Global Adventure - Backpack the Remote Volcanic Highlands of Iceland


Global Adventure - Backpack the Remote Volcanic Highlands of Iceland

Backpack a custom 12-day route deep into Iceland’s most remote highlands where we’ll see few people, only reindeer and vast diverse landscapes. Walk through a stunning variety of multi-colored terrain: steaming craters and black lava fields, deep canyons, green valleys, black sand and colorful rhyolite mountains, blue lakes and lagoons, vast glaciers, and snow speckled peaks to the amazing spa of Landmannalaugar. Then hike the reknowned Fimmvörðuháls trek route high above the famous Skógafoss waterfall between two huge glaciers, across new lava flows and craters from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, and out through the luxurious green valley of Þórsmörk. Stay every night in a basic hut (some with indoor toilets and showers), and carry just 3 days of food at a time, so our backpacks can be fairly light and we can expect to be warm and dry every night even when the weather is harsh outside. We’ll be accompanied by an expert guide who knows all the special off-track routes to make our trip truly one of a kind. NOTE: The member fee shown is for the deposit only; trip price details are included below in the Leader's Notes.

  • Strenuous
  • Challenging
  • Mileage: 85.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 8,800 ft
  • High Point Elevation: 3,500 ft
  • Pace: 1.5 mph

Arrive no later than midday on Saturday July 10, 2021 in Reykjavik, Iceland - requires departing Seattle on the 9th.   (I recommend arriving a day earlier if possible to accommodate luggage delays and jetlag!) and transfer to our hotel for a group welcome dinner and overnight - rooms will be available at the same hotel at your cost for that extra night).  Then we'll head to our trailhead in a private shuttle first thing in the morning  on July 11. 

At the end of our trek we’ll take the public bus from Þórsmörk and ride back to Reykjavik, arriving in the evening on Thursday July 22 (that night’s lodging will be included – flights out of Reykjavik should be arranged no earlier than the next morning July 23rd). 

Itinerary Highlights:   

Our itinerary is an exciting alternative to the popular and heavily traveled Laugavegur trail:   a remote backcountry route where trekkers capable of somewhat longer and more demanding days can see special vistas and landscapes that tourists seldom see and we’ll hardly encounter another soul!  We will stay in huts every night (some with running water and showers, some without) with food provided by our outfitter;  participants will need to carry their sleeping bag, hiking and overnight clothes and up to 3 days of food at a time - est 25# per person.

After meeting at our Reykjavik hotel for a group welcome dinner and a night in a nice local hotel on July 10, our private 4x4 vehicles will pick us up and take us 4.5 hrs east along remote highland tracks to Mt Sveinstindur, by Lake Langisjór - one of Iceland’s most beautiful lakes.  We’ll walk up the peak for some amazing views over the mountains and out to Vatnajökull glacier, and descend for the night to a traditional hut on the other side.   For the next nine days we’ll trek through some of the most magnificent volcanic landscapes in the entire world, with each day bringing different colors and landscapes. 

First we start along the river Skaftá, with rapids and waterfalls leading into the canyon of Hvanngil through the striking mix of black lava, green moss, and different rock formations to the magical Skælingar area, an ancient lava forest along the river.   Next we’ll descend into the Eldgjá “Canyon of Fire”,  an impressive canyon in the center of a 25-mile fissure located under the extremely active Katla Volcano and home to the beautiful Ófærufoss Waterfall. Then, continuing on through bright green hills, we follow the river Syðri Ófæra, watching the landscape change from green meadows to black sands with bright green streaks of moss.   Along the way we’ll have a chance to soak in the natural hot pool Strútslaug!  On day 5 we’ll trek across the back volcanic sand plain of Mýrdalssandur, our water shoes on the ready for several river crossings, and come into the mystical landscape of Hvanngil valley.  After another cozy hut night we’ll wind along yet another river, over a pass, and down into the basin of Lake Álftavatn “Swan lake”.   This is a short day allowing us to rest or explore the area around the lake.   The next two days take us along back trails into the bright hills of Ljósártungur, fording several more streams and rivers draining the surrounding highlands.  Excitement will build as we cross over to the highland oasis of Landmannalaugar (“The Pools of the People”),  passing an impressive obsidian lavafield and climbing to the geothermal area of Dalamót before descending into the dramatic Vondugil canyons to the spa of Landmannalaugar with its natural hot pools and myriad of hiking trails. We’ll spend most of a free day exploring and relaxing here.   

