Hiker's Guide to Fjallabak Nature Reserve: Trails and Tips

highlands , tips and tricks , travel guide
Colorful, snow-speckled mountains with lush green patches in Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Iceland.

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Nestled in the heart of Iceland’s rugged southern highlands, the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, or "Friðland að Fjallabaki," is a sanctuary of extraordinary natural beauty and geological diversity.

Established in 1979 to protect its pristine environment, the reserve spans a vast area north of Mýrdalsjökull to Landmannalaugar and beyond to Hrauneyjar, embodying the raw and untamed spirit of Iceland.

The name 'Fjallabak' translates to 'The Back of the Mountains', aptly reflecting its location on the less traversed side of Iceland’s volcanic highlands.

Covering approximately 47,000 hectares, the area stands over 500 meters above sea level and is characterized by its colorful mountains—painted in hues of greens, blues, pinks, reds, and yellows due to the presence of rhyolite and obsidian.

The landscape is marked by stark contrasts: from vast lava fields and black sands to vibrant geothermal valleys with steaming hot springs and the last volcanic eruption recorded in the 15th century near Landmannalaugar.

A hiker stands on a cliff overlooking the colorful, rugged terrain and river valleys of Landmannalaugar in Iceland.
View of the colorful, rugged river valley of Landmannalaugar

Vegetation in Fjallabak is sparse, flourishing mainly along the rivers and lakes in the form of moss and lichen, which dot the otherwise barren volcanic terrain.

Despite its rugged conditions, the reserve is a haven for Iceland's native flora and fauna, adapted to thrive in this harsh climate.

The reserve is accessible only to hikers during the summer months when the ice and snow melt and reveal its full splendour. During this season, Fjallabak becomes a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers.

Visitors can experience the warmth of natural hot springs at the Landmannalaugar camping ground, where a mountain hut provides basic overnight accommodations, including kitchen and bathroom facilities.

As you plan your tour through the Icelandic highlands, Fjallabak Nature Reserve stands out as a must-visit destination. It offers not just hiking and natural beauty but also a profound connection to the ancient, dynamic forces that have shaped this spectacular landscape.


A large modified bus crosses the  river at landmannalaugar
The epic Highland Bus crosses the river before reaching Landmannalaugar


Landmannalaugar, often considered the crown jewel of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, is a geothermal wonderland that captures the essence of Iceland's natural beauty. This region is renowned for its stunning landscapes formed by centuries of volcanic activity, which have painted the mountains in vivid colours—from soft yellows and pinks to striking shades of green and red. These colours are primarily due to the weathering of rhyolite, a volcanic rock that creates a mesmerizing, almost otherworldly palette.

One of the defining features of Landmannalaugar is its natural hot spring pool. This warm, soothing water offers a perfect respite after hiking through the rugged terrain and is one of the area’s most beloved attractions.

Landmannalaugar is an ideal base camp for exploring the broader Fjallabak region. The area is equipped with well-maintained campsites, offering facilities such as bathrooms and a communal kitchen.

Visitors need to note that wild camping is not permitted within the reserve; this regulation helps preserve the delicate ecosystems and ensures that the environment remains pristine for future visitors.

Landmannalaugar's accessibility significantly enhances its appeal. Unlike many parts of the Icelandic Highlands, which require specially equipped vehicles, Landmannalaugar is one of the few areas that can be accessed by smaller cars under certain conditions. This broader accessibility allows even those with a modest level of outdoor experience to enjoy the stunning natural beauty of this unique landscape.

Hikers stand near hot springs and colorful buildings at Landmannalaugar base camp in Iceland.
Landmannalaugar base camp in Iceland.

The Famous Laugavegur Trail

For hiking enthusiasts, Landmannalaugar is the starting point for several popular trails, including the famous Laugavegur Route. The Laugavegur is perhaps the most famous hike in Iceland, often featured in National Geographic for its outstanding natural beauty.

Stretching over 55 kilometres from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk, the trail takes hikers through diverse landscapes, including multicoloured mountains, lava fields, and lush valleys. Despite its popularity, the trail remains relatively uncrowded, with hikers spread out along its length. The best time to experience the Laugavegur Trail is during the summer (from late June to early September) when the trail is fully accessible.

A couple hiking down a height towards a lake surrounded by mountains.
Jan Zelina
View on the trail

Why Hikers Love the Fjallabak Nature Reserve?

Fjallabak Nature Reserve is one of Iceland’s most enchanting and rugged hiking destinations, offering a unique experience for those willing to venture into its wild landscapes. Here are some compelling reasons why you should explore the trails of this extraordinary reserve and discover what makes it a special place to hike.

