The Volcanic Trails Trek is a wonderful alternative to Iceland’s famous and very popular Laugavegur Trail. The Volcanic Trails trek is more challenging than the Laugavegur Trail and sees far fewer people along its length. However, unless you are a very experienced hiker with good navigation skills, this trail is best done guided – particularly as several of the river crossings can be tricky.
As with the Laugavegur Trail, the scenery varies dramatically over the course of the trek – from dramatic canyons, to bright green moss-covered “trolls”, to black sandy desert, to multi-coloured mountains, to bubbling and steaming geothermal vents. It is a wonderful exploration of the beautiful Southern Highlands of Iceland, minus the crowds.
THE BASICS OF THE VOLCANIC TRAILS TREK
Closest Major City: Reykjavik, Iceland.
Start: The Volcanic Trails guided hike starts in Reykjavik and includes the bus to the trail head and from the trail end. Any supplies you want to take with you must be purchased in Reykajvik.
Costs: The cost of this trek depends on the exact variation offered by outdoor adventure companies. Guided tours where you stay in huts and only carry a day pack (the rest of your luggage is transported for you) typically cost upward of USD$2,700 for the full 9-day trek. This includes transportation and more delicious food than you can possibly eat.
Length: 9 days (though there are shorter variations available).
When to Go: Most companies only offer the trip during July and August.
Recommended Company: Icelandic Mountain Guides. I have done several treks with this company in both Iceland and Greenland. There is a reason they are the premier outdoor adventure company in Iceland.
If you are looking for the Laugavegur experience but without the crowds – this is the trek for you.
There is little to worry about from a health perspective while hiking the Volcanic Trails. Being fit and accustomed to hiking for several days (including a few long days) is helpful, and water from streams and at the huts is safe to drink.
The main thing to watch out for is Iceland’s notoriously changeable weather! Even during Summer, you should bring several layers of clothing with you, including a base layer, mid-layer and a quality waterproof/windproof complete outer layer.
The hike begins at Mt Sveinstindur and spends the first few days exploring a truly volcanic landscape with impressive canyons, fast-flowing rivers, waterfalls, and lava fields covered in the bright green moss that is so typical of Iceland. There is even a remote, natural hot spring along the way!
This eventually gives way to the black sand plain of Mýrdalssandur, a stark contrast to the lush green of the previous days with impressive views of the Mýrdalssandur glacier, and changes once again after you leave the beautiful lake at Álftavötn.
The last part of the hike takes you through multi-coloured rhyolite mountains and steaming and bubbling geothermal vents as you make your way along the back-road to Landmannalaugar – the start of the famous Laugavegur Trail.
Iceland’s Volcanic Trails Trek Itinerary
Day 1: Bus from Reykjavik to Mt Sveinstindur. Local hike. 6km.
Day 2: Mt Sveinstindur – Skælingar. 18km.
Day 3: Skælingar – Hólaskjól. 18km.
Day 4: Hólaskjól to Álftavötn. 10km.
Day 5: Álftavötn to Strútur. 24km
Day 6: Strútur to Hvanngil. 18km.
Day 8: Álftavatn to Dalakofinn. 18km.
Day 9: Dalakofinn to Landmannalaugar. Bus to Reykjavík. 18km.
- There are shorter options available with Hólaskjól and Álftavatn as beginning/end points.
All guided tours utilize the rustic but comfortable huts that are spaced along the trail. These provide dormitory accommodation with mattresses (you have to bring your own sleeping bag), a kitchen, and are usually well heated (very welcome if the weather is bad!). All of them have toilet facilities and some have shower facilities available for an extra fee. However, there is no internet and nowhere to charge devices at any of the huts. Make sure you bring enough batteries!
Food (and beer!) is only available at Álftavatn. There is a restaurant/bar located near the hut that serves meals, snacks and a variety of drinks including beer, soft-drinks and wine. Given its remote location and the fact that it is the only restaurant/bar in the highlands – you can probably imagine the prices. But it is an option if you are keen.
Otherwise, you must bring all your food for the trek. This is usually arranged by the outdoor adventure company in advance, and from my experience, it is delicious and more than enough to keep you hiking and definitely not hungry. You don’t need to bring extras!