In summer, when the snow has melted and the sunlight stretches throughout the day, it’s time to hike in Iceland. Paths and roads that were inaccessible during the winter months suddenly fill with nature lovers, traversing through gorgeous pathways all day long.
This is particularly true for Iceland’s interior, the highlands, which is completely uninhabited for most of the year. One place that is especially popular to hike to is Thorsmork, Iceland (Þórsmörk), or the Valley of Thor.
What is Thorsmork in Iceland?
Thorsmork is a nature reserve located in a mountain ridge in the Icelandic highlands, wedged between two glaciers: Tindfjallajökull and Eyjafjallajökull.
It’s an area full of rivers, forests, mountains and valleys, set far away from any towns. Bright green moss covers the hills all around, creating a distinct remote environment that is equal parts peaceful and soothing. Hiking Thorsmork is without a doubt one of the top things to do in Iceland.
As it’s sheltered in a valley, the climate is also generally slightly warmer than the rest of the south coast. Thorsmork is named after the Norse god Thor, who is said to have created the valley himself by striking the ground with his hammer, Mjölnir. The impact from the thrust depressed it into a valley.
Thórsmörk has been a popular hiking spot for decades, and so accommodation has been set up to cater to visitors. However, with its location in the highlands, it’s not easy to reach.
Can you Drive to Thorsmork Valley?
Yes, you can, but it depends on what vehicle you have. The road that leads to Thorsmork is an F-Road, or an unpaved gravel road that is rarely maintained. For this reason, only 4x4 vehicles are permitted on F-roads. Here you can find further information on what an F-Road is and how to tackle them.
The journey will involve driving on uneven terrain and crossing rivers, so be sure to pick a suitable vehicle, such as the Campervan Viking 4x4, available now in our fleet of cheap campervan rentals in Iceland.
The route is straightforward: follow Route 1—the Ring Road—along the south coast, until you come to Route 249. Turn left onto this road and follow it until it becomes F249-that’s your path to Thórsmörk.
You can park next to the Krossá river, or at the Básar Hut & campsite. As its name suggests, the Básar Hut & campsite offers accommodation in the form of dormitories and a camping area. A kitchen and dining area is also available for guests to use.
In regards to the Krossá river, it’s best that you don’t attempt it yourself, regardless of what vehicle you have. Since the river is deep and strong, it will likely defeat most vehicles that aren’t designed for the purpose of crossing it.
Instead, park in the car park and jump on one of the buses that transport people to and from Thórsmörk. Alternatively, you could just walk to Thórsmörk from the car park, crossing the river via the footbridge.
There’s also another accommodation choice in Thórsmörk, on the other side of Krossá: the Volcano Huts Þórsmörk. These can either be hiked to or driven to via the F-road, Húsadalur. This company offers glamping tents, cabins and even cottages as choices for your highland stay.
You can use either of these accommodation providers as base camps from which to embark on hiking adventures throughout Thórsmörk. Just keep in mind that they must be booked well in advance, as their spaces fill up fast.
If you’d rather leave the driving to someone else, you can book a spot on a bus or jeep tour. Several companies run regular trips to Thórsmörk over the summer to cater to hikers and nature lovers.
Best Thorsmork Hiking Trails
Aside from relaxing and admiring the glaciers and other scenery, there’s also lots of trekking to take part in. Thórsmörk serves as the start or end point for two of Iceland’s famous hiking routes: Fimmvörðuháls and the Laugavegur Trail.
Fimmvörðuháls will lead you south, and the Laugavegur Trail will take you north, deeper into the highlands. Let’s look at them individually.
Fimmvörðuháls translates to ‘five cairns pass’, and it leads from Thórsmörk to Skógafoss waterfall, passing between the two glaciers. The trail is 24km (15 miles) long and involves 1000 meters of climbing—or descending if you’re starting at Thórsmörk.
Along this route, you’ll see some wonderful geological features, including recently-made ones. You’ll pass Goðahraun, the lava field created by the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. You’ll also see the two volcanic craters that were created by that eruption, Móði and Magni, named after Thor’s sons.
This hike can be completed in a day, but some choose to spread it over two days. In this case, you can pay to stay in the Baldvinsskáli hut that is located between the glaciers. Once you reach Skógafoss waterfall, there’s a bus service which can take you to the city and has several stops in between.
In the event that you drove to Thórsmörk yourself, your car will still be up there. Therefore, make a plan ahead of time so that you can arrange to be dropped wherever you left your car.
The Laugavegur Trail
This trail runs between Thórsmörk and Landmannalaugar, and is 54 km (34 miles) long. Hikers generally complete this route over three or four days and stay in huts along the way.
Landmannalaugar is considered a gem that is well worth the hike, as you’ll pass by rivers, geysers and other natural wonders. Here you’ll be able to enjoy natural hot springs and see the famous multicolored rhyolite mountains.
There’s also a campsite in Landmannalaugar, with a big hut to accommodate those without tents. There are plenty of shorter trails around the area, too, if you’d rather drive there and not commit to the Laugavegur Trail.
On the other hand, if you want to pack your Iceland holiday with hiking, combine the Laugavegur Trail with Fimmvörðuháls. Completing them both together will take five or six days, and by the end you’ll have hiked almost 80 km (50 miles)!
Something to keep in mind for either of these routes and spending time in the highlands in general: these hikes aren’t easy, so you’ll need to be in decent shape to fully enjoy what they have to offer.
Fortunately, clean crisp water is easy to come by, because you can safely drink from any of Iceland’s rivers. Food, however, is something you’ll have to bring along with you.
Even these highland accommodation providers offer very little in the way of supplies, and should only be considered for emergencies. You should also bring sufficient clothing to be prepared for all types of weather conditions.
Iceland’s weather is famously unpredictable, even in the summer, and you’ll be combating snow, wind and rain in the interior. Speaking of summer, remember that most of these places are only accessible from June to September.
F-roads are closed to public vehicles during other months, but some tour companies drive them for longer periods. To guarantee yourself the best chance of good weather, plan your Thórsmörk trip for the summer.
Additionally, if you want to take some of the pressure off, there are companies which offer guided hikes of these routes when they are open.
Thorsmor, Iceland's Highlands oasis
Although many people, locals and tourists alike, visit Thórsmörk in the summer, it’s still a lot quieter than Reykjavík. If you want to experience another side of Iceland, nestled away from towns and cities, spend your time in the highlands.
This is where you can fully appreciate some of the cleanest water, air, and landscapes in the world. It is sure to be a trip to remember, as Iceland’s interior still remains mostly untouched, one of the last few wild places left.