Iceland is a nature lover’s paradise, full of incredible landscapes and natural wonders that you simply won’t find anywhere else on earth. While there are plenty of reasons to visit Iceland, the diverse hiking trails in Iceland are just icing on the cake.
With so many incredible trails to choose from, it can be hard to decide which to tackle during your visit to Iceland. To help make it easier for you, we’ve put together a list of the top 10 short day hikes in Iceland. The best part? You don’t need any permits for these day hikes!
Day hike to Glymur waterfall is not for those who are afraid of heights! As the second tallest waterfall in Iceland, Glymur waterfall is 198 metres high, cascading down a rugged landscape into a lush canyon below. You can hike the 6.3 km loop trail, which brings you to the top of Glymur waterfall, in about 3 – 3.5 hours. But be prepared for some obstacles — this exciting hike involves crossing a river twice! The trail starts and ends from a parking lot just off Route 47, north-east of Reykjavik.
If you are looking for a day hike that doesn’t involve extensive travel from Reykjavik, Mt. Esja is for you. Reachable by car or by taking two buses from the capital city (the #5 to Ártun, followed by the #57 to the Esja Hiking Center), this day hike is easily accessible and is about 6.9 km long. A short but steep hike, the Mt. Esja trail starts at the parking lot, taking you across a shifting landscape of rich vegetation and barren slopes before ending at the mountain’s peak, some 605 meters (1,985 feet) high. After you’ve taken in the view of the bay of Reykjavik, simply turn around to return to the parking lot where you end your journey.
The incredible Thorsmork (Þórsmörk) valley, translated into English as “Thor’s Valley”, is a stunning vista surrounded by three of Iceland’s most famous glaciers: Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Tindfjallajökull. While the valley is full of beautiful sights (enough to keep you busy for weeks on end!), the area’s best short day hike is certainly the Valahnukur mountain. This loop trail takes just 1.5 to 2 hours to complete, but gives you jaw-dropping panoramic views of the entire Thorsmork valley. You can start and end this hike at the Volcano Huts, within the Thorsmork Nature Reserve.
Hiking enthusiasts from all over the world travel to Iceland every year to visit the Laugavegur trail, a 55 km long trail that runs from the volcanic area of Landmannalaugar to the glaciers of Thorsmork. While hiking the Laugavegur normally takes anywhere from two to four days, you can appreciate a portion of its beauty in just one to two hours by hiking the 4 km loop trail of the Laugahraun lava field, often called the Landmannalaugar loop or the ‘Sulphur Wave’, one of the best hiking trails in Landmannalaugar. Starting near the northern part of the campsite in Landmannalaugar, this trail brings you close enough to Mt. Brennisteinsalda to see and smell the steam coming from its base before looping around and bringing you back to the campsite.
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The Blue Peak, like the Sulphur Wave, is another short day hike departing from the Landmannalaugar campsite. It is a great option if you do not have the time to complete the Laugavegur trail. This hike takes you up to the lava and volcanic ash-covered peak of Mt. Bláhnjúkur, from where you can see up to five different glaciers in the distance (weather permitting). After descending from the peak, rejoin the loop trail in the Laugahraun Lava Field to arrive back to the campsite. If including the loop, this trail takes anywhere from 3 to 4 hours to complete.
Yet another beautiful Icelandic national park, Skaftafell is full of gorgeous glaciers, incredible black sand beaches, and some great day hiking trails. The park has many trails, each marked according to their difficulty — blue for easy, red for moderate, and black for challenging. A favourite among locals and visitors alike is the Svartifoss waterfall hike, just 1.5 km long. Leaving from the parking lot (the start/end point), the trail gradually inclines towards various lookout points, including another smaller waterfall — Hundafoss.
A stunning trail featuring an amazing 26 waterfalls, lava formations, and two volcanic craters, the Fimmvörðuháls trail should not be missed! While most people complete this 25 km long trail in two days, it is not unrealistic to include it as a potential day hike. Guided tours are available for a single-day hike of Fimmvörðuháls, but it can also be done on your own. The Fimmvörðuháls pass begins in Skógar, near the Skógafoss waterfall, and ends at the Thorsmork Nature Park — or, of course, you can do the trail in reverse. Bear in mind that this day hike is on the long side, however, taking anywhere from 8 to 14 hours to complete, depending on your fitness level.
Have you ever wanted to feel as if you were walking on the moon? Then this trail is for you. The Myvatn area, where you will find the Hverfjall crater, is so full of dark lava and deep craters that it almost seems like it is another planet! For your day hike, it is just a 20-minute walk from the parking lot off Road 1, near Lake Myvatn, to Hverfjall’s circular crater. A trail around 3 km in length takes you around the crater for some incredible views.
If you came to Iceland for its waterfalls, you’re in luck — this trail features two! Hengifoss is another waterfall that makes for an excellent day hike. This is a rather popular trail, and the parking lot where the hike starts and ends can be quite crowded in the summer months. The 2.5 km long hike starts with a flight of stairs, followed by a moderately easy gravel trail. Around halfway, you’ll be able to spot the equally beautiful Litlanesfoss cascading in the distance.
This day hike in Iceland will bring you to the beautiful area of Reykjadalur, a natural hot spring with a name that translates to “steam valley”. You’ll find this trail just outside Hveragerði, a short 40 minute drive from Reykjavik. Leaving from the parking lot for the hot springs, you can follow a well marked 3 km trail across the surrounding area, where you’ll even find a small waterfall. Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit!