.
The entire hike is otherworldly. You’ll feel as though you visited another planet, with Dali-like landscapes and colors as random and mismatched as a four year old’s coloring book. Before you even get to the hike, you will have to drive about 2-3 hours from Reykjavik, and then park your car at a small gas station where you can rent the mandatory 4X4 it takes to even reach the basecamp. Or, you can rent a 4X4 from the airport, but it was cheaper for us to rent the second vehicle since we didn’t need a 4X4 during the rest of the trip. From the gas station, expect about an hour of bouncing around on the off-road trail that looks like you’re on the moon and you’ll eventually reach the parking area described above. Unless you’re in a jacked-up super off-road vehicle, park just before the stream that crosses over the road and walk the rest of the way to the basecamp. Be sure to bring everything you need, as they only place to purchase any snacks or supplies is at a converted school bus called the “Mountain Mall”, that has candy bars, soup, and some other supplies.
If you’re looking for an adventure, and for something you’ve never seen before and won’t see anywhere else, plan a day to visit the Brennisteinsalda section of the Laugavegur trail, in Landmannalaugar.
(C) 2018 All pictures and content by Abram Gordon, all rights reserved.