Marvelous Beyond Words: Female Solo Hiking Laugavegur Trail in Iceland
Although I dreamed about visiting Iceland for years, I had no idea I would be able to actually visit. Last year, when looking for a place to spend my summer, I researched briefly visiting Iceland but resign based on the costs.
This year I had planned my ten-year reunion with beloved friends in Canada.
Lo and behold! The cheapest flights to Canada were from... Reykjavik!
I decided it must have been a sign from the Universe that I had to visit Iceland (let's ignore the fact that I don't believe in signs for a moment here).
Female Solo Hiking Laugavegur: Why this trail?
Right away I moved to research my hiking options. Which was not an easy task! Iceland has so many wonderful options for the outdoors enthusiasts!
To narrow it down, especially after finding out how the transportation pricing works in Iceland, I decided to focus on the southern part of the country. It would be simply too expensive for me to go to the north or far east of the island.
After reading dozens of blogs and other websites I decided to go with the classic: the Laugavegur trail running from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk.
It's 55km and is generally done in four days. After seeing some photos I was sold, it seemed just a perfect trail for a female solo hiker. As I wanted to spend a week there, I decided that going for another two days to reach Skogar would be just perfect.
Female Solo Hiking Laugavegur Trail Up the Stream
As I already wrote in my post on hiking the Fimmvörðuháls trail, because of bus schedules, I decided to hike the trail the less popular direction.
The Laugavegur trail is typically walked from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk but as I was starting in Skogar, I did it the opposite way, which I am actually glad for.
It is more difficult that way (more climbing involved) but as I have a horrible anxiety, I prefer to pass people going the opposite direction than to compare myself to people going along me.
On my way over the few days, I passed a few organized group treks and it would not be a happy thing for me if I got stuck among them. I am an introvert with a serious anxiety and I just prefer to be on my own.
Additionally, I think hiking towards Landmannalaugar you leave the best for last. Although the whole length of the Laugavegur trail is rich in striking landscapes, I found the second half the most dramatic and fascinating.
Female Solo Hiking Laugavegur: Day 1 Basar to Emstrur
After hiking the Fimmvörðuháls for two days, it was just a third day for me. Rested and clean (important note, believe me) I was ready to hit the next stage.
I camped at the Basar Campsite which is really nice and big. You can find a spot for your tent under trees and enjoy stunning views all around.
If you wish, you can also stay at one of the huts. Prepare to spend extra money if you want to take a shower or have your electronic devices charged.
Costs: campsite - 1500kr, shower - 400kr/4min, charging - 1000kr/power bank and 500kr for a phone or small camera. The prices at all campsites are more or less similar.
If you start on the Basar side, prepare right away to cross streams. There is a very wide valley between Basar and Langidalur (where there is also a hut and a campsite, you can stay at either of them) in which the river Krossa flows.
When I was crossing it, it comprised of multiple streams of varied width. Over two wider ones, there were foot bridges installed, but the rest is for us to wade through.
Some of them are really shallow and can be crossed in your boots with no issues, but there was one that seemed shallow but just a bit too deep to risk getting the water over your boots. I lost too much time walking back and forth trying to find a safe passage before I finally gave in and put my sandals on.
Seriously - don't repeat my mistake and just start in your sandals/water shoes right away!
The walk to the next campsite at Emstrur is supposed to be 15 km long. But according to my ViewRanger, I covered 19km that day. Go figure. Considering the way I felt in the evening, I would say my ViewRanger was right ;-)
The trail takes you through various landscapes of hills, sand dunes, and small canyons. In the beginning, you walk through beautiful fields of colorful grasses and flowers. The pink grasses make striking views.
The water didn't go higher than maybe 5 cm (2 in) above my knee, but the river bed was covered in slippery rocks and the river stream was very strong, pushing me off the path and causing waves go up my thighs.
The colors of rocks and sand were surprising as well - I've never before seen such dark, almost black, sand! White gnarly roots made stark contrast on the black dunes.
Do you enjoy my photos? You can download some of them
at my Gallery: A Woman Afoot Photography.
