A hiking trip through Iceland's volcanic and mystic landscapes
|Location||Fjallabak Region, South Iceland|
|Accommodations||Guesthouse, Hotels, Mountain Hut|
|Group size||6 - 12|
|Dates||We will be scheduling dates for this trip soon. Please check back.|
|Single Supp Cost||
Referring to highlands between the brooding volcano of Mt. Hekla and the glaciers of Iceland's most southerly coast, Fjallabak means "behind the mountains." Truly between fire and ice, this is a region of chaotically beautiful and dynamic landscapes. Epic geothermic activity has created an almost mystical convergence of volcanoes, lava fields, basalt fortresses, green meadows, blue iceberg lagoons, pristine glaciers, powerful rivers, crystalline waterfalls, and black sand beaches.
During our 10-day hiking trip, we’ll venture into the interior of Iceland, only accessible during summer months, to discover this world behind the mountains. This is an active and in-depth exploration, taking place both on foot and with the assistance of a 4WD vehicle. In the Highlands of Fjallabak, we will hike more and drive less than during our days on the South Coast. Each day, our guides will curate a unique walking experience suited to the terrain and weather. Iceland's long daylight hours may also lend themselves to an occasional evening walk.
For this trip, we are thrilled to be collaborating with our good friends at Fjallabak Trekking, a leader in Icelandic hiking and discovery tours. Having worked directly with this family-run business for over 15 years, our mutual philosophies of exploring in ways that bring us closer to the heart of a place has led to a great friendship. Together, we look forward to introducing you to some of the more hidden corners of this most amazing country.
Day 1: Rendezvous at the Keflavik Airport; hike the Mount Hekla farmland
Morning rendezvous at the Keflavik Airport. After gathering as a group, we’ll depart directly to the countryside! The trip begins with a three-hour transfer to our trailhead. We’ll have a chance to change into our hiking clothes and grab our daypacks before hitting the trail.
Our hike begins by late morning as we cross the grassland. The majestic Hekla volcano rises above a grassy plain and marks the entrance to the high volcanic interior. Referred to as “the Gateway to Hell” during the middle ages, this is probably Iceland’s most famous (or infamous!) active volcano. The few small farms in the area have had to move many times over the centuries as one eruption after the other has engulfed them. Now, much of the countryside is verdant. Lava flows covered in green moss, bonsai-like arctic birch groves, and pure water springs almost create the feeling of a Japanese garden. This being August, we can take a little longer, as the berry and mushroom picking may slow us down.
We'll spend the night in a small hotel with private rooms. Driving: 138 km / 86 miles on road, 40 k / 24 miles on tracks, Hiking: 3-4 hours,10 km / 6 miles. Lunch and dinner included.
Day 2: Landmannalaugar - North Fjallabak
Today we leave Mount Hekla behind us and head across the North Fjallabak. This is an ever-changing landscape, where lack lava fields gradually take on a covering of silver lichen and green mosses. Lakes, marshlands and rich pastures play host to free-ranging sheep, and rhyolite hills simmer with an incredible range of pastel colors, from blue to pink and through all shades of ochres.
Our route takes us through the Landmannahellir, an area long used by the shepherds in the autumn as a base for gathering their sheep at the end of summer. Mount Loðmundur, a flat-topped volcanic monolith that erupted during the Ice Age, is a dominating feature, surrounded by marshland, pastures and the nearby lake of Loðmundarvatn. From here, we walk through the dazzling colors of rhyolite magma that lead us to the notorious Landmannalaugar Valley. This is a legendary place with a thousand stories to tell. Our day ends with a drive along the North Fjallabak track, crossing many rivers, to Eldgjá. We will spend the next two nights at the Hut of Eldgjá-Holaskjol. Shared bunkroom. Driving: 100 km / 62 miles on tracks, Hiking: 3-5 hours, 12 km / 7 miles. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
Day 3: Eldgjá
Our day will be spent exploring the ridge of Eldgjá, the longest eruptive fissure in the world. Iceland's Eldgjá eruption occurred from approximately 934 to 940 CE. During this active eruption, lava flowed from several vents along a discontinuous 75-km-long (47-mile-long) fissure system, and buried more than 781 square km (302 square miles) of southern Iceland. Fortunately, huge and historic eruptions like that of Eldgjá are very unusual and the area is now covered by moss and crossed by a clear stream.
