Location: Landmannalaugar, Iceland
Days: (Day hikes)
Camping: Campsite with facilities
People seen: None on hikes
Book: Lonely Planet Iceland
Reykjavik, Iceland’s tiny capital, is a city of low rise, brightly coloured buildings and a surprising mild climate. It is also a hub for transport around the country’s main road – the ring road – which circles the island. It is worth spending a few days in Reykjavik to enjoy the view over the ocean, perhaps go whale-watching, and just wander through the streets. I stayed at the Hotel Leifur Eiriksson, a nice clean hotel directly opposite the famous Hallgrímskirkja church (the view below is taken from the top of the Hallgrímskirkja’s tower).
Located in southern Iceland, Landmannalaugar is a centre for outdoor activities and easily accessible by bus from Reykjavik. Iceland’s volcanic landscape gives rise to numerous multi-coloured mountains, volcanoes, and hot springs, while the climate means patches of snow are often found on the ground even during summer months. The Landmannalaugar station has ample space for camping, along with bathroom facilities, sheltered areas for cooking, and even its own hot spring. There are also several interesting and relatively easy day hikes that can be completed in the area.
Frostastaðavatn and Ljótipollur Lakes
The Landmannalaugar campsite is perfectly situated between an old lava field and a wide, open valley, and even has its own on-site hot pool. One of the easier walks in the area is to the well known Lake Ljótipollur (“ugly lake” in Icelandic), which fills a volcanic crater. A good way to reach the lake is to travel along the dirt road north-west from Landmannalaugar then turn off at the signpost for Frostastaðavatn on the left. This small climb takes you to the beautiful lake and avoids walking on the road. From the viewpoint on the rim there are excellent views – on a clear day – towards the Norournamur, which you can also climb as part of this hike.
Descending from the ridge surrounding the lake, Ljótipollur is reached on an easy and mostly flat trek on the other side of the road. As you progress, the surrounding rocks range from red to green, and you can see the area’s rocky crust as it slowly breaks off and falls into the crater. The lake’s name hardly does it justice!
Brennisteinsalda and Bláhnúkur
Brennisteinsalda is a famous multi-coloured volcano on the southern side of the Landmannalaugar campsite. The volcano is still active and there are steam vents at its foot on the north side. The path from Landmannalaugar follows a small meandering river and the one small section of steep scrambling can easily be avoided by taking a detour. The path passes between Brennisteinsalda and its neighbour Bláhnúku, which can also be climbed from this direction. The two volcanoes could hardly be more different – Brennisteinsalda with its shades of red and copper, and Bláhnúku with its imposing mid-grey cliffs. The Brennisteinsalda summit path starts from the east and is well signposted. If you miss it and carry on, you will soon find yourself on the Laugavegur path to Hrafntinnusker!
From the summit there are fantastic views across neighbouring hills and volcanoes, over towards the Laugavegur route to Þórsmörk, and back over the lava field to Landmannalaugar. Rather than returning to Landmannalaugar the same way, you can descend the south western side of the volcano then walk back through a wide valley and across the lava field.
Landmannalaugar is also the start of the 4 day Laugavegur trek, south towards Þórsmörk (aka Thórsmörk or Thorsmork). I did this trek, but you won’t find any pictures of it here because the weather was some of the worst I have seen – constant rain, high winds, and terrible visibility. Luckily I managed to stop over in Þórsmörk for a few days, ready to continue with over the Fimmvörðuháls pass to Skógar.