Hiking Iceland’s Laugavegur Trail – Alftavatn to Thorsmork


We knew that our second day on the trail was going to be a long one. The first two sections–Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker and Hrafntinnusker to Alftavatn– were each 12km long making our first day ~24km total (read about it here). For day 2 the plan was to tackle Alftavatn to Thorsmork stopping midway at Emstrur. Alftavatn to Emstrur and Emstrur to Thorsmork are both ~15km long for a total of 30km. In the end, including a side trip to the Volcano Huts Restaurant, we ended up covering 38km.

Since we knew the day was going to be a long one we didn’t want to wait until 7am for the hut wardens to turn on the gas in the kitchen. Fortunately we brought a Jetboil which allowed us to get up early, get breakfast made, and be moving well before 7am.

The first section from Alftavatn to Emstrur is another beauty. You start off surrounded by green as you leave the huts. Eventually the green starts to fade and eventually you find yourself in a relatively barren, grayscale volcanic plain occasionally punctuated with neon green mountains. It’s quite striking.

We stopped briefly for lunch at Emstrur taking advantage of a short break in the rain. The trail from here to Thorsmork is one of my least favorite sections. It is beautiful, but not nearly as nice as the rest of the trail. By this point you’re pretty spoiled and anything less than amazing stop registering. There’s one river crossing, and afterwards you have some decisions to make. It’s good to know where you’re going as Thorsmork has a variety of huts that aren’t necessarily all close together. We were staying in the Basar Hut, but chose to make a pit stop at the Volcano Huts Restaurant to rest, touch base with people back home (there’s wifi), and get a bite to eat. This added about 6km onto our day, but it was an easy 6km. 

Below you will find our GPS track and elevation profile from Alftavatn to the Volcano Huts Restaurant in Thorsmork, and GPS track from the restaurant to the Basar Hut. Enjoy!

Note: If you are ending your hike in Thorsmork and planning to catch a bus back to Reykjavik the Volcano Huts Location is where you want to end up. You can purchase tickets on site, grab a bite to eat while you wait, and use the wifi to find a hotel back in the city. 

Alftavatn to Thorsmork Hiking Route – Google Earth (.kml)
Volcano Huts to Basar Hut Hiking Route – Google Earth (.kml)

elevation profile alftavatn to thorsmork, laugavegur

Here is the elevation profile from Alftavatn to Thorsmork. As you can see the last half is more or less a downhill cruise.

elevation profile - laugavegur... Volcano Huts to Basar Hut

And here is the profile from Volcano Huts to the Basar Hut. Adding the side excursion to the restaurant only adds a short distance, and is definitely worth the few extra miles.

Our crew departing Alftavatn. This was the start of a relatively long day. Got up early, got some food, started moving.

Quick portrait of John on our way out. Take note of what he’s wearing… A mid-weight, long sleeve, wool hoody. This is kind of the perfect piece for hiking the Laugavegur and works very well in most of the conditions you are likely to see.The only time it doesn’t work is when there’s significant rain. Personally, I was hiking in a light wool shirt, and a superlight windbreaker. This worked, but was sometimes too hot when the wind and rain were on break. It’s all dependent on the weather, but if I were to do it over I would probably follow John’s example.

Crossing a small stream just after leaving Alftavatn. During this stretch there are three major river crossings which do not have bridges.

Getting creative at another little stream.

The area around Alftavatn is incredibly lush and green. The colors are out of this world and have to been seen to be believed.

About 5km past Alftavatn is the small outpost of Hvanngil. There is another hut there, and afterwards the green starts to fade. Here you can see our crew approaching a bridge across the river Kaldaklofskvísl which is just past Hvanngil. Soon after we will cross the deepest river of the trip and the landscape will change yet again.

Here you can see john and Justin crossing the river Blafjallakvisl. It was moving pretty swiftly, and was super cold. At it’s deepest it was probably just above the knee, and the current was strong enough to slowly push you sideways.

After crossing the river Blafjallakvisl you follow a gravel road for a bit. Here you can see Eric, John, and Justin with the lush green of the Hvanngil valley behind them.

