Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
Visit Hornstrandir, The Most Remote Area in Iceland
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Hornstrandir is a nature reserve on the northern tip of the Westfjords. Tundra, expansive fields, cliffs and ice cover about 220 sq m (580 square kilometers) of the whole area. Since the 1950s, Hornstrandir has been completely uninhabited with only a few farm buildings and summer cottages remaining to this day. Hikers can enjoy complete solitude atop Hornstrandir’s towering peaks and deep in the rugged valleys.
Human life and nature in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve coexisted for ages. Agriculture here is pretty much impossible, so the main means of livelihood were fishing, bird hunting, and the occasional ship crafting.
No roads lead to the nature reserve, so the only way to reach this remote gem is by boat or on foot from the South. During the summer, scheduled boats drop off and pick up adventurous travelers and food supplies for a local farmhouse restaurant. During the winter, the nature reserve is completely abandoned.
How to Get to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is one of the most remote places not only in Iceland but in Europe. Traveling there with a group or by yourself should be planned well in advance.
You can access Hornstrandir by a ferry or charter boat from Ísafjörður. The ferry can take you to five harbors on the peninsula. Departure times will vary depending on the harbor you want to get to, though usually there’s a ferry that goes to all of them at least twice a week.
More information on ferry schedules and prices can be found here.
If you can’t find a ferry that’s suitable for you, you can book a charter boat. This option is much more expensive though.
Please note, that due to harsh and unpredictable weather, some ferries might be canceled or delayed.
Weather in Hornstrandir
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is within arm’s reach of the Arctic Circle. The climate here can be unpredictable and harsh so the peninsula is only available to visit during the summer. You can expect the weather to be worse than anywhere else in the country and the hiking season shorter than usual. The best time to go to Hornstrandir weatherwise is from late-June until the end of August.
During your time there, be prepared for hail, snowstorms, thick fog, rain, and sunshine - all in one day. Temperatures can vary from 32°F (0°C) to 59°F (15°C).
What to Do in Hornstrandir
Hiking in Hornstrandir
Hornstrandir is a popular destination for hikers. Travelers from all over the world come to Hornstrandir for single-day hikes or multi-day treks. With no roads, shops or permanent settlements, the peninsula is the perfect destination for those who seek solitude, unspoiled nature, and extreme weather.
The nature reserve is mapped by hiking trails, which connect the harbors, remote farming villages, emergency huts, and cliffs. Some of these trails are poorly marked so a GPS device and an ability to use it is crucial. Popular sights include the cliffs of Graenahlid, Aðalvík Bay area, Hornvik Beach and Hornbjarg Cliff.
Guided Tours in Hornstrandir
To avoid all the fuss of detailed planning and orienteering, join a guided hiking tour to Hornstrandir. If you’re limited by time, embark upon a day hike, exploring all parts of the peninsula or if you have a bit more time on your hands, why not venture on a 3-Day or 6-Day Backpacking adventure?
During guided tours, our experienced guides will take care of all the logistics, help prepare food, make sure you have a safe place to sleep and show you all the most famous sights, wildlife, and birds. They will also guide you safely through the unknown and wild terrain so your safety is guaranteed by a local expert. Also, if you decide to join the tour, your guide will carry your tent, sleeping bag and food supplies.
Bird and Wildlife Watching
Two of the biggest birdwatching cliffs in Europe are located in Hornstrandir. Hælavíkurbjarg, Hornbjarg, and Riturinn Cliffs are home to more than 30 species of birds, such as guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes, razorbills, and puffins. Even more bird species can be observed from the tops of these hills.
Field mice and arctic foxes are two permanent residents of the peninsula. Field mice are very charming and naturally harder to spot. Arctic foxes in Hornstrandir are friendlier than elsewhere in Iceland and might even let you get up close.
Seals can also be found in the area as they like to rest on the sandy beaches and enjoy the short bursts of sunshine. If you’re lucky, you might also be greeted by a whale on the southern shores of the peninsula.
Camping in Hornstrandir
Hornstrandir does not offer much in terms of accommodation or dining. There is a guesthouse and a lovely cafe, called the Old Doctor’s House in Hesteyri, that provides sleeping bag accommodation, but that’s about it.
If you want to explore the peninsula from top to bottom, your best bet is camping. There are 16 designated campsites, 13 out of which belong to the Hornstrandir Environment Agency. The camps are scattered all around the peninsula and free to use for everybody, so you should be able to find a designated site every night. Please refrain from camping in the wild as Horntrandir is a protected area. Also, if you wish to light a campfire you must have a permit.
What to Pack for Hiking in Hornstrandir
Hiking in such a remote area will require a bit of preparation. Make sure you have clothes to withstand all kinds of weather.
- Warm woolen thermal underwear
- Fleece jacket and pants
- Waterproof jacket and pants
- Good hiking boots with ankle support
Fog is very common in the area so we strongly recommend you bring a very detailed map of the area, a GPS device or compass. Don’t trust your phone network provider as there most likely will be no coverage in the area. Whichever navigation tool you prefer (map, compass, or GPS), you should be able to use it properly. Maps are available at the tourist center in Ísafjörður and Hólmavík.
For those of you who plan to stay there for a few nights, you should also have:
- A four-season tent
- Food supplies for the whole stay
- Sleeping bag
- Cooking equipment
- A change of clothes
If you plan on resupplying at one of the harbors, be ready for delays. Weather here is unpredictable and ferries or boats are often delayed.
What to pack for a day trip to Hornstrandir?
Day trips last for around 11 hours so make sure you’re dressed warm and are ready for any kind of weather. Here are a few essential items to bring on the trip:
- Waterproof rain jacket and pants
- Lunch and snacks
- Water bottle
- Hat, gloves, and sunglasses
- Cash for pancakes at the guesthouse
What to pack for a multi-day trip to Hornstrandir?
- Thermal underwear
- Wool or fleece middle layer pants and top
- Waterproof pants and jacket
- Hat and gloves
- 2 to 3 pairs of thick wool or synthetic socks
- Hiking boots with ankle support
- Warm sleeping bag
- Sleeping mattress
- About 50-60L backpack for all your belongings and your share of food
- Small binoculars (optional)
- Personal medical kit
- Water bottle