The most difficult part to me was the last, right before the campsite. The trail takes you down a deep ravine, where you have to walk very close the edge. You can see the violent Syðri-Emstruá river right there, all boiling grayish force.
There is a bridge, which is steady and strong - but if you have a tendency to get dizzy, hold on to the railing. Right after crossing there is this long and steep climb up a dark slate-colored sand dune.
At that moment I was exhausted and expected a crowd of cheering fans on the top. Seriously, I felt I deserved a medal.
I was so tired that when I finally got to the campsite I wanted to get all "oh, f*ck it!" and buy a spot at the hut, thinking it would be a 5000kr.
But when I found out it was 8000kr I had no choice but to camp. All the spots near the main path up the hut were taken so I went on the other side. I had a longer walk to the facilities but I won the view - don't you think so?
It was glorious!
By the way - don't get fooled by the photos of me hiking in a short-sleeve tee. When I hike I sweat and fire up like crazy. But it was cold.
Whenever I stopped I was getting chilly right away! When I pitched my tent I started to put brazillion layers on me momentarily. The moment the sun stopped heating up as much, it got crazy cold! Be prepared :)
Take a look at your insulating layer options below (can’t see anything? try refreshing the page):
The hut and campsite at Emstrur are very basic. There is no power whatsoever - even for money!
There is cold water for basic washup and showers for 500kr/4min. To be honest, I was too cold to take the shower. After eating my go to dinner - protein-rich tomato powder soup with rice noodles, I hid into my comfy winter down sleeping bag and was gone from the world.
Except to take fast pics of the sunset through the small vents in my tent. No one would force me to get out from my warm bag!
On a side note - there were tourists in the hut who came there by a monster truck and brought with them ridiculous things.
So when all those poor camping hikers came out with their insta-meals, they made... wait for it... grill with bacon and meat, onions and veggies, and had alcohol in glass bottles. WTF?
They created smell to kill for and I'm pretty sure not few of those campers had nasty thoughts about them.
Female Solo Hiking Laugavegur Trail: Day 2 Emstrur to Álftavatn
The next day, after breakfast (and a Kindle) with a glorious view, I moved on towards Álftavatn. Thanks to a good tip, I made a detour to see a canyon.
I highly recommend doing it - just leave your bag by the sign and walk about 20 min for incredible views. The rainbow-colored rocks are well worth adding a few kilometers to this day! Just look at the photos - who would have passed the opportunity to see such beauty?
The canyon is so close to the campsite, that some folks make the trip in the evening but I was too tired. I think it makes sense to add it to the next day's trip as it's on the way anyway.
The path takes you very fast into a very long, flat lava field. It's an easy walk but feels like it goes forever. I was lucky that the weather was pleasant with no rain whatsoever.
It's beautiful, otherworldly, fascinating. I loved watching the plants and flowers finding their way in this inhospitable environment.
I don't want to seem ungrateful or anything, but this part gets a bit... boring after a while. It's just a lot of the same.
It's amazing and otherworldly in the beginning, fascinating and so different. But two hours later it's just on and on and on...
There is a river crossing so, again, have your water shoes and a towel at the ready. The crossing is not easy and the water is icy cold. Be careful! I could also see, for the first time, why it is so expensive to go by bus in Iceland ;-)
To get to this part of Iceland, you can only go by this special mountain bus. As you can see, you can't also just rent an ordinary car to go there.
Even some 4x4 struggle here and most trucks I saw had monster-sized wheels.
Soon, you reach the first hut at Hvanngil and can decide to stop there. I wanted to go on to Álftavatn. There is one more river crossing, but this time it was almost pleasant.
The water was pretty shallow and almost warm (especially when compared to the icy rivers before!). The view that opens for you as you get closer is truly breathtaking.
The Álftavatn campsite is almost luxurious - there is even a restaurant! I felt that I deserved some treat after everything and went for the dinner.
There was no choice - just one option for 3500kr (soup + second dish). As I couldn't eat the soup (gluten), they told me to pay 2500kr.
