Backpacking

Coast to Coast - The Iceland Traverse

A True Backpacking Expedition into the Wilderness of Iceland. Now open for bookings, departure in July 2021.

Tour code: IMG43

Coast to Coast - The Iceland Traverse
Price from: 1.050.000  ISK

Walk Coast to Coast & Explore the Diverse Landscape of Iceland

This is the ultimate challenge for the serious backpacker; a total traverse of the Icelandic highlands. This 32-day tour takes you from the northern lowlands, across the highlands and all the way to the south coast. Following along nature’s beautiful attractions including the North-Atlantic volcanic rift, Europe’s biggest glacier, and through different types of volcanic and glacial landscapes. This is a fantastic journey that allows you to see all of Iceland’s unique beauty. The duration alone of this expedition, dramatically increases your probability of witnessing all kinds of weather conditions, sometimes even season shifts. A true exploration of the wilderness of Iceland!

Tour Overview

  • Meeting point

    Reykjavík domestic airport

  • Group size

    6 - 12 participants

  • Language

    English

  • Accommodation

    Mountain hut and camping

  • Walkin per day

    6 - 10 hrs

  • Total Distance

    450 km (280 mi)

  • Max Ascent

    900 m (2900 ft)

  • Difficulty

    Strenuous

    Difficulty

    Strenuous

  • Availability

    Jun-Jul

  • Duration

    32 days

  • 18

    Minimum age:

    18 yrs

Book this tour

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Tour Highlights

Included

  • Experienced and qualified guide
  • Mountain hut and hostel sleeping bag accommodation in dormitories
  • Camping accommodation in two persons tent
  • Night at a hostel/hotel in Skógar at the end of the hike
  • Transport at the beginning and end of trek
  • Flight from Reykjavík domestic airport to Akureyri airport
  • Breakfast (31), Lunch (32), Dinner (31)
  • Safety equipment for glacier crossing
  • Storage of luggage in Reykjavík

Not Included

  • Sleeping bag

Optional Extras

  • Sleeping bag
  • Accommodation in Reykjavík before and after the tour

Tour Map and Itinerary

Click map for detailed itinerary

Coast to Coast - The Iceland Traverse

MAP & ITINERARY

Day 0

Meeting in Reykjavík

Briefing and preparatory meeting with the guide in Reykjavík at 12:00. After the meeting, there will be time to purchase necessary gear if needed and prepare luggage for storage in Reykjavík. This meeting is mandatory for all participants. Evening free, accommodation not included but can be added.

Day 1

Flight Reykjavík to Akureyri - Transfer Akureyri to Ásbyrgi - Hiking Ábyrgi to Vesturdalur - Camp in Vesturdalur

Our trek starts in front of the information center of the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, situated in an old horseshoe-shaped canyon called Ásbyrgi. We scramble up the edge of the canyon and follow it until we reach a point which gives us a full view of all its beauty. Our heathen ancestors, the Vikings, believed that Odin’s (the chief of the old gods) eight-legged horse tripped somewhere above Iceland and had to put one of his eight legs down on earth, leaving the hoofmark for generations to admire. We continue crossing a moor until we reach the namesake of the park, the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, with the Jökulsá river growling at the bottom. As we follow the canyon, we pass Rauðhólar crater row, showing off intensive red and black scoria colors teasing your wildest imaginations of Earth’s natural beauty. We also hike passed the echo cliffs Hljóðaklettar just before reaching our campsite in Vesturdalur valley.
Distance: 12 - 14 km (7.5 - 9 mi)
Walking time: 5 - 7 hrs

Day 2

Jökulsárgljúfur - Dettifoss

We continue following the canyon passing the turned-to-stone Giants Karl and Kerling and the fresh water sources Hólmatungur, before we plunge into the canyon itself and follow the river for a while. This is a rather unknown part of the park but many consider it its highlight because of its singularity. At the end of the day we come to Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall.
Distance: 18 km (11 - 12 mi)
Walking time: 7 - 8 hrs

