The Laugavegur, a 55 km (34 miles) hike in southern Iceland, is often included on the list of the world’s greatest walks. The tourists in Iceland seem to know this, and as such it’s easily the country’s most popular trek. Considering I would routinely go 20 hours without seeing another person on my other hikes in Iceland, that doesn’t really say much.
However, if visitors do one hike here then they usually choose this one. In Icelandic the trail’s name translates to Hot Spring Road, and with all the geothermal activity along the way it’s easy to see why. A common addition to the hike is to tack on an extra 25 km (15 miles) to the Ring Road at Skogar if you’re headed southbound, which is what roughly 90% of hikers do. It’s supposedly easier going south, but logistically it made more sense for me to go north. Plus, I did the PCT northbound and that seemed good enough reasoning for me!
Before heading to the southern terminus of the hike, I spent a full day at the black beaches of Vik. According to my guidebook, Vik is the rainiest part of the whole country (which is notable considering how much rain Iceland gets: a lot). However, I was lucky in having clear skies and warm weather. I took advantage of that to do a day hike in the area. I got too close to some unknown bird nest and was terrifyingly swooped on by a bird, but I survived.
At 9pm I waited with a French woman I had met in Skaftafell for the westbound bus to Skogar. We were the only ones on the bus, so I got to enjoy the full window view of sitting up front!
The only thing at Skogar is a campsite next to a waterfall, above which a steep set of stairs ascend to the beginning of the extended Laugavegur. Camping was a very reasonable 1200 kronor ($10), a great start to the hike.
Camping is prohibited on the Laugavegur outside of established campsites because of the hike’s popularity. I mistakenly thought this applied to the extension, too, but am glad I didn’t head out that evening. It was pretty high elevation (for Iceland) without good camping spots anyways.
I feel so out of shape compared to what I was like a year ago on the PCT, but I think I was still way better prepared than the others on the hike. I zoomed past the people with day bags even though I was taking my time, enjoying the scenery, and having hours of breaks each day.
The track was fairly flat after climbing above the Skogafoss waterfall for a while. Eventually it ascended to a 1000m (3,280 ft.) pass with snow field crossings. There was a hut at the pass, which my guidebook said wasn’t a good place to camp. No shit, since it’s 3k feet high and close to the Arctic Circle in unpredictable wet mountains.
Going up was easy, especially since it was semi graded. Going down proved to be terrifying, and I kept trying to keep my center of gravity low on the frighteningly steep rock face.
I ran out of water partway through but thankfully in a glacier crossing was able to find some melt runoff.
In the bottom of the valley was Thorsmork, a collection of campgrounds and bridged stream crossings. There are daily buses here that pick up hordes of hikers, but the vehicles have to be able to ford rivers. As such, they’re not the typical buses you find on the paved Ring Road.
A German girl and I had been leapfrogging all day, and we wandered around the labyrinth-like river basin with the help of my phone’s GPS. We traded horror stories of the descent from the pass, including the times when the trail seemed to just drop off on both sides to a few hundred foot drop.
The campsite next to the hut cost 1800 kronor ($15), the same as all the campgrounds run by the huts. They had running water and nice bathrooms, plus picnic tables to eat and cook food. Huts were 7500 kronor ($62.50) a night, but still manage to fill up many months in advance! They didn’t look any better than the huts I used in New Zealand, which off the most popular trails came out to $3 a night.