The dinner was tasty (although I could have eaten double portion) and in addition to not having to cook that evening, I could properly warm up. It was as cold as it was beautiful at the lake!
I have no idea what the actual temperature was but am sure it could not be more than 5 - 7°C with icy winds.
If you don't want to eat - you can order a cup of tea or a beer and enjoy the warm, although tiny, interior. I also went for breakfast the next day - I know how to pamper myself!
I also made the awesome decision to buy chocolate instead of a shower (similar price). I had no idea there would be no showers at the next campsite... ;-)
Female Solo Hiking Laugavegur Trail: Day 3 Álftavatn to Hrafntinnusker
Now, this is the day, when you definitely don't want your camera to run out of batteries! I was glad I paid the price and charged it properly at the hut.
Prepare for stunning views all around you! Hiking this part the "wrong" direction is really challenging. Soon after leaving the campsite we have to cross a river (I managed to cross with boots on, but barely) and reach the foot of Jökultungur.
It is very steep and covered in loose stones, gravel, and sand. I think I'm glad I had no idea how high this mountain really was. From the bottom, you just don't see it as there are multiple false-peaks on the way.
There were many people passing me the other direction and some of them fell because of the steep path and sandy surface. Please be extra careful - no matter what direction you walk.
This climb was really challenging, I felt like a superwoman after completing it.
The difference in heights is so big, you can feel the change in temperature and the general look of the surroundings. But the views... words can't describe the beauty.
I can only hope that those few photos I took can show at least some part of the awesomeness.
From now on, you walk through the land of fire and ice and realize why this trail is named Laugavegur. Everywhere you turn there is steam rising above colorful rocks, between snow patches and colorful mineral buildup.
The constant smell of boiled eggs is the less pleasant side of this phenomena.
Over the next days, you will learn to discern between the smell of over-boiled eggs, rotten eggs, and just boiled ones. I was so thankful for the amazing evolutionary weakness of our species: how easily we get used to odors.
I was glad we don't have the smell of canines...
If you are up to it, you may want to climb up the Háskerðingur peak - the highest in the area at 1281 m.
I was too tired and did my heavy climbing that day already. Along the path, we cross often snow patches and ice bridges which require extra care.
It was quite unnerving to see broken ice bridges with clear icy streams down under.
I know that's a lot of photos that I drop here, but believe me - I had to work hard to pick just a few from the dozens of photos - each one attempting to capture the stunning beauty that is the Laugavegur trail.
We finally reach the highest campsite on the trail - Hrafntinnusker at 1100m above the sea level.
There are no showers here (!) and there are issues with proper sanitary facilities... which means that the toilets simply stink like crazy.
There is one toilet also at the campsite - I was using this one, as I simply couldn't breathe at the main ones. I have no idea how people could brush their teeth in there...
The campsite is filled with walled-off spots, revealing right away how cold and windy it can be here. Even with this bit of protection, I had a very hard time with boiling water, I waited something like 20min to finally get to eat my dinner.
I used my dry bag as a wind shield but it was only slightly helpful.
Female Solo Hiking the Laugavegur Trail: Day 4 Hrafntinnusker to Landmannalaugar
The next day I woke up to the most miserable day in my whole Iceland stay. It was raining and the visibility was just a few meters. It was crazy cold with heavy winds.
If it weren't for the fact that I had to catch a bus in Landmannalaugar at 6 pm in order to make it to my flight, I would not have left my sleeping bag ;-).
I tried to boil my water for some time but I couldn't even light the fire! I gave up and decided to cheat the system a bit. I wanted to go to the hut's mudroom to boil my water there, shielded from winds and cold.
But when I was there and saw so many people going back and forth, I decided to commit the crime and enter the main room of the hut (forbidden to the no-hutters). It was so nice and warm in there!
Not only this, in the kitchen there was a huge pot of boiling water. I felt seriously bad (I have big issues with breaking rules, being Asperger and all) for taking it to make my oatmeal and a cup of coffee.