In the afternoon of our free day in Landmannalaugar, we'll transfer by private 4x4 to a comfortable hotel in Skógar, a tiny Icelandic village (population ~25!) known for its local waterfall, Skógafoss, which springs from 60 metres at the top of an eroded cliff.  This will also be the starting point for our final two days along the ancient Fimmvörðuháls trail which passes between the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull, over a high pass, and down through brand new lava fields and past brand new craters craters Magni and Móði in terrain newly created from the 2010 eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull.  It will be no surprise that Nat Geo named this one of the top treks in the world!    We'll end our epic Iceland trek in the lush green valley of Þórsmörk, where we'll be picked up for our ride back to Reykjavik where a hotel and group dinner will put a comfortable exclamation point on our journey.


  • Daily distances on the main itinerary range from 4 miles per day up to one day with 15 miles, with 500 to 1600 feet of elevation gain (walking times 3-9 hours). Every two longer days are followed by short days with time to rest or explore around the hut.  Daily distances on the extension range from 7 to 9 miles per day (walking times 5 to 8 hours) and we’ll be walking these distances for 6 days in a row.  Elevation gain is over 3000’ on the first day, 490 to 1640’ on succeeding days.  Options exist to shorten some of the days in case of bad weather.
  • This area is known for its unpredictable and sometimes terrible weather, so our itinerary can change without notice and sections may be modified or dropped. The priority will always be on safety for all participants.
  • On some days we’ll be crossing streams and rivers multiple times. While the crossings aren’t dangerous, they can be cold, and we’ll spend a lot of time in our water shoes with wet feet.
  • While some trail sections are well formed, there are also many sections where we’ll be following cairns without a formed trail. The terrain can be very rough, with long sections of rough lava, scree or rock-hopping.  There are a few sections where fixed chains or handlines will support somewhat exposed slab ascents and traverses.  Combined with the weather, these treks can be more exhausting than the distances would suggest, and demand trekkers who have solid fitness and the mindset to stay positive and help each other over hours or even days of difficult conditions.  The reward is days spent deep in some of the most amazing and unique backcountry terrain in the world.
  • Most huts in Iceland (and those along our routes) do not offer food or bedding, so we will need to carry our own food and sleeping bags (huts are warm so they need not be heavy bags). To ease our pack weight this trip includes food drops at huts about every 3 days.

Time of Year:   The main hiking season in Iceland is in summer:   June, July, and August.  This is the time of year when the weather is the warmest, the driest, and the least windy, providing the safest and most comfortable conditions for hikers..  While summers are often still cool, stormy and wet, the conditions are certainly friendlier than during the rest of the year.  Summer temperatures in Iceland range between 50-68°F with the Highlands being the coldest (near-freezing temperatures can occur here even in summer).

Lodging:   In Reykjavik and Skogar we’ll stay in nice 3-star hotels with double occupancy and breakfast included.  While on the trail we’ll be in huts every night.  In a few of our bigger huts (6 of the 10 nights) you can expect running water, showers and indoor toilets but in many of the smaller ones the huts are quite rustic:  we’ll have to fetch our water from a nearby stream and use an outhouse.

Food: We’ll enjoy tasty local specialties at restaurants while we’re in town.  During our treks, our outfitter will provide our trail food and supplies including dehydrated dinners.  Supplies for 3 days at a time will be driven to about every third hut, where the hut is located on a road.   By necessity the trail food will be simple but filling.  Vegetarian and gluten-free diets will be easily accommodated; more specialized dietary requirements may be more difficult.

Leader and Outfitter/Guide Experience:  Cheryl Talbert has led many Mountaineers hikes and several Mountaineers and private backpacks, treks and cultural trips around the U.S. west and worldwide.  This is her first trip to Iceland.  We will be using a highly regarded outfitter Icelandic Mountain Guides, the most awarded adventure tour company in Iceland, and our experienced guide – with decades of experience leading treks in Iceland and Greenland - will be the same one who did a fantastic job guiding our group in Central Patagonia in February-March of 2019.  

