As you set foot in Iceland, you step into a world where Mother Nature has unfurled her canvas and painted landscapes that defy imagination. The land of fire and ice teems with roaring waterfalls, ethereal geysers, vast glaciers, and eerie volcanic terrains that seem like a peek into the primordial world. Amidst this geological kaleidoscope lies the Golden Circle - a 300-kilometer loop that stretches from the vibrant capital of Reykjavík into the soul-stirring heartlands of southern Iceland. This route isn't just a highway to the grandeur of Iceland's most celebrated sights; it's an open invitation to adventure seekers to lace up their boots and discover the untamed beauty of the Nordic island through its trails.
The Golden Circle is a treasure trove of the sublime, offering iconic attractions that have placed Iceland on the global map: Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site steeped in history; the Geysir Geothermal Area, where the earth simmers and periodically erupts in a spectacular display of geothermal power; and Gullfoss, a waterfall of such majesty and power that it leaves viewers in awestruck silence. But beyond these marquee sights, the Golden Circle is also a gateway to a hiker's paradise. From serene valleys carpeted with vibrant moss and Arctic wildflowers to rugged, lunar-like landscapes punctuated with snow-capped peaks and glaciers, hiking trails here promise an experience that is as varied as it is unforgettable. So, get ready to embark on a journey through the top ten hiking trails in and around the Golden Circle. This journey offers more than a communion with nature; it's an exploration of the soul, a discovery of the wild, and an adventure that will remain etched in your memory long after you've left the trails behind.
- Thingvellir National Park: Where History and Nature Intertwine
Situated in the heart of Iceland's Golden Circle, Thingvellir National Park is a hiker's paradise where geological wonders and significant historical sites are woven into the landscape. The park offers a plethora of hiking trails, each showcasing a different facet of this mesmerizing terrain. One of the most popular paths is the trail leading from the visitor center to the Öxarárfoss waterfall, along the rift valley where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates diverge. As you trek along the marked trails, the earth under your feet serves as a living reminder of the seismic forces constantly shaping our planet.
These hiking trails also trace Iceland's historical roots, leading to the location of the first Alþingi (parliament) and the Lögberg, or Law Rock, the traditional site of early Icelandic open-air assemblies. This convergence of human history and geological marvels amplifies the unique experience of hiking in Thingvellir. As you explore, you will find yourself walking in the footsteps of early settlers, simultaneously experiencing the majesty of Iceland's natural environment and the weight of its history. Each trail at Thingvellir promises a deeply enriching experience, making this national park an essential destination for any hiking enthusiast.
- Laugavegur Trail: A Journey Through Iceland's Colorful Palette
Laugavegur Trail, a 55-kilometer trek through some of Iceland's most diverse and breathtaking landscapes, is undeniably a crown jewel in the country's hiking offerings. Starting from the geothermal wonderland of Landmannalaugar, the trail takes hikers through a kaleidoscope of terrains, including lava fields, rhyolite mountains, black sand deserts, and lush green valleys. The trail is named after Laugavegur street in Reykjavik, which translates to 'hot spring route', reflecting the geothermal activity and hot springs scattered throughout the trail. It usually takes 4-5 days to complete, with mountain huts and camping sites providing shelter and rest along the way.
The Laugavegur Trail offers a transformative hiking experience, with each day unveiling new vistas. The journey begins with the surreal, colorful mountains of Landmannalaugar, through the obsidian desert at Hrafntinnusker, onto the green valleys of Álftavatn and Hvanngil, finally culminating in the dense birch forests of Þórsmörk. River crossings and changing weather conditions continuously challenge hikers, but the trail's splendor, featuring glacier views, vibrant moss-covered hills, and otherworldly landscapes, make every step worth the effort. Whether you're a seasoned trekker or a nature enthusiast, hiking the Laugavegur Trail offers a captivating immersion into Iceland's unique and varied natural beauty.