Second night at the Hut of Eldgjá-Holaskjol. Shared bunkroom. Driving: 50 km / 31 miles on tracks, Hiking: 3-5 hours, 12 km / 7 miles. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
Day 4: South Fjallabak – Hólmsárlón
After breakfast, we’ll head out to explore the shores of the long and narrow Lake Hólmsárlón. The waterfalls at the end of this turquoise-colored lake plunge into a red crater nicknamed the “red baptismal fountain.” From here we cross the sands of Mælifellssandur. In the middle of this strange black flatness stands the solitary conical landmass of Mælifell, covered in fluorescent green-colored moss. We spend two nights in a hut with views of Mælifell. Driving: 50 km on tracks, Hiking: 3-4 hours, 12 km/7 miles. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
Day 5: Torfajökull and the hot springs of Strútslaug
Today, we’ll explore the extraordinary landscapes on the southern flank of the Torfajökull caldera, on the opposite end of Lake Hólmsárlón from where we hiked the day before. Torfajökull caldera, a circular volcanic depression covering an area of 18 km / 11 miles by 12 km / 7 miles, is one of Iceland’s largest geothermal areas. Torfajökull, a once subglacial volcano, discharged a relatively rare rhyolitic lava that produced lighter colors of rock. Of course, we cannot resist taking an unforgettable soak in Strútslaug, a natural hot spring pool nearby. We’ll spend another night at the hut with a shared bunkroom. Hiking: 5-6 hours loop, 14 km/8miles. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
Day 6: Torfajökull – Mælifellssandur
The landscapes between the southern flank of the Torfajökull caldera and the mighty dome of the Mýrdalsjökull icecap continue to provide unequaled opportunities for exploration. Beneath this huge sheet of ice lies Katla, one of Iceland’s angriest volcanoes. She last erupted in 1918 and is long overdue for another. As we travel south, closer to the coast and closer to the Ring Road, our farm guesthouse for the next two nights is relatively isolated in the countryside near Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Driving: 52 km/32 miles on tracks, Hiking: 4-6 hours, 14 km/8 miles. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
Day 7: Explore the local area or drive north to the impressive lava field of Laki
Depending on the weather and the recommendation of the guide, we will either explore the area close by or drive up north to the impressive lava field of Laki.
The Laki Eruptions, or Skaftár Fires, as they are referred to in Iceland, was one of the largest lava flow eruptions in recorded history. Beginning in June of 1783, the eruption was active for eight months, during which time it spewed an astounding 42 billion tons of basaltic lava out of 140 vents along a 23-km-long (14 mile) set of fissures. The accompanying clouds of poisonous gases were ultimately responsible for the devastation of 60% of Iceland’s livestock and 20% of its human population. Thousands of deaths in Europe were attributed to the thick sulfurous haze that drifted over Britain and the continent, and subsequent extreme temperatures throughout the northern hemisphere resulted in crop failures and widespread famine.
We’ll spend another night at the lovely guesthouse. Driving: 30 km/18 miles on tracks, Hiking: 4-6 hour loop, 14 km/8 miles. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
Day 8: Eldhraun – Vík
Today we reach the Ring Road on Iceland’s South Coast and the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Surrounding the village is the vast expanse of the Eldhraun lava field, formed during the Laki eruption. Not far from the interior highlands, this area parallels the fault of Eldgjá and is now verdantly covered in moss. We’ll visit the amazing gorge of Fjarðárgljúfur and the Eldhraun pseudo-craters. We'll hike along the black sand beaches and grassy headlands of Vik in Mýrdal, an area that's home to numerous seabirds and rich in local fauna. Our accommodation for the night is a hotel near Vik with private rooms. Driving: 111 km/68 miles, Hiking: 2-4 hour loop, 10 km/6 miles. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
Day 9: Vík – Reykjavík
On our last full day, we’ll take our time exploring the South Coast as we make our way back to Reykjavik. We’ll walk the beautiful black sand beach of Reynisfjara located between the famous reefs and the promontory of Reynisdrangar. We’ll visit Dyrhólaey, the southernmost point in Iceland. Literally meaning “Door Hill Island,” the high peninsula of Dyrhólaey is known for its impressive black basalt arch. As we drive the flank of the glacier volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which last erupted in 2010, halting air traffic across Europe, we may have time to visit the beautiful Skógafoss (optional visit to the Folk Museum Skógar) and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. We’ll cross the vast pampas-like grasslands between the East and West of Rangá rivers, arriving in Reykjavik late afternoon.
The world’s most northerly capital, Reykjavik occupies a small peninsula jutting out into the Greenland Sea. Scandinavian in feel, this picturesque city is enjoyably manageable in size, with an interesting blend of historic and modern architecture. It’s a great city to wander, full of intriguing, interesting museums and inviting cafes.