Eventually the trail parts ways with the road. By this point the landscape has lost most of its color and you find yourself surrounded by the blacks and greys of a great plain of volcanic sand.

During the section from Alftavatn to Emstrur I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I would have liked. Mostly, this was due to the fact that it was raining… like really raining… for most of the morning. Here you can see Justin and John crossing a small stream, and if you look closely you will notice that the lens was covered in water drops. The truth is I did take a lot of photos, but most didn’t turn out because of a wet lens. With the wind it was almost impossible to compose, focus, and shoot before soaking the front element. I love my little Olympus EM-1 with it’s weather sealed lens and body. I’ve gotten this thing seriously wet and dirty and it just keep on clicking.

Eric and John out front approaching a point where the trail sneaks inbetween two volcanic mounds.

Getting close now… This is a pretty iconic view from the Laugavegur. When you reach this spot you’re just a short distance from the huts at Emstrur.

And here we are. Emstrur is made up of a group of many smaller buildings. Each sleeps about 12-14 if I remember correctly. The cooking facilities inside aren’t as well appointed as the other huts, but the tent sites here are some of the best protected.

We stopped briefly for some food and to rest the shoulders. The rain let up for a few minutes and the sun even poked it’s head out. Personally, I hate stopping during the day. It’s amazing how much time you can waste just sitting around while hiking. I’ve gone on 5-6 hour hikes and afterwards checked the stats via GPS and found that our moving time was only 3-4 hours. That’s such a waste! If you’re one of those people that think you could never hike 30-40 km in a day, let me tell you that you can. The trick is being an efficient hiker. That means having your clothing and kit dialed so you’re not stopping every 10 minutes to fix or adjust something. It means carrying your food for the day in easy to reach pockets so you can eat on the move. Operating this way allows you to easily cover large distances without killing yourself.

Starting our descent. Soon after leaving Emstrur the trail takes a decidedly downhill turn. There are still a few climbs between here and Thorsmork, but for the most part you will be hiking downhill.

Justin utilizing a fixed rope to navigate a tricky section. The rope isn’t really necessary, but does allow you to make quick work of this section while wearing a pack.

John, Eric, and Justin making their way across a series of bridges just a short distance from Emstrur.

Looking down into the Thorsmork Valley. Eventually we will be sleeping in a hut at the base of the mountains/glaciers in the background. Then tomorrow we will hike up and over on our way to Skogar.

As you descend into the Thorsmork valley slowly more and more plant life begins to take hold. Here you can see John crossing a bridge surrounded by small trees.

Hiking up and over a small hill that will take us to our final river crossing, the river Þröngá.

Up, and now over and down to the river Þröngá. After crossing the river it’s just a few more kilometers to the huts in Thorsmork.

Justin just going for it… The river Þröngá is a wide braided river. If you get creative you might be able to find a way to cross without having to remove your boots. However, we don’t think it’s worth wasting your time figuring out that puzzle. Just remove your shoes and go for it.

John getting creative and measuring out his next leap of faith. FYI… He did make it across with dry feet.

Here’s a better look at the river Þröngá. It’s never deep, but it is wide, and there are a lot of branches to cross.

Cruising through a small forest of stunted birch trees on our way to the Volcano Huts restaurant.

Just a couple more kilometers…

After stopping to rest, use the wifi, and grab a bite to eat at the Volcano Huts Restaurant we struck off for the Basar Hut which was just a few kilometers away. On the way I made everyone stop briefly for a quick pic with the mountains and icecap in the background.


One last river to cross… Fortunately there was a bridge!

After crossing the river it was just a short walk to the basar hut. We checked in with the warden and then headed inside. The basar hut was easily the nicest hut we stayed in during our trip. The bunk area was great, and was laid out with plenty of space for people and gear.

Here you can see the kitchen area in the Basar Hut. It was large, with a lot of space to cook and eat, and again had everything you would ever need to cook yourself a meal.

The bathroom in the Basar Hut. All of the hut bathrooms are pretty great. They’re clean and well maintained. The Basar bathroom was especially nice as you didn’t have to leave the building to use it.


Here is the entryway inside the Basar Hut… Lots of space to dry out wet things and shoes.

Here’s another shot of the bunk area inside the Basar Hut.

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