Day 3

Eilífsvötn

The Dettifoss waterfall dictates the end of the canyon and the end to the first portion of our tour. We leave this river to embark on rocky plains, hearty plateaus and the beautiful mountain lake Elífsvötn. At its far end we find one of the cozier places in Icelandic wilderness to camp.
Distance: 14 - 16 km (8.5 - 10 mi)
Walking time: 7 hrs

Day 4

Lava fields - Mývatn

A long and waterless day awaits us, but we promise, the effort is well worth it. During one the strangest and most moon-like days of the trip, we cross the most recent black lava field of the Krafla volcano. We hike through red craters, melted stone and muddy hot-springs, until we arrive in the little village of Reykjahlíð at the border of the famous lake Mývatn.
Distance: 20 - 25 km (12.5 - 15.5 mi)
Walking time: 8 - 9 hrs

Day 5

Rest day

Rest day, with endless possibilities of sightseeing, thermal bathing and bird-watching around the lake.

Day 6

Mývatn - Kraká

From Reykjahlíð we head to the other side of the lake, passing unique places like the explosive crater Hverfjall and the strange pillars of Dimmuborgir, which might make one wonder why on earth Lord of the rings was shot in New Zealand. We set camp by the river Kráká.
Distance: 18 - 22 km (11 - 13.5 mi)
Walking time: 8 - 10 hrs

Day 7

Kraká - Ódáðahraun

Following the river, we slowly enter the highlands; all habitable land lies behind us now. A spring river of this kind is like an oasis that supports various birds and vegetation which will become increasingly scarce only a short distance away from the stream. At the end of the day we camp in the last cozy green spot before we enter the great deserts of Ódáðahraun.
Distance: 16 - 18 km (10 - 11.5 mi)
Walking time: 6 - 8 hrs

Day 8

Suðurárbotnar

Leaving the river, we start crossing the plains - mountains rising slowly at the horizon. After traversing some more old lava fields we arrive at Suðurárbotnar water sources situated at the edge of the great lava and sand desert Ódáðahraun, which we enter to find a little hut Dyngjufell where we stay the night.
Distance: 16 - 18 km (10 - 11.5 mi)
Walking time: 
6 - 8 hrs

Day 9

Dyngjufjalladalur

Rugged, barren, desolate, hostile, moonlike are few of the words that come to one’s mind crossing the black desert of Ódáðahraun. We continue towards an even more Tolkien-like landscape of Dyngjufjalladalur, where we find like the day before, the warmth of a hut.
Distance: 20 - 22 km (12 - 13.5 mi)
Walking time: 8 - 10 hrs

Day 10

Dyngjufjöll - Askja

We start the day by climbing slope after slope of the great Dyngjufjöll Mountains until we reach the magnificent Askja caldera. Passing the crater Víti and some steaming hot springs, we traverse the caldera to reach the famous Öskjuvatn Lake. From there we climb the slopes on the other side where we enjoy an excellent view over the lake and caldera as well as towards some of the most majestic mountains of Iceland, Herðubreið and Snæfell. Descending the other side leads us to a well-known campsite and some huts, where we will stay.
Distance: 19 - 20 km (11.5 - 12.5 mi)
Walking time: 8 - 10 hrs

Day 11

Rest day

We will take a good rest day at Askja.

Day 12

Askja - Svartá

Day 12 is considered a “semi” rest day, because we don’t start hiking until the late afternoon. We enter a desert of black sand just north of Askja. This area is known for a peculiar green moss. We also run into the Oasis of Svartá river, in the middle of black sand dunes.
Distance: 10 - 12 km (6 - 7.5 mi)
Walking time: 5 - 6 hrs

Day 13

The black deserts

After drinking our fill and filling up all water bottles, we continue crossing the black desert, now with Vatnajökull glacier on the left and the Askja caldera on the right. From here the view will remind you of Tolkien’s Mordor. Trotting the sand in the vast space north of Vatnajökull brings us, finally, to a hill in the sand with a glacial stream flowing by. This is where we camp, next to the only water available for many miles.
Distance: 16 - 18 km (10 - 11.5 mi)
Walking time: 6 - 8 hrs

