Road-Tripping Around Iceland: Short Hikes to Consider
When road-tripping around Iceland, you need to stop every now and then and stretch your legs. Many short, easy hike options exist regardless of where your travels take you. These hikes are also an opportunity to see more than can be glimpsed from the road.
Most of these hikes are doable for average people with average fitness. Some are a little more challenging but well worth the extra effort. A few may not be for everyone, but we include them for those who want more adventure.
So, here are some of the short hikes we love, sorted by region.
South West Iceland
South West Iceland is known for its spectacular waterfalls and black beaches. The area is within striking distance of Reykjavik and the airport at Keflavik. Some of these might also be good options if you have decided to use Reykjavik as a home base when road-tripping around Iceland.
The Plane Wreck on Sólheimasandur
In 1973, a U.S. Navy Douglas Super DC-3 plane had to make a crash landing on the beach at Sólheimasandur, most likely caused by ice freezing on the engines. Everyone on board survived, but retrieving the totaled plane proved not to be cost-effective. So they removed all the useful parts and left the fuselage lying there on the beach. The tail section was removed later, and the plane has been stripped over the years.
However, the fuselage and engine mounts are still there and have proved to be an enduring tourist attraction. People go out to the plane to take selfies. You could drive out there at one point, but that was stopped because of erosion and safety concerns. There is a shuttle bus on busy days, but it's worth taking a walk (and the shuttle bus may not be available and has a fee, but it is a good option for the less mobile). Instead, park at the parking lot by Route 1, which has a 750 kr fee for the day and must be paid online in advance. Note that the parking lot is poorly signed.
The walk to the plane is easy and flat, although some people find it a little bit boring. It's 4 kilometers each way, so it will take 40 to 60 minutes for most people. The trail is easy to follow in good weather and properly marked. It's also often fairly busy, so getting into trouble is not a concern. However, we don't recommend attempting it if visibility is very poor.
The trail to the Plane Wreck on Sólheimasandur is easy.
This is a 8 kilometer out and back trail. The valley is formed by a hot spring river, where water from dozens of hot springs combine into one body, also fed by glacial water. The river has a wonderful temperature to bathe in (and yes, swimming and bathing is allowed) at any time of the year. Stay out of the mudpots, though...they have warning signs to remind you of the heat. Plus, the mineral water is good for you. Ice spikes are recommended in winter.
The trail is uphill in, downhill out, and is fairly steep, but the steep section is a dirt road. The swimming area has changing rooms and wooden docks with many pools. The water gets hotter further upstream, so you can experiment to find the right temperature for you! On top of the hot springs, you can enjoy the geothermal phenomena and scenery.
It's a fun hike with a soak halfway through, and it's typically busy enough to be safe. You can book a horseback riding tour to the springs in the summer as an interesting alternative.
Pretty much everyone who goes road-tripping around Iceland goes to Gullfoss Falls. Fewer people find Skógafoss, a highly underrated yet splendid waterfall that appeared in the Thor movie. Of those that do, most only climb up to the viewing platform at the start. The trail continues, though, and forms a 6.6 km out-and-back route. This hike is more challenging, but you can always return early. Getting all the way to the top of the canyon is worth it if you can, though.
There's a wonderful restaurant at the base to get lunch. Make sure to check the weather conditions and gear up appropriately. As you walk up the canyon, you will see many smaller waterfalls. Be aware that around 400 steps at the start of the trail go up to the viewing platform. This area can be crowded, but you will leave the crowds behind if you go further. Choose how far you want to go!
Skógafoss is a splendid waterfall.
Driving along the ring road to the South East will take you past many spectacular landscapes in the land of ice and fire. The region offers gray glacial rock, glaciers, mountains, glacier lagoons and a wide variety of natural attractions, some of which are easy to hike to.
The area around Skaftafell has been a National Park since 1967 and part of Vatnajökull National Park since 2008. This part of the park is ideal for a short hike because it offers a wide variety of choices. It's the trail's starting point to Hvannadalshnjúkur, Iceland's highest peak. But there are many options for the average outdoor person, too.
Check out the Skatafelsstofa Visitor Centre, which is open year-round. Interpretative hikes are available when you’re road-tripping around Iceland in the summer.
There are easy-marked trails that last ninety minutes or two hours. You can also walk out and back on any of the routes, going as far as you want or don't want. The weather here tends to be unusually good because of the shelter from the glacier, with diverse vegetation. You can easily spend a day or two here, and if camping is your thing, the campground is open year-round. Or you can just stop for a couple of hours and stretch your legs.
