Guide to Iceland’s Thorsmork: The Locals’ Favorite Hiking Area
Hiking tours in one of Iceland's best hiking areas known as the Valley of Thor
Tours to Thorsmork
Thorsmork Travel Guide
The sparkling beauty of nature in Thórsmörk is absolutely beyond imagination. This vibrantly green valley is enclosed by enthralling jagged mountain ranges that are topped by rugged, blue glaciers. The landscape is so vibrant and varied here that one can never get enough of it.
There are striking contrasts between the jagged, mossy slopes and the black plains with slim, sparkling glacier rivers curving through them while the thrilling glaciers crown the panorama. These features create such a surreal view that it makes you feel as if you are in a fairy tale. We can say, without exaggeration, that Thórsmörk is probably the most beautiful place in the whole of Iceland.
What You Need to Know About Thórsmörk
Thórsmörk (which can also be spelled Þórsmörk or Thorsmork) translates to “the valley of Thor” The hammer-wielding Norse god Thor was associated with thunder, strength, the protection of mankind, and fertility as well. Some of Thórsmörk’s peaks hide active volcanoes. Two new volcanic craters - which were formed in the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010 - tower above the valley. They are named Magni and Móði after the sons of Thor, meaning brave and strong.
Today, this divine valley is a protected nature reserve. It is located in the vast, 9,542 km2 (5929 sq. mile) Katla Geopark. Strictly speaking, the name Thórsmörk properly refers to the valley and the mountain ridge between the rivers Krossá, Þröngá, and Markarfljót. Informally, however, it is used to describe the wider region between the three glaciers: Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Tindfjallajökull.
Thorsmork valley is filled with lush birch forests, which are a real treasure on this bald island. In the summer, the ground becomes beautifully dotted with rare, colorful arctic flowers. Chirping birds and cute Arctic foxes live here in their own personal heaven and happy hikers feel the same way when they visit the area.
Thórsmörk as Icelanders’ Favorite Hiking Area
Aside from the dreamlike landscape, what most Icelanders especially like about Thórsmörk is its forest. Iceland does not have many trees so our forests are like gold. Camping and hiking among the trees as well as listening to the sound of the wind as it plays in the leaves is something that cannot be enjoyed too often in Iceland. Thórsmörk, therefore, tops most locals’ lists of favorite places.
Another great reason to love Thórsmörk is its special microclimate. The valley is protected by high mountains so the winds are weaker and the temperatures are also a bit higher than the surrounding areas. One can expect the weather in Thórsmörk to likely be better than anywhere else. It is still Iceland, though, so do not have unrealistic expectations.
The incredible number of hiking trails and the large campsites provide a great opportunity to escape from the crowds. Despite Thórsmörk being a very popular travel destination for local and foreign visitors alike, there is still enough space for everyone to enjoy the silence and the ultimate peace offered by nature.
Hiking Trails in Thórsmörk
With its sparkling glaciers, thrilling caves, rugged canyons, thick forests, and captivating landscapes, Thórsmörk is the ultimate paradise for the adventurers. There is an amazing hiking trail network in the area which provides fabulous hikes in a variety of lengths and levels of difficulty. You have an innumerable number of options to explore the area without ever having to walk the same path twice.
Iceland’s Best Multi-Day Treks: Laugavegur and Fimmvorduhals (75 km, 4-6 days)
Thórsmörk is the ultimate base camp for two of Iceland’s favorite treks: Laugavegur and Fimmvörduáls. Both trails run into the valley but from opposite directions.
The world-famous, 55-kilometer (34 miles) long Laugavegur trail starts in Landmannalaugar at the northern end of the Highlands and leads through the colorful rhyolite mountains southwards, ending in Thórsmörk.
Many hikers start in Landmannalaugar, take a break in Thórsmörk, and hike up to the Fimmvorduhals pass on the last day before ending again in Thorsmork. Naturally, it can be completed in the opposite direction as well as the landscapes are equally beautiful from both directions.
The Fimmvörduháls Volcano Hike (5-7 hrs)
The Volcano hike is not to be mistaken with the two-day Fimmvörduháls trek. This hike takes you up to Fimmvörduháls pass to the two volcanic craters, Magni and Modi, that were formed during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010. After reaching the top, you will descend the same way to return to Thórsmörk.
The views over the valley all the way up and down are so breathtakingly beautiful that it is hard to describe in words. In good weather, you will see the Highlands all around for probably hundreds of kilometers. Many who have hiked here claim that it is the most beautiful natural scenery that they have ever seen. We could not agree more!
Given that the change in elevation is quite large over a relatively short distance, the trail is pretty steep, so hiking can be a bit of a challenge. But it will probably be the most beautiful challenge you have ever had! You will encounter powerful contrasts hiking up to the two newly formed craters of Magni and Modi and hiking through a lush birch forest overlooking valleys carved by glaciers. Getting up close and personal with these powerful phenomena is truly a transformative experience.
Valahnjúkur Mountain and Þórsmörk Panorama (1.5-2 hours)
This is probably the most popular short hike in the Thórsmök area. The 458-meter (1502 foot) high Valahnúkur Mountain provides an incredibly impressive 360° panorama view over the valley and the amazingly scenic riverbed. This viewpoint is a popular photographic and selfie location for travelers. The trails on the way back lead through the birch woods down into Húsadalur Valley. It is short and easy, making it doable even if you have a tight time window.
The best day-hike in Thorsmork: Thórsmörk Highlights (3-4 hours)
The trail called “Thórsmörk Highlights” also features all of the best views of the valley and its diverse landscapes. The path unwinds over nice, easy terrain, crossing a small birch forest in the Húsadalur Valley then leading up to the foothills of the Tindfjöll Mountain. There it joins the Laugavegur Trail before descending back into the valley again. From here you can add another 2 hours of hiking up Valahnúkur Mountain to see the ultimate Thórsmörk panorama. This is recommended for everyone that has a few hours to spend in Thórsmörk.
The Tindfjöll Circle (4-6 hours)
If you have a whole day or a long afternoon to spend in Thórsmörk, the Tindfjöll Circle is one of the best things you can do with your time in Thórsmörk. This hike offers some of the most beautiful viewpoints in Thórsmörk while also featuring a few challenging parts where you will face some challenging terrain such as narrow ridges and steep moraines. The Tindfjöll Circle is somewhat challenging and is not for the faint of heart, but it is an amazingly fun and memorable experience for skilled hikers.
Facilities in Thórsmörk
Out of the many valleys in Thórsmörk, Langidalur, Básar, Húsadalur, and Slyppugil are the most visited. There is a campsite in each, the best equipped of which are the Volcano Huts in Húsadalur. Most hikers finish their longer treks in Húsadalur.
Here you can find a large campground with plenty of space and a small playground for kids. There are a heated kitchen and dining area with basic facilities including an electric stove and kitchen equipment. There are warm showers, which are included in the camping fee, and a small barrel sauna with a tiny pool.
There are also sleeping bag accommodation options in Húsadalur. Cottages with private bedrooms and dormitories are available as well as glamping (glamorous camping) beds. The cottage and glamping guests share the showers and toilet facilities with the campsite guests. There is also a restaurant that offers a buffet breakfast and hot meals throughout the day, focusing mainly on Icelandic home-style cuisine.
The Iceland Touring Association operates the other hut in Langidalur Valley. There is a spacious two-story hut that accommodates 75 people. On the ground floor is a large heated entrance hall for storing your wet equipment. There are two fully-equipped kitchens, one big and one small. There is also a large dining hall where you can sit down to eat comfortably. Altogether, there are two large sleeping halls and three separate quarters with bunk beds.
There is also a large campground in Langidalur. Campers must bring their own stoves. A large shower block and a toilet building are located outside of the hut. Showers are accessible for all guests for a small fee.
In the third valley, Básar, there is a campground with several small toilets and shower buildings. There is also sleeping bag accommodation for 83 people in the huts where gas stoves and kitchenware are available. Showers require an extra fee.
There is a small, quiet campsite in Slyppugil. It offers toilet facilities and showers for an extra charge. There are no electric outlets and no kitchen facilities, but the campsite offers a playground and barbecue facilities.
Generally, the campsites open in May-June and operate until October. It is not necessary to book in advance for campers, only those who would like to book the huts need to do so. If you book your Iceland hiking tour with us, we will take care of your accommodation and guarantee your place once you have completed your booking.
Cozy hut in Thorsmork. Photo: Norbert Zoho
Thórsmörk Hiking Map
You can buy a hiking map in Húsadalur or download a hiking application on your phone. The network coverage is, however, unstable in some spots. If you are planning on doing longer hikes, it is recommended to use a GPS device with a downloaded map.