Day 14

Urðarháls - Kistufell

After the sand desert, the landscape becomes more hilly and rugged. We traverse a small lava field and mount an old shield Volcano Urðarháls, to discover one of the deeper craters in Iceland. Never far away from the Vatnajökull glacier we reach the rugged emergency hut of Kistufell Mountain where we stay the night.
Distance: 18 - 20 km (11 - 12.5 mi)
Walking time:
 7 - 9 hrs

Day 15

Gæsavötn

Like the days before, this one is as deserted as it gets. Not a single plant, not even a lump of moss peaks out of the black sand or lava. Traversing an occasional glacial stream and passing an old crater row we continue until we come to the oasis Gæsavötn. Here we stay in a mountain hut, appreciating that there are other colors in Iceland than black.
Distance: 14 - 16 km (8.5 - 10 mi)
Walking time: 5 - 7 hrs

Day 16

Gæsavötn - Vonarskarð

After a short hike from Gæsavötn we come to a critical glacial river. At this juncture, we will decide if we cross or, depending on conditions, turn towards its source and cross a small glacier. Further on we enter a vast pass called Vonarskarð (Pass of Hope). This pass was formed by the glacier and subglacial eruptions, these landscapes take on a new dimension, different from what we have seen so far. At the end of this day, we find a convenient campground and perhaps have a chance to enjoy some of the many hot baths this geothermal Vonarskarð area provides.
Distance: 24 - 28 km (15 - 17.5 mi)
Walking time: 8 - 10 hrs

Day 17

Vonarskarð - Nýidalur

The Vonarskarð Pass lies between the glaciers Tungnafellsjökull and Köldukvíslarjökull. The geology is conditioned by the calderas on either side; geothermal activity is considerable since directly underneath the eastern caldera the Icelandic “Hot Spot” is to be found. We traverse the vast pass, over to the valley Snapadalur, where hot springs and solfataras are to be found, offering again a new set of colors. We have reached some rhyolite mountains, which unlike basaltic mountains, offer bright colors of great variety. After climbing a ridge of such mountains, we descend along the valley Jökuldalur, at which end we find the huts of Nýidalur.
Distance: 28 - 32 km (17.5 - 20 mi)
Walking time: 9 - 11 hrs

Day 18

Rest day

This is a rest day, used for reorganizing, showering, recuperating and maybe a short walk in the vicinity. We stay another night in the in Nýidalur.

Day 19

Nýidalur - Vonarskarð south

After an easy morning, and maybe a last shower, we leave the huts in Nýidalur in the afternoon. Once our packs are on our backs, we head southeast, towards the Köldukvíslarjökull outlet glacier, following a gentle stream leading into the southern part of the Vonarskarð Pass.
Distance: 18 - 22 km (11 - 13.5 mi)
Walking time: 8 - 10 hrs

Day 20

Vonarskarð - Kaldakvísl

The Vonarskarð Pass is a sort of basin between the glaciers Tungnafellsjökull and Köldukvíslarjökull. Its geology is conditioned by the two calderas on both sides; geothermal activity is considerable since directly underneath there is supposedly the very centre of Iceland’s "Hot Spot". We climb the hills to the Vonarskarð Pass and descend into the beautiful lake of Kvíavatn. Descending further to the source of the Kaldakvísl River crossing one of her streams before continuing to the outlet glacier of Köldukvíslarjökull. We will camp in the moraines.
Distance: 12 - 14 km (7.5 - 9 mi)
Walking time: 5 - 6 hrs

Day 21

Kaldakvísl glacier - Sveðja - Hraungil

Today we make an early start and head onto the Köldukvíslarjökull glacier. On the other side of the glacier awaits the River Sveðja (the hatch), one of the most complicated obstructions of this journey. Wading such a stream can be problematic but an early start might ensure our safe crossing. Once on the other side of the river we enter into the lava field of Hágönguhraun and continue south. Depending on the water situation, we will camp in a small crater, a perfect shelter against sudden gales who could descend from the glacier, or else continue to Hraungil.
Distance: 10 - 15 km (6 - 9.5 mi)
Walking time: 5 - 7 hrs

