Last update: 15 January 2021
The valley of Herjólfsdalur is intimidatingly beautiful, whichever angle you look at it. It looks like a giant natural amphitheatre, with stupendous rocks rising up on all sides as you enter the valley. The track from Heimaey harbour up the backroad to Herjólfsdalur and Dalfjall is one not to be missed. It circles around the ridge above Herjólfsdalur, and the density of spectacular sights and features is just incredible. There are glorious views in all directions, and down the other side of the ridge to crumbly cliffs rising up from the sea.
The Valley of Magic. It’s intimidatingly beautiful, whichever angle you look at it.
Where is Vestmannaeyjar?
Vestmannaeyjar is a volcanic chain of islands just off the south coast of Iceland, directly across from Eyjafjallajökull. They are also known as the Westman Islands. Heimaey may look tiny on the map, but there’s a lot of spectacular scenery densely compressed into its 13,4 square kilometres. The ferry to Heimaey departs from Landeyjahöfn and takes 35 minutes. You’ll see the turn-off to the harbour near Seljalandsfoss on the Ring Road.
The hike around Herjólfsdalur can be done in both directions. The easiest way is to start rom the back of the cliffs rising up at the narrow end of the harbour. You don’t need to haul yourself up on ladders or ropes to do this walk. Although it has some rocky and very steep sections, especially on the path up or down in the valley itself.
If you’re really lucky, you might even encounter this magical sight…
It takes about 1,5 to 2 hours to complete the main track at a leisurely pace. But the distraction rate is very high. It’s beautiful around every corner, and there are lots of hidden side-tracks to explore if you feel so inclined – and confident enough. Most of these are hardly more than sheep trails, winding their way around steep slopes and jumbled rocks.
The distraction rate is very high… 😉
This handy interactive map shows the walking route from Sprangan up and around the Herjólfsdalur ridge. Note: the map looks a bit distorted because of the steepness of Herjólfsdalur 😉 but you will see more details of the track when you zoom in closer on each section. You can also click on the icons for pictures of stunning views along the way.
The start of the track
The Herjólfsdalur hike starts at Sprangan, where you can also have a go at rope swinging. You’ll often find some activity going on there during the summer. Kids trying out their skills, a passing tour group with the guide demonstrating how it’s done, and sometimes even a film crew using the location for a movie or documentary. Sprangan is traditionally used by locals to practice rope swinging, as a way to scale the cliffs and collect bird’s eggs from the more challenging sites around the island.
The start of the track at Sprangan.
Assorted industrial equipment.
Take the path leading into the grassy field left of Sprangan. There’s all kinds of construction going on at the moment, so things may look different in the future. Continue behind the assorted industrial equipment and turn right up the hill.
The path gradually slopes up between the cliffs until it reaches a high plateau, aptly named HáHá (no joke! 😉 ) The name literally means ‘high-high’, to distinguish its lofty height from the lower ridge that is simply called Há. After about 15 minutes of steadily slogging up the hill, you get to an intersection with a rocky path veering off to the left and right.
Both paths go up the same cliffside. The path on the left leads to a sudden and even more dramatic view. It ends rather abruptly at the top of the jagged cliffs on the eastern side of Herjólfsdalur. From the edge you look straight down into its intimidating depths. It’s incredibly beautiful – although people who are prone to vertigo might not appreciate it that much…
The throne above Herjólfsdalur.
Puffins and sea birds
Bunches of small arctic flowers cling to their edges in the face of adversity. Various seabirds are circling around the valley, floating on the thermals it creates. It’s a mesmerizing sight to watch. You might also see puffins flying around or sitting on the rocks ahead. Especially in the evening during the summer months.
Intimidating depths of Herjólfsdalur.
Wilderness Coffee and a kamikaze bird.
Lush gullies and crumbly cliffs
You can walk along the ridge towards the HáHá plateau and have stunning views into the bowl-shaped valley. Or continue on the path below, to the right of the intersection. The HáHá plateau has a broad grassy meadow stretching out to the right of the track. It offers beautiful views towards the crumbly cliffs of Klif and Litla-Klif, Heimaklettur and the harbour rocks, and into eroded gullies with jumbled rocks and bizarrely shaped spires rising up from below.
View to Heimaklettur and Eyjafjallajökull from the HáHá plateau.
Lush gullies with jumbled rocks and little beaches.
View to crumbly Klif.
The Herjólfsdalur ridge track
From HáHá, the track winds down sharply along the sides of Herjólfsdalur, with dizzying views to rocky outcrops and the valley’s gravity defying boulders.
Path winding down into Herjólfsdalur, with some spectacular views coming up.
The grassy outcrop to the left is a perfect place to have a Wilderness Coffee, and watch the puffins on the slopes below 🙂
A small step marks the start of the ridge section, called Eggjarnar. From here you can choose the high road along the top of the ridge, or the safer path along the hillside below.
The step across to Eggjarnar.
The lower path into Herjólfsdalur.
The upper path and Herjólfsdalur ridge.
The upper path is the most spectacular. It offers tantalizing glimpses into crumbly holes and the cliffs below, with sculpted sea arches and tiny beaches nestled between rocks jutting out into the sea.
Crumbly holes and cliffy coastline.
Sea cave, ‘The Crocodile’ and Upsaberg.
However, the path itself can be crumbly in some places too. You have to be especially careful on sections with loose gravel.
The steep slopes of Herjólfsdalur.
Small & gravelly paths
Both paths join together just before the gravelly part of the steep slope into Herjólfsdal. It continues along the top of the ridge towards Blátindur. There are a couple of tricky bits where the path winds precariously around rocky outcrops and bizarrely shaped lava forms. But the views are absolutely stunning in all directions. Don’t forget to look back every now & then 😉
Herjólfsdalur ridge track.
Some tricky sections along the way…
Sheep watching over the ridge.
As I gaze upon the Valley of Magic, I shall fear no heights 😉
At the end of the ridge a steep zigzag path goes down the slope, and around some huge boulders to the bottom of the valley.
Other tracks & hikes on Heimaey
You can also go down the other side, to the little house at the bottom of Upsaberg – that giant plug sticking out towards the sea. This path leads further down to the hidden beach of Stafsnes. Or, if you’re still on a natural high and up for another challenge, continue up to the imposing steepness of Blátindur…
Not sure if these are the right tracks for you? There are plenty of other walking tracks around Heimaey. Not all of them involve scrambling or balancing your way across tiny paths above steep drop-offs 😉
The intimidating steepness of Blátindur.
Herjólfsdalur is also the setting for the yearly Þjóðhátíð festival on Heimaey in August. On the last evening, the mountainside is set alight with a row of flames along the entire length of the valley. A truly magnificent sight to see!
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
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You can read how to travel to Vestmannaeyjar in this article.
Northern lights above the HáHá plateau! 😀
Covid travel restrictions Iceland
In these uncertain times, things can change quickly. Procedures are constantly evaluated and updated. For the current situation regarding Covid-19 related travel advice and restrictions in Iceland, see Covid.is (in English).
Video – Surround view above Herjólfsdalur
It’s also beautiful in winter. Here’s a snowy surround view from the HáHá plateau, just before it descends into the ridge track. This video is filmed with a drone flying over most of the track, and gives a great impression of the walk across Eggjarnar and HáHá.
More to explore & discover
Vestmannaeyjar – Þar sem hjartað slær
Ode to the mountains – The magic of Mount Taranaki
Mount Titlis – Alpine meadows & beautiful mountain views
Tongariro – The track across Middle Earth
Island hopping on the Aeolian Islands – A volcanic archipelago