Thorsmork is what I imagined when we first thought of going to Iceland... raw and rugged and stunning. Think black volcanic rivers, moss covered cliffs and glacier capped volcanoes mixed in with some unpredictable weather. All of which, except maybe the weather part, makes Thorsmork a hiker's paradise.
Þórsmörk, directly translated as 'the Valley of Thor', is located in the Southern Highlands of Iceland in a valley beside the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which was responsible for grounding air traffic in Europe in 2010.
If you need any convincing, just check out the photos below or simply search Google for images of Thorsmork.
Thorsmork is blocked off to casual visitors travelling around Iceland by the unpredictable and constant glacial rivers shifting through the valley. It can only be reached by travellers either on a mountain bus, super 4x4 or on foot (over ever-moving pedestrian bridges). This means that you only have to share miles of some of the best hiking trails in the world with a few other like-minded travellers.
Due to the harsh weather in the highlands, particularly in winter, as well as Thorsmork's remoteness, there is only one place to stay in Thorsmork - the Volcano Huts - unless you are planning on camping.
What to see and do
There is only one reason to go to Thorsmork... to hike through the incredible scenery! The Volcano Huts' office has a map available to purchase that sets out all the best hiking trails in the area. All hikes are very well signed and easy to follow.
The first trek that everybody should do when they arrive in Thorsmork. The hike takes you up the 480m Valahnukur Mountain where you get breathtaking 360° views of the valley and surrounding glaciers. We took advantage of the midnight sun on the evening we arrived to Thorsmork and enjoyed the beautiful colours and shadows that you get when the sun is so low in the sky.
The hike is about a 1.5 hour loop beginning from the Volcano Huts.
This hike takes you through the middle of the Stakkholtsgja Canyon, which has stunning 100 metre high moss covered walls. Inside the canyon is a fast flowing creek that runs along the black volcanic surface, which is typical of Thorsmork. The hike is one hour each way and ends in a stunning waterfall flowing through the cliffs. To get to the waterfall you must turn left at the fork in the Canyon and cross over the creek - be prepared that your shoes might get wet if you can't find enough rocks sticking out of the water to jump across on.
There are two ways to get to the beginning of the trail from the Volcano Huts; both of which require you to cross over the fast flowing Kross River. First, hike from the Volcano Huts and take advantage of the pedestrian bridge or secondly, catch the mountain bus at midday which will drop you directly out the front of the canyon. Taking the bus saves you about 45 minutes of walking each way and is free of charge if you have booked to go to and from the Icelandic Highlands with the bus company.
The longest hike on the Volcano Huts map. It begins with a walk through the Krossa Valley and over sturdy, movable pedestrian bridges to take you over the glacial rivers before winding its way up the mountains on the otherside of the Valley. The winding turns into steep, vertigo-inducing climbs at certain points where you look down on the now seemingly small Valanukur Mountain. A beautiful but demanding 5 or 6 hour hike that is well worth the effort!
The Laugavegur Trail is the most popular multi-day hike in Iceland and goes from Landmannalaugar through the Icelandic Highlands to Thorsmork. The trail itself is approximately 55km and takes people roughly about 3-4 days; though I am sure you could do it in 2 if you really wanted to.
The start point is from Landamannalaugar, which can be reached by bus from Reykjavik and is a paradise of geothermal hot springs and rainbow coloured hills. From Landamannalaugar the hike winds its way through the highlands, passing glacial rivers, geysers, volcanoes, glaciers and waterfalls. The trail is also not short of hot springs to relax in after a day of hiking.
If you have the time, the Langavegur Trail is a must! You can do the hike yourself and stay in huts along the way (make sure you book well in advance) or take a guided tour. The hike is very well signed so you do not necessarily need to go with a tour group if you are a relatively experienced hiker.
Information on the huts can be found here. The weather can also change very quickly in the highlands so be prepared.
How to get to Thorsmork?
Getting to Thorsmork is a bit of a challenge as you have to get past the Krossa River! The Krossa River is fast flowing, and in parts seriously deep, that needs either a Mountain Bus, Super Jeep or Pedestrian Bridge.
Do not try and cross it in a basic 4WD. We saw at least three 4WD's getting towed from the river while we were in Thorsmork for 4 days in August (middle of summer!).
Your best options are:
Warning: If you are staying at the Volcano Huts do not use the Trex buses. Trex drops you at Landgidalur, which is about a 2km hike from the Volcano Huts through a gorge. Not ideal if you are taking suitcases with you to Thorsmork (...we may or may not have made this mistake!)
2. Leave your car in Hella and take the Mountain Bus from the N1 in Hella to the Volcano Huts. This is a great way to visit Thorsmork without having to double back to Reykavik to catch the bus. Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world and there is no issue leaving your car unattended for a couple of days.
3. Hire a serious, specially equipped 4WD. The road in to Thorsmork is one of Iceland's famous 'F Roads' which requires a 4WD. Be aware that most car companies do not offer insurance for driving on 'F Roads'. Try ISAK 4x4 Rental if this is up your ally.
4. Hike the Fimmvörðuháls trail! This famous 9 hour, 25km trail begins in Skogafoss and crosses in between the Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull glaciers. You may remember that Eyjafjallajokull was the volcano responsible for spewing so much ash into the air in 2010 that it halted air traffic in Europe for several days. The hike is very tough and you get over 1,000 above sea level, which in Iceland is quite high and extremely cold. Storms can move in quick among the glaciers so be prepared!
The Fimmvörðuháls trail would be my preferred way to get in to Thorsmork. I would leave a car (and any excess luggage) in Skogafoss and start the trail early in the morning, stay a few nights in Thorsmork and then catch the mountain bus back to Skogafoss.
Where to stay?
Unless you are camping, the only accommodation available is at the Thorsmork Volcano Huts. The Reykjavik Excursions' bus will drop you right out the front.
The Volcano Huts provides clean, basic cabins with shared bathrooms in the Husadalur Valley. Many people will also stay here when they are at the end of the famous Laugavegur hiking trail which begins in Landmannalaugar. The Volcano Huts also put on a buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner each day at certain times in its cosy, central cabin.
Tip: Bring some of your own food as the food at the Volcano Huts is incredibly expensive (and for good reason considering how hard it is to get there). We ate a hearty dinner each day at the buffet that is put on each night and then ate the bits and pieces we brought with us for breakfast and lunch.
Camping: There are a number of campsites around Thorsmork including:
- Volcano Huts (Husadalur)
- Langidalur - where the Trex Bus drops you off.
- Basar - A short hike from either the Volcano Huts or Langidalur.
I have never camped at either of these spots but we heard that the campsite at Basar is nicely sheltered from the wind.