The weather and hiking conditions in Iceland, in general, are very unpredictable. While it is usually better inside the valley, the conditions can be very different up in the mountains. Even though the paths are well marked, changes in the visibility can happen in a matter of minutes.
When to Visit Thórsmörk and How to Get There
Thorsmork is located approximately 160 kilometers (99.5 miles) or about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Reykjavík. Therefore, it is possible to take a day tour of Thorsmork. This would take about 10-12 hours to complete, including a few hours of hiking in the area.
Traveling to Thorsmork in Summer
In summer - between mid-June until the end of September - it is possible to get to Thórsmörk in larger 4X4 Jeeps. Getting there, however, can be a real adventure. At the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, you have to leave the Ring Road and take Road 249 to the Highlands. This is going to end in an F-road that is only suitable for very large Jeeps. You will have to drive on rough, unpaved roads and will have to cross 15-20 rivers without bridges. If you have a rental car, make sure to check with your rental company to see if you are permitted to drive on F-roads. Note: There is no insurance coverage for river crossings in Iceland.
Follow Road F249 for approximately 25 kilometers (15 miles) and park your car in the Krossá Car Park where you will see a sign for the huts. Even though it is very close to the final destination, never attempt to cross the Krossá River because it is especially dangerous. Only specialized Superjeeps are able to cross it.
Those who do not want to drive to Thorsmork by themselves, they can go on Superjeep tours or take the specialized Highland bus. This departures from Reykjavík daily with a few stops along the South Coast. The run between late June up to the first week of September.
Highland Road Closures and Openings
During the winter months, Highland roads (F-roads) are completely closed. While there can be a few weeks of difference depending on the actual weather and road conditions, you can generally assume these roads will be closed from September 15 to June 25. The Icelandic Road Authority decides yearly exactly when the mountain roads will close after the summer and when they will reopen after the winter.
Compared with the climate in the inhabited areas of Iceland, the Icelandic Highlands have a much different climate. The winters are colder, harsher, and longer than what is experienced in other parts of the country. While it is a green, vibrant summer along the south coast in June, thick snow can still cover the roads of the Highlands. You can be enjoying a mild autumn in Reykjavík while winter has already come to the Highlands.
Between Seasons in the Highlands
Even in late June, when the roads officially open, there is still a lot of snow on the hiking trails and in the mountains. In the early summer season, the rivers are swollen with melting snow, the paths are muddy, and the vegetation has yet to awake from its winter slumber.
The first snow usually arrives in September, after summer has passed. But, snow can arrive in the Highlands as early as late August. The interior of the country is often covered in snow by the middle to end of September.
Thorsmork in Winter
The Highlands are completely inaccessible by rental car in winter. Taking a winter tour through Thórsmörk is an amazing idea, though, because it is still possible to reach the area via guided Superjeep or snowmobile tour.
The Volcano Huts campsite is open all year round and is usually empty during the winter, with only a few tour guests staying over, so there are no crowds around. Enjoy the cozy atmosphere of the sleeping bag accommodation offered in a nice, heated hut far from civilization. This wintery, unspoiled landscape in the middle of nowhere is the perfect place to admire the Northern Lights from. It should definitely find a place on your bucket list!
Safety and Rules in Thorsmork
Before heading out to the Highlands, make sure that you have the proper, good-quality equipment. Good, sturdy, waterproof hiking boots and multi-layered clothing that has been designed for outdoor activities are a must. A good insulation layer along with a water and windproof shell layer are essential.
Before heading to Thórsmörk, make sure to check the weather forecast and the warnings. Upon arrival, be sure to stop at the information point to ask about the trail conditions and weather warnings before heading out for a hike. If you plan on hiking alone, download the SafeTravel app and make sure that you submit your travel plans before leaving.
For those that are traveling alone or that are not experienced hikers, we recommend joining a guided group tour. The guides for these hikes have been trained to guide you safely through this terrain and know how to cope with the sometimes challenging conditions that hikers can face in Iceland.
Thórsmörk is a highly protected area. Please note that camping in nature reserves outside of the designated campsites is both illegal and unsafe. There are plenty of huts and campsites in the area where you can pitch your tent or reserve a place to sleep.
Respect any closures. Even if it is muddy, never step off the trail. Do not step on the moss. Do not leave any waste behind. If you happen to find a bit of trash left behind by someone else, be a good samaritan and pick it up to throw away in the next garbage can.