Day 22

Sylgja - Jökulgrindur - Jökulheimar

Before we head into Tröllahraun also known as the "Lava of Trolls“, we need to cross the Sylgja river to witness aftermath of recent lava flow where strange images lurk out. We continue south passing through the sand blown lava to Tungnaárbotnar peaking at us from the left. After, we will change direction and turn west along the Jökulgrindur mountain ridge. We enjoy a night of comfort after a good day’s hike at Jökulheimar glaciological hut, the only "urbanized" place during the tour. As we rest, we also prepare for our crossing of Tungnaá river in the morning.
Distance: 10 - 15 km (6 - 9.5 mi)
Walking time: 5 - 7 hrs

Day 23

Tungná - Langisjór

Good thing we rested easy, and prepared for Tungnaá, because crossing the big river demands special techniques and a considerable amount of time. When we have crossed all the different riverbeds and have dried our feet, we head between the glacier and Grænifjallgarður mountain range ascending the windblown hills of tuff and sand. All of a sudden one of the most spectacular places in Iceland lies ahead of us. We enjoy the breathtaking scenery before heading down to the white-blue lake of Langisjór, to the south rises the impressive mountain range Fögrufjöll, creating a perfect backdrop for this magical lake. We round the eastern end of Langisjór heading into the hills of Fögrufjöll. In this tiny oasis, Grasver, we will set up camp.
Distance: 16 - 18 km (10 - 11.5 mi)
Walking time: 6 - 8 hrs

Day 24

Fögrufjöll - Skaftá

We hike along the Fögrufjöll ridge in a westerly direction. To our south lie both the black sand plains of Skaftá river, the green Fögrufjöll and to the left, the amazing lake of Langisjór. Multiple craters and small lakes in between these hills create extraordinary forms, reflecting in water and entertaining the eyes with gorgeous colors and contrasts. Passing at the foot of the Sveinstindur peak, we turn to follow the Skaftá River finding a suitable campground in one of the many hidden gullies, offering clear spring water and a shelter from the wind.
Distance: 22 - 24 km (13.5 - 15 mi)
Walking time:
 7 hrs

Day 25

Eldgjá Canyon - Hólaskjól

We head out along the Skaftá River, climbing the Uxatindar peaks towering over the river rapids and a canyon, enjoying the views to the Lakagígar crater rows on the other side of the river. The landscape is quite spectacular, tall palagonite cliffs, series of labyrinth gulleys cut into thick tephra layers. These are the outskirts of the big volcanic fissure Eldgjá canyon, which erupted for the last time in 934. Descent along Eldgjá towards Lambaskarðshólar where we stay in the mountain hut at Hólaskjól for the night.
Distance: 17 - 20 km (10.5 - 12.5 mi)
Walking time: 6 - 8 hrs

Day 26

A morning rest day at Lambaskarðshólar - Álftavötn

We rest in the morning. In the afternoon, we set out for the trek to the lakes of Álftavötn. We follow the river Syðri Ófæra that drains from the glacier Torfajökull through rolling green hills. Torfajökull is not only a glacier but one of the bigger geothermal areas in Iceland. Depending on weather the river can be high or low but we will most certainly be able to cross it over to the lakes Álftavötn on a natural bridge. There is a traditional hut close to the lakes where we spend the night. The tranquility of this magical place is amazing and this is really a great spot to recharge. Rustic hut, outhouse, no showers.
Distance: 7 - 10 km (4 - 6 mi)
Walking time
: 3 - 4 hrs
Ascent/Descent: 150 m (492 ft)

Day 27

Álftavötn - Strútur

Today we continue along the river Syðri Ófæra crossing once again the Canyon of Fire, Eldgjá and can wonder at the immensity of the natural forces at play when it was created. The landscape changes from green meadows to black sands with screaming green streaks of moss that almost blow our minds. After rounding the massif of Svartahnjúksfjöll we come to the river Hólmsá and its lagoon. We need to cross the river and even though it may feel cold we can warm ourselves in the natural pool Strútslaug, on the other side. After a relaxing soak in the pool we conclude the day´s march walking to the hut at Strútur where we spend the night. Comfortable hut, WC and showers available.
Distance: 24 km (15 mi) 
Walking time:
 7 - 8 hrs
Ascent/Descent: 300 m / 194 ft

