In summer, when the snow has melted and the sunlight stretches throughout the day, it’s time to hike in Iceland. Paths and roads that were inaccessible during the winter months suddenly fill with nature lovers.
This is particularly true for Iceland’s interior, the highlands, which is completely uninhabited for most of the year. One place that is especially popular to hike to is Þórsmörk (Thórsmörk), or the Valley of Thor.
What is Thórsmörk?
Thórsmörk is a nature reserve located in a mountain ridge in the Icelandic highlands, between two glaciers: Tindfjallajökull and Eyjafjallajökull. It’s an area full of rivers, forests, mountains and valleys, and is well away from any towns. Bright-green moss covers the hills all around, and the remoteness is peaceful and soothing.
Thórsmörk has been a popular hiking spot for decades, and so accommodation has been set up to cater to visitors. Even so, being in the highlands, it’s not easy to reach.
As it’s sheltered in a valley, the climate is also generally slightly warmer than the rest of the south coast. Thórsmörk is named after the Norse god Thor, and the story goes that he created the valley himself. He is said to have struck the ground with his hammer, Mjölnir, and the impact depressed it into a valley.
How to get to Thórsmörk
The route is straightforward: follow Route 1—the Ring Road—along the south coast, until you come to Route 249. Turn left onto that and follow it until it becomes F249, and that’s your path to Thórsmörk.
Can you Drive to Thórsmörk?
Yes, you can, but it depends on what vehicle you have. The road that leads to Thórsmörk is an F road, an unpaved gravel road that is rarely maintained. For this reason, only 4x4 vehicles are permitted on F roads. The journey will involve driving on uneven terrain and crossing rivers, so be sure to rent a suitable vehicle.
Regarding the Krossá river, it’s best that you don’t attempt to cross it yourself, regardless of what vehicle you have. The river is deep, strong and will defeat most vehicles that aren’t designed for the purpose. Park in the car park and jump on one of the buses that transports people to and from Thórsmörk. Alternatively, you could just walk to Thórsmörk from the car park, crossing the river via the footbridge.
If you’d rather leave the driving to someone else, you can book a spot on a bus or jeep tour. Several companies run regular trips to Thórsmörk over the summer to cater to hikers and nature lovers.
Accommodation in Thórsmörk Valley
You can park next to the Krossá river, or at the Básar Hut & campsite. As the name suggests, the Básar Hut & campsite offers accommodation in the form of dormitories and a camping area. A kitchen and dining area is available for guests to use.
There’s also another accommodation choice in Thórsmörk, on the other side of Krossá: the Volcano Huts Þórsmörk. These can either be hiked to or driven to via the F road Húsadalur. This company offers glamping tents, cabins and even cottages as choices for your highland stay.
You can use either of these accommodation providers as base camps from which to embark on hiking adventures throughout Thórsmörk. Know that these must be booked well in advance, as their spaces fill up fast.
What to Do in Thórsmörk?
Aside from relaxing and admiring the glaciers and other scenery, there’s also lots of trekking to take part in. Thórsmörk serves as the start or end point for two of Iceland’s famous hiking routes: Fimmvörðuháls and the Laugavegur Trail.
Fimmvörðuháls will lead you south, and the Laugavegur Trail will take you north, deeper into the highlands. Let’s look at them individually.
Fimmvörðuháls translates to ‘five cairns pass’, and it leads from Thórsmörk to Skógafoss waterfall, passing between the two glaciers. The trail is 24 km (15 miles) long and involves 1000 meters of climbing—or descending, if you’re starting at Thórsmörk.
Along this route, you’ll see some wonderful geological features, including recently made ones. You’ll pass Goðahraun, the lava field created by the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. You’ll also see the two volcanic craters that were created by that eruption, Móði and Magni, named after Thor’s sons.
This hike can be completed in a day, but some choose to spread it over two days. In this case, you can pay to stay in the Baldvinsskáli hut that is located between the glaciers. Once you reach Skógafoss waterfall, there’s a bus service which can take you to the city and stops in between.
If you drove to Thórsmörk yourself, this, of course, means that your car will still be up there. Plan ahead of time so that you can arrange to be dropped wherever you left your car.
Join The Laugavegur Trail
This trail runs between Thórsmörk and Landmannalaugar, and is 54 km (34 miles) long. Hikers generally complete this route over three or four days, and stay in huts along the way.
You’ll pass by rivers, geysers and other natural wonders, and Landmannalaugar is considered a gem that is worth the hike. In Landmannalaugar you’ll be able to enjoy natural hot springs and see the famous multicolored rhyolite mountains.
Visit the filming location of Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones fans want to know everything about the show, including where it is filmed. Well, lucky you if you decide to hike Thórsmörk yourself.
Head to Stakkholtsgjá Canyon, a beautiful 2 km long canyon where Jon Snow headed after trekking from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, which, if you didn’t know, is the town of Vík. Its beautiful black sand beaches and hexagonal basalt columns made it to HBO’s famous show.
Things to know about Thor’s Valley
Some things to keep in mind for either of these routes and spending time in the highlands in general.
- These hikes aren’t easy, so you’ll need to be in decent shape to fully enjoy what they have to offer.
- Drinking water is easy to come by because you can safely drink from any of Iceland’s rivers. Food, however, is something you’ll have to bring along with you.
- Highland accommodation providers offer very little in the way of supplies, and should only be considered for emergencies. You should also bring sufficient clothing to be prepared for all weathers.
- Most of these places are only accessible from June to September. F roads are closed to public vehicles for the other months, but some tour companies drive them for longer periods.
Although many people, locals and tourists alike, visit Thórsmörk in the summer, it’s still a lot quieter than Reykjavík. If you want to experience another side to Iceland, away from towns and cities, spend your time in the highlands.
It’s here that you can fully appreciate some of the cleanest water, air and landscapes in the world. Iceland’s interior still remains mostly untouched, one of the last few wild places left.