Geothermal Activity and Unique Geology

The reserve is renowned for its geothermal activity, featuring numerous hot springs, steam vents, and boiling mud pots. Hiking through these areas provides a fascinating glimpse into Iceland’s volcanic nature, allowing visitors to witness the powerful forces that shape the island. The Landmannalaugar area within the reserve is particularly famous for its stunning rhyolite mountains, which display a vibrant palette of reds, yellows, and greens due to volcanic minerals.

Diverse and Dramatic Landscapes

Fjallabak’s volcanic landscape includes lava fields, craters, and obsidian flows, offering a dramatic and otherworldly hiking experience. In contrast to the rugged terrain, lush valleys and clear rivers carve through the reserve, providing beautiful spots for rest and reflection. These diverse and dramatic landscapes create a breathtaking backdrop for any hiking adventure.

Rich Flora and Fauna

The varied landscapes of Fjallabak host a rich array of vegetation, including mosses, lichens, and hardy alpine plants that add splashes of color to the scenery. While wildlife is less abundant, keen observers might spot Arctic foxes, ptarmigans, and various bird species that inhabit the area. This rich flora and fauna add to the reserve’s charm and provide additional points of interest for nature enthusiasts.

Challenging and Rewarding Trails

Fjallabak is home to some of Iceland’s most famous hiking trails, including the Laugavegur Trail, which starts from Landmannalaugar and traverses the reserve. This trail offers hikers a multi-day adventure through some of Iceland’s most varied and stunning terrain.

The Fimmvörðuháls Pass, another challenging trail, connects the Laugavegur Trail to Skógar, passing between two glaciers and over fresh lava from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. These challenging and rewarding trails attract hikers seeking to test their endurance and enjoy Iceland’s natural beauty.

Solitude and Serenity

The reserve’s remote location ensures fewer crowds compared to more accessible tourist spots, allowing for a more serene and solitary hiking experience. Hiking in Fjallabak Nature Reserve offers the chance to experience Iceland’s wilderness in its purest form, far from the hustle and bustle of urban life. This solitude and serenity are a major draw for those looking to disconnect and immerse themselves in nature.

Cultural and Historical Significance

Fjallabak is steeped in Icelandic sagas and folklore, with many trails following ancient routes used by Icelanders for centuries. Hikers can encounter historical landmarks such as ancient cairns, shepherd huts, and paths that have been used for generations, adding a layer of cultural and historical significance to their journey. This rich history enhances the hiking experience, providing a deeper connection to the land.

Photography Opportunities

The contrasting colours, unique geological features, and dramatic landscapes make Fjallabak a paradise for photographers. The changing light conditions can create spectacular photo opportunities, capturing the essence of Iceland’s rugged beauty. These photography opportunities make Fjallabak an irresistible destination for anyone looking to capture the perfect shot of Iceland’s natural wonders.

Colorful, snow-speckled mountains with lush green patches in Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Iceland.
Colorful, snow-speckled mountains with lush green patches in Fjallabak Nature Reserve

Day Hikes in Fjallabak Nature Reserve

For those looking for shorter hikes, Fjallabak offers several lesser-known trails that showcase the reserve’s unique geological features and stunning vistas.

Here are some notable options:


Bláhnúkur - Brennisteinsalda Loop

The journey begins at the Landmannalaugar campsite, setting off on the striking Bláhnúkur trail, known for its distinctive dark blue slopes. The route offers breathtaking panoramic views and is quite steep; therefore, it is only recommended for those in good physical shape. It includes a challenging steep descent in the final 50 meters. From the summit, hikers are treated to stunning vistas over the Landmannalaugar base camp and the expansive valley beyond.

  • Length: 6.1 km
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Landmannalaugar Short Loop

Perfect for visitors with average fitness, the Landmannalaugar Short Loop offers a taste of Landmannalaugar’s beauty without requiring extensive preparation. This walk includes parts of the famous Laugavegur trail, providing a sampling of the iconic Icelandic hiking experience. It’s a well-walkable trail that’s very popular among tourists. The loop trail is an excellent option for those looking to enjoy the stunning scenery of Landmannalaugar in a manageable and accessible way.

  • Length: 4.3 km
  • Difficulty: Easy


Brennisteinsalda via Laugavegur

This hike provides stunning views and a taste of the famous Laugavegur Trail. Although it includes some steep sections, it remains accessible to most hikers and offers a beautiful view over the valley and the next section of the Laugavegur trail. The trail is well-marked and popular among visitors, making it an excellent choice for those who seek a good hiking experience of the Highlands but are on limited time.

