Thórsmörk – The fabled valley
The fabled valley of Thórsmörk is the stuff of fairytales and epic sagas. Nestled behind Eyjafjallajökull in the land of the gods, it’s so beautiful that it almost seems unreal. Thórsmörk is full of folded valleys and convoluted gorges, glaciers with volcanoes underneath and bizarrely shaped mountains.
Sculpted by the forces of nature
These mountains are sculpted by volcanic forces, intricate rivers and giant glacial floods coming out of Eyjafjallajökull and Katla – lying restless underneath Mýrdalsjökull glacier.
You have to see it for yourself to believe it’s real.
Magical sunset over Thórsmörk.
Where is Thórsmörk?
Þórsmörk – internationally spelled as Thórsmörk – is a hidden valley on the South Coast of Iceland. It’s located between the small towns of Hvolsvöllur and Vík, at the end of the mountain road F249 that goes inland from Seljalandsfoss waterfall. In these towns you can stock up on food and other necessary supplies before venturing off into the valley of Thór.
It’s a remote place; you won’t find many options to eat & drink once you’re there.
Thórsmörk valley hikes
Thórsmörk a fantastic area to stay. There are walking tracks going off in all directions within and across the valley, with varying degrees of length and difficulty. You could spend days, even weeks exploring them all. These are some of the specatacular walks that will take you all day (or most of it) to enjoy.
The first two are quite challenging and involve very steep mountains. The shorter routes are easier to follow.
- Útigönguhöfði and Hvannárgil canyon – 7 to 8 hours
- Rjúpnafell and the hidden valley – 6 hours
- Lower Fimmvörðuháls loop – 7 to 8 hours
- The Thórsmörk loop (Stangarháls, Trollakirkja and Slyppugil canyon) – 4 to 5 hours
- Short walks (Réttarfell, lower Hvannárgil canyon, Stakkholtsgjá, Valahnúkur) – 2 to 3 hours
Kattarhryggir, the ‘cat’s spine ridge’ on the lower part of the Fimmvörðuháls route in Þórsmörk.
You can also combine either Útigönguhöfði or Hvannárgil with the lower part of the Fimmvörðuháls route, the Thórsmörk volcano hike up to Eyjafjallajökull. The lower part of this route includes the famous Cat Ridge (Kattarhryggir, or cat spine). These routes all come together on the Morinsheiði plateau above the Thórsmörk valley.
This article would become way too long if I described them all in one go. So I created seperate stories for each route, and you willl find the general information & practicalities of Thórsmörk here.
Útigönguhöfði and Hvannárgil canyon
Útigönguhöfði is that ridiculously steep mountain you see looming everywhere in Thórsmörk and on the way down from Fimmvörðuháls. Climbing it is as challenging as pronouncing its name… 😉 The impressive Hvannárgil canyon runs below its slopes and together they form a beautiful circuit, with jaw-dropping views from one end to the other.
Be prepared for some serious crawling up the rocks on either side!
Rjúpnafell and the hidden valley
Rjúpnafell is also one of the steepest mountains in Thórsmörk. It sits on the north side of the Krossá river, and the walking track to the top is quite challenging. But you will be rewarded with sweeping views of glaciers and colourful folded mountain ranges all around.
And there’s a sweet litte river valley hidden along the track below its slopes.
Hvannárgil, the enticing canyon between Útigönguhöfði and the Krossá river.
An added bonus of Thórsmörk is that it’s nearly wind-free most of the time, due to its sheltered location behind the huge volcanoes of Eyjafjallajökull and Katla. It’s a different story when you get to the higher places. Especially the difference in wind speed between the Morinsheiði plateau and the lower ridges in Thórsmörk itself can be astounding.
The wind in Iceland is not to be underestimated. And if you’ve spent some time in windy locations, you’ll appreciate the absence of it even more. 😉
Unpredictable weather changes
Still, the weather can change rapidly at any time. It’s good to have a few extra days to make the most of it, and especially if you want to do some big walks. There’s no guarantee the weather will be favourable on the one day you’ve planned to do your walk.
Beautiful autumn colours in September.
Multi-day hikes from Thórsmörk valley
Thórsmörk is also the starting point (or the finish) of the well-known Laugavegur hiking trail to Landmannalaugar. Another great walking track is the Fimmvörðuháls route to Skógar, the fiery pass across Eyjafjallajökull. These are quite demanding multi-day hikes that require thorough preparation (and a bit of luck with the notoriously unpredictable weather).
You will need to carry a backpack full of food for multiple days, warm layers of clothes, plus additional camping gear if you’re not staying at the huts. Fimmvörðuháls can be done in a day, but it will take at least 10 to 12 hours to hike the entire route.
Read more about the different routes & options in my story about Fimmvörðuháls.
Eyjafjallajökull craters Magni and Móði.
Where to stay in Thórsmörk
Even if you don’t want to do any of the hardcore stuff, it’s definitely worth it to base yourself in one of the huts for a couple of days.
Huts & camping
There are three huts spread out across the valley, all offering basic bunk rooms as well as campsites. The Básar hut is on the Eyjafjallajökull side and the Langidalur hut across on the other side of the Krossá river. The Volcano Huts are in Húsadalur, the next vally to the north. They also have more fancy options such as private rooms, glamping, a restaurant, and even their own geothermal hot pool. Reservations for the huts are required, and strongly recommended to do well in advance during the summer season.
In September you might have more short term options and flexibility. The Básar and Langidalur huts are usually open from early May to the end of September. Volcano Huts is open all year.
