Last update: 6 November 2019
The fabled valley of Þórsmörk 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. Þórsmörk is full of folded valleys and convoluted gorges, glaciers with volcanoes underneath and bizarrely shaped mountains. Sculpted by volcanic forces, intricate rivers and giant glacial floods coming out of Eyjafjallajökull and Katla – lying restless underneath Mýrdalsjökull. You have to see it for yourself to believe it’s real.
Krossá river and Mýrdalsjökull glacier.
A hiking paradise
Þórsmörk – internationally spelled as Thórsmörk – is a fantastic place 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
- The Þórsmörk loop (Stangarháls, Trollakirkja and Slyppugil canyon) – 4 to 5 hours
- Short walks (Réttarfell, lower Hvannárgil canyon, Stakkholtsgjá, Valahnúkur) – 2 to 3 hours
You can also combine Útigönguhöfði or Hvannárgil with the lower part of the Fimmvörðuháls route, including the famous Cat Ridge (Kattarhryggir, or cat spine). These routes connect on the Morinsheiði plateau above Þórsmörk.
Kattarhryggir, the ridge on the lower part of the Fimmvörðuháls route in Þórsmörk.
This article would become way too long if I described them all in one go. So I’ve created seperate stories for each route, and you willl find the general information & practicalities here.
Hvannárgil, the enticing canyon between Útigönguhöfði and the Krossá river.
Útigönguhöfði is that ridiculously steep mountain you see looming everywhere in Þórsmörk 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 is also one of the steepest mountains in Þórsmörk. 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.
An added bonus is that Þórsmörk is 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 Þórsmörk 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 😉 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.
Þórsmörk 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.
Eyjafjallajökull craters Magni and Móði.
- Read more about the different routes & options in my story about Fimmvörðuháls.
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, the Langidalur hut across on the other side of the Krossá river, and the Volcano Huts are in Húsadalur, the next vally. 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.
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. 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.
How to get to Þórsmörk
The road into Þórsmörk 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. The main ones 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.
Several bus companies offer transfers from Reykjavík into Þórsmörk with big wheel river trucks, such as Trex, Reykjavík Excursions, Sterna and Thule. Usually they operate from mid June to mid September, when the tracks are open.
Signposts on the top of Útigönguhöfði.
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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View over the fabled valley of Þórsmörk from the top of Útigönguhöfði.
More stories & inspiration
Thórsmörk – Útigönguhöfði and Hvannárgil canyon
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