One popular option at Skaftafell is the Svartifoss Waterfall. This is a 20-meter waterfall fed by the Svinafellsjokull glacier. It falls over black basalt formations (hence the name...Svartifoss means Black Falls) that resemble organ pipes. You can hike directly there and back, which is an easy 2 km hike each way. Or you can take a slightly longer marked route through Sel. To find this route, continue past the bridge...it's a loop route that shows some of the best of Skaftafell, with a few other small waterfalls.
The columns here were the inspiration for the design of Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik! This lovely little walk is particularly recommended if you are "collecting" waterfalls during your Iceland trip.
The Glacier Trail at Skaftafell will take up to Skaftafellsjökull, a glacial tongue that splits off from the Vatnajökull ice cap. The trail runs up the valley formed by the glacier retreat at the end of the last Ice Age, showing glacier gardens and kettle holes. It's part of the Melting Glaciers project. The numbered markers link to a digital self-guided hike, helping you understand everything about the landscape.
It's the most accessible outlet from the ice cap. If you want even more excitement, you can book a guided tour of the glacier itself (Don't attempt to hike on a glacier without a guide). Ice climbing is also available for the particularly adventurous, but most people can do a glacier hike. The tour guide will provide you with all of the equipment you need to navigate the glacier safely. This is one of the best places to hike on a glacier in Iceland.
The Glacier Trail at Skaftafell will take you to the Skaftafellsjökull glacier.
Hengifoss is the third-highest waterfall in Iceland
Many people never actually get to the North East when road-tripping around Iceland. It's more remote and wild, including the fantastic whale watching at Húsavik, beautiful puffin-watching opportunities, and desolate sea cliffs.
The Mývatn region, which includes Iceland's 4th largest lake, is considered the most beautiful part of Iceland by many locals and is well worth checking out for the interesting volcanic landscapes. The area has a porous rock that results in a high number of springs, including the lake itself. It's dominated by pseudo-craters formed by steam explosions.
The area has a rich population of breeding aquatic birds, with 115 species recorded, including 28 species of ducks, of which 15 breed regularly. It's the only known breeding area for the Barrow's goldeneye in Europe. So, get out the binoculars, especially in summer, because you never know what you might see.
Hverfell is a tuff ring or tephra explosion cone volcano. What does that mean? Tephra is all the fragmented stuff put out by a volcano, including ash, dust, etc. When it fuses into pyroclastic rock, this is called tuff. This is a great place to get a close-up of a volcano and fantastic views of the Myvatn Lake. The trail is a 4.3 km loop, so it's pretty short but can be steep up to the crater. Basically, you hike around the crater's edge with views of it, the lake, and the lava fields.
It's steep but not difficult, and it's pretty popular, so there will likely be others around. It's also a dog-friendly trail and popular with local families. The incline is worth it for the spectacular views and the close-up of a (perfectly dormant and safe) volcano.
The Mývatn region includes Iceland's fourth largest lake and Hverfell volcano.
The Kirkjuhringur loop is a 4.3 km loop trail, which is considered easy and takes most people about an hour. It's a popular trail, and watch out for runners. The trail leads past the Kirkjan Cave, a spectacular lava tube feature, and the Hallarflöt hole. There are also lava fields and sand meadows. This is a very kid-friendly trail with all of the fascinating lava formations. It's also a great place for birding.
Some parts of the trail, but not all, are paved. Some rocky sections are a little more difficult, but nothing that will throw off even a novice hiker. It's a double loop with changing terrain. Be aware that it is known for small insects during the summer; take bug repellent to keep them off. The trail is also doable in winter without special gear or spikes. If you want to do trail running, this is a great place for it. Enough of the trail is paved and it is also reasonable for wheelchair users.
Road-tripping around Iceland can lead you to another great hiking area in the North East – the Jökulsárglúfur part of the Vatnajökull National Park. Yes, this is the same park Skaftafell is part of, just on the northern side. It's a large park!
This area is very different, though. It is dominated by spectacular river canyons, including Jökulsárglúfur itself, which is a 120-meter-deep canyon that is close to 32 kilometers long. This is a beautiful area, both the canyon itself and its surroundings, and one fewer people make it to. The Jökulsárglúfur Canyon Trail is a full 32 kilometers long, but you can always walk part of it. However, there are some other easy options.