  • Length: 4.7 km
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Grænihryggur - The Green Ridge Hike

Grænihryggur - The Green Ridge Hike is known for its vivid colors and stunning views. This lesser-known hike is frequented by locals who appreciate its serene beauty and challenging terrain. The trail features several versions and lengths, accommodating various preferences and fitness levels. Due to its complexity, which includes river crossings and rugged paths, it’s highly recommended that hikers book a guided tour for a safer and more enjoyable experience. For those seeking an adventure off the beaten path, Grænihryggur provides an unforgettable journey.

  • Length: Variable (7-20 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult


Mt. Löðmundur

Starting from the Landmannahellir campsite, this hike takes you to the highest peak in the Fjallabak region, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the southern part of the country in all directions: lake Löðmundarvatn, Hekla volcano, and Hofsjökull glacier, the Kerlingarfjöll mountain range, and Þörsmörk. The hike is steep and challenging, suitable for experienced hikers.

  • Length: 5 km
  • Difficulty: Difficult

Rauðauga and Rauðufossar Hike

The hike is a brief ascent with an elevation gain of about 250 meters. It leads by the stunning Rauðafoss waterfall, which cascades down a rust-coloured canyon—a result of iron oxidation in the rocks. The hike's highlight is Rauðaauga, a crystal-clear, round natural spring with a deep central hole, creating a striking visual effect that looks like an eye.

  • Length: 4 km
  • Difficulty: Moderate


Icelandic Mountain Guides offer a range of immersive multi-day hiking tours in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, crafted to highlight the breathtaking and diverse landscapes of this secluded region. Each tour is thoughtfully designed to encompass a variety of the area's natural wonders, combining shorter, scenic hikes like the ascent to Rauðauga and the trek through Bláhnúkur with segments of the renowned Laugavegur Trail.

The tours vary in duration and difficulty, catering to different levels of hiking proficiency, from enthusiastic beginners to seasoned trekkers. Participants can experience everything from the vibrant rhyolite mountains and expansive lava fields to the enchanting hot springs and dramatic waterfalls that define the area. 

Each journey is guided by experienced professionals who provide valuable insights into the geology, flora, and fauna of the region, enhancing the hiking experience with their knowledge of the reserve’s ecological and cultural significance.

This combination of picturesque day hikes and sections of the famous Laugavegur Trail ensures that adventurers receive a comprehensive exploration of Fjallabak's most iconic and hidden treasures.

Here are some of the notable tours available:

A group of hikers, equipped with backpacks and trekking poles, traverses a rugged volcanic terrain in Iceland.
One of the many happy groups we've guided along the trails of Iceland

Multiday Hikes in Fjallabak Nature Reserve

This 4-day guided hike takes you through some of the most secluded and picturesque areas of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve.

Highlights of the tour include hiking through geothermally active areas and relax in natural hot springs, the chance to experience the vibrant rhyolite mountains and vast lava fields and seeing impressive waterfalls.

Guests stay in mountain huts, providing a rustic yet comfortable experience in the wilderness. The tour includes transport to and from Reykjavik and experienced English-speaking guides.

A hiker enjoying a dip in a steaming hot spring surrounded by lush greenery in Landmannalaugar, Iceland.
Hikers enjoying a dip in a steaming hot spring in Landmannalaugar

Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls Combo Tour

This 6-day tour combines two of Iceland’s most famous trails for those looking for a more extensive hiking adventure. Hike the Laugavegur Trail from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk, experiencing diverse landscapes from geothermal areas to lush valleys.

Next is the Fimmvörðuháls Pass, where travellers continue the journey through the scenic pass between two glaciers, offering breathtaking views and challenging terrain.

You will stay in huts along the route, ensuring a safe and comfortable hiking experience, and expert guides lead the way.

A lone hiker amidst steam vents and rugged volcanic landscape in Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Iceland.
Arnar Már Ólafsson
Stream rising from the ground on the Laugavegur trail

Volcanic Trails

This 5-day hike explores the volcanic regions of southern Iceland, offering a deep dive into the country’s geological wonders. Participants hike off the beaten path through volcanic landscapes, including lava fields and craters.

Led by knowledgeable guides, this tour provides a unique perspective on Iceland’s volcanic activity. Guests stay in mountain huts, immersing you in the highlands’ remote and wild nature.


