Earlier this summer, when things were all doom and gloom on the tiny house and I had just finished my masters degree program, we decided we were in desperate need of a trip. After weeks of research, Tish found an incredible deal on flights to Iceland which were too good to pass up (note: this is how they get you!).
In a somewhat spontaneous moment we made an impromptu purchase on flights and decided we were going to Iceland in August! Tish had done a lot of research on the country already and knew that the main reason we were going was to complete the Laugavegur Trek! I am so thankful for her researching skills as this was a trip to remember.
Tish and I are very inline with the circadian rhythm. We enjoy waking up early with the sun and going to bed as soon as it sets (literally). So, as you can imagine jet lag is very difficult for us. After making a terrible mistake and giving into our exhaustion on a trip to Amsterdam a few years ago, we realized we HAVE to push through the tiredness and make the most of the first travel day if we want to enjoy the rest of the trip.
We landed in Iceland at 6 a.m., picked up our rental car and drove to Reykjavik (about 45 min away). We weren’t able to check into our AirBnB until 3p.m. so we parked our car outside of the apartment and walked into the city center in an attempt to stave off jet lag. Our first destination: coffee and food. We had searched ahead of time for some fun coffee shops to check out, 1- because we love coffee shops! and 2 – because coffee is a really important aspect of Icelandic culture. We went to Reykjavik Roasters to have some coffee and a bite to eat, while sitting in their cozy armchairs we the full weight of our exhaustion set in…..as did the delirium. I went from happy, to grumpy, and hungry, to tired, to happy in a matter of minutes. We quickly realized our first day was going to be more about maintaining sanity while staying awake than it was about sight seeing. This brought us to our next decision, which may have been the best one of the trip. We walked across the street to the best bakery EVER, Brauð & Co. We ate to our heart’s content, then walked around aimlessly looking at street art for a bit while we waited for the next batch of goodies to come out of the oven………then we went back and ate some more. Surprisingly, this worked out to be a great strategy to keep us awake and satisfied (read: not angry). Once we had filled up on more baked goods, we took a walk along the water to the Harpa, Reykjavik’s beautiful (and expensive) concert hall, then headed to the Airbnb to call it a day.
Thankfully, we woke up on our second day refreshed and ready for lots of exploring (and maybe another cinnamon roll). We began our day at another Reykjavik Roasters, where we had some delicious coffee and did some work. Then we set out to explore the city in a less dazed state of mind. We did a taste test of hotdogs (President Clinton was right, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is indeed the best), took a FREE walking tour of the city (our favorite thing to do everywhere we travel), checked out the view from the top of Hallgrimskirkja church, and then had a traditional Icelandic meal at Cafe Loki and then watched a one man show — “How to be Icelandic in 60 minutes” — at the Harpa.
Our third day consisted mostly of prepping for our trek, with a little sight seeing sprinkled in. We spent the morning at the coffee shop finalizing plans for our hike, making sure we had the correct maps downloaded to our phones, and organizing our trip permits and vouchers for the shelters. We then went to the National Museum of Iceland and learned about Icelandic history. Afterward we took a walk to the Old Harbor in search of a gear store that was supposed to have a map of the Laugavegur trail. On our way back we stumbled upon a fun fish and chips food cart and decided to have lunch. On our way back to the apartment we ran picked up some last minute supplies from the grocery store and went home to pack for our trek!
We woke up at 3:45 a.m. to have some coffee and pack up our car before heading to the trailhead. We checked out of the Airbnb when we went on the hike, so everything had to be packed up stowed in our rental car. We left at 5 a.m. and drove nearly 2 hours to Skogafoss, the starting point of our trek. The trail from Skogafoss is actually called Fimmvörðuháls and is a 15 mile “add on” to the Laugavegur. Our life motto being what it is, we knew the trek wouldn’t be worth doing if we didn’t add this section on too! Many people hike the Laugavegur trek north to south (southbound), which would leave the Fimmvörðuháls for an add on at the end, should hikers feel up for it. We chose to start here because we knew it would be a bit more challenging, but all the more worth it. Also, we could leave our car and luggage at the safe Skogafoss parking lot, eliminating the need for expensive two way bus passes.