Eyjan Hill is in the center of Asbyrgi Canyon, which in folklore was made by a hoof print from Thor's horse. It gives you spectacular canyon views on an easy, kid-friendly, 4.8 km out-and-back trail. There are a few steps at the start, but otherwise, the hike is mostly flat and entirely on the Eyjan rock. It's not a very busy trail, so you may have it to yourself.
There is no parking fee, and the trail is easy enough for any able-bodied person. However, it's very open and can get quite breezy. Make sure to take rain gear just in case and secure headgear. You can turn back early if you want, but it's worth going all the way to the edge of the cliff for the views. Definitely take your camera because the photo opportunities are spectacular.
Hljóđaklettar means "Echo Rocks." These spectacularly unique volcanic formations are caused by loose rock being carried away by the Jökulsá River, leaving the basic structures very visible.
When road-tripping around Iceland, you can get a good view of the rocks just from the car park, if you are feeling lazy, but there are also a number of good hiking routes out. If you want a very short, easy route, a 30-minute easy trail will take you to a point where the echo rocks will earn their name with some interesting acoustic phenomena. This is a good one for the kids, who will enjoy exploring the echos, and you will also get to see interesting weathering. More serious hikers who also want a short route can take the red-marked Hljóđaklettar Circle trail, which is a short loop over more challenging terrain. It, too, will lead you to a good place to play with sound.
Take your camera, but leave time to have fun with the echos and acoustic effects caused by these fascinating formations. There are also a few longer (but still short) hikes out from here.
Hidden in the cliffs of Ásbyrgi is a place that's associated with the elves...the birch forest and pond at Botnstjörn. Ásbyrgi was created by outburst floods, as was the pond, which is fed by a small waterfall when it is unusually wet.
The trail to the pond is easy and wheelchair accessible, so it's a great option if you don't have much time. Multiple trails are marked, but the main one is a simple loop out to the pond. You will walk through a birch forest filled with local bird life. The shelter of the cliffs produces unusual vegetation. It's well worth a visit, and you can also explore other trails from the Ásbyrgi car park.
West Iceland is the island's true hidden gem. Geologically diverse and full of stunning formations, west Iceland also brings you back south to Reykjavik. Many people skip the Westfjords when they do the loop, but it's worth looking into if you can extend your trip.
The west also has some beautiful hiking routes, but here are a couple we particularly recommend.
The Trail Between Hellnar and Arnarstapi
This is just under a 3.2 km point to point hike. You can treat it as an out-and-back easily enough. It's an easy route that runs along the coast between the two villages. It goes through the wonderful natural rock formations at Gatklettur and has fantastic views of the Snaefellsjökull Glacier.
One downside is that many tour buses stop here, which can get very crowded. However, the first half of the trail is a level gravel walkway accessible to anyone, with beautiful bird cliffs. The second half towards Hellnar is a bit more rugged but still an easy route. We do recommend starting in Arnarstapi because you can hike to Hellnar and then eat at an excellent restaurant at the end, including outdoor seating. But there are also good food options in Arnarstapi. There's also an adorable little stone bridge.
It's worth it, especially if you want lunch and a walk-in. Most of the crowds turn back at the end of the gravel part, leaving the rest of the trail less busy.
Take a hike and cross the adorable stone bridge in Arnarstapi
Glymur is the second-highest waterfall in Iceland. There is a beautiful 6.6 km loop trail with fantastic views and a "suddenly waterfall" moment if you do it counterclockwise. You can do the hike in either direction.
However, this hike is not for everyone. There are two water crossings. One does have a log and hand line to cross (but only during the summer). The other does not and is best done barefoot if the weather allows. Water shoes are a must for this trail. In the winter, be prepared for ice and proceed with caution. Also, some parts of the trail are steep enough to need hand lines. You should take proper gear for this trail, but it is worth it for the utterly amazing views.
Serious hikers should not skip this one, but it's not for casual people or families with young children. The views are worth every bit of the effort it takes, though! You can also hike just to the first river crossing and turn back if you are not up for dealing with the possibility of wet feet.
Ready to Go Road-Tripping Around Iceland?
These are just some of our favorite short hikes you can find while road-tripping around Iceland. They're all great ways to get out of the vehicle, stretch your legs, and see parts of Iceland you might otherwise have missed.
If you want to enjoy road-tripping around Iceland, consider our self-guided tours. We provide the vehicle, accommodation, and itinerary, including recommendations for hiking trails and other fun activities. To find out more or discuss your Iceland itinerary, contact us.