If you want to escape the crowds of Iceland, there is no better place than the wild, North-West corner of the island – the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve operates under strict preservation rules and was established in 1975 to protect the Arctic Fox and the large colonies of seabirds that nest in the dramatic cliffs.
While it is possible to do day-hikes from various points on the peninsula (there are several tours that offer this), undertaking a multi-day hike will allow you to experience the amazing scenery that exists in every corner of the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. It will also give you the chance to spot one of the elusive foxes and enjoy the eternal mid-Summer twilight – far from the tourist crowds.
Closest Major City: Ísafjörður, Iceland. You can fly to Ísafjörður directly from Reykjavik (it is a very interesting landing approach!) or drive.
Start: Ísafjörður. Ísafjörður has a decent sized supermarket where you can purchase regular groceries and protein bars. You will need to bring dried trekking food with you if you plan to eat that. Gas cannisters can be purchased at the gas station. From Ísafjörður, you will need to arrange a boat transfer to Hornstrandir (preferably in advance). Note that there are limited departures and not every site is serviced every day.
Accommodations: Self-supported camping. If you are looking for a bit more luxury, there is the option of a hostel at “The Doctor’s House” in Hesteryi and a hut at Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse (if the caretaker is there).
Costs: Currently, the campsites in Hornstrandir are free so the only costs are the boat transfers from and to Ísafjörður. The prices depend on exactly where you want to be dropped off and picked up, but for this specific route they run to about USD$200 return.
Length: 5 Days for the route outlined here. It is possible to plan a longer route, but keep in mind you must only stay in designated campsites.
When to Go: The boats from Ísafjörður to Hornstrandir operate only from June – August. This is the recommended hiking window for this part of Iceland.
Trekking in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve takes you to a very remote part of Iceland that should not be undertaken by inexperienced hikers. The trails range from clear tracks through the vegetation, to large stone cairns, to natural wooden stakes (that unfortunately are the same colour as the landscape) stuck into the ground. Weather can change very quickly and can be extreme. You should know how to navigate with a GPS and/or compass/map in case of fog.
You must be fit and accustomed to carrying a full backpack for several days in order to undertake this trek. You need to be self-sufficient and bring everything with you from Ísafjörður, but water is plentiful and safe to drink directly from the streams (you only need to carry 1L at a time).
You must be prepared for extreme weather. Make sure your tent is able to withstand strong winds (several were destroyed in one night when I was there) and ensure your sleeping bag/sleeping pad will keep you warm enough. Even though it is Summer, the changeable weather means you should carry several layers of clothing, including a base layer, mid-layer and a quality waterproof/windproof complete outer layer. Waterproof shoes will also come in handy!
If you suffer from vertigo, this may not be a good trek for you. The Hornbjarg has some of the highest cliffs in Iceland (think more than 200m) and a sheer drop into the ocean, while other parts of the route involve extremely steep ascents/descents on gravel.
ROUTE FOR TREKKING IN HORNSTRANDIR
The route outlined below starts at Veiðileysufjörður and comes around in a U-shape to end at Hesteryi. There is a pass (no more than 400m elevation gain) on each of the days, which offer stunning views if the weather is kind.
Trekking in Hornstrandir, you can expect some stunning views. Everything from bright green vegetation to bare rocky terrain to the deep blue of the ocean. There are also several rivers to ford (river shoes and neoprene socks are a good idea), and you may even need to strip down to your underwear if you don’t want to get wet.
With 5 days to complete the route, there is enough time to enjoy the area without racing through it. That being said and if time permits, it is a good idea to schedule extra days to accommodate bad weather or some day hikes. Chat with the Ranger at Hornvík campsite for latest trail conditions and further ideas for short explorations.
Finally, don’t forget to bring some money so that you can enjoy a well-earned, freshly brewed coffee and pancakes at “The Doctor’s House” in Hesteryi before heading back to Ísafjörður.
Iceland’s Hornstrandir Nature Reserve Trek Itinerary
Day 1: Boat transfer from Ísafjörður to Veiðileysufjörður – hike to Hornvík campsite. 10km.
Day 2: Hornvík campsite – Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse via Hornbjarg. 17km.
Day 3: Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse – Hornvík campsite. 10km.
Day 4: Hornvík campsite – Hlöðuvík. 15km (including detour below).
Day 5: Hlöðuvík to Hesteryi – boat transfer to Ísafjörður. 15km.
- Take an extra day at the Hornvík campsite and have more time to explore Hornbjarg. It is a truly spectacular landscape and deserves more than a day to appreciate it fully.
- On the way from the Hornvík campsite to Hlöðuvík, take the detour out to Kirfi to see the spectacular cliffs and nesting sites of Haelavikurbjarg.
- Spend an extra day at Hesteryi so that you can enjoy the amazing dinner at “The Doctor’s House” and explore the area further.
ACCOMMODATION IN HORNSTRANDIR
This is a remote trek with only two possibilities for accommodation besides camping – “The Doctor’s House” in Hesteryi and a hut at Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse. You should book well in advance if you plan to use either of these options as space is limited and the caretaker is not always at Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse.
Camping is only permitted in designated campsites (where there are toilet facilities) and strictly forbidden elsewhere. Your tent should be sturdy and able to withstand high winds and rain.
Food is only available at The Doctor’s House” in Hesteryi. If you stay an extra night in Hesteryi, and even if you camp, it is definitely worth the money to have dinner there! You must bring everything else with you or arrange for a resupply at one of the drop-off points for the boat transfers.
Written by: Lisa Germany.