- Fimmvörðuháls Trail: Between the Glaciers
The Fimmvörðuháls trail, nestled between two of Iceland's most impressive glaciers, Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull, offers hikers an unforgettable trek through a realm of ice and fire. Stretching approximately 25 kilometers, the trail is typically traversed in one or two days and is one of Iceland's most popular hikes, thanks to its striking contrasts and dynamic landscapes. The journey begins at Skógafoss, one of Iceland's tallest and most picturesque waterfalls, and winds its way uphill through a valley teeming with countless other cascading waterfalls.
As hikers progress along the trail, the surroundings transform from verdant valleys into a lunar-like landscape of fresh lava fields and volcanic craters - a result of the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Traversing this landscape, hikers can witness the youngest mountains in the world, Magni and Móði, named after the sons of Thor, the Norse god of thunder. The trail then descends into the serene Þórsmörk valley, a green oasis surrounded by glaciers and mountains. With its challenging terrain, sweeping vistas of the highlands, and close-up encounters with the raw power of Iceland's geology, the Fimmvörðuháls trail provides a truly epic hiking adventure, bringing you face to face with the formidable forces that shape our planet.
- Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Range: A Hiker's Solitude
Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Range, situated in Iceland's central highlands, offers an idyllic and somewhat isolated hiking experience that caters particularly to those seeking solitude and unspoiled natural beauty. The mountain range, reaching up to 1,477 meters at its highest peak, is an otherworldly blend of snow-dusted peaks, hot springs, steam vents, and vibrantly colored rhyolite mountains. The area is accessible from June to September, depending on the weather conditions, with multiple hiking routes ranging from easier valley trails to more challenging mountain ascents.
The heart of the Kerlingarfjöll is the Hveradalir geothermal area, a hotspot for hikers who marvel at the contrast of steamy vents and boiling mud pots against the backdrop of snowy peaks. From the parking area, a well-marked trail leads you into this geothermal wonderland, with options to extend your hike and summit some of the surrounding peaks, such as Snækollur, for breathtaking panoramic views. The Rjúpnavellir trail is another favorite, offering a closer look at the area's unique flora and fauna. Whether you choose a single-day hike or a multi-day trek staying in mountain huts, the raw, untouched beauty of the Kerlingarfjöll range provides an unparalleled hiking experience, offering peace, tranquillity, and a profound connection with nature.
- Glymur Waterfall Hike: Echoes of the Thunderous Water
The hike to Glymur, Iceland's second-highest waterfall, is a rewarding journey through a spectacular landscape. Tucked away in Hvalfjörður (Whale Fjord), just a short drive from Reykjavik, the waterfall stands at a staggering 198 meters, creating a thunderous spectacle as it cascades into a serene canyon. The hike to Glymur is moderately challenging, encompassing around 7-8 km round trip and involving some steep sections, river crossings, and narrow paths. However, the reward upon reaching the waterfall's viewpoint, with its powerful echoes and stunning vistas, makes every step worth the effort.
The trail begins at the parking lot, leading you through a small cave and along the edge of the Botnsá River before you encounter the first thrill of the hike - a log crossing over the river. As you ascend, the path offers glimpses of the waterfall and the surrounding lush, moss-covered canyon. The highest point of the hike, at the edge of the Hvalfell mountain, provides an awe-inspiring view of the waterfall and the fjord below. For the adventurous, the hike can be extended into a full loop, descending the other side of the canyon and crossing the river again at the base of the waterfall. With its combination of rugged terrain, breathtaking scenery, and the roaring symphony of the waterfall, the Glymur hike offers a thrilling immersion in Iceland's wild beauty.
- Hengill Volcano Area: Walking on the Wild Side
The Hengill volcano area, located in the southwest of Iceland, presents a fascinating hiking environment, steeped in geothermal activity and rugged landscapes. The Hengill volcano, one of the largest and most active volcanic areas in Iceland, offers a network of trails that lead you through steaming vents, hot springs, and bubbling mud pools. It's not unusual to see steam rising from the ground as you hike, a testament to the immense geothermal energy beneath your feet. Two power plants in the area, Hellisheiði and Nesjavellir, harness this energy, demonstrating Iceland's commitment to sustainable energy sources.
