A must-do when visiting Iceland: walk in stunning Landmannalaugar, a vast area of unique beauty in Iceland’s southern Highlands and a paradise for hikers. We went for one day and enjoyed not only a spectacular drive but also a magnificent hike. Iceland at its very best!
Colored rhyolite mountains
Landmannalaugar is an exceptional area, part of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve. The dramatic region can be found nestled beside the raven-black Laugahraun lava field, a sweeping expanse of dried magma which was originally formed in an eruption in 1477. Landmannalaugar itself is made up of windswept rhyolite mountains. Rhyolite is a type of volcanic rock made of quartz and silica. It creates a magnificent spectrum of dazzling colors: shades of red, pink, green, blue and golden yellow make for an ethereal location. We found in particular the fluorescent green color extraordinary, especially in combination with the dark brown, nearly black mountains.
Best time to visit Landmannalaugar?
Mid june through early September. The climate is then mild with less rain so the F-routes are open. Landmannalaugar is also accessible in winter, but then you have to go by an organized tour.
How to get to Landmannalaugar?
You can perfectly drive to Landmannalagaur yourself provided you have a 4 WD. There are no paved roads. You drive on so-called F-roads, rough, bumpy and unpaved. A 4WD is thus a must, two-wheel-drives are forbidden!
We drove a Mercedes Vito 4 WD rented through Hertz and had no problems.
There are 3 routes to the park.
F208 Northwest (easiest): start at Rte F26 and then take Rte F208 south followed by Rte F224 into Landmannalaugar. This is the easiest route for small 4 WDs and there are quite some cars following it. After passing the power plant, the 26 kilometer road from Hrauneyjar to Landmannalaugar becomes very bumpy and swerves between power lines all the way to Ljötipollur (‘Ugly Puddle’).
F225 (in between). On the eastern side of the Þjórsá, follow F26 inland through the low planes behind Hekla, loop around Hekla en then take Rte F225 west ((Landmannaleið) direction F208 until you reach the base. The roads on this route seem rougher than the one below, but we didn’t take this one so we don’t really know.
F208 Southeast (hardest), leaving from Ring Road 1 straight into Landmannalaugar. This is also the Skaftafell-Landmannalaugar bus route. If you are up for some adventure and you have time, take this road. It’s a true ‘highland road’, rough and bumpy but the scenery is magnificent. On top, you get river crossings (at least 5!). So be prepared before you go, read our tips below.
There is a car park at the information centre. Small 4WD’s however need to park their car at a car park about 1 kilometer from Landmannalaugar. There is indeed a river crossing that is too perilous for small cars. There is a small footbridge to cross.
Duration of the drive?
At the time of our visit, we stayed in Selfoss. We took route 1, F26 followed by F208 south straight into Landmannalaugar. We drove back via F208 Southeast, since we wanted to experience the river crossings and the depth of the water seemed feasible.
It took us about 3 hours to get to the park via F26. The drive back to Vik took more than 5 hours, taking into account several sightseeing stops and stops at the river crossings. Although this was a long drive back, it was absolutely worth it: the scenic route F208 is stunning.
If you don’t have the time, easiest way to go is to take route 1 above back and forth or combine the first two routes.
Hiking in Landmannalaugar
There are several hikes in the park, from easy going to sturdy. For great views, climb up the peak of some mountain. We went for a 4-hours walk, combining three routes, i.e. the Laugahraun tour, up to the Brennisteinsalda volcano and returning through the obsdian Laugahraun lava field. The Brennisteinsalda volcano is sometimes also called the sulphur wave, named after the hot sulphur springs which have coloured its sides. This vulcano is rainbow-colored and probably the most colourful mountain of Iceland:green from mosses, black and blue from lava and ashes and the bright red from iron in the earth, combined with hot sulphur springs and steam vents.
It’s a hiking trail with a lot or variety and easily feasible with teenagers. The trails are not always so obvious and returning, it seemed we combined several trails. I suggest you buy a small map at the Visitor center in the base camp.
Tips to visit Landmannalaugar if driving yourself
- Make sure you have a 4 WD drive suitable for F-roads.
- Make sure the insurance of the rental company covers you driving on F-roads.
- Make sure you have a full tank of gasoline. There are no petrol stations on the roads entering the park, nor in the park itself.
- Check the weather conditions.
- Check the road conditions.
- Wear sturdy hiking boots.
- Keep on the walking tracks. The tracks can be slippery, so watch out where you walk.
- Dress in layers. The weather in Iceland is unpredictable, so make sure you can both cover sun and rain. Bring a swimsuit if you want to go for a swim in the natural hot spring, the ‘People’s pool’. We skipped this. Too busy.
- Bring some snacks and drinks. There is a small shop in the base camp, offering some basics.
If you plan on driving the scenic F208, add the following on your ‘do do’s’:
- Make sure your 4 WD is suitable for river crossings and the insurance of the car covers this.
- Bring rubber boots to check the depth of the water at the crossing.
- Check the depth of the water in the rivers in combination with the weather conditions. If it has been raining a lot, the water level might be very high. This is a difficult one. We tried to get some idea before our trip and made some enquiries at the visitor’s center in Kirkjubæjarklaustur but all information was very vague. If you want to play safe, take the F26 and check in the national park itself whether the conditions allow you to cross the rivers with your car. But be aware you are up for a very long drive back then, depending of course where you are staying the night. You can of course also take a guided tour.
- Be careful when you cross the river. You can ask the park rangers for specific guidance taking into account the conditions at the moment of your visit. If you are not used to driving through water, take the least deep side and go slowly. You can also wait for other cars to see how they take the crossing.