Strenuousness or Difficulty rating:   This itinerary is rated strenuous and challenging, in part because of multiple fairly long trail days in a row, and in part because of sometimes very rugged conditions including steep moraine and boulder field ascents and descents, swift water crossings, often difficult weather and remoteness.   Helicopter rescue is available all over Iceland, and drivers can reach us at about every third hut if someone needs to exit early (max about 14 miles walking at the farthest).

Participant Requirements:   Must be a current Mountaineers member with an up-to-date waiver on file. This outing includes strenuous hiking on rugged terrain (including some steep moraine and scree slopes and extended boulderfield crossings) for multiple successive days without such amenities as showers or laundry.  The weather can change suddenly to high winds, hail, fog or heavy rain.  For these reasons, participants need to be in excellent condition with good balance and confidence traveling on rough trail with an overnight pack, and with the experience and willingness to pack appropriately and to deal with some discomfort, cold and inclement weather for extended periods.

Therefore, recent experience with multi-day strenuous backpacking, scrambling or hiking, plus a positive attitude and a demonstrated ability to get along well with groups under demanding conditions, will be very important.   NOTE:  Your leader makes most of the arrangements and provides logistics support during the trip, but is NOT a tour guide!  As a Mountaineers group we will operate as interdependent, capable travelers making our way together and helping one another succeed and be safe.  You must have the ability to navigate on trails with a map and compass.

Trip Price Detail:   Main itinerary $4000 including all lodging, transportation, guides and most meals.   (this is a small increase from 2020 to cover the possibility that our price will go up.  As the date gets closer we may be able to refine and adjust the final payment. Our outfitter may also appy a surcharge if the currency exchange rate fluctuates more than 10% and any such surcharge would be passed along to participants.  ) Your international airfare (~$700), airport transfers in Reykjavik ($15-50 depending on sharing), travel insurance ($75-350) and meals in town (up to $120/day) are not included.  (Food and services are very expensive in Iceland, particularly for private guides and for all of our private transportation and food drops with hired drivers and specialized 4x4 vehicles.  We are making this investment to allow a true backcountry adventure with greater enjoyment and safety because of lighter packs.)

Registration Instructions:   First please complete  the application form.  


Supplemental Information

After the leader’s approval, go to the trip listing and click the REGISTER button to pay the 50% deposit and hold your space on the roster (contact the leader or Mountaineers Member Services to set up a special online payment if you want to do the extension). Registration will close on March 1, 2020 or whenever the roster fills. A place on the roster can only be held with payment of the deposit. The due date for the balance of the trip payment will be announced later.

Cancellation Policy:  If you cancel more than 50 days in advance of trip departure, you will be eligible for a refund of your deposit less a $725 cancellation fee.  If you cancel between 30 and 50 days in advance of trip departure, you will be eligible for a refund of your deposit less a $1200 cancellation fee.  If you cancel between 7 and 29 days in advance of trip departure, you will be eligible for a refund of your deposit less a $1700 cancellation fee.  If you cancel less than 7 days in advance of trip departure you will not be eligible for a refund.  (The cancellation penalties may be waived if someone takes your place on the adventure, but the agreed refund would only be paid after the new person is fully registered.)  

** If we are not allowed to travel due to continued restrictions by the US state department and/or the government of Iceland, or if the Mountaineers determine that it is still not safe to travel, the  Mountaineers retain the option to roll the trip forward another year but if the trip can't be rescheduled or you decide not to join, the Mountaineers are still liable for the above non-refundable cancellation penalties from our outfitter so these fees will apply unless we can find someone to take your place.  We strongly recommend that all registrants purchase Cancel for Any Reason insurance to protect their trip investment given the high uncertainty of international travel during the Covid-19 pandemic.


Backpack Iceland’s Remote Colorful Volcanic and Glacial Highlands

Required Equipment

Required Equipment

After receiving your deposit, the leader will send out a series of letters or emails providing information to help participants succeed on the trip, including recommended and required gear, recommended maps and guidebooks.


Trip Reports