Thorsmork, a hidden gem in the Icelandic Highlands

Thorsmork Valley: A Gem in the Highlands of Iceland

Thorsmork Valley might be hard to reach but it is definitely worth the struggle. Within reach from Reykjavik and close to the Laugavegur trail and the Fimmvörðuháls trail, it's a true oasis in the Icelandic Highlands. Here comes a quick guide about the destination.

Photo of undefined

Julien Achache

14. November 2018

This article follows a previous one: “Winter hiking in Thorsmork without a guide” which is solely focused on the hikes of the area

I first have to precise that I was invited there in order to write this article. Therefore, I want to thank Isafold Travel and Thorsmork Volcano Huts for this opportunity. I also must precise that there was no counterpart or any kind of sponsorship for this and that I write this article on a completely personal and unbiased opinion

The Thorsmork nature reserve

The Thorsmork nature reserve is named after Thor, the god of Thunder in the old Viking religion: Ásatrú. It is located in the south of the country, at the entrance of the highlands of Iceland. Beautifully scattered with all kind of landscapes, canyons, glaciers, rivers, mountains, forests and more, it is like Iceland condensed in one single place. Also note that one can easily combine a trip in Thorsmork with many other more visited sites like Eyjafjallajökull, Seljalandsfoss or Skogarfoss. We actually also feature a lot of tours to those destinations.

Despite being hard to access and among landscapes that seem equally brutal and absolutely gorgeous, Thorsmork is a perfect destination with enough to see and to do for everyone. Whether you are into hiking, photography or simply sightseeing, Thorsmork is a place one must not miss during his trip to Iceland.

Reaching Thorsmork: Already an adventure

Thorsmork is a really remote area, located in the Icelandic highlands. Whether you go there in summer or in winter can make it a bit easier to reach, but it will never be effortless. As we (I was traveling with my girlfriend) went there in late October, I will first describe how it went for us. I will then go over the other existing options.

From Reykjavík to Thorsmork

Depending on what kind of guided tour you decide to book, you may either be picked up in Reykjavík or at the campsite of Seljalandsfoss: Hamrargarðar to be driven to Thorsmork. One thing is sure though, unless you own a super jeep, you will not be able to drive there by yourself.

Super Jeep tour to Thorsmork

Once you start to venture on the roads of the icelandic highlands, the landscapes become absolutely scenic. The drive before the Eyjafjallajökull is simply stunning.

Volcano and Glacier, fire and ice: Eyjafjallajokull

Another way to get to Thorsmork, this time by your own means, is to drive all the way to Skogar on the south coast, and start The Fimmvörðuháls hike. It is a 32km (20 miles) hike through hundreds of different landscapes. It is a challenging one though, and not doable all year round. If the conditions are good, and you are in good shape, it is doable in one day. Usually, it is recommended to do it in two days. You can only choose this option in summer though. Here is a Wonderguide article about The Fimmvörðuháls hike.

Discover Thorsmork nature reserve

The main activity of the area is definitely hiking. Most of the hikes are easy and not challenging, therefore, they can be done as nice family walk. On this link is quick guide about the main hiking trails of Thorsmork. If you are not really into hiking, there are still many different ways to explore the area.

First of all, I can think about at least two sites, both are caves, and both are accessible within barely a few minutes’ walk: The Sóttarhellir Cave and the Sönghellir Cave. There are many other places to visit, and to do so you have a huge panel of tours to bring you to one place or another. Even if you can technically book a day tour from the huts to places like, it is highly recommended to book in advance. Here is a quick selection about what we have at Wonderguide.

The highlights of the area are the following sites. They are all accessible either on foot or by car:

Super Jeep tour in Thorsmork
• The Langidalur valley: The Langidalur valley is located at the feet of the mountains. From there, you can see the whole mountains from ground to top, which is an amazing sight. Also, between you and the mountains is the Krossá Riverbed. It consists in a very wide area, made of black sands and rocks, scattered with dozens of streams of water.

• The Valahnúkur Mountain: The foot of this mountain is located right by the huts of The Landigalur Valley. You can certainly not reach the top of the mountain by car of by bus. But if you get dropped off at Langidalur, then it will take you around 30 minutes to walk to the top of the 454 meters (around 1500 feet) with good conditions. From up there, you will get a completely different perspective on the Langidalur valley. Definitely a must do that I could not recommend more. Just keep in mind that the path is quite steep.

• The Stakkholtsgjá Canyon: This is a place that I have not visited (yet). I know you can get driven there as our driver proposed it to the other people in the car. Once you have arrived, the walking path to discover the canyon is supposedly not challenging. It is not a loop, so you can just venture on it as long as you want and then turn back when you feel like it.

Expecting northern lights, spotting arctic foxes

After one day of hiking, in harsh conditions, we definitely needed a hot dinner. We also decided to stay in the lobby for a while after dinner. We were hoping for the weather to clear up well enough and give us a cloudless sky. As we were in such a remote area, with no light pollution, we knew the sky would be packed with thousands and thousands of stars. The area is definitely perfect for northern lights, if you are lucky enough. Unfortunately, we did not have that chance.