Trek break down:
Day 1 – Fimmvörðuháls trail; trailhead at Skogafoss to Volcano Huts in Pórsmörk. 17.5 miles, 3,600 ft elevation gain, countless waterfalls, fairytale-like scenery. Passed by the Eyafjallajökull volcano which erupted in 2010 and crossed the Krossá river.
Day 2 – Volcano Huts, Pórsmörk to Emstrur Hut, 10.5 miles, 1,775 ft elevation gain. We got a late start as this was supposed to be a rest day in Pórsmörk but we decided to continue on to beat the bad weather coming in. We saw incredible changes in scenery, from green moss-covered hills, to fall-colored meadows. Another day of perfect weather!
Day 3 – Emstrur Hut to Álftavatn Hut, 10 miles, 730 ft elevation gain. This was our easiest day as far as terrain goes, which was fortunate because it was by far the worst day of weather! We battled high winds and sideways freezing rain all day. Most of the trail was flat in black volcanic ash/rocks, something neither of us had ever seen before. We had unexpected (freezing) water crossings that were deep enough to force us into bare feet and shorts. We were so happy to get to the hut and get warm that we stayed bundled up in our sleeping bags for most of the afternoon! Luckily, when we woke up the next morning, the wind had calmed and I was able to go out and see the lake before we headed out for our last day on the trail.
Day 4 – Álftavatn Hut to Landmannalaugar Hut (the end of the trail), 15 miles, 2,361 ft elevation gain. This was my favorite day by far! The day began with a brutal climb up to the top of a ridge with incredibly rewarding views of the valley behind us. We then crossed into colorful mountains, hiked up and over a snowy and fogged in peak, through a field of natural (stinky) geysers, and finally down in a huge lava field indicating our trek was nearly over.
This backpacking trip was equal parts strenuous and amazing. Tish and managed to laugh through the freezing river crossings, find enjoyment in simple things like a hot meal at the end of a long day, and chose to push on despite freezing weather and the onset of a cold….and I’m so thankful we did!
When we got done with the trek we decided not to stay in the hut and opted to get on the last bus back to Skogar so that we could have a hot shower and warm bed. The next day we took it easy, exploring the small town of Selfoss and enjoying an afternoon at the public pool. We fell completely in love with the swimming pools and went back every day until we left!
After resting up for a day we were back on our feet to explore some more! We headed back to Reykjavik to see a few things we had missed before leaving, but on our way we stopped to check our the Þingvellir National Park where the Almannagajá fault is. The Almannagajá fault is where the North American and Euroasian tectonic plates divide. Pretty incredible sight! After exploring the park, we continued on to Reykjavik and stopped at Cafe Babalú for some coffee. We then we to the Volcano House to learn more about the volcanoes in Iceland and finished our night with THE most amazing dinner of our lives and another show at the Harpa. If you go to Reykjavik, you MUST have dinner at Saegreifinn in The Old Harbor. When it says “World’s Best Lobster Soup” they mean it! To.Die.For. Just make sure to stay away from the whale meat, which is only caught because tourists demand it.
Our final day was spent driving around seeing some “obligatory” sights in the Golden Circle. We went to the massive Golfoss waterfall, which was incredible to see, but very busy with tourists. We then went to the Strokkur Geysir, where we spent most of our time waiting for the geyser to blow and then frantically trying to catch a good picture while the steam was still in the air. It was pretty fun for a bit…..but got old after awhile! After playing tourist for the day, we headed back to our hotel to pack up and sleep before our long flight home.
Iceland is an incredible place to visit, but is having a difficult time adjusting to the influx of tourists. If you get the chance to go see this beautiful country, be sure to be mindful of the locals and try to experience their way of life as much as possible — instead of falling into the tourist traps!