Our accommodation is centrally located. We'll celebrate our trip together with a farewell dinner. Driving: 186 km/115 miles on road, Hiking: 2-4 hours. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
Day 10: Depart
Our trip will end with a group transfer back to Keflavik Airport.
If you wish to have your own room, a single supplement charge will apply. If you are traveling alone and would like to share a room, we will do our best to match you with a roommate of the same gender. If there is no one with whom you can share, there will be a charge of $335 for this “forced” single. Note: Private, single rooms are not available in the huts.
Airfare, optional/individual transfers between inns or individual excursions, beverages, entrance fees for museums, swimming pools and optional excursions, insurance, tips to guides, items of a personal nature.
This trip is vehicle supported, with luggage and supplies being transferred to each overnight location. This means that for our hikes and walks you will only need to carry a daypack with those items you will need during the day’s hike. Having said that, we recommend keeping your luggage to a size that you can easily manage yourself, given that accommodations may have narrow hallways and no elevators. See our sample packing list. You will receive a more detailed packing list upon registration.
For our Iceland Behind the Mountains trip, we’ll be staying in a mix of hotels, guesthouses, and backcountry huts. Our comfortable hotels and guesthouses provide double occupancy ensuite rooms. A limited number of single rooms are available for a supplemental fee.
Our backcountry huts offer sleeping bag accommodation (usually one comfortable bunkhouse), a dining area and well-equipped kitchen, running water, outdoor toilets, and hot showers. There is the possibility of recharging electrical devices (220V electrical outlets are European standards) on this trip, however, some of the huts may not have electricity. The huts are rustic and in absolutely incredible locations.
Fjallabak folks pride themselves in providing the best cuisine in the highlands! Breakfast is Scandinavian-style, with muesli, bread, jams, fish and cheese. Packed lunches may include a variety of sandwiches, from smoked meats and fish to local cheeses and salads. Dinners involve fresh, local fish and meat dishes, with pasta, rice or potatoes, fresh vegetables, and salad. Vegetarians and those with food allergies can be fully catered for with a range of tasty options. It is essential that you inform our office of any special food requirements at the time of booking!
All international flights are served by Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport, which is about 45 minutes outside the capital city of Reykjavik.
All members of our Iceland Behind the Mountains trip will be met at the Keflavik airport at 10:00 am on the first day.
The trip will end with a group transfer to the Keflavik airport mid-day of the last day of the trip, arriving at the airport around 1:30 pm. Should you require an earlier or later departure, Flybus/Reykjavik Excursions offers frequent departures to the airport along with a hotel pick up.
This trip is designed expressly for Distant Journeys and our travelers who have yet to experience the beauty and power of Iceland's hidden landscapes. During the trip, the group will stay in a combination of huts, hotels, and guesthouses, each acting as a base from which to venture out. Staying in the huts gives us an opportunity to immerse ourselves in these rare and isolated spaces. Alternately, the hotels and guesthouse give us a taste of Icelandic hospitality and some welcome comfort.
The remoteness of some of the terrain, coupled with an ever-changing climate can make this a more challenging environment; therefore, safety is of primary concern. Your guides and support vehicle are radio equipped. Fjallabak’s guides are all experienced mountaineers with extensive local knowledge and are fully trained in wilderness first aid and rescue procedures. It's important that each participant have adequate clothing and gear, as outlined in the packing list, to ensure for comfort in all kinds of weather.
Please contact us for a more detailed itinerary, for additional information, or to register. We're also happy to supply a list of past participants willing to share insights into this guided Iceland Behind the Mountains experience.
A deposit of $500 along with your completed registration forms will reserve a space on your requested trip. We accept MasterCard, Visa, and American Express card as well as personal checks. To make a deposit, you may either follow one of the “Reserve a Trip” links below, give us a call at 1-888-845-5781, or include your payment information in the area provided when completing your registration forms.
The balance is due 75 days prior to departure for most of our trips. When applying less than 75 days prior to departure, full payment is due. For final payments, we accept MasterCard, Visa, and American Express, as well as personal checks.
As confirmation of receipt of your deposit, we will send you a comprehensive packet of information pertaining to your trip, an invoice for final payment and additional information including release agreement form, medical information form, travel information, and packing list. Upon receipt of final payment and no later than 30 days prior to your trip start, you will receive trip rendezvous information and a list of accommodations. Returning trip participants will receive a 5% discount on most trips.
Receipt of all forms will finalize your registration.