The Best Big-Name Hikes

  • Hornstrandir Nature Reserve: This saw-toothed peninsula, the northernmost extremity of the Westfjords, is for travelers whose eyes instinctually roam to the farthest corners of the map. Protected since 1975, Hornstrandir has no roads, no airstrips, no year-round residents -- only the beguiling coastline, flowering meadows, and cavorting birds and foxes the Vikings first encountered over a millennium ago.

  • Jokulsargljufur National Park: This elongated canyon park formed by Iceland's second-longest river is bookended by Dettifoss, Europe's mightiest waterfall, and Asbyrgi, a U-shaped ravine reputed to be the hoof print of the Norse god O?inn's eight-legged steed. Each bend of the river brings a succession of delights on a more human scale: honeycombed basalt, woolly willows, cascading springs.

  • Landmannalaugar: Your friends may refuse to believe that your photos of Landmannalaugar's astonishing rhyolite mountains -- with marbled streaks of yellow, red, green, white, and purple scree -- weren't "digitally enhanced." It's not only the most celebrated hiking area in Iceland, but also the ideal launch point for the Laugavegurinn, a world-renowned 4-day trek to T?orsmork through a cavalcade of inland scenery.

  • T?orsmork: This verdant alpine oasis, encircled by monumental glaciers and river-braided valleys of silt, has the aura of an enchanted refuge -- a nice counterpoint to the distinctly Martian appeal of most interior regions. The Fimmvor?uhals, an equally charmed 2-day trek threading a high mountain pass between two glaciers, connects T?orsmork to Skogar near the south coast.

  • advertisement
  • Skaftafell National Park: Close to the "Ring Road" (Rte. 1) on the southern edge of Vatnajokull, Skaftafell is the most accessible of Iceland's major hiking destinations, with startling panoramas of serrated peaks, shimmering icecaps, and barren flood plains stretching toward the sea. At your feet is pleasant scrubland resplendent with wildflowers and butterflies.

  • The Best Hikes Off-the-Beaten-Track

  • Sveinstindur-Sk?lingar: Landmannalaugar unjustly steals the limelight from many nearby interior regions, most notably this amazing stretch of mountains and sediment-filled river valleys between Landmannalaugar and Vatnajokull. Views from the peak of Sveinstindur over the glacier-gouged Lake Langisjor are among the most otherworldly and sublime in all of Iceland.

  • T?akgil: This idyllic campsite and its mountainous setting near the southeast edge of Myrdalsjokull are sure to become better known. T?akgil itself is in a perfectly sheltered, stream-fed gully. The surrounding tuff mountains, formed from compacted volcanic ash, have been elaborately sculpted by wind and water erosion; trails lead right to the moraines of the receding glacier. And with a brand-new crop of snug cabins, you don't even have to rough it.

  • advertisement
  • Nupssta?arskogar: Accessible only to rugged 4WD vehicles and committed hikers, this magical enclave of scrubby birch, sculpted gorges, and luxuriant waterfalls along the Nupsa river is virtually untouched by tourists. If you can't get there on the ground, consider an exhilarating aerial tour from the Skaftafell airfield.

  • Lonsor?fi: Wonderfully removed from civilization, this private nature reserve in the mountains east of Vatnajokull is paradise for hikers who enjoy lingering over each unfolding nuance along the trail: the subtle spectra of a rhyolite rockslide; the ubiquitous waterfalls and river chasms; the fine textures of moss and lichen and tiny wildflowers. Reindeer could make a cameo.

  • Borgarfjor?ur Eystri: This well-rounded coastal region combines many geological marvels found in the interior -- particularly rhyolite mountainsides and their marbled color patterns -- with an abundance of flowering plants and the romantic melancholy of its formerly inhabited fjords and inlets. Locals have put great effort into designing maps, marking trails, and organizing Jeep tours of the area.

  • advertisement
  • Kerlingarfjoll: A short detour from the relatively accessible Kjolur Route through the interior, this mountain cluster in the shadow of Hofsjokull has an astonishing range of scenery: lofty mountains, chiseled ravines, exotic geothermal fields, glimmering icecaps. . . . The clinchers are the hot springs that form enormous natural Jacuzzis and the pleasant, private lodgings at Asgar?ur.

  • Kverkfjoll: Deep within Iceland's highland desert interior, this geothermally restless mountain spur protrudes from Vatnajokull amid charred expanses of red, brown, and black rock dusted with lichen and moss. Though best-known for a mesmerizing glacial ice cave, Kverkfjoll is anything but a one-hit natural wonder and merits 2 or 3 days to appreciate its austere gravitas.

  • Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.