A happy hiker posing on the summit
Hiking in Iceland is on the bucketlist of outdoorsy people all over the world

Essential Tips for First-Time Tourists

Iceland, with its dramatic landscapes, geysers, waterfalls, and volcanic terrain, offers some of the most breathtaking hiking experiences in the world. However, its unique environment also poses specific challenges, especially for first-time visitors.

Weather Preparedness

Icelandic weather is notoriously unpredictable. Sunshine can quickly turn into rain, fog, or even snow, regardless of the season. Dress in layers to adapt to changing conditions. A base layer for moisture-wicking, an insulating layer for warmth, and a waterproof outer layer are essential. Also, strong winds and heavy rain are common. Invest in good-quality windproof and waterproof clothing.

Proper Footwear

Sturdy hiking boots are a must, as Iceland’s terrain is rugged and uneven. Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots with good ankle support are required for a comfortable journey. Ensure your boots are broken in before your trip to avoid blisters and discomfort.

Navigation Skills

While many trails are well-marked, some are not. Carry a detailed map and a GPS device. Download offline maps, as cell service can be spotty. Also, familiarise yourself with Icelandic trail markers, which are often wooden sticks with paint on top.

Respect Law and Nature

Iceland’s fragile environment requires careful attention. Always follow the Leave No Trace principles: pack out all trash, stay on marked trails, and avoid disturbing wildlife.

Stay on paths, as straying from trails can cause irreparable damage to delicate flora and fauna. Wild camping is strictly forbidden in all national parks and nature reserves in Iceland.

Safety First

Always let someone know your hiking plans and expected return time. Use the SafeTravel.is app to register your travel plans. Familiarise yourself with the Icelandic Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) emergency number: 112. Carry a basic first aid kit, including bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and any personal medications.

Hydration and Nutrition

Bring enough water, especially for longer hikes. You can refill your bottle from streams and rivers in some areas, but there are sections with no water access whatsoever. High-energy snacks like nuts, dried fruit, and energy bars are ideal. For longer hikes, pack a lunch with plenty of carbohydrates and proteins.

Local Etiquette and Regulations

Respect local customs. Icelanders are proud of their nature and culture. Respect their customs and property. Also, pay attention to camping regulations, as wild camping is regulated. Use designated camping areas and always follow local rules.

Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Hike

Safety is paramount when hiking in Fjallabak.

  • Safety is paramount when embarking on a hiking adventure in the remote wilderness of Fjallabak. To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, here are some professional tips to keep in mind:
  • Check the Weather: Before venturing out, always check the weather forecast for the area. Iceland's weather can be unpredictable, and conditions can change rapidly, especially in the highlands. Be prepared for sudden changes in temperature, wind, and precipitation. Additionally, stay informed about any road or trail closures due to inclement weather or other hazards.
  • Use Safety Apps: Equip yourself with essential safety tools by downloading the SafeTravel app. This app provides real-time updates on weather conditions, road closures, and safety tips specific to your location. It also allows you to share your travel plans with emergency contacts, providing an added layer of security in case of emergencies.
  • Pack Accordingly: Prepare a well-stocked backpack with essential gear for your hike. This includes layers of clothing to accommodate changing weather conditions, waterproof outerwear to stay dry in rain or snow, a detailed map of the area, a reliable compass or GPS device for navigation, plenty of water to stay hydrated, and high-energy snacks to fuel your adventure. Consider packing emergency supplies such as a first-aid kit, emergency shelter, and signaling devices for added safety.
  • Leave No Trace: Respect and preserve the pristine beauty of Fjallabak by adhering to the principles of "Leave No Trace." Minimize your impact on the environment by packing out all waste, including food scraps, trash, and toilet paper. Stay on marked trails to avoid damaging fragile vegetation and ecosystems, and refrain from disturbing wildlife. By practicing responsible hiking habits, you contribute to the conservation of this unique wilderness area for future generations to enjoy.
  • By following these professional tips for safety and conservation, you can fully immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes of Fjallabak while minimizing risks and environmental impact. Enjoy your adventure, and stay safe on the trails!

Fjallabak Nature Reserve offers an unparalleled hiking experience for those seeking adventure, natural beauty, and a deep connection with Iceland’s raw and untamed landscapes. Its unique geological features, diverse ecosystems, and serene solitude make it a must-visit destination for any nature enthusiast or avid hiker visiting Iceland.

Whether trekking the famous Laugavegur Trail or exploring the lesser-known paths, Fjallabak promises an unforgettable journey through one of Iceland’s most special natural reserves.

Hikers walking through patches of snow and rugged terrain in Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Iceland.
Hikers walking through patches of snow and rugged terrain in Fjallabak Nature Reserve

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