Day 28

Strútur - Hvanngil

Leaving the comfortable hut, we set out for the day´s trek along the Mýrdalssandur, the black volcanic sand plain, hemmed in by the icecap of Mýrdalsjökull glacier to the south and the Torfajökull rhyolite massif to the north. We need to cross some of the rivers and better have our river crossing shoes ready. The mystical palagonite landscape of Hvanngil valley greets us and we are yet amazed at the wonders of the Icelandic landscape. At the mouth of the valley a hut waits for the night. Comfortable hut, WC and showers available.
Distance: 14 - 18 km (9-11 mi) 
Walking time: 5 - 6 hrs
Ascent/Descent: 150 m (492 ft)

Day 29

Hvanngil - Emstrur

We pass at the foot of the green conic volcano of Stórasúla before entering the black deserts of Mælifellssandur. Heading towards another ancient and verdurous volcano, the Hattfell, we enter the Emstrur region where farmers used to graze their sheep in summer. Before arriving at the Botnar hut where we stay the night, we visit the magnificent Markarfljót canyon cut almost 200 m down into the rocks south of Hattfell.
Distance: 14 km (10 mi) 
Walking time: 
5 - 6 hrs 
Descent: 
40 m (130 ft)

Day 30

Emstrur - Þórsmörk

We continue up and down through the small valleys and gullies of Emstrur, where the great Mýrdalsjökull glacier rises only a couple of kilometers away. At the end of the day the vegetation starts to grow thicker and higher as we descend in to Þórsmörk’s (the woods of Thor) green valleys filled with arctic birch forests and colorful flowers. Night in one of the huts in Þórsmörk.
Distance: 17 km (10.5 mi) 
Walking time: 6 - 7 hrs 
Descent: 300 m (985 ft)

Day 31

Þórsmörk - Fimmvörðuháls - Skógar

Leaving Þórsmörk, we climb the hills leading to the pass of Fimmvörðuháls, walking along the Kattarhryggir ridges with views to the impressive mountain of Útigönguhöfði up to Morinsheiði heath. The end of the Morinsheiði plateau we enjoy the view of the lava stream that flowed down from the Fimmvörðuháls volcano in March and early April 2010. The lava is all set with different outlets of fuming steam and decorated with green and yellow sulphur. As we gain height above Morinsheiði we come again to the lava and then to the two craters Magni and Móði that erupted prior to the main Eyjafjallajökull crater. We cross the brand-new lava just at the foot of the magnificent red craters, through places were the lava is almost glowing warm inside the fissures and cracks on its surface. Then we head down towards Skógar following the river exploring its many hidden gorges, and waterfalls all the way to the famous Skógafoss waterfall. The river and its surroundings offer great scenery. The coast seems to be within arm's reach and you can almost feel the surf on your cheeks. Arriving at Skógafoss we check in to our accommodation and have our farewell dinner.
Distance: 24 km (14 mi) 
Walking time: 9 - 11 hrs 
Ascent/Decent: 900 m (2953 ft) / 1000 m (3280 ft)

Day 32

Skógar - down to the beach - Reykjavík

After a good night’s rest and breakfast we hike down to the beach to celebrate the „Coast to Coast“ achievement. Then back to Skógar where we find our transport back to Reykjavík. Early evening arrival at Reykjavik terminal where the trip ends.
Distance: 14 km (10 mi) 
Walking time: 3 - 4 hrs  

  • Day 0
  • Day 1
  • Day 2
  • Day 3
  • Day 4
  • Day 5
  • Day 6
  • Day 7
  • Day 8
  • Day 9
  • Day 10
  • Day 11
  • Day 12
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  • Day 20
  • Day 21
  • Day 22
  • Day 23
  • Day 24
  • Day 25
  • Day 26
  • Day 27
  • Day 28
  • Day 29
  • Day 30
  • Day 31
  • Day 32
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