There are numerous hiking routes in the Hengill area, each varying in length and difficulty, but all providing a taste of Iceland's wild volcanic landscape. One of the most popular trails is the hike from the Hellisheiði power plant to the geothermal hot springs area of Reykjadalur. This trail, about 7 kilometers long, rewards hikers with a warm river where you can bathe in the naturally heated waters, surrounded by the verdant valley. The Vörðu Skeggja trail is another favorite, offering panoramic views over the Þingvallavatn lake and the surrounding area.
- Geysir Geothermal Area: Where Earth Breathes Fire
The Geysir Geothermal Area, located in the heart of the Golden Circle, is an explosive and dynamic hiking destination where visitors can witness the Earth's inner heat venting out in dramatic fashion. The site is named after the Great Geysir, which has been dormant for years but was once renowned for its powerful eruptions. However, its neighbor, Strokkur, reliably erupts every 5 to 10 minutes, shooting hot water up to 20-40 meters in the air, providing a spectacular display of geothermal power.
While the geysers themselves are the star attractions, the area offers an array of hiking opportunities. The two-hour round trip trail to the top of Laugafell hill provides panoramic views over the geothermal field, farmlands, and the nearby Langjökull glacier. For a longer trek, hikers can follow the trail from the Geysir area to Gullfoss waterfall, part of a 7-kilometer route that offers stunning views of the Hvítá river canyon. Another popular walk is the Litli-Geysir trail, a short, easy route that takes you past several smaller hot springs and geysers. Exploring these trails, hikers can appreciate the diversity of the geothermal phenomena, from bubbling mud pools to steaming fumaroles and erupting geysers, making the Geysir Geothermal Area a fascinating and unforgettable hiking destination.
- Kjölur Route: Into the Wilderness
The Kjölur route, also known as Route F35, takes hikers deep into the heart of Iceland's highland wilderness. This historic trail, which runs approximately 200 kilometers between the Langjökull and Hofsjökull glaciers, was used by Vikings in the past and is one of the oldest known roads in Iceland. It offers hikers an adventure through remote landscapes characterized by desolate beauty, vast tundra, geothermal hot springs, and unforgettable glacier views. The route is open from around late June until September, depending on weather conditions, and is only accessible by 4x4 vehicles, making it a true wilderness experience.
While hiking the entire Kjölur route may be a multi-day endeavor for the most dedicated adventurers, there are several shorter hikes that allow visitors to experience this unique environment. One such trail is the hike to the hot springs at Hveravellir, a geothermal oasis in the middle of the route where hikers can bathe in naturally heated pools amidst the highland solitude. Another popular trek is the ascent of the Kerlingarfjöll mountains, a side trip from the main Kjölur route that rewards hikers with views of the brightly colored rhyolite peaks and expansive views over the highlands. The Kjölur route, with its raw, untouched landscapes and sense of isolation, offers hikers a journey into the wild heart of Iceland, promising a trek that is as challenging as it is rewarding.
- Gullfoss Waterfall Area: The Rumbling Beauty
Gullfoss, or the 'Golden Falls', is one of Iceland's most majestic and beloved waterfalls. Located in the canyon of the Hvítá river, this powerful cascade is a highlight of the Golden Circle route and offers a variety of hiking opportunities to immerse in its raw beauty. The waterfall drops in two stages, one 11 meters high and the other 21 meters, into a rugged canyon whose walls reach up to 70 meters in height. On sunny days, a shimmering rainbow is often visible over the falls, further enhancing its enchanting allure.
