Three Incredible Hikes in Southern Iceland3 min read
Nature takes center stage in Iceland, where there’s a stunning view around every bend: massive glaciers, expansive lava fields, powerful waterfalls, black sand beaches, bubbling hot springs, rugged cliffs, and more. The good news for adventure travelers short on time is that many of the country’s main attractions are easily accessible.
For visitors based in the capital city Reykjavík, the tourist circuit known as The Golden Circle — featuring the Gullfoss waterfall, active geysers, and the meeting point of continental plates — can be completed in a day. Those who venture further on the Ring Road, which circumnavigates the island, will quickly discover that many star attractions and natural formations are visible from the road.
Sure, it’s tempting to pile out of the car, snap a photo, and continue down the road after checking another site off your list. But it’s well worth setting off on foot and continuing on trails past many of the popular viewpoints. You’ll quickly leave the crowds behind and be able to more fully experience the dramatic and remote beauty of Iceland.
Here are three hikes that showcase some of the best of Southern Iceland:
Venture past Skógafoss
The majestic 200-foot waterfall Skógafoss makes a strong impression when spotted from the Ring Road and an even stronger impression when you’re directly below it, inundated by the spray and thunderous roar as the water makes impact. But don’t stop there. Take the trail to the right of the falls and climb 370 steps to the top of the falls for sweeping views. From the lookout platform, continue on the Fimmvörðuháls trail, which heads 23 km upstream to Thórsmörk and can be completed in a day or two, depending on your fitness level and pace. If that sounds too ambitious for you, hike even a short way past the top of Skógafoss for a series of smaller waterfalls carving a path through lush green hills.
Explore Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park, which encompasses 13 percent of Iceland, is the largest national park in Western Europe and home to the largest glacier in the world outside of the Arctic. The Skaftafell visitor center is a popular entry point to the park and many hikers head to Svartifoss, a postcard-perfect waterfall framed by dark basalt columns. The two-mile round trip hike is pretty and passes several other waterfalls, but the views become increasingly beautiful as the trail continues past the falls and climbs in elevation. The trail passes the Sjónarsker viewpoint with panoramic vistas of mountains, glaciers, and braided creeks winding through black lava plains to the ocean. The challenging S3 trail can take you even higher along a mountain ridge with steep drop-offs and even more impressive views.
Chase Icebergs at Jökulsárlón
Luminous icebergs hold court in Jökulsárlón, the glacial lake formed as the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier retreated from the ocean’s edge. If it is within your travel budget, by all means head out on a boat tour that will take you up close to the icebergs and even reach the glacier’s edge. Regardless, don’t pass up the opportunity to hike along the shoreline for a more intimate experience. If you’re traveling from Reykjavík, pull off the Ring Road and park in dirt lots well before you reach the heavily trafficked boat launch and café area. From there, climb the dirt mounds and follow any number of trails that crisscross the hillside leading down to the water.
Depending on when you walk, it may very well just be you, Icelandic sheep, and the occasional seal sharing the incredible scenery. If you’re lucky, you’ll also see and hear glacial ice as it calves into the water on the opposite side of the lake.