I am so glad I did that! I can't even think about moving on to hike in such a weather without a hot breakfast.
Finally, I had to move on. I was so glad I had my new rain pants and waterproof mittens! My tent was completely wet but I didn't care - I was going to sleep at a hostel anyway this night.
This day I didn't walk solo but with Lasse, a nice lad from Switzerland I met on my way. It was a nice change to my usual solo hiking but I wouldn't be able to do it as a rule.
I still prefer hiking alone! Too much anxiety for my poor brain.
Anyway, from the photos you can see that this kind of weather is nothing unusual here.
The trail markers were spaced really close to each other so can be seen even in thick fog. All dressed up and full of hot oatmeal I was ready to face anything!
I actually enjoyed walking in the rain with snow patches, colorful rocks, and geysers all around me. Quite soon, the rain eased and I could take off my rain pants and mittens.
I loved hiking here - it's pretty easy, mostly leading you down toward Landmannalaugar. You can now pass the famous colorful mountains with steam rising from multiple spots.
Soon there are more and more people as there are day hikers from Landmannalaugar. Before reaching the campsites we go through another lava field, which looks like a vomit of an angry god. Really.
You have all those beautiful, colorful hills with panda-like snow patches, and then suddenly - this pile of black rock vomit.
I reached Landmannalaugar about two hours before the bus. There are hot springs there you can enjoy and some facilities - showers and toilets.
There is also a small store. If you want to use the facilities you have to pay a daily 500kr fee. As I just wanted to use the toilets, I didn't have to.
My companion for the day - Lasse, stayed in Laundmannalaugar for the night before hiking on. He was ready to enjoy the hot springs later on. If you have the time - stay longer and do the same.
You can even stay a few nights at the campsite and explore the area - there are many day hikes to choose from and the region is stunningly beautiful!
After I cooked a fast meal and grabbed a coffee - I was ready to board the bus.
Normally, the story would stop here, but not in Iceland. Going by the mountain bus is an adventure in itself. I was lucky to grab the front seat (no idea why no one wanted to sit there, I was one of the last passengers to board) and had a great view.
Which could be hard for anyone with motion sickness. The driver stopped a couple times to show interesting places and the pilot (or second driver) was sharing some awesome stories and legends. He even sang a beautiful lullaby and recited a poem.
At least you know what you are paying for! :)
Female Solo Hiking Laugavegur Trail: A summary
It's awesome. Do it.
What, you want more?
It's 55 km of pure awesomeness through lava fields, rocks, black sand dunes, ice bridges, and rivers. It's challenging at times and you feel like a young goddess after completing it.
You feed your eyes and mind with views you had no idea could be real. It's expensive to travel there but it's worth every krona you spent.
I went way over budget there but I don't regret anything for even a second.
Do it, do it, do it!
Additional note: Laugavegur trail is perfect for solo hiking and camping. You feel it's rugged and difficult but you are not far from people in case you need help.
There are other tourists (quite a lot of them) and there is no danger what so ever. The campsites are safe and people are nice.
You can talk with others if you want to or you can keep to yourself. It's lovely. And awesome.
On a very serious note: Prepare well.
Summer in Iceland is not the same as everywhere else. Have a few layers of clothes at the ready, with rainproofs being a must.
Make sure you have sturdy hiking boots (you walk through snow, streams and sharp volcanic rocks), warm hat, a buff, gloves and a 3-season tent.
I have a down bag filled with 800 g of highest quality down. I wouldn't change it for anything lighter!
Make sure you read this packing list for hiking and camping in Iceland.
Weather in Iceland is volatile and you have to be ready and prepared. Although Laugavegur trail is not extremely difficult, it is not a walk in a park.
It is advisable to train before and learn some hiking tips and tricks before you go. And don't forget to buy an insurance!
Grab all the food you need - there are no stores or shops on the trail and except for the restaurant at Alftavatn, there is no way to resupply or find another way to enrich your own supplies.
You can buy things like chocolate or candy bars at some huts, but they are very expensive (still, worth it! Check out the Sirius caramel+salt one!).