There are several trails around the Gullfoss area, allowing visitors to experience the waterfall from different perspectives. The most popular trail leads from the parking lot to several viewpoints at the edge of the falls, each providing spectacular views of the thundering waters. For those looking for a more adventurous hike, a 7-kilometer trail connects Gullfoss to the Geysir Geothermal Area, offering scenic views of the Hvítá river valley. During winter, the falls partially freeze, and the surrounding landscape becomes a winter wonderland, making it a year-round hiking destination. Whether you're standing at the top of the falls feeling the spray of the icy water on your face or gazing at it from a distance, the Gullfoss area is sure to leave an indelible impression, offering hikers an experience of Iceland's dramatic landscapes at their finest.
- Mt. Bláfell: Scaling New Heights
Mt. Bláfell, a prominent mountain situated near the Golden Circle, beckons hikers with its rugged beauty and panoramic views. Standing at 1204 meters, Mt. Bláfell is the perfect destination for those looking to escape the more crowded trails and embark on a challenging but rewarding ascent. The mountain, whose name translates to 'Blue Mountain,' is part of the larger Bláfjöll Mountain Range, known for its enchanting landscapes marked by volcanic craters, lava fields, and glistening rivers.
The hiking trail to the summit of Mt. Bláfell begins at a marked parking area and ascends steadily through a landscape of volcanic rocks and alpine vegetation. The trail, approximately 5 kilometers in length one way, requires a good level of fitness due to its steep sections, but the summit rewards hikers with sweeping views over the Þingvellir National Park, the Hengill volcano area, and the luminous blue Þingvallavatn, Iceland's largest natural lake. On clear days, you may even catch a glimpse of the Snæfellsjökull glacier in the distance. The descent follows the same path, giving hikers another chance to savor the stunning views. Offering a mix of physical challenge and breathtaking beauty, a hike up Mt. Bláfell is a memorable adventure for those seeking to experience Iceland from new heights.
As we conclude our journey through the Golden Circle's top 10 hiking trails, it's clear that this area offers a unique blend of history, geology, and stunning landscapes. Each trail, from the thunderous Gullfoss Waterfall to the serene summit of Mt. Bláfell, offers an immersive experience into the very soul of Iceland. It's a land that invites you to explore, to feel the pulse of the earth under your boots, and let the power and beauty of nature inspire and transform you.
As a trusted tour company operating in the Golden Circle, we're dedicated to bringing these unforgettable experiences to life for our guests. Our expert-guided tours are designed to unveil the magic of this unique terrain, catering to all levels of adventure seekers. So, why wait? Turn your dreams of conquering these magnificent trails into reality. Browse through the Golden Circle tours on our website and book your Icelandic adventure today. With us, every journey is an epic tale waiting to be lived. Welcome to the Golden Circle — your adventure awaits!
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the best time to hike in the Golden Circle?
The best time to hike in the Golden Circle largely depends on the trail and personal preference. However, the summer months (June to August) typically provide the most favorable weather conditions and longer daylight hours. Always check local weather forecasts and trail conditions before setting out.
2. Do I need a guide to hike the trails in the Golden Circle?
While some trails are well-marked and suitable for independent hiking, others can be challenging and may require the expertise of a guide, particularly for those unfamiliar with Iceland's rapidly changing weather conditions. Our guided tours ensure you can enjoy the scenery while we take care of the logistics.
3. What should I pack for a hiking trip in the Golden Circle?
Essentials include warm and waterproof clothing (even in summer), sturdy hiking shoes, sunscreen, plenty of water, snacks, and a map or GPS. Don't forget your camera for the stunning views!
4. Are the trails in the Golden Circle suitable for beginners?
Yes, the Golden Circle offers a wide variety of trails suitable for all levels of hikers. Some trails, like those in the Geysir Geothermal Area or Thingvellir National Park, are relatively flat and easy to navigate, while others, such as the hike to the summit of Mt. Bláfell, offer more of a challenge.
6. Are there safety precautions I should be aware of while hiking in the Golden Circle?
Absolutely, safety should always be a priority. Stay on marked trails, check weather conditions before heading out, let someone know your plans, and never attempt a trail that is beyond your experience and fitness levels. Our guided tours prioritize your safety while ensuring you have an unforgettable experience.