Autumn colours and blueberries.
Food and water
Always take plenty of water and food. You don’t want to find yourself running on an empty battery & out of energy when a walk takes longer than anticipated. It’s better to carry it around for nothing than finding yourself in a dire situation without it.
Clothing and shoes
Rain- & windproof trousers and jacket are essential, as well as a wooly hat, gloves (yes, even in summer), warm layers of clothes and sturdy hiking boots. If you stay at one of the huts, you’ll also need to bring your own sleeping bag. You can’t take your muddy shoes inside the hut, so it’s handy to have a pair of sandals or hut sneakers to wear inside.
Signposts on the top of Útigönguhöfði.
How to get to Thórsmörk
The F249 road into Thórsmörk is only accessible for serious 4WD cars and mountain trucks with giant tyres. You will need to cross a myriad of complicated fast-flowing glacial rivers that keep changing their course all the time, fed by streams rushing down various side-gorges.
Beware of the treacherous Thórsmörk rivers!
The main Thórsmörk river crossings are Steinholtsá, Hvanná, and the fearsome Krossá, which can easily become too much to handle for small 4WD’s. Some rivers might look rather innocent at times. But they show no mercy for the unexperienced and unaware. Cars regularly get stuck or swept away. Sadly, there have been some fatal accidents too. The current can be very strong, even if the river doesn’t look that wide or deep.
Krossá river and Mýrdalsjökull glacier.
Bus companies and day tours
Several bus companies offer transfers from Reykjavík into Thórsmörk with big wheel river trucks, such as Trex and Reykjavík Excursions. Usually they operate from mid-June to mid-September, when the tracks are open. There’s also a variety of exciting day trips with local guides. Midgard Adventure offer a Thórsmörk tour in giant-tyre Super Jeeps from their basecamp in Hvolsvöllur. Southcoast Adventure have several tour options, as well as a scheduled Þórsmörk transfer from Hvolsvöllur.
Thórsmörk bus schedule 2023
There were less scheduled buses going into Thórsmörk in 2020 and 2021, due to the effects of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. Most companies would run only one bus per day, and some others suspended their schedule altogether. The operating season was also shorter, with the last bus around the second half of August (instead of mid-September). In 2022 the bus frequency started to improve again.
Check the individual company websites for more details in 2023.
This is one of the top-5 reader’s favourites of 2022.
Northern lights above the Básar hut.
Thórsmörk hiking map
This handy interactive map shows several beautiful hiking spots around Thórsmörk. You can zoom in for more details, and click on the icons to reveal pictures of stunning views. 🙂
The huts and campsites in Thórsmörk sell detailed maps with all the hiking routes. These maps are also outside on their buildings.
A map of hiking routes in Thórsmörk.
Hiking & travel safety in Iceland
Always check the weather and track conditions before you go. And be prepared to change your plans if necessary. There have been many cases where people had to be rescued off the track due to exhaustion, disorientation and ignorance of impending nasty weather. You can find up-to-date conditions on Safe Travel Iceland and Vegagerðin (the Icelandic Road Administration), and their various social media outlets.
These are some examples of warnings about the travel conditions that can occur…
And they are to be taken seriously.
Thórsmörk rivers are dangerous! – Extremely heavy rain and water melting from the glaciers. The rivers water levels are very high and extremely dangerous to drive through, even with bigger jeeps. Do not try to cross!
No hiking conditions on Fimmvörduháls! – No hiking conditions on the Fimmvörduháls trail due to extreme winds, heavy rain / snow and cold temperature.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
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Last update: 6 March 2023
First published: 11 November 2018
© All photo’s and content on this blog are my own, and subject to copyright (unless credited otherwise). Please contact me if you would like to use a picture or quote a piece of text from one of my articles. You’re welcome to share a link to my blog articles and pictures on social media, with a tag or mention to Wilderness Coffee & Natural High.
Video – The fabled valley of Thórsmörk
View over the fabled valley of Þórsmörk from the top of Útigönguhöfði.
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Ode to the mountains – The magic of Mount Taranaki
Island hopping on the Aeolian Islands – A volcanic archipelago
The Hazards – Scrambling up to prehistorical views
Most popular stories across all pages – An overview
2 thoughts on “Thórsmörk – The fabled valley”
I received this question by email from Eric: ‘Hi, I’m an amateur photographer researching a hiking / photography trip to Iceland and have been doing some research on Thorsmork. I’m looking for interesting vantage points over the valley and came across your great webpage. I was wondering if you could tell me which hike would lead me to the area in the photo at the top of this page. I really like the perspective with the cliffs and canyons. Thanks for any information that you can provide. I appreciate it.’
Here’s the reply I sent, so others with similar questions can read this too 🙂 ‘Hi Eric, thank you for your compliment and for reaching out. I’m glad you enjoyed my blog post about Thórsmörk! The cover photo on this article is the view from the top of Útigönguhöfði, one of the most distinctive mountains in the area. The views from up there are just unbelievable. It’s also a very steep & rather challenging mountain to climb.
You can read all about it in my blog post about Útigönguhöfði and Hvannárgil canyon.
You can reach the track to Útigönguhöfði from Básar (huts & camping area in Thórsmörk), and go up and back the same way, or continue down on the other side and return via the Hvannárgil canyon. Which is also very photogenic! But wherever you look around in Thórsmörk, you will see amazing photo opportunities all over the place. It’s such a beautiful area, definitely worth spending a few nights if you have the chance. The whole of Iceland really is a photographer’s paradise, so I’m sure you will enjoy it 🙂