The sky did clear up, but not enough, the brightness of the moon was visible, the clouds were clearly thinner but still present all over the sky. As we were still waiting and still full of hopes, the workers from the reception told us to come over to their table. As we approached, we could see them flashing something outside with their torchlights through the window. When we could have a look, we could see a white arctic fox roaming around, probably looking for food. They have the reputation to be extremely shy and easily frightened, but this one was absolutely not disturbed by the light pointed at him. He then stared at us for long seconds and went back to his fox life. Whatever that is.

It was actually the first time I saw an arctic fox, therefore it was also good opportunity for me to learn a fun fact about the only native mammal of Iceland. What is really interesting about it is that they actually change their color according to the season! White fur for winter, brown fur for summer. So if you ever have a doubt about what season it is, you can always ask a fox.

Thorsmork, the best photography destination

Whether you are a professional photographer or just an amateur, Thorsmork will be a heaven for you. Wherever you go or look, you are always surrounded by many mountains and three glaciers: The Eyjafjallajökull, The Mýrdalsjökull and The Tindfjallajökull. If you add to this the rivers, cliffs, canyons, and caves there is nothing that you will not be craving to capture with your camera.

As just mentioned earlier, you are quite likely to see some arctic foxes, in that only purpose, I recommend to anyone to bring a telephoto lens. They are shy animals and it will only be possible to photograph them from afar. Also without zero light pollution at night, aurora hunters and astro-photographers will be delighted during clear nights.

Practical information about Thorsmork and about the Volcano Huts

Different accommodations in Thorsmork

The volcano huts of Thorsmork

The volcano huts of Thorsmork are an awesome place to stay overnight if you are planning to wander in the area for more than a day. It is obviously in the middle of nowhere, but it comes with all kind of facilities and all kind of accommodation from camping to private rooms. There is also a natural pool and a sauna.

Sauna and hot spring in Thorsmork

We were hosted in a private room which consists in a double bed plus a single one (bunked beds).

Accomodation in Thorsmork

There is also a restaurant there that provides breakfast, lunch and dinner. We only tried the dinner, and I must say it was a really pleasant surprise. The Thorsmork volcano offer a dinner buffet that includes vegetables, meat and fish. The dining room is also the lobby, and it is really cozy.

Hot dinner at the Thorsmork Volcano huts

Lobby and dining room in Volcano huts

About the accommodation, there is another option which consists in a room with a tiny kitchen. We had the opportunity to use that kitchen to cook one of our breakfasts. It is tiny but very well thought and functional. The only thing was that at this time of the year, as the room was not rented, running water was cut off. Nothing that a jug cannot fix.

The staff was friendly and extremely reliable when it came to providing information about the area and about the hiking paths. The map they can give you is mostly accurate but not 100%, and you will need their knowledge to find you way. I am writing this in November 2018, maybe by the time you read the article, the map will have been updated. You can read first part of this article: Winter hiking in Thorsmork without a guide to know more about that.

The Básar huts

We did not stay at the huts of Básar, but I have been there a few years ago. As I was camping, I did not check the rooms but must say that the shared kitchen was simply amazing. The area surrounding the rooms, the kitchen and other accommodation is super pretty and looks like a holiday village. It is located right at the end of The Fimmvörðuháls trek.

Between the Volcano huts and The Básar huts, I cannot say which one I prefer, they both have their perks.

There are other accommodation options, like the huts in The Langidalur valley, which I have no information about.

How long should I stay?

We stayed a bit more than 24 hours. 26 hours to be exact. We planned to go there to hike only. For reaching that goal, it was definitely not enough, even though we managed to do most of the trails. What I would really like to do in this place is to enjoy a real vacation, have enough time to do all the trails of the area, but also to chill, have a warm coffee on the terrace, go to the sauna and the pool. This would be an ideal summer trip. In winter, I would say that 3 days, 2 nights is a good time if the weather is reasonable.

Can I go to Thorsmork all year round?

Technically, the Thorsmork volcano huts are open all year. So I would assume there are some transfers available all year as well. But I am just speculating as I do not have that information. For sure, there will be times when it is simply inaccessible. Roads can be flooded or there might simply be too much snow or wind.

What type of clothes should I wear?

One would be tempted to say that it obviously depends on the season. I have to disagree with that. When I went there in summer, in 2014, the weather we had the first day was way worse than what we experienced with a pretty bad October’s weather. Winds and rain can be violent during any season in the highlands, and one must always be prepared for that.

Therefore, it is essential that you have some warm and waterproof clothes. As always in Iceland, the ideal is to have them set in a way that you can easily take off and on different layers.

Whether you are into hiking or not, I definitely recommend bringing hiking boots. Even if a driver is dropping you off to some of the highlights of Thorsmork, you will always have to walk at least a bit. Paths can be muddy and rocky sometimes, so your ankles and your dry feet will be grateful if you are wearing appropriate shoes. If the paths’ condition is not optimal, keep in mind that they are maintained by volunteers.

One should also have a whole set of clothes to stay overnight if planned to. It is very important to be able to dress in dry clothes while not exploring.

How much does it cost?

The beauty of hiking is that it is free. For the rest, you will have to pay, obviously. For the details I will let you check directly the Thorsmork Volcano Huts website. When we were there, we made a quick calculation and came to the conclusion that for a private double room (in October, I do not know the prices in the rest of the year), with 3 meals per day and some extras (drinks and snacks) you will have to spend between 20 and 30 thousands ISK per day, depending mostly on the “extras” part. Also, if you are planning to take some tours, you may have to add those costs to the budget.

Menu in Thorsmork